In 2011, two films were released about the same topic: Having a sex-buddy that you weren’t actually dating. If you’re confused, I wouldn’t worry about it, as it’s not really a thing anymore (if it ever was). But it was enough to get this Wikihow page on “How to Start a Friends-With-Benefits Relationship,” which is pretty fantastic:
The photos are kind of perfect:
Nothing terrifying about this guy!
Anyway, I digress. No Strings Attached was released in January:
And Friends with Benefits was released in July:
At the time, the easy joke was that they’re both the same movie, but I disagree, and it’s nagged at me for quite some time. I’ve always preferred Strings, but I recently watched Benefits and was reminded of how awful it is. The Ringer did something similar, but honestly, I kind of got lost. So, I’ll break it down into four different categories.
Are there better things I could be writing about? Oh, absolutely. Am I going to prattle on about this for 800 words instead? You bet!
FATHER OF MINE
Both movies prominently feature the dads of the men in the family. In Strings, Kutcher’s dad (the excellent Kevin Kline) is a wealthy producer famous for some 80s show that spawned the catch-phrase “Great Scott!” Kline steals Kutcher’s vapid girlfriend and spends the movie trying to make amends with his son. It’s genuinely entertaining, but the subplot also moves along smoothly with the main story. Kline pops up sporadically, adds a few laughs, and then smartly disappears.
What’s the father plot in Benefits? Let’s see…oh right. Timberlake’s dad (the excellent Richard Jenkins) has fucking Alzheimer’s disease. Yeah, that doesn’t work. That is the opposite of a proportional response to the main story. A subplot like that overpowers the narrative is like making macaroni and cheese and then adding a cup of A-1 sauce to the recipe. WHAT?!
It doesn’t help that the whole point of the disease is to teach two valuable lessons:
I mean, if you can think of a better way to show those fairly common movie themes other than a horrifying degenerative disease in the midst of Kris Kross lyrics and dick jokes, I’d love to hear it!
And how did they resolve it? Timberlake decided to bravely not care what other people think because life is short. It looks like Timberlake’s sister is still going to take care of her father in L.A., and his father is still terrified/frustrated at losing his mind. Seriously the whole thing comes off as Timberlake isn’t at all concerned about the mental disappearance of someone he loves. But Timberlake eats lunch at an airpot without wearing pants and is okay with it so…yay I guess. Hooray for happy endings!
Strings wins out again on the character roles themselves. Mila Kunis is flat-out funny (watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall again sometime) as is Justin Timberlake (pretty much pick any of his sketches from SNL). The problem isn’t those two, it’s who those two are playing. Kunis is the woman who wants to believe in love and eventually finds the right guy, and Timberlake plays the guy who’s afraid of commitment.
Yawn. We’ve seen this before. Strings wins out handily because you swap the traditional gender roles – Portman is the career-driven doctor who’s just looking for recreation and terrified of falling in love, and Kutcher is the arty creative type who doesn’t understand why Portman doesn’t want to just date already. That simple flip makes everything significantly more interesting.
Some will say that Benefits is okay with those roles because they’re actually spoofing romantic comedies…
Yeah no. You don’t get to openly mock the roles and rituals of a traditional rom-com by playing directly into them. You don’t get to mock the neat, tidy, happy endings of a romantic movie and then that suddenly gives you permission to do the same thing. You’re not winking at the camera, you’re re-appropriating something else and using the structure as your own. A simple, ham-fisted chunk of dialogue is not a cure-all, no matter how many punchy one-liners you throw in.
DATING? MORE LIKE DATED!
Look, all technology eventually becomes outdated, and so you learn to ignore the media references (there are entire Seinfeld episodes could be solved with a single cell phone). But here, Benefits pretty much triples down on the trends of the day. Branded content! Guerrilla marketing! Flash mobs! Horrendous street art that’s supposed to be similar to Banksy! More flash mobs! It’s seriously painful to watch and will continue to grow more culturally out of touch.
Strings really doesn’t rely on trends that much. He works on a High School Musical type of show, but it’s hardly a lynchpin to the story. Other than that, the technology is minimal (cell phones are about it) and the references aren’t tied to a single set-piece. If anything, the movie does a nice job at creating its own world of clearly-established friendships and an alternate pop culture where Great Scott! exists. The jokes revolve around that and therefore can never go out of style. It’s kind of genius.
And that’s really the bottom line: No Strings Attached is thoroughly enjoyable and, dare I say, a bit underrated. If you’re looking for a funny film with a romantic tilt, avoid Friends with Benefits, it’s not worth your time.
It’s that most wonderful time of the year where we are lovingly surrounded by Hallmark Christmas movies. Around this time, I’m swamped with comments and letters from people arguing that all Hallmark Christmas movies are the same, that you throw a love story together, pepper in some holiday activities, throw together a soundtrack featuring covers of Christmas classics, and TA-DA! Instant classic. Well I’m here to tell you that I love Hallmark Christmas movies, but only if they’re made correctly. It’s a far more delicate process than most people realize. And there’s no better example of this than Hallmark films starring Lacey Chabert.
She’s been in plenty Hallmark Christmas movies – seven to be exact. But as you can see from that list, none stand out as classics. This is surprising. Chabert is charming and her performances are good; the only reason for the near-success of films like Matchmaker Santa is her presence. This is not true of all “celebrities” that grace us around this time every year.
CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT: Candace Cameron Bure thinks she is somehow above the lowly Hallmark Christmas movie, and that’s why her movies are so consistently inadequate. There, I’ve said it. I’m outrageous.
Anyway, I really don’t think Chabert is the problem, I think it’s the stories themselves that are holding her back, proving once and for all that Hallmark Christmas movies are more complicated than some paint-by-numbers formula. And I’m here to demonstrate that to you.
Hallmark Christmas movies (abbreviated from here on as Hallmark Christmas movs) fall somewhere on what I call the Hallmark Christmas Continuum™ which measures good-bad vs. bad-bad. Simply put, Hallmark Christmas movs are going to lie somewhere between The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (endearing, wonderfully sincere, and the perfect amount of sappiness) and Christmas Bounty (a movie so bad and void of charm I cannot believe it was made), with A Christmas Song sitting right in the middle.
Making a good Hallmark Christmas mov is not a science, it’s an art, and simply dropping a skilled actress (or an unskilled actress) into a tried and true storyline does not automatically mean the movie will be a success. Scholars call this the Chabert Conundrum, and it’s something that will likely be studied at length once I write and release my bestseller, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Gender, Spectacle, and the Hallmark Christmas Movie Phenomenon.” ***Future Amazon link goes HERE***
To prove this, look no further than Lacey Chabert’s struggles in her 2014 near-miss, A Royal Christmas.
Royalty and Hallmark Christmas movs go together like eggnog and Goldschläger. Last year’s A Crown for Christmas was easily the standout of the season, and as for A Princess for Christmas…well, it’s one of the best. Gaze upon perfection!
The royal Christmas treatment is a Hallmark staple with good reason. It combines a fish-out-of-water story with a rags-to-riches story, resulting in an over-the-top Christmas. So many hyphens! But seriously, it’s a gold mine. You have an unlikely romance between two people from different worlds, and when the audience needs a break from the love story, they get to vicariously explore a world of ballrooms and gowns and feasts and kindly servants who don’t resent them for some reason.
This is why A Crown for Christmas works so damn well and why it’s already spoken in the same breath as Annie Claus is Coming to Town and A Boyfriend for Christmas. In Crown, Danica McKellar works as a maid who is hired to be a nanny by some butler guy to work for a young king in a made-up country. The cast has great chemistry, there’s a real sense of magic, and it hits the predictable beats in a lively manner. As far as McKellar’s work goes, this is far, far superior to her dreadful downer of a movie, Love at the Christmas Table.
So it’s a can’t-miss storyline, right? Think again! Last year’s Once Upon a Holiday tried to keep the royalty part but reverse it. The princess ditched her obligations and hid among the citizens of New York City. The result: boring, boring, boring.
Even when you include the castle, things don’t necessarily go well, which brings us to our movie discussion.
On paper, A Royal Christmas should be a slam dunk. Chabert plays Emily, a blue-collar seamstress from Philadelphia (no relation to the gang) who is dating some dude named Leo who turns out to be the prince of Cordina! Hey, we’ve all been there AMIRITE?! Emily is whisked away for Christmas in a fake country, but she’ll have to deal with a displeased mother and a fanciness she’s not used to back in Philadelphia (for the sake of your health, do not take a shot every time she references Philadelphia). Again, on paper, everything seems good:
But there are definitely some problems with the plot that bring it all crashing down, so much so that even Chabert can’t save the movie. What problems specifically? Allow me.
You can see the same kind of pitfalls in this year’s Chabert vehicle, A Wish for Christmas (not to be confused with A Christmas Wish and The Christmas Wish, both of which are equally bad). Again, I point this out to people who feel that all Hallmark Christmas movs are created equal. It’s much more nuanced than that. All the stars must align or else it doesn’t work. For more evidence, look no further than 2016’s Hallmark lineup, which, to be perfectly honest, has been a disappointment (Mistletoe Promise is the only one worth mentioning, whereas 2015 had hits like Crown for Christmas, along with some enjoyable ones like Ice Sculpture Christmas, 12 Gifts of Christmas, and I’m Not Ready for Christmas).
Anyway, here’s the trailer for A Wish for Christmas:
On the surface, they’ve done everything right. You’ve got a noteworthy star in Lacey Chabert (who is totally fetch), and an intriguing premise that promises to demonstrate the true magic of Christmas. But again, there is a narrow margin for success, and the formula only gets you so far.
The idea that Chabert is going to start standing up for herself is an interesting one – most Hallmark Christmas movs focus on what could have been (A Snow Globe Christmas is a good example – a budget Family Man knockoff). Unfortunately, here the plot fizzles out quickly. I commend The Hall for generally keeping its movies moving, but here the secret gift simply can’t hold up for 90 minutes. It’s just not that interesting or impactful, and it doesn’t adapt as the story moves forward.
Chabert stands up for herself at work, which works well. Then she stands up to her boss’s boss on the phone. Uh, that’s fine. Then she stands up for herself to…the manager of a rental car place. Ugh. She does this a couple of other times but it never really builds to anything. The bravery never extends beyond being politely insistent (it’s never rude or over-the-top), which you really need here. Moreover, we don’t get to see her enough before she gets the wish granted by Santa. So, with no real context beyond a few words of dialogue, there’s nothing to compare her with, and so it just doesn’t seem stark of a shift in character.
But the cardinal sin: They forget about the love story. The love story! Hallmark Christmas movs should do this at their own peril (look no further than Battle of the Bulbs for a cautionary tale). What’s especially strange is that this is billed as a love story, and all the pieces are in place. She’s on a road trip with her attractive boss – plenty of opportunities for the car to run out of gas, get in a minor accident, the two of them get lost…nothing but options for the writers. Instead? A totally predictable trip, which gives us plenty of time to spend with…his parents. His parents! Now we have to watch some kind of dysfunctional relationship between this dude and his father. Hey, Wish, nobody cares. We’re here to see these two crazy kids fall in love! If the father and son reconcile over Cat’s in the Cradle, that’s fine as a bonus, but we shouldn’t have a third of the movie revolving around that. That should all be happening against the backdrop of these two ending up together forever, thanks to the magic of the holiday season.
I digress. All of this goes to demonstrate that good Hallmark Christmas movs are surprisingly rare, and should be treasured and treated as such.
One final note: Please, Hallmark, please give Lacey Chabert a good script! She’ll take care of everything else! If you need me to write it, I’m willing to cut my fee in half for this noble cause.
I realize literally(!) everyone has already written about the latest Gilmore Girls season released on Netflix. Well, it’s still bothering me, and my wife Claire (who is real) and I have discussed it many times over (a lot of these points are hers). So I decided to write those thoughts down for all the world to see!
I’ve watched the show, but it’s my wife Claire (who is real) was the real fan. That said, I was pulled in by the witty dialogue and endearing, conflicted relationships. The reunion was intriguing on several levels; beyond the character storylines, the fact that nostalgia was being targeted at women rather than male fans was exciting. Hell, I even checked out the surprisingly entertaining promotional materials:
Rory Gilmore doesn't know how to hold everyday objects, a series pic.twitter.com/qYZq0CdhXV
— Jackson McHenry (@McHenryJD) October 18, 2016
So I wasn’t as amped as I would be if it was a Friday Night Lights reunion or a chance to correct the horrible injustice that was the How I Met Your Mother finale, but I was looking forward to a pleasant T-Give weekend with the Gilmores.
Before we get to what worked, in general, most of the scenes were fine, albeit a little indulgent. Some cameos felt more forced than others, but it’s a reunion show, what were you expecting?
That said, some scenes were painfully bad. Many have already complained about the Stars Hollow Musical scene, but it is worth the rant. This scene went on for a whopping 9 minutes. If it’s an intricate staging of the history of the town starring beloved but nutty residents, you might have an argument. But this was just strangers singing with cutaways to an annoyed Lorelai scribbling frantically in her notebooks. Oh and just to repeat, this went on for NINE MINUTES. Let’s put that in perspective. Remember Lorelai singing to Luke at karaoke?
Yeah, that’s her serenading the man she is destined to be with, telling him that she never stopped loving him and she never will. It’s arguably the apex of Lorelai’s storyline for the entire series – the looks, the banter, the fights, the misunderstandings, everything was building to this.
And it lasted under three minutes.
Oh, and one more thing: How goddamn old were the writers on this show? At times the storylines reeked of email forwards about entitled millennials. Oh no, there’s a trendy news site that really wants to hire Rory, but they don’t have offices!!! AND they have the audacity to…ask her to pitch story ideas. Same for the whole three phones issue (kids today and their electronic devices!!), and Luke’s wi-fi password was a joke that landed with all the topical humor of Curb’s brilliant Bernie Madoff and iPhone apps, only here they appear to be taking themselves seriously. Isn’t it way more effort to pretend to have wi-fi? What’s the endgame?
So there were plenty of missteps, but these two storylines flat-out worked.
First and foremost, the Emily Gilmore plot was perfect. Perfect. I assumed this would be the weakest part following the passing of the great Edward Herrmann, but I was way off. Emily’s transformation into the woman she (perhaps) was always meant to be was delightful, poignant, and essential. Her “bullshit” monologue at her DAR meeting was flawless and was directed as much to herself as the other committee members. Throughout the series, Emily was often her own worst enemy, torpedoing every kind gesture with clueless or petty indifference. Here, we see her true self revealed, a brazen, bold, fiercely independent woman determined to find happiness on her own terms…remind you of anyone?
Most of the reunion felt unnecessary, particularly following the excellent original series finale. But Emily’s evolution actually developed her character and strengthened the entire series; suddenly, it all made sense.
There’s this great exercise where you identify someone who you cannot stand and write down everything about them that bothers you. In doing so, the goal is that you realize the list is really a list of things you hate about yourself. This is what we see with Emily. The reason she would lash out, the reason she kept pushing Lorelai toward a certain type of man, the reason she seemed so bothered by Lorelai’s very existence: Emily saw herself in Lorelai, and she saw Lorelai living the life she could have had. She wasn’t mad at Lorelai, she was mad at herself. Because of this reunion show, Emily ended up with not one, but two happy endings. Good for her!
The second successful storyline was Logan’s. I’m not part of Team Logan – he was never strong enough for Rory. I am not on Team Jess – anyone who does hope for those two to reconcile is ignoring how short-lived and tumultuous their relationship actually was. As for Dean…well, I was hoping that the first shot of the series would take place at Dean’s funeral…so no, not Dean. Ultimately, I was hoping Rory would find someone new and amazing and refreshingly, wonderfully different.
But it makes sense Logan would get so much screen time. For as much of an impact as Jess has had in Rory’s life, it was Logan who dominated much of the original series (three seasons – 59 episodes!). And yet, the last we saw of Logan was him walking away from Rory after graduation, seemingly forever. Logan had plenty of flaws – mostly involving his family relationships – but he was also kind and supportive throughout most of his time with Rory, despite his occasional entitled outburst. Anyone who loves Jess likely loves the idea of him, the potential that Jess had, and anyone who loves Dean is a psychopath. And again, Logan is not the one for her. This was underscored by the fact that he was cheating on his fiancé with Rory until like a week before she moved in – completely consistent with Logan’s character.
That said, Logan felt like he never got the goodbye that they both deserved, the goodbye that all college loves deserve. They had shared so much at such a transformative time in both of their lives, I was glad to see them get a true, meaningful farewell. The scene with the brigade went on almost as long as the interminable musical numbers, but the last kiss in Finn’s new bed & breakfast felt genuine and earned.
But few people are discussing those stories because everyone is fixated with those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad final four words.
This ending was a massive, tone-deaf, clueless disappointment. It’s not quite on the level of the disastrous betrayal that was the How I Met Your Mother finale, but it’s still awful.
One of the most important themes of the series was Lorelai struggling to give Rory the opportunities her mom never had, bolstering and supporting Rory’s dreams without smothering her with rules. The idea was to get Rory out of their idyllic town. First it was Chilton, then it was Yale, then it was following Barack Obama around the country. Every once in a while, we caught a glimpse of Lorelai lamenting the life she could have led – the scene at Harvard where she saw a photo of her valedictorian doppelgänger (Erika Palmer) was an especially poignant reminder of what could have been. Lorelai was determined for Rory to dream big, and Lorelai did everything she could to help make those dreams come true. And after all that, Rory ends up in Stars Hollow.
Since the second episode of the series, Rory wanted to be Christiane Amanpour, to travel the world up close and see what’s really going on (Mitchum Huntzberger be damned). It seemed she was well on her way at the end of season 7. Now, I think you can make an argument that she only thinks she wants to be a journalist, and the idea that Rory Gilmore is not a good journalist is an intriguing one. But in this extra season, Rory either needs to become a world-beater journalist, or she needs to find her true calling (she always had a knack for politics) and pursue that dream. Instead we got a Lifetime original movie ending, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Here’s the thing: You can make the Pregnant in Stars Hollow storyline work. Here are three free ideas:
And yes, they tried to shoehorn in an Outsiders-esque ending where she was going to write her own story. Generally speaking, I have no problem with ambiguity, but if we’re getting the whole gang back together for a reunion tour, and we spend the majority of Rory’s scenes with her drifting aimlessly through a career and love life that offers no real answers. She’s going to write the Gilmore Girls book…hey, that’s great. Then what? Nothing in this season suggested she had any other ideas or motivations for future projects. So that leaves us with Rory pregnant in Stars Hollow working for the Gazette.
Here’s a reminder for all you writers out there:
YOU CAN HAVE A CHILD AND STILL HAVE AN EXCITING CAREER!
But in order for that to work, you must establish one of two things: that your job/career that you love is going to remain the same and you’re going to find a way to make it fit perfectly with a child, or your job/career is going to change significantly to adjust to a child, but doing so will result in an exciting new adventure.
Neither of these things happen with Rory.
And that leads to the biggest problem with this sham of an ending: Rory does not have…a…choice.
Nothing here suggests Rory is going to end the pregnancy – Gilmore Girls has always purported to be a pretty feminist show (lunch basket auctions notwithstanding), but given her talk with Christopher, the signs point to the fact that she’s made up her mind, she’s keeping her baby.
Lack of choice is unfortunately not new to the Gilmore Girls universe – just look at Lane Kim. Here was a true free spirit, rebelling against her mother’s strict rules in the hopes of becoming a famous musician. All that came to a crashing halt after she had horrible sex one time with her husband on her honeymoon. Several episodes later, the twins were born. But have no fear because as we saw from this season, Lane is now…working in her mother’s antique store? Ugh. And none of this is terribly surprising; bold, amazing over-achieving Paris didn’t get her happy ending either.
So Rory is definitely not trying to get pregnant, she spends most of the final episode insisting she is not back to stay in Stars Hollow, she is soon to be rejected (again) by the baby’s father, and she is stuck at the local paper because there are no other options. As I said, no choice, no agency, only reacting helplessly to life events. Moreover, it seems that she has completely given up and accepted that this is the end of the road. This is embodied her short-lived crusade to not publish a poem at the beginning of each season on the front page of the paper. She fights this for (apparently) three months before her convictions die a mediocre death. Valuable lesson here: If something has always been done a certain way, it’s best not to challenge it.
And the writers failed to give us any semblance of hope beyond the inferred, “Well Lorelai was happy raising Rory in Stars Hollow, so yeah.” For Rory, nothing is going to change, she’s going to trudge to the paper every day, not have anything or anyone challenge here creatively at the paper, and then trudge home, wondering what the hell happened. Somewhere, Christiane Amanpour is weeping.
And here’s the thing that’s most frustrating: This is a TV show. It can end any way you want it to end. My god, Mad Men had a happy ending! Of course in real life there are people whose lives don’t end up being the non-stop adventures they dreamed of having, but this isn’t a documentary. Let Lane go on tour. Put Paris and Doyle back together and have her find something she loves doing, not just something she’s good at. Have Jess marry someone he didn’t date for a month in high school. Murder Dean. Let Rory succeed in her career or love life (or…dare I say…both!). If this wasn’t going to improve on the ending we were given in the seventh season, then what was the point?
I reference HIMYM because that finale was a perfect example of flying a plan into the ground. The creators had
great existing footage of their oh-so-clever ending shot in the first season, and so they ignored nine years of character development, relationships, and emotions because by god that was the way the show was supposed to end from Day 1. The same thing happened with Gilmore Girls: The show creators had an idea of what they wanted the last four words to be and stuck with it. And now, we’re all stuck with another tone-deaf ending to an otherwise creative, unique series.
I have a confession to make: I love Hallmark Christmas movies.
Like, I really, seriously love them and forward to them all year long. I think at one point I liked them ironically, but now I just absolutely cannot get enough. They’re so simple, so uniform, so predictable…and yet so utterly enjoyable. Every year, on T-Give, we watch the Hallmark film, Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade, signaling the start of Hallmark Christmas movie season!
The good ones have many of the same elements. In order for a Hallmark Christmas movie to be successful, you need a love story, an enemy (but who doesn’t take up too much screen time), a known actor who can carry the story, kids who aren’t essential to the plot, Christmas music in the soundtrack, and (if at all possible) snow.
Make no mistake, there is a huge difference between a Hallmark Christmas movie and a Lifetime Christmas movie. Generally speaking, Lifetime Christmas movies don’t move too far away from the regular line of Lifetime original movies, almost all of which thrive on tragedy. That formula simply doesn’t work for these types of Christmas movies. For example, the depressing film A Christmas Wish (not to be confused with The Christmas Wish, though both are bad) focuses on a homeless family trying to escape an abusive husband/father. Sure, the last eight minutes are uplifting, but that’s not enough to make you want to sit through the previous 80 minutes of sadness. Hallmark movies, in general, get it. When you press the “Guide” button on the remote, Lifetime films tend to have “Romance: Drama” next to these titles, while Hallmark movies tend to be listed as “Romance: Comedy.” It makes all the difference.
That said, there are exceptions. Of the fifteen movies ranked here (I had meant for this to be a top five list, but…), four of these movies are not from Hallmark (two from Lifetime, two from ABC Family). However, they capture the spirit of the Hallmark Christmas movie experience.
Last note: To fully enjoy the Hallmark Christmas movie experience, I suggest hot chocolate with a bit of peppermint schnapps, or some delicious eggnog (adding Bailey’s is fine, but adding Goldschläger or Fireball Whiskey is an absolute game changer). So curl up under a blanket, bask in the glow of the Christmas tree, and throw on one of these gems. You won’t regret it!
Is this a controversial choice for making it into the top 15? Apparently! Yahoo named it the most insane ABC Christmas movie ever made, which is crazy-talk considering Christmas Bounty is on the list, which is absolutely the worst Christmas movie of all time.
But I digress. Snowglobe is under-appreciated film takes some chances and should be rewarded for those risks. First off, the lead is not a White actress, and you don’t see a lot of diversity in these types of movies (apart from the one outrageous friend of course). Almost as importantly, she’s wishing she could arrive in an idyllic winter scene inside of a snowglobe (like the movie title!), and when she arrives, she realizes the “flawed” reality of her everyday life is actually pretty great—impressive considering most Hallmark movies are striving for that perfection. It’s a truly unique approach that sets it apart from the rest of the Hallmark Christmas movies. The movie falls apart a bit in the third act, but overall it’s a fun contribution to the holiday lineup.
If you think about this one too long, you might just think that Santa Claus is a real jerk. However, you’ll be too busy being captivated by romance to focus on much else! Holly (probably not her name) was told by Santa Claus when she was like 8 years old that she would not fall in love for 20 years (again, kind of a jerk move). The story jumps ahead those 20 years, and the only man in her life is her loser ex-boyfriend who just became the editor of the newspaper (great time to get into print media, Ted!!) and a hotshot lawyer who she doesn’t realize has a heart of gold. Guess which one she ends up with! The entire premise is built around the lawyer love pretending to be someone else (because she thinks the lawyer is a jerk), and so we have to deal with the ultimate reveal and forgiveness, but it’s a fun (if predictable) ride.
This one is enjoyable, but the horrible body double for her big skating scene will stay with you forever.
This one should be automatically disqualified because it features a teacher (“Professor Farnsworth”) who saw Dead Poet’s Society one too many times. In the opening scene, Farnsworth sends his boarding school students on a scavenger hunt that leads them to a boiler room, where he emerges dressed up as a coal miner in order to teach these kids about Charles Dickens. He talks to them for three minutes and then class is over. No wonder he’s so popular! I often wonder how the “fun” professors like this handle a lesson plan that calls for comma usage.
Anyway, I digress. Farnie stays back to oversee a few students who stay behind over Christmas vacation—one of whom is a real troublemaker who doesn’t believe in helping others. Farnie helps the kids, but in the process learns a little something about seizing the day…and perhaps even to seize an opportunity at love with another teacher. If you want to know more about the movie, you can always check out this inexplicable three-page press release detailing the entire plot.
Kenneth’s blind almost-girlfriend from 30 Rock stars in this delightful romp through Christmas tropes with a healthy dose of magic sprinkled in. Annie Claus (daughter of Santa and Mrs.) is ready to learn about the world outside of the North Pole, and Los Angeles is where her heart (and a dart) led her to begin that journey. A nefarious elf hires an actor (played by someone who appears to be the lovechild of Kevin Bacon and Casper Van Dien) to trick her into falling in love, but will he be a match for the toy store owner who also played love interests in Desperate Housewives and Greek? Maria Thayer fully commits to the innocent, naive, but hopeful daughter of Santa Claus, and it’s a nice twist on the standard Santa Christmas movies.
Special note: This is one of the rare films where a child plays an important role but doesn’t annoy the audience to death in the process.
This movie is a bit of an odd duck in its bizarre message, but it pulls you in. A tabloid reporter with questionable ethics and fashion sense is hoping to cover a rich, wealthy family for her paparazzi magazine, but when her car runs out of gas, she must don a wedding dress to stave off hypothermia. While walking for help, she meets the son of the aforementioned family and, over the next few days, realizes that they might not be all bad. Incidentally, there is also a brother of the wealthy love interest who is going to propose to the ex-boyfriend of the wealthy love interest, so in her defense, it would have made for a good story.
SPOILER ALERT: At the end, the family ends up buying the tabloid so it can’t print things about said family. As far as free speech goes, this is…not…ideal. But it’s so ridiculously over the top that all you can do is chuckle.
This is a series that has gotten steadily worse (Call Me Mrs. Miracle was good, Mr. Miracle was an outright disaster), but the first one gets it right. Jimmy Van Der Beek (before his amazing turn on Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23) stars as a father who is raising two boys on his own, but they are a bit of a handful. Fortunately, a guardian angel by the name of Mrs. Miracle is there to help him wrangle those two trouble-makers…and just maybe help him find his one true love! That love is working as a travel agent (kids, you might need to look up that profession), but she has some of her own issues with family that need to be worked through.
Incidentally, JVDB plays a widower, but they do a nice job balancing him missing his wife and him moving on (similar to The Wishing Tree). Most Lifetime Christmas movies focus on that grief for the first hour or so. That said, Hallmark, while great, is not perfect – The Christmas Ornament is an example of succumbing to sadness at the expense of focusing on the magic of Christmas.
The incomparable Kristin Chenoweth took one look at this script and decided to throw the movie on her back and carry it toward the finish line…and she did just that! Chenoweth is a hotshot public relations guru in New York City when her professional and personal lives come crashing down. She strategically retreats to a job in a small Montana town where she learns that life in the country isn’t so bad. Her professional career gets a boost from her idea for a major fundraising venture: A sexy calendar of men on the local search-and-rescue team (hence the title). But while she’s not looking for love in Big Sky Country, she might just end up falling for a mountain man after all!
Don’t undersell the scenery in this one (and I’m not talking about the dude eye candy). Whenever I watch 12 Men, I have the strong urge to move to Montana. Gorgeous!
Here’s a time-tested Hallmark storyline: A woman going home for the holidays finds a stranger to pretend to be her boyfriend…but then they unexpectedly fall in love! Now I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this just the plot to Holidays in Handcuffs? Basically yes, though Handcuffs is a kidnapping whereas Engagement is a scheme (which, oddly enough, makes it more plausible than Handcuffs). Engagement is the superior film, thanks to shifting venues, decent acting from secondary characters (I would totally watch a movie about her friend who finds a surfer-lover), and just enough schmaltz make this a Grimm-Odenweller staple. The miscellaneous characters help move things along, and there is actual chemistry between the two leads (something that can be lacking).
Also, the over-annunciation of the lyrics, “In excelsis deo” in a piano duet of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is worth the price of admission, as is realizing that all of her newspaper stories are roughly 250 words long.
When a recently-widowed mom makes a surprise visit to Boston using some sort of primitive Air BnB house swap, the real surprise is that her daughter went south for Christmas break. But the realer surprise is that the brother of the reclusive author (JD’s brother from Scrubs) whose house she is staying at has a crush on her…and she might just be falling for him too! Meanwhile, the author is staying at the mother’s house as per their house exchange. But the mother’s friend shows up to surprise the mother, only to find an eccentric author who can’t write women. Will she help him write his book, despite his insistence that he doesn’t need anyone else in his life?
This is different than the typical Hallmark Christmas movies (though most of these are, at least to some extent), and it’s kind of genius. By having multiple stories going (the daughter has a bit of an arc as well), it keeps you from getting bogged down in any one plot. It definitely keeps things from becoming stale. And while the Boston storyline isn’t nearly as interesting or entertaining as the author storyline, it all works.
This one is way better than it has any right being. Amy Smart re-lives the same Christmas Eve day over and over again, trying to get it right. It’s not terribly original (A Christmas Wedding Date tried this idea…but failed), but here it works. Along the way she meets love interest Zach Morris, a couple of newfound friends, a kindly neighbor, and a stepmother who Amy didn’t realize had her best interests at heart. I think my favorite thing about this movie is how it’s basically trying to make the perfect Hallmark movie, but it keeps having to add elements (Now add an ex-boyfriend! Now add a troubled teen!). Spoiler alert: She succeeds in creating the perfect Christmas Eve! Oh, and keep your eye out for a visual representation of each of the 12 Days of Christmas each time she re-lives the day (e.g., partridge in a pear tree, nine ladies dancing, etc.). I only caught a few this time around, but next year, I’ll witness them all!
This movie should be annoying. It should be obnoxious. It should be 90 minutes of eye-rolling and exasperated sighs. But it’s actually a delight! This is a textbook case of a celebrity coming on-board and just running with it—way to go, David Hasselhoff!
This is only one of two(!) Lifetime original movie on the list, and it’s worth the exception. For this film, an exasperated mother hires a Christmas consultant to plan the holidays for her family…and maybe learn a little something about love and forgiveness along the way! And while this one takes a tragic turn toward the end (it is a Lifetime Christmas movie after all), the sadness is very much short-lived, and given the amount of levity in the film, all is forgiven. Also, I about died laughing at the appearance of the gingerbread man. You’ll see!
Alicia Witt is a national treasure, and it’s criminal that the movie she’s “known for” on IMDB is that Two Weeks Notice debacle. She was fine in A Snow Globe for Christmas, great in Christmas at Cartwrights (where she dresses as Santa Claus…even though she’s a woman!!!), and I’m sure she’ll be wonderful in I’m Not Ready for Christmas (which has a premise that sounds a lot like Liar, Liar). But she is pure magic in A Very Merry Mix-Up, a film where Alicia is traveling to meet her fiance’s family but accidentally goes home from the airport with the wrong family. What?? Yes! And when she’s there, she starts to fall in love with a guy (budget Paul Eisenstein, right down to the voice) and his family, and they like her as well. Of course, the switcheroo gets figured out, and she heads back to the correct family…but is it the right family? I saw this one for the first time last year, and the fact that it shot up the list so fast establishes it as a staple for years to come. Pay attention when she tells the tale of people frozen in time. You’ll see!
Roger Moore is serviceable here, but this is one Hallmark movie where a relative unknown actress really sells the movie (just like A Christmas Kiss). The plot itself is as old as time—a woman (I forget her name, but she gets eaten by that underwater dinosaurbeast in Jurassic World) is living an average life when she ends up with her two cousins at a castle…because they’re suddenly royalty! The trio tries hard to fit in with the formal atmosphere, but they’re not afraid to take some of the starch out of that stuffed shirt! The kids love it, and MosasaurusBait is hesitant…at least until she finds the man how her dreams in this modern fairytale. Incidentally, here is a great example of what differentiates a typical Hallmark Christmas movie from a typical Lifetime Christmas movie. In the movie, the two kids are with MosasaurusBait because their mom (her sister) and dad were killed. Lifetime loves suffering (just ask Love at the Christmas Table or Home by Christmas). Meanwhile, rather than moping around for half the movie and throwing (non-love) obstacles at the main characters, here the protagonists are at the castle 13 minutes into the movie.
I don’t start watching Hallmark Christmas movies until Black Friday, because I’m not a damn animal. But this year, my wife was out of town for Halloween weekend, I was kind of feeling down that Sunday about going back to work—like, I was legitimately bummed out. So what did I do? I went to Starbucks, grabbed a chai tea latte, and I went home to watch A Christmas Kiss. And it was pure magic—it completely changed my mood. In this movie, a young woman named Wendy is the assistant for a famous interior decorator (and maybe party planner?). This famous designer is dating the sixth Baldwin brother, and he gets trapped in an elevator with Wendy and they kiss. She’s wearing glitter make-up so he doesn’t recognize her (????), and later the designer assigns Wendy to design Bradley Baldwin’s Christmas party. But he doesn’t know Wendy is the woman he kissed with whom he has fallen in love! It shouldn’t work—especially without a celebrity to help with the heavy lifting—but it does.
Everything in this movie works: the premise (a free-spirited man stranded at an airport who needs a place to stay), the love interest (a successful workaholic single mom trying to find the perfect Christmas for herself and her son), the enemy (snooty but clueless soon-to-be fiancé of the aforementioned single mom), and the fact that none of it could have happened without the magic of Christmas. Henry Winkler plays the uncle (who’s “more like a father”), and I swear his commitment to the movie just raises everyone else’s game in terms of their performances. It’s one of the better examples of the protagonist having an existing relationship where you can actually understand why she’s with him (even if you’re rooting for the traveler). I seriously watch this a couple of times a season, and it is pure magic. Here’s how much I enjoy this movie. I own the DVD (DUH!)…but I also have it DVR’d in case I’m comfy on the couch and want to fall asleep to the dulcet tones of Henry Winkler’s New York accent. Seriously.
Also receiving votes: Naughty or Nice (boring, but the finale is amazing), Nanny for Christmas (too reliant on child actors), All About Christmas Eve (featuring a Diana DeGarmo concert?!), Help for the Holidays (sorry River, but you don’t have the charisma to carry a movie), Christmas Cupid (kind of a bummer since the protagonist is dead), The Christmas Ornament (focuses way too much on mourning – kind of a bummer, could have been great), Matchmaker Santa (it’s just okay), Holiday High School Reunion (it’s barely okay), Mistletoe Over Manhattan (too many unnecessary obstacles), Holidays in Handcuffs (some great body double ice-skating work, but…and I realize how this sounds…it’s too unbelievable)
Never. Not even once: On Strike for Christmas, A Bride for Christmas, Battle of the Bulbs, It’s Christmas, Carol!, Love at the Christmas Table, Christmas Lodge, Let It Snow, Home by Christmas, Christmas Caper, Hitched for the Holidays, A Christmas Wish, The Christmas Wish
This is my third time teaching In-Depth Reporting, a journalism class that focuses on data visualization, along with reporting and understanding research. I tend to focus on data and documents, and acquiring both of these is something I want students to understand. The easiest way to gather these documents is through a public information request. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), individuals are allowed to request documents from the executive branch of the U.S. government, which includes hundreds of departments and agencies.
In order to show them just how insanely easy it is to submit a FOIA (definitely not as easy to submit a Louisiana Public Records Request), for their first assignment they had to submit a FOIA request to the Federal Communications Commission for complaints on a television show (no Netflix original series – sorry Orange is the New Black). All I asked was that they try for a show they enjoy, and that they keep in mind that the FCC probably didn’t want to receive 31 requests for complaints about Game of Thrones ( there was an unexpected side effect of no one asking for GoT complaints).
I’m not an idiot, I realize that the FCC does not regulate cable content (and certainly doesn’t regulate HBO). However, the FCC is one of the few agencies that the citizens might contact – the average person probably isn’t going to contact the Commerce Department, but because of high-profile cases and coordinated attempts to protest unsettling content, the FCC is go-to source for complaints. In other words, people who see something that bothers them on TV know to contact the FCC.
Once the requests started trickling in, I had an absolute blast reading them (apparently, there is a very vocal segment of the population who doesn’t like gay individuals – who knew??). So, I decided to share my favorite seven complaints that were collected, along with the raw complaints for anyone who might be interested. Here we go!
I think I’m drawn to this one because, compared to the other complaints received, it’s pretty tame. To hear other complaints, gay men kissing will be the downfall of the United States. This guy (I assume all complainers are guys) is just concerned about kids saying “assface.”
“We are watching the current episode and hearing an 8 year-old call someone Assface several times on 8PM prime TV. This is unacceptable language! When did this ever become appropriate?” – pg. 8
Probably shortly after they started showing Saving Private Ryan with the swear words edited out.
I like this complaint because it seems like this guy (I assume all complainers are guys) seems genuinely perplexed at what he feels is a double-standard.
Why on shows like Big Brother, Survivor, The Voice, and many, many shows a woman’s boobs are not fuzzed out. On Survivor a person will have I” of butt crack showing and it will be fuzzed out but a girl can have almost all her boobs hanging out for all to see. I would like to see boob cleavage fuzzed out. At least I would like to know why it is allowed. – pg. 34
I think the next logical step is fuzzing out women’s bodies completely. It will help avoid temptation!!
As I alluded to earlier, it would appear that network television viewers have some issues with LGBTQ individuals. The complaints about gay men kissing were common, but this one stood about because he was so upset:
Obscene gay sexual scene surprised & shocked me 2/3 into program. I demand a rating of gay sexual acts just like the other ratings so I can avoid those programs. I broke out in tears I was so angry!!! It’s sad enough that every tv show now has outright gay characters this year!!! – p. 2
The gay rating (or “gayting,” as it will be known) will revolutionize the TV rating system!
So I’m curious: Who gets that upset about something like this? Like, not just upset, but “burst into tears” upset. Who has the time and the emotional energy? Weird.
One of my favorite parts about these complaints is when people unload on something that doesn’t really have anything to do with the show they’re inquiring about. Like individuals have a lot on their minds, and so since they have the platform, they’re gonna let the FCC know about everything!
On May 21, 2014, “Modern Family” is going to show a same sex wedding ceremony. This show should be cancelled. Also, Hollywood executives continue to make pornographic, disgusting, perverted movies, such as, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Ninety Shades of Grey”. This department should do everything possible to stop the production of”Ninety Shades of Grey.” This is a filthy movie that promotes sex. No wonder there has been an increase in rape and child molestation. – p. 8
I liked the passive-aggressive, “I’m gonna call it by the wrong name to show how much I don’t care!” It’s like Chandler/Chester all over again:
I’m not really sure what Point A means, but Point B is especially curious:
During the episode, Big Brother showed two selections for Team America’s next mission. A. “Wear down the competition by convincing everyone to fast for 24 hours while Team America secretly eats.” B. “Wear down the competition by convincing everyone there’s a rodent in the house and keep them up all night trying to catch it.” Choice A is anti-religious because fasting typically occurs for religious purposes. Choice B is deceptive information designed to weaken other houseguests. – p. 41
So…is this fella complaining about the fact that people are using deception as a strategy on reality television? Has he ever seen reality TV before? It’s kind of their thing.
This one took awhile to unpack. At first I thought he was complaining about subliminal messaging perpetrated by the networks, but upon closer examination, I think he’s accusing Alaska hostels, which is…interesting:
I am an random former resident of a hostel by the name of Jason’s. I’d tike to report some unusual activity I witnessed on their television during the short summer of my stay there (year 2014). Just off the top of my head: while watching Modern Family one day, I see the strange image of a hand twirling out of place in a scene; while watching True Blood at another sitting, I hear “That was an accident/That was an accent change” (both stated at the same time). Never mind what I’ve heard at other places I’ve stayed at in the state of Alaska (Bean’s Café, Brother Francis Shelter). They sound like subliminal messaging to me, which I’m pretty sure is illegal. So I’m reporting it to you.
The biggest mystery for me is two-fold: How would Jason’s Hostel even go about adding in subliminal messages to a network television show, and what the hell would their subliminal messages be?
This one is my favorite, and it wasn’t the only one to accuse those associated with Saturday Night Live of stealing content (p. 37 of the Saturday Night Live document is particularly crazy-sounding – probably fresh off of a layover at Jason’s Hostel). This one, accusing Jimmy Fallon of lifting material, wins out because it’s so specific:
His show consists of things which pertain either, in a past complaint, my fan mail…The commercial with the child in the oversized boots comes from a photo of myself recently sent to my family. He doesnt write his original work, but feeds off of me. I do not know why. I rarely watch, but everytime I do, it is specifically, masked or reworded or at times exactly what I did or saw within my day. Jimmy Fallon and NBC’S SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE need be taken off air. They bring the highest hierarchies of society down to an irreputable level. It’s not coincidence. I asked an apology. I asked him to stop, via email.
Lord, I ain’t a prayin’ man, but if you can have Jimmy Fallon read those emails on the air, that would be amazing.
Here are the rest of the complaints – enjoy!
It’s that amazing time of year again when the leaves start to turn, the weather starts to change, Saturdays are for football – well, at least the last one is true in the South. But the best part about the fall is being able to watch fantastic scary movies (no bad ones!) during the months of September and October. I’ve written about Rocktober before, but I wanted to clarify what makes a Shocktember movie and what makes a Rocktober movie, and everything in-between.
Few things in life are more important than understanding the difference between a Shocktember movie and a Rocktober movie. Don’t think so? Let me ask you this, hotshot – would you watch Halloween the first week in September, like some kind of animal? Exactly. So I’m here to explain how to categorize these films.
First and foremost, here is the Shocktember.Rocktober.Master.List, which includes movie times so you can fit some of the shorter movies in on a weeknight.
Shocktember movies basically fall into two categories: Creatures and zombies. I don’t want to get into a huge debate about it, but yes, I consider the infected souls in 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later to be zombies. Other than that, Shocktember encompasses any creature unusual in origin, size, number, or ferocity. Some standouts include:
The Descent: Duh. I’ve written about The Descent a lot (here and here, and I’ll probably be writing another entry soon), but only because it’s absolutely, completely brilliant. Following a tragedy, five women get trapped underground in a cave, only to find out they’re not alone. I consider this to be the best horror movie ever made, and the creatures don’t even show up until 47 minutes into the film.
Black Water: While Rogue (another crocodile movie also on the list) is more action/horror, Black Water is suspense/horror. Both are great, but unlike the raucous ending of Rogue, Black Water keeps everything relatively grounded. The story is simple: Three individuals on a crocodile tour get trapped in a mangrove tree out in the middle of nowhere, with a crocodile trying to kill them. It is wonderful.
The Ruins: This is one where you either buy into the premise (which is admittedly far-fetched) or you do not. I do. Trapped in the jungle on top of ancient ruins (hey!), five friends have to try and survive while something is trying desperately to kill them.
Don’t you forget about: 28 Days Later, Rogue, Shrooms, Last Winter
“Cusp movies” (a term coined by my excellent wife Claire) are horror movie films with a sense of humor; an homage to the genre. These movies have an awareness of what makes a horror film, and they generally mix humor with suspense. They’re called cusp movies because they need to be watched during the last week of Shocktember and the first week of Rocktober. Some standouts include:
Cabin in the Woods: I don’t know about it being the “best horror movie of the 21st century,” but only because The Descent exists. It is absolutely brilliant, chock full of horror movie references while simultaneously explaining, skewering, and embracing the entire genre.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon: Set up as a horror movie documentary where student journalists interview a killer, the movie is a delightful, clever feature that does a great job of explaining the structure of a horror movie. The script is brilliant, but Nathan Baesel’s performance carries the movie.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil: It’s a funny, smart case of mistaken identity with two actors who escalate the (already excellent) material to an underrated film.
Don’t you forget about: Severance, Dog Soldiers
Rocktober movies can basically be boiled down into two concepts: Slashers and the supernatural. This is where you get a lot of your classic psycho-murderer films, so no point in listen the staples (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc.). I wrote about some Rocktober movies you shouldn’t miss, but here are a few standouts that you should definitely check out.
It Follows: When one of the best TV/film critics around says it’s the “scariest American horror movie in years,” you should set your expectations accordingly. The film is uncomfortable, unrelenting, and a wonderful allegory for how we think about sex in this country.
The Babadook: Remember when Todd VanDerWerff said that It Follows was the scariest American horror movie in years? Yeah, that’s because The Babadook exists. An Australian horror movie, this film gets inside your head. It’s legitimately creepy, and builds suspense like few movies can.
House of the Devil: Watch this movie. Watch this movie. Watch this movie. Released in 2012, this horror film takes place in the 1980s, and…wow. It feels like the entire thing was shot in 1986 and they just found the footage a few years ago. All you need to know is that it involves devil worship, a babysitter, and incredible suspense.
Don’t you forget about: Halloween (duh-doy), Night of the Demon, Trick R Treat, Paranormal Activity, House of Wax
The weekend is a great time to catch up on horror movies, but let’s face it: sometimes you’ve got stuff to do! This is where the background movies come in. Generally speaking, background movies (like Troy, any Rambo film, Inside Man, etc.) are films designed to be watched while you’re doing something else. A great background movie is entertaining, but not too entertaining – something where you can look up every once in a while to watch a scene, but you don’t have to stare at the screen. The main rules: Nothing too intense/interesting, and no subtitles.
It’s no different for horror movies. Here are a few standouts that don’t stand out too much:
The Burning: Released after Friday the 13th, even if you’ve never seen this movie before…you’ve seen this movie before. It hits all the beats of a slasher film because it was one of the first. After an incident at summer camp, a maniac returns to exact revenge (sound familiar?). The deaths are creative, the killer is actually a bit sympathetic, and it features a very young George Costanza.
Friday the 13th – Part III: Speaking of Friday the 13th…yeah. The fact that this entry in the film was ranked 9th (!!!) in the series is inexcusable. It’s an absolute blast. The acting is horrible, the storyline is muddled, and the subplots are bizarre. But every once in a while, you look up just in time to see a blatant example of 3-D filmmaking (the axe is comin’ right at you!). It’s a perfect background horror movie.
Joy Ride: Until things totally fly off the rails at the very end (which is still wildly entertaining), this movie is way better than it should be. This makes for a great background feature because you can look up every once in a while for an fun sequence, and you can look back down before thinking, “Wait a minute…” Incidentally, if you ever get ahold of the dvd like some kind of dinosaur, there are four alternate endings (and the one in the cornfield is actually better than the version that appears on-screen). Just make sure one of the times you look up is when Walker and Zahn are in the hotel room – that scene belongs in a much better movie.
Don’t you forget about: Wrong Turn, Scream, Psycho
The tricky part about Shocktember/Rocktober is that there really isn’t a place for science fiction films. I love Time Crimes more than most (because it’s an amazing film), but it’s not a fit for fall.
Having said that, there are two movies that I make room for in the movie schedule:
The Thing: This John Carpenter film is timeless, thanks to its claustrophobic atmosphere and practical special effects. While it’s technically sci-fi/horror (the Thing is an alien), quite frankly, it’s too good not to have in the rotation.
Alien: Speaking of too good to exclude, this film has it all. It’s majestic, it’s suspenseful, it’s innovative, it’s exciting – I just have to watch it. No need to watch the director’s cut, as Ridley Scott actually said the only reason he released that format was so it could be released on the big screen again. Having said that, the director’s cut of Aliens actually provides a lot of important exposition that really enhances the story. Now you know.
Congratulations, now you’re ready to embrace these two months of glory.
Whatever you choose to watch, make sure to use this amazing Spiced.Apple.Cider recipe! Let it simmer in the crockpot all day, and pair with a hot bowl of chili.
Now get moving – you have a lot of work to do.
I think, at this point, everyone is familiar with Humans of New York. Started in 2010, it’s a series of photos and (more importantly) stories about the individuals featured in those photos. It’s actually done some pretty great things both as a fundraiser and for simply reminding us that every single person has a life filled with struggles and triumphs, and that we’re all in this together.
However, the phenomenon has taken an unfortunate turn. Now a bunch of cities are trying to imitate the format of HONY, though from the look of things, people running these new sites do not seem to know what they’re doing.
One of the first rules of storytelling that I teach my students is “Select, don’t compress.” In other words, whether you’re covering a football game or aggregating a social media phenomenon, you don’t want a blow-by-blow account of what happened. You don’t compress the entire event into a story, you pick out the highlights so we get an accurate but entertaining account of how something happened. It’s no different than telling about that time you cleared out the bar with “The Boys Are Back In Town” on the jukebox–just hit the highlights.
Unfortunately, these “Humans of New York” impersonators do not take that approach.
News Flash! Genna Freed is the voice behind the news on WFIN, WKXA and 106.3 the FOX. She can be heard from 10-6 Monday through Friday reporting on all the local news. She is rapidly gaining a reputation of being a savvy, “hit the streets” to get the story, reporter.
She has been in this position since June. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of Findlay with a degree in Journalism. She spent the last two years of her university years as Editor of the university newspaper. She enjoys her job because, “everyday, is always different and keeps me on my toes.” There is no monotony in her job.
She “looks forward to a long career in her life niche of communication Genna has been in Findlay since she was three and graduated from Liberty Benton. She has been married to Cameron for just over a year and they are kept company by two dogs named Trigger and Bo.
When not reporting, Genna like to play with the dogs, read and she and her husband both keep busy renovating the home they just purchased. She likes to “See the good in every person or event, in everything.” Her role model is her husband who has the hardest working work ethic she has ever seen. Summing up Findlay she describes Findlay “As a good mix of up and coming and historic, a good balance of old and new.”
Honestly, that almost reads like an obituary (“survived by Cameron, Trigger, and Bo”). There are literally half a dozen interesting stories embedded in that painfully boring entry. Don’t believe me?
• Her most memorable news story she covered (for the “hit the streets” reputation)
• How she and Cameron met or got engaged or some other milestone
• Almost any story about her dogs
• Best/worst renovation stories
• Hardest she ever worked to see the good in someone
• Most memorable moment growing up in Findlay
And those are just the obvious ones. Delve into any one of those and find plenty more. I would much rather hear about how she tried a Nicole Curtis trick that totally worked (or didn’t), or about how she rescued her dogs from the shelter, or explaining why the annual fireworks display (or whatever) is so important to her (Findlay would eat that up!). Instead, we get a summary of her life in the broadest of strokes.
Another tenet of good storytelling is the use of characters. If there aren’t any characters, there isn’t going to be a plot (despite what Michael Bay would have you believe). This is where the genius of “Humans of New York” becomes clear: The entire site is based around characters. Here is a photo of the main character–now we’re going to tell you a story about this person that illuminates an interesting side of that person.
Again, unfortunately, the folks trying to re-create the phenomenon in their hometowns have overlooked this essential component.
Take Humans of Lubbock (please!). Here’s the latest entry from that site:
I got him last week. I had another corgi, and he passed away. So my parents found me a new puppy.
Whoops! I forgot to include the full entry! Embarrassing.
No, no I didn’t. That’s it. That’s pretty much the average length of an entry. Here’s another:
I am afraid of the debt I will have after school. I graduate in May, then I am going to Texas A&M for Veterinary School.
That’s not a story. It’s barely a thought. If you’re looking to tell compelling stories, you’ve failed. If you’re looking for folks at Texas Tech to check the website to see if someone they know is “featured,” you might succeed for a little bit, though it’s a pretty lame model. This isn’t the days of “gonna get my name in the paper!” Hell, if someone wanted to be featured on social media, it’s hard not to be.
Humans of New York, remind us how it’s done:
I want to be in musical theater, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to go to auditions. I want to make my parents proud and validate their faith in me, but every time I talk to them, they ask me if I’ve gotten a show yet, and every time I have to tell them ‘no.’ And it’s hard to not feel foolish when you keep trying something and it doesn’t work out. I have a day job to support me while I go to auditions. But now I’m working there more than I’m auditioning, and I’m scared that I’m falling into a routine. I see a lot of people settle into a routine where nothing really upsets them, but nothing really excites them either. And I’m afraid that’s happening to me.
And there you go: simple, compelling storytelling. When you genuinely engage with someone, you can learn about their hopes, fears, and dreams, and in the process of hearing their stories, we can all relate to what those individuals are going through.
I guess what bothers me about this is that, despite what reality television tells us, there are interesting people everywhere. Humans of __________________ should be the easiest knock-off of all-time. But, as Humans of New York reminds us with its storytelling, there’s a lot more to it than simply snapping a photo of someone who lives nearby.
Man, people are way too excited about the possibility that the feature character in the now-infamous Rolling Stone piece about rape on the University of Virginia campus. Media outlets across the country have been weighing in (with think pieces aplenty!) about the ramifications of such journalistic errors.
We’re hit with the predictable tongue-clucking from the mainstream news media, as each publication tried desperately to show that they value ETHICS and RESPONSIBILITY. “We know what Rolling Stone did wrong! We don’t make those mistakes! We’re absolutely relevant! PLEASE READ US WE’RE DYING!”
USA Today’s take was pretty representative, with a list of all the things that went wrong. A Washington Post columnist declared it to be “the worst screwup in the history of modern American journalism” (take that, Jimmy’s World!).
As is often the case, they’re missing the larger point of the article.
Look, this is Public Relations 101 – if you don’t like a message, scream bloody murder about how the information was reported. Throw enough misdirection out there, blame “the media,” and try to slink away. And for UVA, it worked.
So, let’s focus on two key points in the article that have nothing to do with Jackie:
• The University of Virginia is one of the 86 schools now under federal investigation for inadequately handling sexual assault cases.
This is essential. UVA took the spotlight in this case, but this is a nationwide issue. Critics love to go after the “1 in 5” statistic, but it’s based off a slew of studies, the studies are methodologically sound, and when you consider the different types of sexual assault and rape, the numbers are actually pretty accurate. Throw in the fact that rape is wildly, uncomfortably, unbelievably underreported, and I’m glad colleges are being forced to address this issue. Honestly, instead of journalists climbing over one another to denounce Rolling Stone, every single outlet should find the nearest college campus and figure out the process for reporting a rape or sexual assault.
That leads us to the second point key point in the article:
• In the last academic year, 38 students went to Dean Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in “complaints”; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings.
Dean Eramo is a key figure in all of this, and a disturbing one to boot. Part of her job is to listen to student complaints and, according to the article, dissuade them from filing formal complaints (because “nobody wants to send their daughter to a rape school”). It’s a horrifying piece of the article, and it’s heartbreaking to hear how many survivors consider Eramo to be above criticism. In their eyes, she’s a hero who helped them through a horrifying experience. In reality, she’s there to protect the college, not the victims.
These key points are being completely overlooked, because Jackie’s story might not be consistent (though, it should be pointed out that it’s consistent with suffering through trauma). Her crime seems to be that she lied, not necessarily about being raped, but the circumstances under which she was raped. As has become the case, victims’ stories have to be above reproach. Otherwise, they come under attack, and the next victim is that much less likely to come forward.
Attention is slowly being placed back on the University of Virginia, and vindicating Jackie, but we’ve got a long way to go before outrage over “bad journalism” gives way to the realization that this piece was a lot more about one student. Make no mistake that this story needed to be told. As is too often the case, we’re just paying attention to the wrong part.
They say that comedy is tragedy plus time, which is why Lincoln being assassinated is funny – just ask Alan Alda or Michael Scott. But that time can also embolden other aspects of human nature as well.
Tributes are a difficult thing to judge. Visually-speaking, these types of artistic creations are an eyesore:
That said, it’s harder to argue kitsch when sincerity is involved. The eagle blood tears might look hideous, and someone clearly learned about opacity in Photoshop, but if it was truly done in the spirit of honoring victims, heroes, and/or survivors from that day, then the genuine effort dulls its offensiveness.
I would argue the one factor that can firmly establish tribute from opportunism is money. It’s what separates true artists from assholes like this. And when corporations start weighing in with tributes…well…motive rears its ugly head – emphasis on ugly.
As a bonus, enough people on Twitter noticed the trend and started the fantastic hashtag, #PromotedMourning.
I’ve compiled the best into a Storify piece. Please enjoy:
An article released yesterday made its way through social media yesterday about ranking college football teams by TV ratings. You can read it here.
There was much chest-thumping in the SEC over the fact that 12 SEC teams were in the top 25 teams in terms of TV ratings. This guy was pretty excited about it, as were his followers:
And why wouldn’t they be? It’s yet another example of SEC dominance…or is it?
The first thing I tell my students when reading a study is to simply take a minute to see if it makes sense to them. Nothing fancy or scientific – just a gut reaction as to whether the study seems like it makes sense. In this case, it does not. Mississippi State at #23 in the nation? Really? Texas at #26? Double really?
Once you find that logical irregularity, then you have to determine if the study is merely presenting something that is challenges the way we traditionally perceive something…or if the study is flawed.
In this case, the study is flawed, for three big reasons:
Look at the number of games for those SEC teams. LSU has 11 (respect), but Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia only have 10, Tennessee has 9, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Missouri have 8, and Mississippi State has 7.
Now look at some of the other teams, particularly the traditional powers: Florida State and Oklahoma have 12, Notre Dame and Ohio State 11.
My follow-up rule to students: Actually read through the methodology, because that’s where mistakes are made. And that’s where this study falls apart:
“Ratings include only games on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and FOX Sports 1. Data for other networks are unavailable (e.g., Big Ten Network, Pac-12 Network, Longhorn Network), and this boosts averages for teams playing on those networks since ratings are generally low (e.g., Michigan on the Big 10 Network and Texas on the Longhorn Network).”
“Boosts the averages for teams playing on those networks since ratings are generally low.” Oh, okay. Since you said it, that must be true!
Teams like Ohio State and Florida State have more games on these networks. And while your half-assed explanation for excluding BTN and the like from your convenience sample makes sense on the surface, the number of games included is what makes the difference.
Let’s look at Florida State’s schedule, since they had 12 games broadcast on the list of networks (unfortunately, I do not have access to what games were televised, but we can certainly make some assertions). Not only were almost all of these games blow-outs, but only one game was not televised, which I’m assuming was against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (yes, that team exists). So let’s look at the others that were televised: Nevada, Wake Forest, the rest of the ACC…Idaho!
Think back to school: Remember when you had to figure out what your grade was, and one really bad quiz or test would tank the whole thing? That’s what Idaho and Nevada were – a horrible biology lab or spelling test. Those (undoubtedly) awful numbers undoubtedly dragged down the entire average for Florida State…who still ended up 14th overall (which, given that schedule, is kind of amazing).
Compare that with Alabama, which had 10 televised games. Looking at the Tide’s schedule, the most likely games that were not televised were Georgia State and the Chattanooga Mocs (also a real team that exists). To keep with the school metaphor, they got to drop their two lowest quiz grades, while Florida State only got to drop one. That’s a hell of an advantage.
Incidentally, that’s undoubtedly why Michigan sits at #3, despite an awful, awful season – the Wolverine average only had to include seven games.
The authors go to great lengths explaining how they included all the numbers for the national networks, ESPN stations…and Fox Sports 1. Considering that ESPN/ESPN each have access to about 11 million more households than Fox Sports 1, that’s a hell of an advantage when you’re talking about the difference between 2nd place and 30th place is about 3 million viewers. It’s a fledgling network that was in its first year, and it’s being compared with the most established name in sports. The ratings discrepancy was rough – to quote from the linked article:
The Oklahoma-Baylor game on Fox Sports 1 last Thursday drew 2.11 million viewers, the highest viewership total ever for the network. ESPN alone had nine telecasts break the two million viewer mark for the week ending November 3. It’s not even worth comparing directly at this point because the gap from ESPN to everyone else is huge.
And you know who has not played a single game on Fox Sports 1? SEC teams. Fox Sports 1 has contracts with the Big 12 and Pac-12 , and Fox is desperately trying to court the Big 10 for when the contract renewal time rolls around…but no affiliation whatsoever with the SEC. So you get a lot of Big 12 teams and Pac-12 teams who lose a significant chunk of ratings simply because of the network they’re on, not necessarily because of a lack of fan interest.
For me, the most damning part of this chart are #23, #24 and #25: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Arkansas, respectively. Like I said earlier, ask yourself if you really, truly believe that this year, the University of Texas had fewer people turning in to watch them play than Arkansas. The Longhorns were wildly disappointing this year, but the Razorbacks? An Arkansas team with a 3-9 record, who lost their last nine games? Really?
Of course not. And that’s the key – when you find some portion of a study that is not consistent with what is known, then it’s a gateway to understanding why the study is flawed.
In this case, Arkansas is ranked higher than the University of Texas because of a combination of what we talked about earlier (the authors counted six televised games for Arkansas, nine for Texas), and the opponents that those teams played.
Arkansas had six games televised on the aforementioned TV stations. The Razorback schedule is here, so let’s look at the opponents together: Louisiana, Samford, Southern Miss, Rutgers, Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU.
Out of those 12 teams, which ones do you think were not televised? My guess would be Louisiana, Samford, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and maybe Rutgers. So, we’re left mostly with the traditional SEC powers (Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, and LSU) and Texas A&M.
In other words, this isn’t measuring the ratings for Arkansas fans – it’s a measurement of other fan bases. And therein lies the fatal flaw of this study.
There’s no denying that some SEC teams have delivered ratings, and this is why so many people find SEC fanboys so obnoxious – it’s not enough to say that Alabama achieved ratings excellence (or Texas A&M or LSU), but they have to go lumping the entire conference in with the top performers, as though standing next to Lebron James makes you an amazing basketball player or standing next to Bill Gates makes you a millionaire.
Bottom line: When you’re asked to determine the internal validity of a study, it comes down to a simple question: “Are you measuring what you think you’re measuring?” And in this case, the researchers who threw these numbers together are not. What this analysis essentially says (beyond “We don’t have all the TV ratings but let’s crap out an article anyway”) is that the SEC has a contract with ESPN, not all of the SEC conference games are televised anywhere because the SEC network isn’t rolling yet, and highly-ranked teams garner more ratings.
As for conference dominance in the TV ratings, like most arguments about the SEC, it’s more about the teams at the top than anything else.
Tonight, we had to say goodbye to a furry friend. Elvis was 17 years old when the vet came to see her one last time; 30 seconds later, she was gone.
Elvis was a tiny kitten Claire’s dad, Dave, found at a fertilizer plant. Elvis wasn’t afraid of him (or anyone else), and Dave brought the kitten home, fearing it would accidentally ingest chemicals or suffer some other cruel fate. They thought it was a boy, named “him” Elvis, and found out later that it was actually a girl. Despite the inevitable confusion from veterinarians for years to come, the name stayed.
Her life was filled with happiness. She used to dangle in a branch above the bird bath, lurking and waiting. When Dave went into the hospital, Elvis’s soft coat patiently absorbed every last one of Claire’s tears–she always knew when her mom needed comforting. For me, I’ll remember Elvis’s quiet meow and understanding eyes. I’ll remember her laying in the grass while we drank morning coffee in Lubbock, absorbing the sun and surveying the yard, waiting patiently to escape over the fence on another adventure. I’ll remember her racing around like a kitten even though she was 17 years old, batting around a ping-pong ball or chasing after the snake wand.
But for me, my favorite memory of Elvis will be her stubbornness. She laid down when she wanted to, she reminded you when it was time for canned food, and she let you know that it was her pillow, god dammit. She would glare at Claire when it was time for bed, she refused to relax on the 22-hour road trip from Ohio to Texas until she felt safe, and she swatted any cat that got in her way as she gingerly walked down the hall.
It’s my favorite memory because she used her stubbornness to get what she wanted. She laid down when she wanted to because she wanted to figure out how to be exactly between Claire and me. It was time for canned food because she liked being special, a daily reminder that no matter how many others showed up, she was still the favorite. She wanted her pillow because she could lay against Claire’s cheek. It was bedtime because she wanted to cuddle, she whined on road trips until she got to sit in her mom’s lap, and she didn’t tolerate other animals in her way because she had a path mapped out that would get her from point A to affection in the least amount of time.
She was stubborn because all she wanted was love, and her life was absolutely filled with it. From the moment she woke up to the moment she fell asleep, she was nearby, either in somebody’s thoughts or someone’s arms.
There’s a poem called the rainbow bridge that still makes me tear up every time I read it–collateral damage from my cat, Zeus:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent. Her eager body quivers. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…
We now have one more furry friend waiting at the Rainbow Bridge, though she’s content to lounge in the sunshine instead of playing with others. But as soon as we approach, she’ll make a beeline toward us, her calculated steps uninterrupted and her glare keeping everyone out of her path. Determined, she will trot toward us, and she’ll start purring before we even pick her up, anticipating that happiness she so stubbornly desires and deserves.
Until that day in the brightly-colored sun, we can take solace knowing that a tiny kitten hiding among the chemicals ended up traveling across the United States…and she got to do it all from the safety of her mother’s arms. She saw everything while experiencing only joy–we should all be so lucky.
Only the sweetest dreams, Elvis. We miss you already.
This story is utterly fascinating; like easily the most fascinating story of 2013.
For me, the comments about the story are just as much fun as the story itself. Everything about this piece is online: Investigated by Deadspin, involving a fake person only made possible by the Internet, and now the forums are destroying the absolute JOKE that is the attempted spin by Te’o and Notre Dame.
For me, this is especially enjoyable because I can laugh at all the comments because she never existed. It’s a comedy free pass! As for Te’o, I have no sympathy for someone who repeatedly lies, regardless of the reason.
So, in terms of the humor, I’ve been scouring the comments pages of different sites.
These were my favorite (often inappropriate) comments from Deadspin, Reddit, Fark, and Bucknuts. Kudos to all!
– Nosuch Dame
– “Manti wasn’t missing tackles in the BCS Title Game, he was just hugging his girlfriend.”
– “Manti Te’o changed his relationship status to ‘It’s Complicated'”
– “Manti Te’o may have just pulled the 3rd grade “I have a girlfriend. She just goes to another school,” prank on the entire United States.”
– “Oh, man. That’s so tough. How’d she die?”
Manti’s Dad: “Car crash.”
Slowly look at each other.
– “Twist: Online gf was his grandma this whole time.”
– “Jim Tressel knew about Manti Teo’s fake girlfriend last April”
– “Uh-oh, Spaghett-Te’o.”
– “What if I told you a Heisman-candidate linebacker fooled us into thinking he could tackle? “Manti Te’o: The Lyin’ Hawaiian” A new 30 for 30 film by ESPN”
– “I can’t describe her…” Technically he was telling the truth. “Sort of tall. With… hair. And wears t-shirts sometimes?”
– “AJ McCarron’s girlfriend was so hot that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend ceased to exist”
– “Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend is the name of my fantasy football team next year.”
Remember Tebowing? This is Te’o-ing:
This shirt is actually kind of inspirational:
And, because this never gets old:
And finally, because I’m a petty man, let me just say this: Since the world flipped a collective shit over Jim Tressel covering up the fact that his players sold their own equipment for money, we’ve had:
• Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend
• Jerry Freaking Sandusky
• Miami boosters paying for abortions for Miami football players
Just saying that perspective is a wonderful thing.
Oh, and one more thing: My favorite Te’o gif of all time–truly a work of art.
It’s that wonderful time of year again! No, not Rocktober – that has, sadly, passed us by. Not T-Give yet, though I’m counting down the days. And it’s not quite time for Cinnamon Nog and ABC Family movies.
So…that can only leave one thing: It’s time to hype the Oregon defense! YAY!!!
It happens this time just about every year. By this time, we’ve heard all about Oregon’s no-huddle offense that dominates the PAC-12 (Wow! 70 points against Colorado? How’d you do it?!). But now the Ducks actually have to start playing the “tougher” part of their schedule, but ESPN has breathlessly detailed every facet of their offense. So what to do now?
Each article/ESPN segment starts the same way: “More and more, coaches in the PAC-12 and across the country are growing more concerned about Oregon…and their defense. That’s right. Their defense.” **pause for gasps**
This year has been more of the same – everyone talks about how the “human element” (which is a nice way of saying clueless coaches and mysterious Harris-ians) would never rank Notre Dame or Kansas State above the mighty Ducks (see what I did there?). Just like every year, this is the best Oregon team ever!
And right on schedule, here comes the talk about the defense. This week ESPN writes “Ducks being fueled by defense” and it’s what has happened every damn year. And the logic is, at times, a reach:
2011: ESPN goes for the shocking shock that “Oregon is better on defense than on offense.”
And that wasn’t the only one: “Not to be defensive about Oregon but…”
2010: Hey, this year don’t be surprised if Oregon has the number defense in the PAC-10!
And don’t question their defense or the beat writer will pull out obscure stats about third down conversion rates.
Hell, even back in 2009, the Oregon defense was “surprisingly stout.”
And those were just the ESPN articles.
And now the hype is growing. Oregon barely stopped a mediocre (yes, mediocre) USC team last night. In fact, you could make the argument that USC stopped itself.
The problem is that this sort of hype actually convinces coaches and voters that the Oregon Ducks could shut down McCarron and Alabama’s scary running game, when they cannot. The only thing they can hope to do is outscore them, which worked out great in the past. Just ask Boise State, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn…hell, Wisconsin almost beat them last year in the Rose Bowl, and they were god-awful.
Look, I hate to defend Notre Dame and I hate to defend the SEC. But come on, Oregon. We’ve seen this before. Oregon plays a finesse game, and whenever they go up against a tough defense (especially one that has had time to game-plan against them), their offensive production shuts down. And then their defense is revealed as suspect. Again. And from the look of things, this year will be no different.
But ESPN and many others are obsessed with offense, even though these offensive powerhouses always (yes, always) struggle in bowl games after a long layoff (again, ask Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Oregon again…). So we’ll get to hear about how dominant that Ducks defense is, and how they’re the only ones who can hang with the Tide. And then the Ducks will get beat, the Tide will roll, and next year this time around we’ll be having the same damn conversation next year about how this year the Ducks defense might surprise you. Again.
Lately, some people have been complaining about the tax burden that could be placed on $250,000. Granted, much of this comes from blowhards, but it seems to be resonating, as people are reluctant to lump those who make $250,000 a year in with actual millionaires. This is ridiculous.
So, enough of this bullshit–let’s figure out just how much $250,000 a year actually is. This is going to be hyper-simplified–no investment portfolios or IRAs. Just what the average white-collar worker has to worry about.
Before we begin, let me again state that most of us have no idea just how much $250,000 actually is, and, on average, most of us never will. Less than 2% of Americans make more than $250,000 a year. That’s a pretty small number, yeah? To give you a comparison, 5% of Americans have a “serious mental health issue,” 2% of Americans think Mitt Romney’s first name is “Mittens,” and 5% of Americans would get divorced in order to work from home. Again, not a large number.
So, let’s break it down in terms that we can all understand. We’ll use Jack and Diane, a fictional, above average couple just trying to get by on their paltry joke of a salary. In each case I’ll try to use “reasonable excess”–nice stuff (they’re not living in some one-bedroom shack) but reasonable (no 14 bedroom mansions or a fleet of yachts). I’ll put them in California, which is an expensive state, so it doesn’t look like I’m trying to cook the numbers by using mortgage rates in Montana.
Here we go.
The first thing that happens is that damn federal government stealing money for things like highways, education, a court system, and national defense. Filthy commies.
According to the IRS, if Jack and Diane make $250,000 a year, they’ll have to $56,733 in taxes (assuming they file jointly). But it gets worse. Since Jack and Diane live in the People’s Republic of California, they’ll end up shelling out even more money for state income tax (about $22,602), not to mention Medicare and Social Security. After all that, they’re left with $161,459 for the year. They might as well be on food stamps!
You know what? Jack and Diane seem like they’re planners–that’s how they got so successful in the first place. So let’s give them a 401K. They’re over-achievers, which means they want to give the maximum you are allowed to contribute (which in 2012 was $17,000). At 6.8%, that doesn’t seem like much, but cut them some slack: Even if their employer only matches half of that number, Jack and Diane should have about $3.7 million in 30 years.
Okay, so our favorite couple is down to $144,459.
What’s next? A house, of course! Unfortunately, Jack and Diane live in California (as was previously mentioned), which means even after the bubble, the housing market is still pricey. Fortunately, they have a good credit score (720–not perfect, but definitely solid, which isn’t surprising given their income) and have chosen a modest $600,000 home in San Diego (5 BR, 3B).* The mortgage on that house is about $3000 a month.
This is a good time to point out that I’m using specific examples here instead of medians, which would be far more damning. For instance, the median mortgage payment in the U.S. is currently about the same as the median rental payment at right around $700. Obviously, that’s a huge difference, but I’m making a point and don’t want to be accused of being unrealistic.
Okay, $3000 a month means $36000 a year. Now J&D are down to $108,453.
They’ve got a sweet house, but you know Jack–he has to have a BMW (and it has to be brand new). He’s so vain. Sometimes Diane wonders if he’s the same man she married, the one who used to drive her around in that beat-up Chevy, tippin’ cows and countin’ stars. Have they grown that far apart? What has changed? And who’s this Amanda from work that he’s been talking about so much lately?
I digress. In California, a brand-new BMW 5-series on a 60-month payment plan comes out to $819.00 a month…and that’s at 6.9% financing. Come on, Jack and Diane–buy from someone you can trust!
But they went with the BMW, and now they’re down to $98,625.
Diane and Jack have two young children: A 4-year-old named Luke and a 9-year-old named Leia. Jack and Diane are busy with work, and so Luke goes to daycare and Leia attends private school. For Luke to attend daycare in California, it’s $7856 a year. Leia demands the best, and her private school in Huntington Beach comes in at $13,275, which is one of the most expensive in the state. That means Jack and Diane are down to $77,494.
Oh no! We forgot about utilities! The highest month of electric/water/trash in San Diego is $232, so let’s go with that number. That means $2784 a year. Plus they love electronics and so they actually go with Cox Communications “Gold” bundle at $167 a month (which includes a landline, in case they want to speak with a dinosaur). No cell phones for the kids, but let’s pencil in $200 a month for their iPhone data plans. Now they’re down to $70,306.
Car insurance on the BMW came out to just $96 a month (they went with AllState because they loved Dennis Haysbert in Heat), which makes sense given that Jack and Diane are 42 and 41, respectively, with excellent driving records. That leaves $69,142.
They like to go out to eat a lot and enjoy great dining at home (not that Jack would know–he’s too busy flirting with that whore Amanda!). It comes out to $1000 a month, leaving them with $57,142.
That means that, after all of those expenses, Jack and Diane are left with $4,761 to spend every month.
And by those expenses, I mean a $50,000 car, a $600,000 house, one kid in full-time daycare, one kid in the most expensive private school in the state, $250 a week on groceries, and the best cable system in the nation. And all of this in California, which has one of the highest cost of living rates in the country.
It sounds like you didn’t hear me, so I’ll say it again:
Free money. Whatever they want to spend it on, they can. Want to go to the Caribbean next month and spend a week at an all-inclusive resort? Because if you’re Jack and Diane, you can just go. If Diane wants a matching BMW, even after the insurance increases, they’ve still got over $3700 a month to spend. They never have to save for a vacation or a significant purchase of any kind. They never have to freak out about something unexpected coming along, like an emergency trip to the vet or emergency plane tickets to visit a sick relative (things that would really put a strain on most couples). They don’t have to worry. They. Are. Rich.
The median income in the United States is $51,413. If you can’t math, that means Jack and Diane have more money to spend after all of their expenses than 60% of households in this country do before taxes.
Again, I cannot stress enough that this was all done using actual figures from California. Just imagine if you lived somewhere else (other than New York, Chicago, or Boston). Imagine if you lived in Texas or Florida, where there is no state income tax. Imagine if you lived near a good public school district, and you didn’t have to send your kids to private school. Imagine if you decided to get a new car that only costs, say, $25,000. Hell, I live in Lubbock, TX, right now. This is a $550,000 house for sale here: 5 BR, 4B, 4741 square feet. Not too shabby.
Am I saying Jack and Diane don’t deserve their money? Of course not. They (probably) earned it. They can do what they want.
But this country needs to understand that an annual income of $250,000 is anything but middle class. They are rich. And the sooner people realize just how rich that bracket is, the sooner we can have an honest discussion about the tax burden in this country.
Oh, and on a personal note, the .9% tax increase on people making more than $200,000 to pay for expanded healthcare for millions of people (including children) would mean Jack and Diane would have to pay an extra $2,500 per year. So, instead of having $4,761 to spend each month after expenses, they would only have $4,553 to spend on whatever the hell they wanted every month. Highway robbery.
*Author’s note: In all the excitement, I forgot to calculate property tax. I really don’t feel like re-calculating everything, and fortunately if I did it wouldn’t make a huge difference. In San Diego, CA, the property tax is actually not that bad: $3180 a year (about $265 a month). Some states are much worse, like Texas, where a similarly-priced house in Austin would run you about $11,880 a year, though Texas has such high property taxes because they don’t have a state income tax.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Claire and I had to come to the rescue of a couple of animals lately. Bruce was the second, and I hate to drone on about our pets (the only things worse than pet blogs are mommy blogs), but Bruce has a unique story. When our friends and family learned we had taken in another cat, they rolled their eyes. When they heard why, everyone understood.
So this is the story of our latest addition.
A little while ago, Claire was outside when she heard a meow behind her.
And this is who she found:
We decided to call him Bruce, mostly because it was a name that we wouldn’t use for future pets.
It turns out, Bruce is a Maine coon, a breed of cat that I didn’t think existed (and, if we’re being honest, didn’t care existed). He chirps a lot (sometimes because he wants to play or wants food, sometimes just to announce he’s entering the room), he’s gigantic, and, as is described in the aforementioned site, he’s “a big loveable goof.”
He’s also incredibly good at relaxing:
We tried to find him a good home and as soon as Claire posted a description on Facebook, we were hit with electronic mail. Claire did most of the corresponding, told me about the prospects, and together we decided on a family that had a couple of young kids (who we figured to play with Bruce and utilize his friendliness and boundless energy).
Unfortunately, when the new owners came to pick up Bruce, I was judging a high school journalism competition about an hour north of Lubbock. I wished I could have said goodbye, but Claire got a good vibe from the new owners (they knew how to handle a scared cat) and ultimately I was just happy he found a new home.
Smash cut to four days later. It’s Sunday night, Claire is helping out at an event for her job, and I’m at home marveling at the fact that there’s actually an inch of snow on the ground. Check it out: I took this in the late morning, and it continued to snow like that almost the entire day.
On the rare occasions that it snows in Lubbock, the accumulation is almost never more than an inch and it’s normally melted by noon. But this snow was sticking around – so much so that I was already hoping a snow day was in order. That was when I heard a meow at the door.
At first I thought it was Stripey McPeppermint hungry for some free food. But when I opened the door, there was Bruce, standing on his back legs peering in the screen door window. He genuinely looked surprised to see me. I yelled his name in joy, and I laughed and laughed. I mean, I had seen The Incredible Journey / Homeward Bound many times, but didn’t think it would happen in real life. Brucey had found his way back!
I texted Claire to share the exciting news. She was not happy. In fact, she was absolutely furious.
As it turns out, the family lived clear on the other side of town – there was no way he could have found us. A quick trip outside (while Bruce devoured his food) revealed the ugly truth: The family, for whatever reason, had dropped him off on our street. Not at our house. On our street. Like I said, there was still snow on the ground, and you could see his paw prints where he had clearly gone from door to door, meowing desperately to be let in. I’m just glad I was there to answer.
Fortunately, Claire no longer had the contact information for the people who had temporarily taken him in, because we were absolutely livid. We told them that if it didn’t work out to bring him back to us and it wouldn’t be a problem. Clearly they remembered where we lived (who the hell would only remember that we lived somewhere adjacent to the Elgin/47th St. intersection.
After that, we tried to track down those people, but were unsuccessful (definitely best for them). Claire did put an ad up on Craigslist warning people about adopting pets, but I think it was more in the hopes that they would be pissed off enough to try and contact us (giving me a chance to deliver my well-rehearsed rant). I had to settle for reminding my students that how people treat animals is a great indicator of character (see also: How people treat wait staff, The pride people take in seemingly menial tasks).
We tried Craigslist again, but this time the only people who responded were a college student (who didn’t seem to understand that owning a cat wasn’t as much responsibility as owning a dog but it still requires a little effort) and a couple who was flakier than Tony the Tiger’s dandruff. HEY-OOOO!
Honestly, it’s definitely possible that we were being picky and that was turning off potential owners. But can you blame us? The last owners abandoned Bruce in the snow! He deserved better.
So now, we have Bruce (we made his full name a Braveheart reference to coolify “Bruce”). He loves be near us, whether it’s laying on the kitchen floor or sleeping on the couch. He loves to play with cat toys and can entertain himself pretty well. He was scared of dogs for awhile (he used to growl when he would hear a dog bark…on the TV) but feels safe now. He can flatten himself quickly and squeezes into places that are way too small for him. He’s very strong but prefers licking to biting. Really his only flaw is wanting to play with Clementine (who does not want to play with Bruce). And for awhile it was that he licked us until we woke up in the middle of the night to pet him, but it’s hard to begrudge him that.
He’s a large cat, and I hate to think of him on the streets, slowly morphing into a feral tomcat who is terrified of people and constantly hungry. Best case scenario: He lives for 6-7 years, dodging animal control, fighting hunger and heat, and protecting a dry spot he calls home during the rare rain.
But that’s not what happened. He found us, and then he found us again. Now he’s free to be a big, lovable goof.
Our big lovable goof.
Lubbock has long had problem with stray animals. It’s not an issue that’s confined to West Texas, though I would argue the cowboy mentality of refusing to spay/neuter pets certainly doesn’t help anything. Anyway, it’s a problem. A few of my students have done news stories on the city animal shelter, and found that between 3000 and 5000 animals are put down every year in Lubbock. Absolutely tragic.
As I’ve mentioned before, Claire and I are a sucker for helping animals. Well, we recently had two more opportunities. This is the first.
A while back, we were driving to pick up supper when we saw a large black lab trotting across 50th and Indiana, an extremely busy intersection here in Lubbock. He was happily oblivious, but Claire and I were concerned. After an extremely brief discussion, we opened up the back seat and Tug hopped in. Honestly, when we first saw him, we thought he had simply gotten out from a nearby neighborhood – he was very friendly and had a very nice collar.
*NOTE* Obviously we can’t keep the strays we find, but they have to be called something. So, we come up with names for animals that we would never use. Tug eventually came from the fact that we thought he would like tug-of-war (which he didn’t, but whatever). Heck, there was an orange cat with a striped tail that would have made a perfect Hobbes, but we wanted to save that name for later (if needed). Hence, we called him “Stripey McPeppermint.”
We didn’t see anyone who looked like they were searching for a dog, and so we put him in our backyard and brought home supper (and dog food). We were able to open up the door to the sunroom, so he could go in or out, and we made it a comfortable area.
In the meantime, Claire scoured Craigslist (and posted an ad of our own). However, after days of looking, nothing showed up. Finally, Claire went back through the ads and discovered a “Found” ad that matched Tug’s description from a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the people who wrote the ad never found the owners, and they finally just let Tug go. Nice people.
Now, I should take a minute to demonstrate just how awesome Tug was. Here are a couple pictures of him:
As you can see from the last photo, Tug loved trying to curl up on your lap. Here is video to prove it:
(apologies for the camera angle – I thought I hit pause before I flipped the phone)
I was in panic mode, as we’re not allowed to keep a dog in our rental house and, with our cats and our schedules, it wasn’t even an option if we were given permission. I called a ton of no-kill shelters, willing to drive pretty much anywhere in West Texas to make sure Tug wasn’t put down. The responses were not good:
• Midland SPCA NO ROOM (20 more dogs than they can handle)
• Amarillo Animal Rescue NO ROOM
• Amarillo SPCA NO ROOM
• LoneStar SPCA NO ROOM
• Noah’s Ark (Abilene) NO ROOM
• Haven (Lubbock) NO ROOM
• Operation Kindness NO ROOM
• Texas Tailwaggers NO ROOM
• Taylor-Jones Humane Society (Abilene) NO ROOM
• PetSmart Humane Coalition NO ROOM
• Midland Animal Services NO ROOM
As you can see, there wasn’t any room.
At this point, we were freaking out, and Claire put up a Craigslist ad stating that there was a chance we would have to give him to a shelter (though I was already crunching numbers on how to drive him north, throw him in my parents’ house, and run like crazy). Thankfully, at the last minute, someone wanted to meet Tug at the park.
Long story short cliche, we showed up, Tug behaved wonderfully, and once again, we handed over a leash to a very nice person (and his girlfriend–they already had a small dog together that Tug loved) and our puppy walked away. Definitely sad to see him go, but glad that he was off the streets in a good home. I hope he’s insanely happy, and that the only thing he has to stress about is whose lap to sit on.
So last week the season final of The Walking Dead aired and, in typical Walking Dead fashion, it was filled with potential but never really delivered. Clearly, there are some obvious solutions that would enhance any episode, such as killing Carl, killing Lori, killing Carl again…
But let’s focus on the specifics. I’m going to fix the episode in two simple steps and lay the groundwork for the next season…while not killing anyone. For reals. Obviously, this is about the season finale, and so if you haven’t seen that episode, here there be spoilers. Also, while I’m looking forward to reading the comic books, I haven’t gotten The Walking Dead Compendium yet, so don’t look for any overlap. Let’s do this.
One of the main problems of the series is that we don’t know much about any of the characters (and care even less). I’m reminded of Plinkett’s epic reviews of the Star Wars prequels, where he asks fans to describe classic Star Wars characters without referring to their occupations or physical appearances. After describing Han Solo and C-3PO, Plinkett asks these same people to describe Qui-Gon Jinn and Padme Amidala. Not surprisingly, the fans with tons to say about Han and C-3PO were at a loss for words with the prequel characters.
You could do the same thing with the Walking Dead cast. Quick, describe T-Dogg, but you can’t use the term “black.” Describe Carol, but you can’t use the term “mother.” Hell, tell me how many people were living on the farm when Carl was first shot (“Let’s see, there’s Herschel, Maggie…Otis….ummmm…).
Unfortunately, most of the characters we can identify don’t fare much better (describe Lori without using the terms “nag” or “shrill”). Why is this? Well, it’s simple: We don’t know anything about them. One of the best shows ever in terms of character development is LOST. Each week, we spent an episode getting an in-depth look at one character (“This is going to be a Sawyer episode”). Initially, this was so we (the audience) could see how the characters behaved before the crash, which informed the decisions they made on the island.
Eventually, the character flashbacks were less about plot and more because we cared about them. Dead tried this in the “Bloodletting” episode, where Lori had to tell Carl that Rick had been shot (and it gave Carl a chance to chew the scenery), but it was thankfully not attempted again, as it didn’t inform the characters or plot in any way. Overall, we’re expected to pick up character traits and flaws from arguments or half-baked philosophizing about the end of the world. Character development cannot be fixed in a single episode, but the season finale had serious potential. After a rousing display of nighttime gun battles and confusion, it seemed like the finale was off and running…literally.
In all the chaos, the farm posse gets separated into five groups: 1) Hershel, Rick, and *sigh* Carl 2) T-Dog, “Lori,” and Maggie’s sister (remember when we totally thought she committed suicide but she didn’t? Powerful stuff.) 3) Glenn ‘n’ Maggie 4) Andrea (a.k.a.: the real Lori) 5) Darryl and Carol In what is only slightly more likely than actual walking dead, everyone meets up back at the highway, even though this was never designated as the official fallback area and even though everyone seemed to drive for hours in opposite directions. Only Andrea didn’t show and, because they thought she might be dead, five minutes after everyone rolled in, they rolled back out. On the road again.
So what about this? The group gets separated…and stays separated. T-Dog heads for the coast (Lori optional), Glenn and Mags find some isolated shack and discuss whether they want to rejoin anyone, Rick and Hershel
kill Carl swap monologues, Daryl and Carol form some sort of elite walker-assassination unit, and Andrea just hangs out being awesome. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what they do. This would give us a chance to actually get some quality time with these characters and figure out what makes them behave the way they do. It would set up the entire third season as the group slowly joins back up, only this time they understand one another better (maybe even forming some unlikely alliances)…and so do we.
This one is more for me, and honestly I wouldn’t have thought of it if not for a user named Mentat on Fark. I had completely forgotten about it. I’m going to quote at length, as it was an excellent point:
“…My one major beef with this season is that the zombies have become the stereotypical generic shamblers. In the first season, the walkers were more tragic figures. Even though they were dangerous, they were once people just like the survivors and a great effort was made to present them in a softer light.
– Bicycle Girl, pathetically crawling through the grass to god knows where. Rick’s first task once he’s recalibrated, is to extend an act of mercy to this person he doesn’t even know. As she reaches out to him, you’re left to wonder if she’s trying to grab him or begging him to put her down.
– Before chopping up the Alley Zombie and smearing his guts on the survivors, Rick takes a moment to go through the man’s wallet. Wayne Dunlap, Georgia licence. Born 1979. He had $28 in his pocket when he died. And a picture of a pretty girl. It was a nice message to the audience as well as the survivors.
– The little girl zombie, picking up the teddy bear, given Rick one moment of hope that someone survived. – Morgan’s wife also seemed to retain some degree of her humanity. Somewhere deep down inside, she recognized the house and knew there was something in there that she wanted. The scene of her trying the doorknob and looking through the eyehole was haunting and I’m glad it was Rick at the door and not Morgan.
– With Amy, they avoided the “I’m a walker now and I kill you” cliche. Amy’s slow return amplified the tension, but it was the way she came back that worked for me. Instead of just lunging for Andrea, Amy reached up and seemed to caress her hair. You were left with the impression that she might have been trying to communicate with Andrea instead of killing her. They tried that sort of thing on occasion in Season 2. Sophia obviously, and Beth’s mom, though that was ruined by the cliched “Ha! I’m not really dead!” thing.
The zombies this season became the typical generic targets for the sharpshooting survivors who a week before couldn’t hit a swinging tree branch. Minor complaint, I know, but I think that trait they showed in the first season was what set TWD apart from other zombie takes we’ve seen.”
I remember the scene when that zombie woman cyclist (who I don’t think had legs) had pulled herself through the woods and fields into the middle of nowhere. Remember her?
In the words of Ted Mosby, that scene was hauntingly beautiful. This woman was a disgusting sight, and yet we felt sympathy for her. She was clearly trying to get somewhere, but wasn’t hunting anyone or anything. She was wildly determined, and even at the end you weren’t sure if she was overcome by walker instinct or if she was pleading for Rick to end it all.
I would have loved it if one of the zombies had shown some sort of humanity (maybe not during the attack on the farm, but a lone straggler later on). Even a brief moment would have made a substantial difference, and again set the scene for the third season. And yes, Walking Dead writers, I am available for freelance work.
I’ve written about March Madness before, and with good reason: It’s fantastic. Each year I makes sure to get back to Cbus, find a good bar with a ton of huge TVs and without a ton of jackasses (good drink specials doesn’t hurt either). I meet up with my college friends (we’re still surprisingly close), sit down at a bar, and just watch the chaos unfold all day long (don’t worry, we tip well).
Now, obviously I love watching the upsets and the excitement, but filling out the bracket is an essential part of the experience.
Currently, this is how our group currently runs our March Madness tournament: Points are awarded each round by the tournament seed of the winner times the round multiplier. The first round multiplier is x1, 2nd is x2, 3rd is x3, etc. We started this back in the days when we were all pretty poor (now we’re still poor, but we have jobs), and so the winner gets to select a season of a television series that each of the losers has to move to the top of their Netflix queue and watch it.
Obviously, the Netflix thing could get ugly (Season 5 of Full House, Season 6 of Dexter, Season 2,3,4, or 5 of Heroes…), but so far no one has abused it. In fact, it’s been a pretty great way to discover new TV shows.
But the method is more important than the prize. When it comes to filling out your bracket, forget the traditional approach where you just count up the number of games you got right–that’s a horrible way to do things. You get no reward for making bold choices, whereas some jackass who decides to go with all four #1 seeds making the Final Four cleans up.
The best way to do it is to multiply the round by the seed and add the total together. So if you have Duke winning it all this year, you would get a total of 15 points for that selection (#1 seed x # round and add them all together). However, if you correctly pick the #13 seed advancing to the second round, you get 26 points. In other words, you’re rewarded for bold picks and successfully predicting chaos, which this is really all about.
This year, we’re trying something a little different. We’ll keep the same format for one bracket, but this time around we’ll be using a second bracket as well.
Now, I completely agree that using more than one bracket is lame. I don’t care if you’re in four different pools–step up and submit the same exact bracket for each one. Believe in yourself!
For our second bracket, we’ll be using chance. Each of us will flip a coin for every game on our bracket. Everyone is allowed to have five vetoes, so if you get a horrible matchup (a 16-seed defeating a 1-seed). The vetoes could be tricky. After all, if you have a 3-seed getting knocked off by a 14-seed in the coin toss, do you really veto it? A 3-seed isn’t worth a ton, but a 14-seed could get a ton of points (especially if they go on a run).
This should definitely determine just who is the luckiest guy in our group. Netflix will be for bragging rights–the coin bracket will be for fun. I can’t wait.
I love movie trailers.
An awful movie trailer is something we remember because it’s just that: Awful. Maybe it was boring. Maybe it gave away the ending of the movie. Who knows? We just remember how awful it is, or forget it immediately.
A great movie trailer is memorable, not merely as an advertisement, but something that can stand on its own, even after watching the film that is being previewed. It truly is an art.
I try to incorporate what I love into class when I can, and the movie trailer seemed like a perfect opportunity. As part of broadcast journalism, students must create compelling, competent stories that encapsulate hours worth of interviews, footage and research in about a minute and a half. Plus, I needed them to get practice using Final Cut Express, so much so that they’re not thinking about editing at all–only content.
So the idea was simple: Have students watch a movie and edit it down into a trailer that is 2-2:30 minutes long.
When I initially came up with this idea, I had wonderful visions of wildly creative trailers where students could use their imaginations and create something amazing. Just like some genius did by re-imagining The Shining:
Unfortunately, the reality of technology makes this difficult. One of my friends taught a class on the movie trailer and had students edit together whatever trailer they wanted. Unfortunately, this meant that he had to upload about 20 different movies so that the students would have the raw footage to edit. If you consider it takes about 2-4 hours to convert movies to the proper format, and then another 1-2 hours to render the footage in Final Cut so you don’t have to re-convert it every time you open up the movie…well, that means anywhere from 60 to 100 hours of time just getting the movies in the proper format. Ugh.
So, I decided to limit things a bit so students could just select from a few films.
The key was that they still got to be creative which, in early journalism classes, can be tough. Hell, anyone can have students exercise their creativity in “Feature Writing” or “Opinion Writing.”
So, as I was saying, for this assignment students had to create a movie trailer. It had to be one of these three films: Planet of Dinosaurs, Kingdom of the Spiders, or Frogs.
Why these three movies?
2) These three are all available to view for free on YouTube, which means I don’t have to share one library copy or waste time watching three different films in class. Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the Information Superhighway, these are not like your typical YouTube films where they’re diced up into 10-minute increments (Millenials don’t have time for that!), but rather the complete films:
3) I didn’t want any students to be at a disadvantage. Let’s say I assigned students to create a movie out of The Shawshank Redemption. Maybe some students have never seen it (for shame), but for others it might be their favorite film of all time. That really wouldn’t be fair to students who haven’t watched it (or have only watched it once). This way, all the students start out on equal ground: They’ve never seen any of these films.
So I assigned this project and, a couple of weeks later, I had a dropbox filled with movie files.
These were my student trailers that really stood out. Even when there were some imperfections, I could still tell what the students were going for.
This first trailer is for Planet of Dinosaurs and it’s pretty straightforward, but he does a great job using the movie’s dialogue with music from a few different movies:
This next trailer is from the movie Frogs, which is a 1970s movie about man v. nature where nature fights back! Again, an overall solid piece where she incorporates great scenes from the movie with a good use of dialogue. The music is a bit familiar, but I think it works:
This next one was inspired by the fantastic Watchmen trailer. This is another trailer for Kingdom of the Spiders, this time with music. I appreciated the creativity. As you can see, the music fits and, at times, synchs up perfectly:
And this last one is also a Kingdom of the Spiders trailer (they just couldn’t get enough of the Shat!). He used the eerie music from the excellent, wildly depressing Requiem for a Dream. I wish the editing would have gotten crazier and more frantic as the music took off, but I love what he was going for here and thought the trailer was excellent:
The assignment served its purpose. I’ll be honest–the students weren’t thrilled about watching the actual movies (I’ll have to teach them to appreciate movies ironically), but they had a good time editing down the movies, exercised some creativity, and are completely comfortable with the editing software. I’m considering it a mission accomplished!
I’m proud to say that I was a Netflix fan from the beginning. It seemed like such a simple idea that I was sure they would botch it, and yet they didn’t…at least not until recently. I’ve been a loyal member for almost nine years, and I’ve survived their embarrassing blunders because, at the end of the day, it’s a hell of an idea and a great product. However, with each passing day, I’m less and less certain I’ll make it to ten years.
As I said, I’ve survived some mistakes on the part of Netflix, but not the ones you’re thinking of. Everyone flipped a collective shit when Netflix announced that they were starting up Quikster (easily one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard) and doubling the rates by charging separately for Instant Viewing and for the actual discs. Honestly though, that didn’t bother me a ton–I ended up paying about a dollar or two more per month than I originally did, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker. They rolled out the idea in the worst possible way and the public relations side was a disaster, but again, it didn’t kill Netflix for me.
What bothered me was that stupid decision to eliminate the “Friends” tab, which allowed you to see how your friends rated movies. Apparently, less than two percent of customers were actually utilizing that feature, and so Netflix eliminated it so that they could devote more resources to making movies available instantly. This seems harmless, but it was actually a really damaging thing to do. I get that if it’s only being utilized by a small portion of your audience it might be best to cut costs, but there was no customer service involved and it seemed like a relatively easy program that kind of ran itself.
But the worst part about that move was that the two percent of customers using that function were the loyal, long-time users of Netflix. And this approach became the calling card of Netflix: Make a rash decision, don’t think about the consequences, and give no advance notice.
And now Netflix has made another dumb decision. According to several outlets, Netflix has announced that the company is stepping up the original programming because it is “Netflix’s natural direction to be bundled in an ordinary cable package someday and provide an ordinary sampling of cable offerings.” In other words, Netflix wants to become HBO.
This is depressing. I mean, I love Arrested Development even more than the next guy, but changing the entire business model that made you successful is the dumbest thing since those awful Miller Lite commercials (You know what the third unmanly thing you did today was? Drink a Miller Lite).
Look, it’s easy to forget just what a game-changer Netflix was when it came out. It’s not quite the iPod and definitely not Tivo, but I think what I loved the most about Netflix was the simplicity of the idea: Let’s mail out dvds and then have people mail them back to us. From the moment that iconic red envelope arrived in the mail, I was absolutely hooked because this was a new, innovative approach to movies. Hell, before Netflix you were stuck going to Blockbuster with their crappy selection and their ridiculous prices. Netflix changed that, and suddenly you could rent countless dvds for one low price (and the number of dvds I bought dropped dramatically).
Now it wants to be just another premium channel.
Look, Netflix, because I love you, I’m going to give you one of my Million Dollar Ideas. Ready?
One word: NetfliXXX.
That’s right–go for the porn.
Stop trying to pretend you’re some company with principles and values; you stream and mail movies. That’s it. Open the floodgates and go for broke with porn. It’s not really my thing, but I certainly wouldn’t drop my subscription if you did. Hell, due to your awful sense of what people will and will not accept, pretty much everyone who was going to drop Netflix has already dropped it. Set up NetfliXXX as a separate part of your company, throw some passwords on there, and you’re good to go.
Look, I’m sure some version of this exists somewhere else, but now you would have the Netflix brand backing it up, along with the discreet red envelopes. It’s perfect! Just slap a warning on there to not have kids rip open the envelopes without parent supervision, and chat up the importance of personal responsibility. Again, everyone who is going to leave you has already gone–now it’s time to win a few back.
Do it, Netflix. Then take the obscene amount of money you’ll make off this (you know you will), and throw it at those companies who won’t let you stream their content anymore (Showtime, Starz) or who never did in the first place (come on, HBO). Suddenly, you’re back on top, because people realize, “Hey, if I hop back on the Netflix trend I can enjoy adult entertainment as well as Game of Thrones.” It’s perfect!
Look, there’s still time to turn this around, Netflix, but you need to go back to what you do best: Take a simple idea that no one else is doing well, and then knock it out of the park.
I still believe in you.
There are three things I’m certain of in this world:
1) Helluva Good French Onion Dip is by far the best french onion dip on the market (and nothing else even comes close–if you even mention Dean’s french onion dip, I will ban you from the Internet!).
2) George Lucas could not have screwed up The Phantom Menace any more than he did. It is literally impossible to make that movie any worse.
3) You just finished reading my “Display Your Movies” post and, while you thoroughly enjoyed it, you’re longing for bonus entry about how to display your massive collection of monster movies.
Well, all I can do is “enjoy” for #1 and “plot” for #2, but I’m happy to help you out with the third one.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love love love classic monster movies, and have many more than I would like to admit. In my office, I actually have a collection of vhs (!) monster movies that I meticulously saved up for and bought as a kid growing up in Ohio. Why do I keep them? Well, it’s always fun to have my students try and figure out just what the hell a vhs is, after all the time I spent looking forward to purchasing them from Saturday Movie Matinee in the Richland Mall I can’t bear to get rid of them, and if I kept them at home I’m pretty sure Claire would make me throw them away (because honestly I can’t think of a reason to keep them–I already have practically all of them on dvd).
Don’t believe me? Check it:
If you squint, you can just make out a few impressive finds, including a colorized version of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (more on that movie later) and a copy of Peter Cushing’s Island of Terror, which is not available stateside on dvd. Yes, you should be jealous.
Now, obviously I can’t display all of my monster movies in the living room. To be honest, you should only display about half the number of your other dvds in the living room. However, they’re important to me and I consider them part of my identity. So, I wanted to place a few choice movies in a cluster on one of the shelves in the living room. Just like my other movie display entry, I have some advice if you’re a bit nervous about the process.
And in case you’re wondering, here is my selection of monster movies currently on display in the Grimm/Odenweller house.
Just like with your regular movie collection, this is going to say a lot about you. If some monster movie expert comes to your house, you want to be able to impress them with your selection. Fortunately, I already had King Kong in with my other movie display, so I didn’t have to worry about it here. However, my all-time favorite movie is the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers featuring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynters. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I can’t wait for it to come out on blu-ray (currently, when I want to treat myself, I rent it in HD off of Amazon, like I’m some kind of animal!). However, I also included Forbidden Planet, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, and Mysterious Island as must-haves.
The monster movie fan club is an exclusive membership, and we can be a bit snobbish. Plus, if the casual observer glances at the collection, it would be great if they could recognize a few titles (then comes the nostalgia, and then they’re trapped!). For me, I threw in the The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and One Million Years B.C. I think it’s a great way of connecting with people who have only a passing familiarity with this genre.
One of my favorite things about monster movies is that the names are so crazy and wild. You definitely want to showcase this, which is why I included some movies with really appealing titles: Attack of the Giant Leeches, The Crawling Eye, From Hell It Came, I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Tell me you wouldn’t at least pick up I Married A Monster from Outer Space, just to look at it. Then, while we’ll sharing a laugh, I can casually drop in that, if you watch this movie closely, it’s basically about women dealing with marrying a closeted gay man in the 1950s (the husbands look normal to everyone else, but are incapable of emotions, particularly when it comes to showing affection and having sex). Then BAM! You’re hooked.
This can also apply to cool dvd covers, which is why I’m considering putting Attack of the Crab Monsters out as well:
This is mostly for you. It’s great to have the classics and reliable ones out there (again, I don’t know what it is about Planet of Dinosaurs, but I do enjoy that movie), but it’s easy to forget about your more recent purchases. That’s why I have The Abominable Snowman (underrated and, at times, genuinely unsettling) and Caltiki: The Immortal Monster on display–it’s convenient (just throw it in the dvd player) and a nice reminder so that when you’re admiring your collection you can say, “Hey, I forgot I owned From Hell It Came.”
And just like that, you’re ready to have a monster movie display that will be the envy of your friends and won’t annoy your wife at all!
Even though flatscreen TVs have made entertainment centers all but irrelevant, many of us still want items around the TV. Maybe it’s because we want to advertise who we are, maybe it’s so the TV just doesn’t sit alone in some sort of living room limbo. Hell, maybe we just don’t want to walk to the other room every time we want to grab a dvd.
For Claire and me, it’s a minimalist approach with a low TV stand and wall shelves surrounding it (thank you IKEA!). We engaged in a lively debate about what would go on the shelves, which mostly went like this:
ME: How about we put some of my dinosaurs on the shelf!?
Good times! But Claire knows of my love for movies, and so I was put in charge of figuring out what movies to display. I don’t want to exaggerate, but this might be literally the most important task I’ve ever done in my life.
I don’t know the exact number of dvds I have, but I have two large dvd racks (one for monster movies, the other for the rest) that still can’t hold all of my movies. You might be in the same situation. Obviously, you can’t put them all on display in the living room (believe me, I asked), so how do you decide what to display? How did I come up with this incredible display?
Follow these tips, and you’ll have people staring at your dvd collection throughout the fancy dinner party/murder mystery/first date.
Your movie collection says more about you than anything else (at least to other movie lovers). Therefore, you must include some movies that absolutely need to be included. For me, I knew I couldn’t have my movies on display without including King Kong (the extended edition which includes the swamp scene) and The Descent (which I write about from time to time).
No one wants to saunter up to your movie collection to be greeted by a single genre (at least not for your main display). It kills the conversation, eliminates intrigue, and pegs you as a one-trick pony, someone who has a sophisticated action-adventure palette but is lost when it comes to drama. I have everything from sci-fi (Dark City, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek) to westerns (The Magnificent Seven, Unforgiven) to drama (The Usual Suspects, Heat, No Country for Old Men) to comedy (Hot Fuzz). Throw some variety in your grouping. And, as a bonus piece of advice, make sure you mix up the actors/actresses as well. Brad Pitt is fantastic, but we don’t need to celebrate the man’s entire collection.
We get it, you like Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones (not including the fourth one), and Star Wars (not including the prequels or the Ewoks). So does most everyone else. So why are you wasting our time? Most of the movie series you would want to buy are widely acknowledged as popular, great films, so there’s no need to state the obvious. Plus, space is at a premium, and the bulky packaging of these movie sets (with their booklets and extra dvds) isn’t helping you. If the original theatrical release of the original Star Wars trilogy is ever released in high def, I might make an exception.
You might want to try and hint at a series, but only if the film can stand alone. As you can see, I include Casino Royale because it shows that I am an avid James Bond fan, but also because you don’t have to watch every film before it to understand what is happening. It transcends the series, whereas other films (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Godfather trilogies) are pretty reliant on the others.
Yes, you’re very refined and cultured. But part of the reason you’re displaying movies is to connect with visitors, and if all you have is obscure Czechoslovakian films, then the conversation stops cold (and the eye-rolling probably gets revved up). Limit yourself to one or two (maybe even three or four, though that’s pushing it) to sprinkle into your collection. For me, it’s Battle Royale and TimeCrimes (Princess Mononoke is also on there, but it’s voiced by American actors, so it could go either way). The more appealing, the better. Royale is a fantastic movie (as evidenced by this clip), but not as mainstream, and so it’s something to talk about. If you’ve put your collection together correctly, when people see a movie title they don’t recognize, they’ll ask you about it (because they’ve agreed with your other films–otherwise why are they inside your house?).
This is your living room, not the Disney vault (no Song of the South release date Walt?). Like the foreign films, throw in one or two, and then move on. Along with Princess Mononoke, I also threw in WALL-E (I defy you to find a children’s film with imagery as powerful as the first 10 minutes of that movie…and no, the heartbreaking montage from Up doesn’t count). For me, if I put Aladdin up there, I’d have to put The Little Mermaid up there, along with Beauty and the Beast, Lion King…
You can’t find someone who is going to agree with every movie you love. Hell, even my buddy Jared (pictured here) and I only had 99% agreement when Netflix still allowed friends (granted, that was with 3000+ movies, but it still was not 100%). So you need to take some risks. No one’s going to get to upset with The Shawshank Redemption or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Brick, The Thing, and Lost Horizon probably turned a few heads.
Hopefully your movie collection is evolving, maybe you even have a few movies that didn’t make the cut that you feel sorry for, or it might just be that you want to change things up. Get a rotation going and just trade out a few movies every once in a while. Next up on my roster is Iron Giant, The Lookout, Oldboy, and probably Mackenna’s Gold. For me, it keeps me interested and makes sure the movie selection doesn’t become stale. Plus, if you have frequent guests, they might even notice that you replaced a few movies! You know, it’s never happened to me, but there’s still hope for you!
At the end of the day, it’s your movie collection, and you’re allowed to include some left field picks. For instance, I included Commando. Is it because it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen? No, of course not. But it is the best worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I felt that it deserved to be on display. Just make sure it’s a bold pick that you can defend, and you’ll be the talk of the town.
Now, go re-organize your movie collection!
In the great, American-accented, deadpan words of Kevin Coster, “I’ve seen enough.”1
Today’s loss was too much. Like last week’s game against Purdue–a team that couldn’t fill its own stadium, a team that has its own (inappropriate) chant for every time their players convert a first down, a team with a coach that’s so blue-collar he…wears a whistle…on the sidelines (What?)–our defense spotted the opponent ten points against Matt McGloin’s moxie,2 and our own inept offense couldn’t catch up.
Well, Ohio State fans, amidst all the rumors, all the anticipation, and all the inevitability, the coaching hire you’ve always wanted is about to become a reality.
I, Josh Grimm, am officially throwing my hat into the ring for the position of Head Coach of The Ohio State University football team.
*pause for thundering applause*
Now, I know I have my critics out there. Plenty of people are pointing out my flaws: “You’ve never had any coaching experience of any kind,” “You’ve never played football in your life,” “You take all the icing off your chocolate cake and don’t even eat the cake part.”
Technically, these are true, though it’s not as bad as you think. My dad actually coached junior high basketball for a season. Checkmate! I ran cross-country instead of football, because our football program at the time was horrifying and I was too small to play any position decently anyway. I just keep knockin’ these out of the park! And yes, I really don’t like chocolate cake. There is nothing vanilla about vanilla.
So why me?
Obviously, I’ve always loved the Buckeyes, even through the Cooper years (you Tressel-raised youngsters had it made). More importantly, I would surround myself with the best coaching staff around, which means I couldn’t things up too badly.
Plus, look at my record. Ohio State has never lost a football game that I attended. No one, apart from current and former players, current and former coaches, and some fans, have done more for the Buckeyes than me. Especially in key games. And…I was saving this for the interview, but….I grew up in Ohio, I’ve lived in Texas for almost five years, and I actually dated someone from Florida, so I’ll have no problem reeling in the big-name recruits.
But what puts me over the top?3
Here is a list of promises that I will have written into my contract. If I were to violate any one of these, I would automatically be fired, with no settlement or severance of any kind. Let’s do this.
1) I will never, ever, call a running play on first down. I don’t care if the other team drops 11 back into zone coverage and my running back is one yard shy of the all-time NCAA rushing record. Sorry…better luck next down.
2) Any defender who celebrates tackling an opponent after he gains more than seven yards will be benched and serve a one game suspension. Why are you jumping around and cheering, idiot? They got a first down.4
3) At least 30 percent of passes must either be screens or slants. Period.
4) If we destroying the opponent, I will respectfully ease off (offensively), even taking a classy knee at the goal line at the end of the game. If you beat us and are respectful, I will give you a subtle nod of congratulations. But you listen to me, Boilermakers and Illini of this world: If you pull off an upset and celebrate obnoxiously, I will be slinging it all over the field, calling time outs to stop the clock, and benching any of my players who don’t have that same fire as I do. My victory formation will be five wide receiver sets sprinting toward the end zone. Consider yourself warned.
5) There will be a minimum of one trick play per game. Sometimes I’ll get it out of the way with an onside kick on our opening kickoff, other times I’ll save the fake field goal for later in the game. But it’s coming. Sure as Les Miles’ comeuppance, it’s coming.
6) Tresselball5 brought us some wonderful memories, which is why it is going to be retired, to live forever in our hearts and nightmares.
7) No matter how much offensive talent we accrue, we will never run one of those gimmicky Oregon/Oklahoma State-esque offenses. We’re the Ohio State Buckeyes, not the West Canaan Coyotes (under Coach Lance).
8 ) After each game, I will hold a public forum and defend why I called every play that I did. If I was wrong, I will apologize.
So there you have it, Buckeye fans. I’m one of you, and I’ve been there through the good and bad. I sat through every soul-sucking second of the Florida/Ohio State game, and even though I was young, I still remember Biakabutuka’s horrifying performance. I laughed through the last seven Michigan games and went crazy when Ken Dorsey tried to get up and couldn’t. Each season, I cheered, I screamed, I stared, and I screamed some more. I know what we can be, and what we need to be. And with your help, I’ll get us there.
1 Yes, the quote continues beyond that
2 Second only to Brady Quinn’s courageousness
3 Besides the fact that I will turn my baseball cap around?
4 Corollary: If you incessantly wave your arms signaling “incomplete” when you, in fact, had nothing to do with said incompletion, that’s a two game suspension. I’m looking at you, Travis.
5 Which unlike “Beamerball” is actually a real thing
Not having the autumn around can be tough. The leaves don’t really change in Texas, nor does the weather (except for an errant haboob every now and then). But I know that the fall has truly arrived when Rocktober starts. What is Rocktober? Great question!
Rocktober is an annual tradition where my wife and I watch as many quality scary movies as possible during the month of October. And it rocks!
Now, this isn’t a competition. We have a list of movies we try to get through, but it doesn’t always work. Stuff happens. Deadlines, grading, the Community Halloween episode–if we don’t get to all the films, there’s always next year (or, for some, next month–The Orphanage is always good).
So what do you need? Only three things.
1) Nighttime. The Birds and Scream should be the only scary movies you should watch during the day. The rest of the year you have plenty of time for other movies. Make time for Rocktober.
2) Apple cider. If you can, find a great recipe (start with real cider, not that apple juice they market as cider at the grocery store), and let that beast simmer in the crockpot. If you need a recipe, here’s the one we use:
• 8 cups apple cider
• 1/4 – 1/2 cup of brown sugar
• 6 inches of stick cinnamon
• 1 tsp whole allspice
• 1 tsp. whole cloves
Put the dry materials in a spice bag, and enjoy.
3) The movies. For all of you who want to play along at home, here is the list of films. Unfortunately, I do draw the line at some films. For example, I like having zombies represented on the list (Night of the Living Dead), but I don’t want to spend the entire month on them (especially those that *technically* aren’t true zombie movies, such as 28 Days Later). As for pretty much everything else, it’s just a matter of preference. Add or take away what you wish.
I would, however, like to mention three specific movies that you might want to be sure to include. You don’t need me to tell you that Halloween is a masterpiece, or that The Thing is one of the greatest horror films of all time. And by now I’m sure you know of my unmatched adoration for The Descent (you should–I talked about it here…and here too). But here are three that you might have overlooked:
Trick ‘R’ Treat: This one was actually not even released in theaters, but it should be a permanent addition to your Halloween line-up. I actually watch it the day before Halloween (both the day and the movie). It’s a series of four stories, all taking place on Halloween. It’s dark, but has dark humor. It’s very aware of its audience, but doesn’t mug for the camera. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but has some genuinely scary moments. Oh, and it features (among others) Anna Paquin and Brian Cox. Show your friends–you’ll look like a genius.
Night of the Demon: It’s strange that when I talk about horror classics, I tend to forget about everything pre-1978. Night of the Demon was released in 1957 and it stars Dana Andrews as a scientist who debunks the supernatural, but is faced with a series of mysterious deaths (think the premise of The Reaping but without the heavy-handed religious message. And the horrible ending. And the awful pacing. On second thought, don’t think of The Reaping.). The plot might not sound like anything impressive, but the acting and the atmosphere make for a truly unsettling film (without any gore).
House of Wax: Yes, the original is a classic, but I am more and more impressed by the remake each time I watch it. Yes, I am aware that the critics do not feel the same way I do. But here’s my take: House of Wax is the complete opposite of the modern horror film because it starts off horribly but gets better and better. I realize that the film was basically a vehicle to see Paris Hilton killed off, but after the first 20 minutes of what can laughably be called character development, the plot really takes off and there are some great scenes. Rocktober is a 31 day event–you’ve got time.
Here is the list, in no particular order. Enjoy.
– Trick R Treat
– Friday the 13th
– The Shining
– Nightmare on Elm Street
– The Ring
– The Orphanage
– Blair Witch Project
– House of Wax
– The Changeling
– The Thing
– The Orphan
– Let Me In
– Behind the Mask
– The Mist
– Dog Soldiers
– Last Winter
– Paranormal Activity
– Night of the Living Dead
– Night of the Demon
– The Omen
It’s been a rough week for animals.
What started off as an entertaining story about escaped exotic animals in my home state quickly turned tragic as many had to be killed. Thanks to the magic of the Facebook feed, pictures I would like to have ignored (tigers, bears, and a slew of other dead animals laid out on the very farm where they had escaped) popped up. Roughly 2/3 of the animals who escaped were killed. My friend Seth posted that there are about 1500 Bengal tigers left in the world, and 18 of them were with some crazy guy in Ohio.
The whole thing reminded me of a Cracked article I read about animals trying to escape from zoos–kind of entertaining, but you had to be saddened by the fact that they just wanted out.
Shortly after that, one of my high school acquaintances posted something pretty horrible–a picture of stacked dead pets in the back of an animal shelter. The picture ambushed me, but it was my own fault that I read the description of the entire process. My wife Claire worked for animal services for awhile, so it’s not like I think they all go to a big farm or anything like that. Still, it’s depressing as hell.
It’s especially tough right now. Depending on where you look, millions of dogs and cats are euthanized each year, and it’s even worse now given the state of the economy. People give up their animals because they can’t afford to keep them, or else they move somewhere and, instead of turning their animals over to a shelter (where there’s about a 90% chance the dog or cat will be put down), they simply leave the pets behind. I can only imagine how horrifying and puzzling that must be for an animal.
Well, remember that dopey but endearing poem about the starfish that grade school teachers tend to have on posters and sweatshirts? You know, “I made a difference in that one?” Well, that’s what I cling to. We rescue more animals than we should in this house, but it’s mostly been cats. Well, this week we scored another minor victory.
For a few weeks, my wife and I have seen a red boxer-mix running around the neighborhood–a beautiful pup, but skin and bones, and skittish to boot. We put food out for him, but he disappeared for awhile and we thought he had gotten picked up. But, this week we saw him again. After we made sure he would have a home somewhere (we can’t have a dog with all of these cats, plus we rent and our wonderful landlords already made exceptions for the felines), Claire lured him into the backyard.
He was trying desperately to get out of the fence, and was very standoff-ish…for about 30 minutes. He then attempted to lick our faces off. He was so happy. The plan was to keep him in the sunroom, but it was supposed to get down to almost freezing (in Lubbock!) overnight. So we cordoned off the cats in the other room, and the dog (we named him Right Red Fred, or just Fred for short) hung out in the living room. Again, so so so so so affectionate–he curled up on the ottoman and always wanted to lay half of his body on us so he could put his head in our laps.
We only had him for a night. The next day, Claire tracked down a person who had expressed interest, and we met up with the woman at a park. It turns out the woman has rescued dogs before and she was great with Fred. He was scared at first, but warmed to her quickly. We said a goodbye that was much sadder than either of us imagined, and with that, Fred walked obediently with the woman to her car. As I type this, he’s living indoors north of Lubbock, playing with kids, with plenty of happiness, warmth, and safety.
As he was walking away with his new owner, he did stop after about a hundred yards and looked back, just for a moment. He then continued walking obediently, distracted only by the runners jogging by.
I guess we made a difference in that one.
So last week on Grantland (the most amazing site to come along since fivethirtyeight) Michael Weinreb and *swoon* Chuck Klosterman decided to trade questions about college football. Clearly, they had been doing this awhile and it was a fun read. I forwarded it to my friend/enemy/partner/nemesis Jared (I’ve mentioned him before), and he responded with a list of questions. Game on, apparently.
Be patient with us–we’re still working this out. But I think it’s got potential.
1. Who’s the 6th best Big Ten team this year?
2. Who will be the last undefeated team in the WAC?
3. In the AP poll, what’s the most overrated team at their current rank?
4. Who has the best name in college football?
5. What teams meet in the Big Ten championship game?
You pose some good questions, and I am happy to answer most of them. I’m not answering your WAC question because I’m not stupid. If you think I’m going to gush about Boise State, you think again. And you can also show me some GOD DAMN RESPECT! (that last line was in Mitch Leary’s voice).
Let’s start this beast with the Big 10. I think I might be more certain about the sixth-best team in the Big 10 than the top team, though Wisconsin’s offense looks scary-good. That said, the top teams (in my biased opinion) are Wisconsin, Iowa (only because no one’s talking about them—a hyped Iowa team is like What Dreams May Come: pretty, but quickly forgotten), Nebraska, and Ohio State. I think Michigan State is on a mission to redeem themselves after being exposed by Alabama (who thought that was going to be a good game?). Don’t get me wrong—they’ll still lose horribly to Alabama, but they’ll make some noise in the conference. Typically, I’d say, in the immortal words of Hot Shots: Part Deux, the painfully underwhelming Penn State is “the best of what’s left.” BUT…I think Michigan is going to have a few surprises this year, which will be enough to finish sixth (and cause an off-season of insufferable bluster).
As for the championship, I think Wisconsin has some questions on defense (I hope they kept their coordinator’s receipt), but it’s a down year for our conference, and I don’t think that playing in Columbus will make that big of a difference (especially with Wisconsin’s O-line). I see them running the table and ultimately winning the conference, simply because no one else can match them. All they need is a win over Ohio State (who I don’t think is going to pull off the upset) and they’ll be fine. Who on the other side can match them? I think ultimately Iowa will play the Badgers, as Martinez continues his fluky play for Nebraska, Michigan State will do exactly what is expected of them (and nothing more), and Persa can only carry his team so far.
SCENARIO: You lost a bet, but it totally wasn’t your fault—it was a side-wager and he caught an ace on the river. You have to wear a jersey to this year’s Big 10 championship game of one of the teams playing in the game…and Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Indiana aren’t playing (know you know it’s made-up—Indiana not playing??). Whose jersey are you wearing, and why?
I tend to complain (borderline incessantly) about poll rankings, but the toughest part for me is, “Okay, who is better?” USC is ranked #25, mostly because the NCAA put them on probation and the Associated Press is still playing the spurned lover role after the BCS dumped it for the vapid, easily-persuaded Harris Interactive. Get over it. USC has no business being there—the spoiled children dropped five games last year, including four in the PAC-10. With that obscene level of talent, the Trojans should be able to show up and still beat any team in the top 15. But the problem becomes, “Okay, who do you replace them with?” That’s a tougher question (probably Iowa or Northwestern) that gets significantly tougher the higher up the chart you move.
This is the toughest part about your question, because you stipulate the “most overrated team at their current rank.” Obviously, the first games exposed a few poseurs, but none of them were ranked highly enough to affect me (“Wait, you mean Notre Dame was overrated? ALERT THE MEDIA!!”). Plus, safe picks are for pansies and March Madness North Carolina fans. Let’s go down the list.
1) Okay, I’m quasi-indifferent about Oklahoma—they’ll dominate Florida State (no way I’m sold on this team), blow away Texas (shocker), soundly defeat A&M, but they’ll lose to someone they shouldn’t. They always do.
2) Alabama will be fine, I’m sure. A little worried about their QB play, but they’ve got the defense to make it happen.
3) Oregon was going to be my original choice, given they are so ridiculously, perennially overrated. Football experts cannot get enough of an exciting offense (it doesn’t help that practically every ESPN commentator was on the offensive side of the ball), and so they gravitate toward those dominant offenses. Last year’s Oregon squad, Bradford’s Oklahoma, Bush’s Trojans, even *gulp* Smith’s Buckeyes got the benefit of hype. Oregon (or Texas A&M or Oklahoma State) is no different, despite losing Matthews and most of their defense (which wasn’t that great anyway). But, they lost to LSU (the Ducks were defeated by a physical defense with time to prepare??), and so I’ll move along.
4) LSU. As long as Les Miles is there, LSU will find a way to win, even though he probably shouldn’t. Bottom line: The man knows how to recruit a defense, and I would never bet against his ungodly luck (especially considering my shockingly godly luck).
5) I think you can argue that the poll is as much about where the team will end up as much as how good they are (this is a discussion for another time). Is Boise State anywhere near as good as last year (which wasn’t that great)? Nope. Is anyone on their schedule going to beat them? God no.
6) Someone knows something I don’t about the Seminoles. Personally, I don’t get it. Everyone shat themselves last year when Florida State went on a tear, but if you look at their schedule objectively, the highest-ranked team they beat was South Carolina at #19 (hardly an accomplishment, given Spurrier’s inevitable collapse toward the end of every season). Wait, did I say highest-ranked team? I meant ONLY ranked team. Yes, their victory over a bipolar Miami team (probably broken up about that day’s lack of prostitutes) was impressive…at the time. Then Miami tanked. Their victory over Florida was impressive to anyone who didn’t see Florida play last year. The rest of us witnessed Brantley come in on 3rd and 12, stand Todd Boeckman-style in the pocket, and throw a beautiful spiral out of bounds. Yeah, Florida State beat Florida. You know who else did? Mississippi State…at the Gator Homecoming game. Awkward.
Oh yeah, and Florida State lost to the defensively-depleted North Carolina, got trounced by Oklahoma, got beat by N.C. State (after the wolf pack had already woken up from their dream season), and lost to Virginia Tech (who should have their very own “overrated” section of every column for all time…ever). And that was with first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. He gone.
You know, when I started writing this, it was building up to trounce Stanford (I mean, how does a team that loses its coach AND its defensive coordinator make it that high? Oh yeah, they beat Virginia Tech in the bowl game. What’s your secret??). But I convinced myself: Most Overrated (at this point) goes to the Florida Seminoles.
Question back to you—who is your most UNDERRATED team in this week’s poll?
Team names intrigue me—I love Brutus, but I definitely wish we were more than a poisonous nut (though anything’s better than Otto the Orange). I think the best team names are powerful animals that can actually do some damage. I like the Longhorns because Bevo is great, but at the end of the day it’s a cow. Driving around West Texas you see lots of dead grass, Mox tossing the pigskin around with Tweeder, and cows eating. I’m sure if Bevo is pissed he’ll charge, but otherwise he’s just taking it cool. Oh, and his quarterback blows.
South Florida has the bulls, which has potential, but they steal the Longhorns “Hook Them” hand-sign, so that’s an automatic disqualification (the same would hold true of the Hawkeyes stealing the Gator chomp, if the Herkie wasn’t the dumbest-looking mascot this side of the Stanford tree). The Colorado Buffaloes definitely have the coolest real-life mascot—that buffalo (bison in disguise?) tearing across the field is all kinds of badass. But, that’s not really the name now, is it?
For me, it’s Marshall. The Thundering Herd is the beginning and the end, mostly because it combines the badassery of a large animal and the bonus of a verb describing what said animals are actually doing. Bonus.
Any of your questions are, as always, fair game, but I wanted to pile on a couple of my own. Sorry to tack them on at the end—I’m sure we’ll get better at this.
What is your most memorable regular-season game not involving the Buckeyes and why?
For what team do you possess the most irrational hatred? The key words here are most irrational—plenty of personal reasons to hate Florida and USC.
As a matter of fact, you are stupid for not answering my WAC question. I wouldn’t set a trap like that in week 1, and Boise State is in Mountain West. I’ll go with Nevada. I’m still on their bandwagon from the Boise win last year. (Or I could have picked them because everyone but Hawaii lost this weekend).
I like where your heads at with the Big 10 rankings. (Honestly, I was glad you removed it from your ass after the Boise State confusion.) Wisconsin is clearly the best team. I’ll be a rankings homer and say they meet Nebraska in the championship. As for the 6th best team, it’s Iowa. 1 – Wisconsin, 2 – Nebraska, 3 – Ohio St., 4 – Michigan, 5 – Northwestern, 6 – Iowa. Judge my Michigan pick all you want, but it’s about time they had an above average season, and let’s face it, college football is better when Michigan is good.
RESPONSE: Since you eliminated Ohio State and Wisconsin, I’m assuming Penn State would luck their way into the championship. I’d have no choice but to sport the #85 jersey belonging to Brandon Moseby-Felder (architect?) WR.
I purposely phrased a few of the questions so they would be open to interpretation, and I’ll continue to do so to keep things interesting. I’ll start with another list to narrow the field. Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, LSU, and possibly Nebraska are the only teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll that should/could be ranked in top 10, and both Oklahoma and Oregon are big stretches at their current rank. (The coaches poll is a complete joke, so it’s not worth discussing.) It would be pointless to argue that Virginia Tech is overrated, shocking, TCU already exposed themselves so that’s old news, and both Notre Dame and Michigan State are too low to give a shit about. I basically agree with youryou on the top 6 teams, so let’s venture a little lower. At their rank, Texas A&M is an easy pick at #8. They’ll lose at least 4 games this year, including 1 to the RG3 lead Baylor Bears, on their way to a 4th placed finish in the Big 12.
I’m not trying to sound like a fan, but I think Ohio State is clearly the most underrated team in the polls this week. Starting the season at #18 was asinine based on the talent they bring in each season, so I don’t care if they how many starters returned this season. The win over Akron doesn’t mean anything, except that they did exactly what they were supposed to do against an inferior team.
You went with team names on my question, which I appreciate, but I was going for an individual player. Someone along the lines of Pat Angerer or Kurt Coleman, but let’s start with yours. I like your pick of the Thundering Heard, even though you picked them for your love of both “We Are Marshall” and Matthew McConnaughey. I always thought the Demon Deacons and Crimson Tide sounded cool, but neither are particularly intimidating. always liked the Wolverines. Something about it sounds cool, but that could just be a lingering affect of Red Dawn.
Most memorable regular season game would have to be Appalachian State vs. Michigan. That was some funny shit. I’ll have more for this question next time. It’s late and I want to send this thing off.
Most irrational hatred is a tough question. That eliminates everyone from the SEC since the media has given us plenty of reasons to hate them. I guess I’d have to go with Hawaii. Not sure why, but I just like watching them lose.
Best Nickname Week 1 – RG3
– Worst Uniform – Maryland. What the hell were they thinking? I always wondered what happened to the brain trust that came up with the 11 camera Miami game. Apaarently they now work for Under Armour. At least now I know what it would look like if a checkered flag mated with the Knights of the Templar shield.
I’m not stupid for answering the WAC question–I was trying to make a joke (because all of those conferences are jokes) and by the time I was done writing that damn thing I didn’t proof it beforehand. Probably should have made that a little more obvious. Awkward.
I agree with your reasoning on the overratedness of the polls. That said, let’s dwell a little bit on Virginia Tech because no one…NO ONE…will say anything bad about this team. Every goddam year, the perennially overrated Hokies start atop the poll and then it’s a race to see who can make the most excuses for a lack of success (photo finish between ESPN and the Hokie Student Media Association). This is an average team playing in a pathetic conference. Period.
Last year, it was all about the VaTech/Boise State game. As it always does, the hype fed off itself like a perpetual motion machine, and when the Broncos beat VaTech, commentators made it out to sound like it was a statement win for Boise State instead of yet another example of the team’s shitty schedule. The next week–the NEXT WEEK–VaTech lost to James Madison (let’s really let that sink in for a minute), and everyone gave them a pass (“Classic letdown game after playing in primetime the week before”–shut the hell up, it’s James freaking Madison). Then the Hokies climbed the polls (like Oregon in 2009, where everyone said team pulled it together) until they made it to the Orange Bowl where Stanford (who legally isn’t even allowed to HAVE a defense) kicked the shit out of them 40-12.
They’re at it again. Everyone’s pissing their pants because the VaTech running back Wilson Whatshisnuts rushed for 162 yards on just 16 carries. Wow! That’s amazing! (Truman’s voice)
To be fair, it is pretty impressive (especially when you consider the three touchdowns he rushed for) when you consider that this is an Appalachian State team that’s returning seven defensive starters from last year, and last year they were 6th in the NATION at defending the run. Go Hokies!
Wait, did I say nation? I meant in their league. But still, they play in the SouthEastern Conference, so that was against Richardson, Ingram, Lattimore, and a slew of other elite running backs from arguably the best conference in the nation! S-E-C! S-E-C!
Wait, I’m looking at my notes here, and apparently they play in the SOUTHERN Conference. So…yeah. They were sixth in the Southern Conference. VaTech ran all over the field on a defense that lost starters from last year, when they finished sixth against the run.
Forgive me for not freaking out about how dominant this team is. I hope last week’s email was wrong and that Florida State runs all over Virginia Tech. It would be totally worth it. Though I’ll settle for an East Carolina upset this weekend.
I just wish college football commentators would follow this very simple formula (EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT!!!) when it comes to dealing with the first week or three of games (at least when it comes to teams playing weak opponents):
“If the team struggles, talk about it. If they don’t, ignore it.”
Very simple, and (biasedly speaking, very accurate). Wisconsin let UNLV run all over them (though the rebels failed to score). That’s worth talking about. Auburn should have lost to Utah State. DEFINITELY worth talking about. Texas struggled mightily against Rice, pulling away in the 4th quarter. Worth talking about, especially after last year. A blowout win against an inferior opponent? Nope. Not worth discussing. Save that for the hometown newspaper’s message boards.
And while we’re on the hate train, let’s jump back to Boise. You know what I would like to see? Alabama or LSU vs. Boise State. I’m not even talking about some balanced attack team (more of an Oklahoma squad, which I’m sure would like another shot the Broncos)…just a ferocious, gigantic defense. Something where the game would end up being close–only because the Tiger/Tide quarterbacks are inept and only the defense scored–but Kellen Moore threw for 18 yards and the team had like 75 yards total (thanks in large part to a 29-yard run off of a missed tackle).
On that note, given the defenses and the quarterback situation, who do you think is going to win–Alabama or LSU?
At the risk of sounding like a homer, I have to agree with you about Ohio State. Should they be in the top 10? Absolutely not, especially given a rebuilding defense, young receivers, dueling quarterbacks, and a new coach. But 18th? Really?
I do need you to do me a favor: Answer. My. Question.
When I wrote you, I asked you what team faces your most irrational hatred? And you give me Hawaii.
Yeah, that’s not irrational. 2005. All we heard about all season long was how dominant Hawaii was, with June Jones and Colt Brennan (they had some overtime win against some joke of a team, but it just showed how tough the team was). FINALLY, they played a real opponent–Knowshon Moreno’s Georgia team–and lost 41-10. And we laughed at the Boise State equivalent that year. But the hatred lingered.
Try again. IRRATIONAL hatred.
• Nice reference on the uniform. Jake texted me, “Did you see the Maryland uniforms? They were so ugly that Miami players said you couldn’t PAY them to wear those things. HEY-OOOOOO!”
• Did you know that Alabama beat Penn State last year 24-3? I watched that game and I SWORE it was like 100 to -6. How ugly is that game going to be this week?
• Check out My Man Pete’s piece this week:
Specifically this excerpt:
“Why isn’t the SEC better?
Who finished on top of the Scout.com 2011 conference recruiting rankings? The SEC. 2010? The SEC. Who ranked on top from 2002 to 2009? Who’s going to be on top in 2012? Yup.
The SEC has all the talent in the world, all the resources, all the TV exposure, all the coaches, all the fan support, all the booster support, and all the booster support, yet the conference is just okay, not superior, when it comes to non-conference play. With this much talent year after year after year, shouldn’t the league be untouchable from top to bottom? Or at least top to Kentucky?
Of course the conference is the best in college football, but don’t get so hung up on the idea of winning five straight national titles. Just because the conference has one or three dominant teams every year, that doesn’t mean the entire league is the be-all-end-all like it should be. It’s just like saying the Pac 10 used to be great when USC was crushing and killing everything in its path, and it’s just like thinking the Big Ten might be down because Ohio State is rebuilding. As crazy as this might sound, again, considering the talent level, the SEC might actually be underachieving.
Auburn rallied to beat Utah State, but it got flat-out whipped on the lines. Ole Miss was embarrassing at home against BYU, and Georgia was picked apart by the same Boise State that no one wants to give any credit to.
Since 2002 the league is 86-70 in non-conference games on the road, in a bowl, or at a neutral site. That’s not taking into account non-conference home losses, and there are a ton of road games against Memphis in the win column. Also, remember, when Georgia goes to Georgia Tech, that’s sort of like a home game. Florida plays Florida State every year, South Carolina plays Clemson, and Kentucky plays Louisville, which means that several SEC schools aren’t too keen on challenging themselves outside of conference play with a second tough BCS-league road test.
86-70 might seem solid, and it is, but to keep hammering the point, considering the SEC has been on top of every ranking of recruiting classes for a decade, shouldn’t it be a whole bunch better than +16?
What if the four teams in the NFC South had the top four overall draft picks, along with an extra first round selection, for over ten drafts in a row? Wouldn’t the division destroy every other division? The SEC should be killing everyone else no matter where the game is played.”
So, every once in a while, I like to live-blog a movie as I watch it. I wasn’t going to for Battle: Los Angeles, but I was complaining about it so much that it seemed only natural. I should warn you that I started blogging about 20 minutes in, so it starts abruptly.
For background (according to IMDB): “A Marine Staff Sergeant who has just had his retirement approved goes back into the line of duty in order to assist a 2nd Lieutenant and his platoon as they fight to reclaim the city of Los Angeles from alien invaders.” Rottentomatoes has Battle: Los Angeles sitting at 20% with the Top Critics (who the hell would care about the other critics?), and rightfully so. It’s all kinds of stupid, as you’ll see. Let’s get this over with.
• Oh look, the dorky redheaded kid is a virgin AND he vomits. For the rest of my life, I will always remember dumb-looking soldier #4.
• They’re walking down a smoky street and they can’t see. The suspense is killing me—what if something happens to one of the 15 interchangeable main characters??
• Ah, the tension is broken because it was a dog. I’ll bet that’s totally all it is and none of these people are going to be killed. This is like Horror Movie 101 for Dummies.
• And an alien fires an explosive device and kills a couple of Marines. Shocker.
• A little tip to all you directors out there—battle scenes that are entirely shot with medium shots and close-ups are painfully difficult to watch. There are these things called establishing shots and a long shots, both of which can be used to give some kind of bearing for the audience so we know where the hell the characters are in relation to one another. You taking notes, Michael Bay? Share them with whomever screwed up Quantum of Solace—I don’t care enough to look it up.
• That’s it—shake the camera even more! “Wow! It’s like I’m right in the middle of the battle too! It’s so realistic!
• No worries. Aaron Eckhart got them out of that nasty situation. Aaron, what the hell are you doing in this movie? It seems like the role was meant for someone else. Like John Cena.
• Oh no, one of the Marines isn’t with them. So they’re going to go find him. Oh shit, it’s the dumbass redheaded kid! How could I forget about him??!
• And he just spilled laundry detergent all over himself. Shouldn’t there be like wacky music playing whenever he’s on-screen?
• He found an alien! And they killed it together. Ummm…yay?
• Oh gods, Ana Lucia is here. And she’s sassy! “I didn’t get here just because of my good looks.” ZING! Wait…zing?
• Now they’re searching a police station that is deserted…or is it??? Probably not.
• Nope, they found civilians…including kids. You know what improves every action movie ever? Kids. Just ask Jurassic Park.
• The helicopter took off and left Eckhart, Lucia, and some others (including the kids!). Then the helicopter was destroyed by aliens. Subtle, daring message about how you shouldn’t leave kids behind to be killed. But will America listen????
• This thing is like paint-by-numbers. Now two Marines are arguing about how it’s no one’s fault that the chopper blew up. Apparently, they lost some good men up there.
• Aaron Eckhart wants his commanding officer to be more assertive. Aaron Eckhart is The Decider!
• Now we’re being introduced to the kids. The director has officially given up on having us care about the main characters and hoping that some kind of paternal instinct will kick in and deep down we’ll care about the children out of some evolutionary obligation. Nope. I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating or anything, but I would rather see the entire human race extinct then suffer through crappy kids thrown into movies.
• I am absolutely amazed at how much movies like this cost to make, and yet how stupid the alien special effects look. District 9 cost a fraction of this budget, and it looked (and was) absolutely badass
• And the little girl is coloring. Do you get it, people?? She just wants a return to normalcy!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: You’ll notice a bit of a jump here. I’m dead serious: I nodded off. Yeah, I did. Los Angeles is being destroyed, and I was bored to sleep. Let’s see if I can dive back into the action and somehow pick up this oh-so-complex plot.
• More running through the streets. Yawn.
• And now the kids are running.
• And the firefight continues. Jesus, I don’t think I’ve ever been this bored watching a movie filled with explosions.
• The civilian man grabs a gun and is shot. But not before taking out an alien. So easy, a civilian can do it!
• You know, movies with quasi-incompetent aliens aren’t scary. Alien aliens? Scary. Predator alien? Scary. Hell, even Independence Day aliens were badass in their own way.
• Now the lieutenant is decisively dying. But he’s dying bravely like a MAN, so I guess it’s okay.
• Seriously, he shouts out “Hoo-rah” over the radio before he dies. I never understood the phrase, “War is hell” until I watched this movie.
• Now everyone’s sad. Well, not everyone. I’m nodding off again. Come on Josh, you can do it!
• Now Aaron Eckhart is in charge. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.
• The civilian is dying and makes the Marines promise to save his son. Save me instead.
• They see news footage of a ship and determine that must be controlling the aliens. If they destroy that ship, the humans win!
• They’re back at the airfield, but everyone has been killed. Seriously, I’m not even joking—they could somehow kill me on-screen (hopefully via CGI), and at this point I would just kind of shrug my shoulders in relative indifference.
• The kid is holding onto the hand of his dead civilian father. Just imagine how much more I could care if: 1) I had the slightest clue who the guy was 2) The kid could act 3) The writers gave me a reason to care about this person other than the fact that he wasn’t an alien trying to destroy Los Angeles 4) The kid could act
• God, the kid is “crying” because his dad died. Well, it looks like laughing, but I think that’s supposed to be crying. Man, if I didn’t hate the aliens for destroying half of Los Angeles, I certainly hate them now for killing ol’ Whathisnuts! Think of the children!
• Aaron is delivering a soulful speech to the kid that starts off, “Marines don’t quit.” Was this guy really in Thank You For Smoking?
• You know what’s better than a stirring monologue? Another one that follows roughly 45 seconds later. Totally effective.
• Holy shit! Eckhart knew one of the Marine’s brothers who died in another battle. Eckhart rattled off the dead guy’s serial number or whatever. Tears were shed. Eyes were rolled.
• Ana Lucia after running over aliens: “They’re going down like bowling pins!” Is that an actual expression?
• An alien just landed on the hood of her Humvee. She shot it and the head exploded, spraying slimy stuff all over her. Ana Lucia: “I got that nasty stuff all over my mouth!” Guy driving the Humvee: **laughing** “You let him do you on the first date??” I literally almost vomited. Was this movie written by like a computer or something? It has all the necessary elements—textbook, really—but nothing seems to fit together. Seriously, that was disgusting.
• They’re evacuating. Throw those damn kids out of the helicopter and salvage this movie.
• Seriously, say “civilians” one more time. We get it, you’re Marines.
• Now they’re going to recon where the alien headquarters might be, in the hopes of taking out the alien drones so the military can win. In second grade, I wrote a 14-sentence story about a blue whale that learned how to walk so he could play with dinosaurs. This movie makes that look epic in comparison.
• Alien ambush!!!! But the Marines killed them. You know, for as grave a threat as these things are supposed to present, these guys don’t seem to have too much trouble killing them.
• Now they’ve found the main alien ship that, if destroyed, will win the war for the humans. Again, I have to go back to the invincibility of aliens being directly related to the how scary they are. Entire race being immobilized because one ship is destroyed? Not scary.
• Oh noes! They killed that one nameless Marine!
• The aliens have a tank-like thing…that was destroyed by a grenade launcher. How in the hell are these creatures winning the battle?
• Ana Lucia kills another alien. I should have been counting how many aliens this ragtag group of misfits have killed. It’s a lot. I mean, there are like, what, 5,000 aliens? Maybe? Seems like a decent-sized army could make short work of them.
• The Marines are trying to destroy the ship by calling in air support by using a laser-targeting device. They have to put the laser beam on what they want the missiles to hit. I’m sure it’s supposed to be dramatic, but it looks like a gigantic slide projector. QUICK! SOMEONE LOOKS AT THESE PICTURES FROM ALCATREZ ISLAND! SEE? THERE I AM IN A PRISON CELL! NOW THERE’S MY SISTER IN A PRISON CELL! NOW HERE’S ANOTHER SHOT OF US BOTH IN THE PRISON CELL!
• The last missile brought down the ship, and now all the aliens are dead. For realsies. All gone.
• Generic congratulations from a generic commanding officer.
• Wait a minute—did that officer just say “Hoorah?” Are these Marines? Why didn’t they hint at this earlier in the movie?? I had no idea!
• Ahhh, and even though the Marines are supposed to take a break, they’re going right back to the front lines. This is like boot camp porn. And that’s the end. Thank god.
You know, I hate to sound all Charlie Conservative with my bootstappy comments, but honestly, in a field of 68 teams, if you can’t make it into the NCAA tournament, you really didn’t deserve it. Period. Before the ridiculous expansion of teams from 64 to 68, only one of these bubble teams would have been considered. And, sorry Virginia Tech–that team is Colorado. After three wins over Kansas State (a #5-seed), a win over Texas, and playing Kansas tight, the Buffaloes deserve a spot. I’ll also give a nod to St. Mary’s (with an RPI of 46).
The team that definitely does not deserve a shot? The Hokies. Everyone on ESPN is losing their shit over Virginia Tech being left out of the discussion. Why? Because they beat Duke a couple of weeks ago. And that’s about it. People love talking about that game, while conveniently overlooking two (!) losses to Virginia, a blow-out loss to Georgia Tech. They won an ACC tournament game against Florida State. By one point. After the game-winning buzzer-beater by the Seminoles was overturned (the ball was barely on his fingertips–another tenth of a second and the Hokies are going home. Now, that’s fine–hell, Evan Turner hit a buzzer-beater against Michigan in the Big 10 tournament last year, and went on to convincingly win the Big 10 tourney. Virginia Tech? Not so much. They got to play Duke…who beat them by 14 points.
Honestly, it wouldn’t even bother me that much if it wasn’t for their coach, Terry Greenberg. When asked about this year’s (alleged) snub, he said that committee must have an “agenda” against VaTech. And this wasn’t an errant slip of the tongue. He said the word four times, including three times in the opening few sentences. Check it out:
“[I’m] just disappointed. You almost wonder if someone in that room has their own agenda and that agenda doesn’t include Virginia Tech. Just plain and simple. I totally wonder it, if someone in that room has an agenda. The explanation was so inconsistent with the result that it was almost mind-boggling.”
Here’s a scientific law that I just made up, but I’m sure it holds true:
The greater the discrepancy between the level of conspiracy and your overall importance, the crazier you sound.
So, if the President of the United States says that he is being followed and it threatens the security of the nation, then he doesn’t sound too crazy. However, if the President says he’s being followed by a little girl who’s trying to steal seven dollars from him, then he sounds like a crazy person.
Let’s go to the other end of things. If you’re the head coach of the Hokies with a questionable record and you’re complaining that there is an organized conspiracy to prevent you from being the bottom seed in the NCAA tournament, you sound like a crazy person. There’s absolutely no reason for this happening. It’s not like it’s the USC or Ohio State basketball teams arguing blowback from the NCAA sanctions violations from their football teams. It’s just the random mutterings of a sore loser. Want in? Win more than one fluke (albeit thrilling) game.
Everyone thinks that the way they do things is the best (call it another scientific law). But honestly, this is the best way.
When it comes to filling out your bracket, forget the traditional approach where you just count up the number of games you got right–that’s a horrible way to do things. You get no reward for making bold choices, whereas some jackass who decides to go with all four #1 seeds making the Final Four cleans up.
The best way to do it is to multiply the round by the seed and add the total together. So if you have Duke winning it all this year, you would get a total of 15 points for that selection (#1 seed x # round and add them all together). However, if you correctly pick the #13 seed advancing to the second round, you get 26 points. In other words, you’re rewarded for bold picks and successfully predicting chaos, which this is really all about.
I harped on this last year, and I’ll continue to do so. I understand that practically every sport determines its champion through a playoff system, and I absolutely love tournaments (practically nothing can compare with March Madness). However, let’s not pretend that the NCAA tournament–or any tournament for that matter–is flawless.
I’ll use Michigan State last year as an example. Normally, in order to make it to the Final Four, you’d have to beat some pretty great teams. In 2010, check out Michigan State’s bracket. Here are the teams (and seeds) that Michigan State (who was a 5-seed) had to beat: New Mexico State (#12), Maryland (#4), Northern Iowa (#9), and Tennessee (#6). Should Michigan State have made it that far? Doubtful. But the Northern Iowa players had the game of their lives against the #1 seed Kansas and #3 Georgetown got the shit kicked out of it by #14-seed Ohio (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes).
Now, am I saying that the Spartans didn’t deserve their success? Of course not. Hell, they only lost to Butler (a #5 seed who was WAY better than its ranking and had a heck of a tougher road than Michigan State) by a basket, and Butler only lost to Duke by a basket in the final game.
What I am saying is that the tournament doesn’t necessarily give the best team the championship. It helps us feel better about who wins that championship, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us the best team that year. And in doing so, it negates the regular season. I hate to sound like a BCS apologist, but it truly does. My Ohio State Buckeyes lost to Wisconsin in both football and basketball this year, and the devastation I felt in October couldn’t come close to matching the modest disappointment I felt when the Badger fans rushed the basketball court last month.
Some weeks I try to solve the mysteries of the world, digest what’s bothering me, or use this as a cathartic device for venting about injustices out of my control.
This is not one of those times.
My wife Claire loves to watch HG-TV, which sucks on a number of levels. Not only does it invent potential home projects (we should re-do all the cabinets in the house!) and waste valuable TV time (it’s like she doesn’t even know that Starship Troopers is on again!), but also…it’s stupid.
That said, there is one show that I actually enjoy, and that’s House Hunters International. It’s pretty straightforward: People (typically couples) look at different houses in exotic locations in the hopes of finding a vacation home to purchase. No offense to Tel-Aviv, Paris, Italy, etc., but I only watch the ones that take place in exotic, tropical locations. It’s amazing to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s still far from a perfect show, mostly because of four recurring issues that will not die. These are my House Hunter International pet peeves.
I get that some people might like it for unique reasons that truly are important. For instance, the couple I’m watching now got married in Thailand, have family in Thailand, and visit (from England) every year. I think that’s a great reason to have a second home in Thailand. Unfortunately, this is what you typically get:
“My husband/wife and I visited Costa Rica years ago and just fell in love with it. Now we’d like to purchase a vacation home here.”
Hey, that’s terrific. But if they were to move up the coast to Nicaragua, you could get a similar place for about a third of the cost. Don’t believe me—compare Costa Rica listings with Nicaragua listings for yourself.
I am certainly trying not to suggest that Costa Rica and Nicaragua are identical countries—far from it. But, when it comes to the perspective of some couple from Wisconsin looking for a few weeks out of the year in a tropical setting…yeah, they’re basically the same. Same goes for the countless islands in the Caribbean – if you’re trying to find a secluded area with a great beach, you shouldn’t limit yourself to a single part of one country where you had spring break fifteen years ago.
Now that we’ve mentioned the money issue, let’s focus on that for a second. Occasionally you’ll get the couple on House Hunters International who is filthy rich and looking for a place for around $2 million. Those episodes are fantastic because you get to see amazing houses AND spoiled people bitch about minor details.
Unfortunately, more often than not you get the other end of the spectrum, where people have a budget of $200,000 – $250,000. This could be fine (once a couple had a budget of <$100K and were thrilled with a charming shack on the beach), but unfortunately, this is what you typically get:
“We know we don’t have a large budget, but IDEALLY we’re looking for a house close to the beach…with a pool…and three to four bedrooms…and close to the city.”
This seems reasonable, but once they actually start looking for houses, those “ideal” features become expected. And they’re shocked when they can’t find what they’re looking for. Shocking.
On the other side, sometimes you have people who are too concerned about the budget. I know that seems ridiculous—let me explain. Yesterday, I’m watching this episode in Fiji. On this particular show, the featured homebuyer is a bonafide crazy person **insert topical Charlie Sheen reference here** with ridiculously specific tastes. In it, she had a budget for $500,000 (from her parents, of course) and found her absolute dream house…for $525,000. She spent the last part of the show complaining about how worried she was about it.
Ummm…it’s $25,000 on a half-million dollar house.
1) The sellers will probably be willing to negotiate
2) If you’re so concerned about your budget that you can’t go a fraction over for a second home in Fiji, MAYBE you should either lower your budget or lower your expectations.
This problem might stem from my lack of understanding when it comes to the upper class. Again, some couples are sensible, but this is what you typically get:
“Ooooh, this area will be great for entertaining!”
Seriously, this happens ALL THE TIME. If you watch House Hunters International, you’d think that every couple is constantly hosting extravagant dinner parties.
Obviously, this can be quaint, but it becomes a problem when it affects what kind of house these people buy. When couples start turning down houses because they “only have three bedrooms” and there wouldn’t be enough room for guests, now you’re being ridiculous. While it’s a great idea, it’s still a couple of thousand dollar roundtrip plane tickets per couple, and they would have to vacation with you every year. It’s an awful lot to ask, especially when it comes to determining the type of house you purchase.
This one happens more frequently than I would like:
“We love the house—it’s everything we’re looking for. But…I’m just not sure how safe it would be for the kids.”
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I don’t have kids. However, even if I did, I think I would still think this has to be one of the stupidest things to consider when you’re buying a vacation home. Seriously, what the hell? I swear some of these people are just saying this because they think it makes them look like good parents. It actually makes them look like idiots.
Look, your kids are going to be there for about a month out of the year (at the most). Furthermore, those oh-so-important concerns about child safety? Yeah, they’ll be irrelevant in about three years when your kids grow up. And that decision determined what vacation home you’ll most likely own the rest of your life. Smart move.
Now, shut up and show me another picture of that beachfront property!
Almost a year ago, I was having a conversation with one of my best friends, John Chaney, and we decided to run a marathon together. He suggested a half marathon, I mocked his masculinity, and we agreed to run the full marathon in Austin. And about a week ago, on February 20th, we ran the full marathon, 26.2 miles, around the relatively hilly streets of Austin, Texas. Even though it was days ago, I’m still trying to digest the experience. I think it might help to parse things out a bit.
Despite my dreams, there was no “Heart’s on Fire” montage or any other heroics. And, despite my hopes, it was tough. Originally, my plans were for a sustained training program (here come the excuses). I had a hard time in the Lubbock heat (especially given the city’s apparent hatred for functioning water fountains), and my schedule really got thrown off when I had gall bladder surgery, got married, and went on my honeymoon in the span of a few weeks. When I finally got back on schedule, it was early in the fall, and I had to use an abbreviated schedule.
It was tough. I know that sounds obvious, but I feel like it deserves to be mentioned. I’m a runner, and I figured gradually running further once a week wouldn’t make that big of a deal. I was wrong. I kind of hit my threshold early on around 8 miles. That lasted until a run where I accidentally went further than what I was supposed to do–the GPS on my iMapMyRun app wasn’t working and when I threw my route onto GoogleEarth after the workout it revealed I had run about 9.5 miles. I was good to go until about 16 miles, when I plateaued out again. This lasted a few weeks, until I was finally able to push through it under optimum conditions (good weather, no deadlines, and my hydration belt finally arrived). I maxed out at 20 about three weeks before the race, and stepped down the training until I reached Austin.
I jogged about 1.5 miles the day before the race, during which I remembered just how much I missed running in Austin. The night before John and I (accompanied by our wives) went out for pasta at the Tree House Italian Grill (John’s meal was apparently great, mine was definitely awful). We went to bed at a decent hour, woke up at 5:45 a.m., and made our way to the starting line. At 7:00 a.m., the race started.
Well, sort of. About 20,000 runners actually participated in the Austin marathon (~13,000 half-marathoners, ~6,000 full marathoners, and ~? 5K runners), and so it took us about 16 minutes to actually cross the start line. John-John and I were aiming for about 11 minute miles, and we stayed pretty close to that for the first 16 miles or so. It was rough. I thought the toughest part would be the point in the race where the half-marathoners broke off to finish (and we kept on going), but the real tough part was around mile 16 or 17, where you realized that you still had over two hours of running left to go. Ouch. Anyway, at that point, I had to slow down a bit (some miles more so than others), but I owe my time to John. He was a true friend, doubling back a little bit and jogging alongside me. I think he probably could have ran it about 30 minutes faster (and I could have run it about 30 minutes slower), but he took one for the team. I tried to get him to run ahead, but he (obviously) refused. I owe a great deal of the enjoyment of the race to John.
The rest I owe to the crowds. I’ve run races before (5K, 5 mile, 10K), and while the crowd was great (esp. in that last kick), I never thought it would be so essential. In Austin, people lined the streets, bands randomly played, people had speakers blasting music (the runners absolutely lost it around mile 7 when some guy was playing Thriller), and in general just being really supportive. I almost punched some guy who said we were currently on “the last hill” (it was not) and the few people who said we were “almost done” (we were not), but the thousands of other people were giving out free high fives, cheering us on, holding up signs (my favorites were “Because 26.3 miles would be insane” and “If this marathon course was easy, it would be called your mom!”), handing out bananas and candies and orange slices, and just generally being awesome. I never thought cheering could mean so much, but between miles 17 and 22, it meant everything.
26.2 miles later, we crossed the finish line.
Overall, it was a great experience to have, but honestly, as of right now, I just don’t see me doing another one. On the one hand, I think it would be really cool to become a marathoner, traveling around, working on improving my time, and finding other cool marathons to run (my colleague John ran the Minneapolis marathon and said it was excellent–I’ve also always dreamed of running the San Diego marathon, which is supposed to be gorgeous). Then again, I really love to run (I really do). And during the training process, I really started to dread going running. It was great for the extra motivation during the middle of the week (on the 4 – 6 mile runs), but Sunday just loomed in the distance. It was depressing waiting for the run, especially right before I left (“I’m going to run 18 miles…I’ll be back around 3:30”). It would absorb the entire day and, while Lubbock has its moments, the city was just not made for long runs (flat and boring).
Whether I run another race or not is irrelevant. What I can say is that I finished a marathon. The time was not great. The experience was rough. The training wasn’t pretty. But dammit, I finished. I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments, and I’m honestly proud of what I did.
I think I might start putting up an occasional entry about my graduate class. This semester, for the first time, I’m teaching the course “Race and Media” and it’s actually going really well. I keep waiting for the conversation to die down, but each night it seems that there are more and more questions and issues thrown around in the discussion.
I had a class on race and media at the University of Iowa. It was taught by Tim Havens, who did a great job keeping a discussion going without going the traditional discussion leader route. That said, I also had a race class taught by the irreplaceable, essential Mary Campbell. I’ve tried to combine the two approaches, while adding in a number of readings I’ve picked up over the years and, like I said, so far it’s going really well.
This week, one of the readings came from Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book Racism Without Racists, and this particular excerpt really stood out to me. In this chapter, Bonilla-Silva is examining the oft-cited phenomenon of people declaring tolerance, but harboring beliefs that suggest otherwise (in other words, “I’m not a racist, but…”). I talked about it with my race class and I think the discussion went well, but I just can’t stop thinking about it:
“First, readers need to be reminded that I see racism as a problem of power. Therefore, the intentions of individual actors are largely irrelevant to the explanation of social outcomes. Second, based on my structural definition of “racism,” it should also be clear that I conceive racial analysis as “beyond good and evil.” The analysis of people’s racial accounts is not akin to an analysis of people’s character or morality.”
This could easily represent a fundamental disconnect between academia and the “real world”–if I call you a racist, you’d probably get offended. However, I think the distinction is an important one.
If I know that a certain stereotype exists (e.g., “White people like sour patch kids”), that doesn’t mean I believe it. Hell, I can understand the wonderful complexity that is Santa Claus, but I don’t think he’s climbing down our non-existent chimney anytime soon. In other words, my ability to recognize that stereotype doesn’t mean I’m going to buy random White people delicious sour patch kids.
That said, can you really separate recognition and belief when it comes to race? When Bonilla-Silva writes that analysis of racial accounts is not akin to an analysis of people’s character or morality, I have to question that, at least on some level.
This was further complicated by, of all things, an episode of House. No, this isn’t a diatribe against the steep decline of a once-great show (though after a weekend of watching episodes from a few seasons ago, I could write volumes on the subject. I’ll let the A.V. Club handle it). I was watching a rerun on USA and the patient-of-the-week was a woman who had turned into a functioning psychopath. They were quick to point out that not all psychopaths or sociopaths are killers, but I couldn’t help but wonder why not. I mean, the symptoms are all there–aren’t they just waiting for opportunity?
Yes, I understand the compartmentalization of these kind of issues, and I get that there is a difference between understanding stereotypes and internalizing them. But if you understand stereotypes, haven’t you already internalized them, at least to a certain extent? If I’m at the store and I’m supposed to buy a snack for some White person and I don’t know what they like, if the first thing that pops into my mind is sour patch kids, doesn’t that make it an issue? Of course I would shrug it off and dismiss it as a stereotype, it feels like the damage is done. There are a number of fascinating studies (with fascinating methodologies) showing that people tend to respond faster in an emergency if the victim is of the same race. If my schema instantly connects White people and sour patch kids, in an emergency, doesn’t that make me a racist? And shouldn’t there be some sort of consequence for feeling that way?
I realize there are more questions here than answers, but I’m fascinated by the discussion, and I hope I can find an answer (or what might help explain this anyway) by the end of the semester.
About a month ago, I heard an interesting piece of news: The Dutch are giving out free heroin.
At first I just assumed it was some neoconservative scare tactic, another example of those wacky Europeans and their crazy notions about how to live life (OMG TEH LIBS ARR GOING TO FORCE OUR KIDS TO TAKE DRUGGGSS!!!1!!one!!). But I finally got a chance to read up on the situation in this Economist article, and I have to say that I am intrigued.
Obviously, heroin is a dangerous drug–it makes you do crazy, unthinkable stuff and it can destroy your life. Just ask these guys:
And yet, the Dutch government continues to hand out heroin for free, and it appears to be successful. So why is this so effective? To people get heroined out? Is too much of a good thing a bad thing? Did all of their druggies OD in the first week, thereby reducing the number of addicts to be counted for the next drug survey?
Actually, it’s none of these things. The Dutch have realized a fundamental truth that eludes many people: Drugs are cool, and government is uncool.
Allow me to quote at length from the Economist article I linked to earlier:
“[The Dutch government] has been giving them free heroin, as long as they show up to inject at government-run “safe injection points,” under the eyes of police and health staff. Dutch drug researchers now say that the youth population “doesn’t relate to hard drugs at all”, and that there’s no danger that Dutch kids reading the advice site will find heroin use attractive. They’re more likely to find it pathetic.”
I really cannot stress the genius of this approach, and I’m surprised it’s not used more frequently here in the United States. Each year, the debate over mascot caricatures is reignited, particularly in Cleveland where the old die-hard fans cannot understand why some people would find “Chief Wahoo” offensive. Yeah, not at all offensive.
After all, what’s a little racism between fans?
That said, those offended by the mascot are going about this completely wrong. Forget petitioning the organization–you’re just drumming up media attention (and thereby reinforcing hegemony when, time and time again, Chief Wahoo (really?) continues smiling gullibly at crowds entering The Jake). Go the Dutch route and make Chief Wahoo uncool. Come up with alternative designs or logos and sell them underground if you have to. Build on that, create a following, and Chief Wahoo will become something far worse than an offensive stereotype.
It will become uncool.
I am a man of reason.
With few exceptions, I’m pretty calculating, I certainly try to control what I can, and I’m much more likely to believe in statistical possibility as opposed to supernatural intervention. However, the one area I am, without a doubt, ridiculously superstitious, is when it comes to sports. And the crazy is most concentrated when I watch my Ohio State Buckeyes play football.
It’s a bizarre ritual with a million unwritten rules. I can’t talk to my friend Jared during a Buckeye game (unless we’re watching the game together, though we rarely risk it). I can’t wear Ohio State gear within a few days of the game, even if it’s by accident. I really can’t boast about a potential victory–it’s the kiss of death. If the game is going badly, I have to pause it for awhile (thanks, Tivo) and, by the time I catch up (fast-forwarding through commercials) that normally gives the team enough time to overcome whatever curse I’ve placed on them. Don’t believe in curses? I bragged non-stop about how Ohio State would dominate Florida in the 2006 National Championship game (and I listened to the song “Remember the Name” when I went running before that fateful night), and we know how that turned out.
And that’s the real problem with this kind of arrangement: I take the blame for the big losses (I watched the infamous Purdue loss with a group of strangers and accepted a handful of Buckeyes before the game began, I couldn’t watch the Wisconsin game live this year…) but, because I’m just that kind of guy, I make sure that the players and coaches deservedly get credit for the victory.
Last night, the players and coaches did their job (especially in the first half), but I think it’s time for my contributions to be recognized. Here is a list of what I did to secure victory:
• I did not contact Jared during the game (and obviously not John or Nate either)
• When the game got tight, I paused it via DVR and, after about 20 minutes of Parks and Recreation, I watched the game live
• I did not wear any Ohio State gear and downplayed the chances of the Buckeyes (though that wasn’t too hard after the Big Ten New Year’s Day debacle)
• During the first half (before Tressel decided to sit on an 18-point lead for 30 minutes–thereby making the Arkansas defense actually feel like it was doing something as opposed to stuffing nine men in the box to stop Herron), I was drinking Pepsi with an occasional sip of A&W Root Beer. During the second half, I tried to alternate the two in order to predict what was causing the success
• In the middle of the first half, I noticed I was sweating (because I sweat a lot when I’m nervous) and I was afraid my shirt smelled. So, I went into my room to change shirts, but then realized that I could ruin the game. So, after taking the shirt off, I actually put the damn thing back on
I am a bonafide crazy person when it comes to watching Ohio State football. And it gave us a ridiculous victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
Kelli Space managed to rack up $200,000 in student loans.
Last week, Gawker published a short piece entitled “What $200,000 in Student Debt Looks Like,” a story that featured a 23-year-old who racked up $200,000 in student loans at Northeastern University (yes, that Northeastern University). She blames the astronomical debt on an undergraduate degree on summer classes, books and miscellaneous expenses, and a year spent studying abroad. Ugh.
Now, I have a ridiculous number of students loans. It’s frustrating, but expected–four years of undergrad and six years of graduate school will do that to a person, and it’s hard to complain because I’m doing what I love. But the entire student loan situation for me is kind of like the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case–every time I think about it, I get frustrated.
Articles like this aren’t helping. It’s like that annoying acquaintance you have who happens to have the same political ideology as you but they’re so painfully ignorant that they actually hurt your cause. Pieces like this give people a chance to gawk at the irresponsible student without examining the larger issue: We have a serious problem with student debt, and it’s getting worse. Stow your Horatio Alger ideas about student loan debt for a minute and listen.
The average student has about $25,000 in student loans, which doesn’t really sound like that much to the average student, especially not when compared with the aforementioned $200,000. But actually, that’s quite a bit. According to this student loan calculator, that comes out to a hearty $264 a month payment. Now granted, that’s for a ten-year repayment plan. Obviously, you could change your payment plan, though that would result with you paying a lot more in interest.
More importantly, that is $264 a month that is not. going. anywhere. Short of moving to another country or dying, there is no escaping your student loan payments. Hell, you can declare bankruptcy and unless you are “physically unable to work,” you still have to pay back your student loans. Oh, and before you jump to the next paragraph, you might want to click on that Sallie Mae link to see some of the most ridiculous spin ever; most notably, “Several laws were passed in the 1990s to protect taxpayers from the high number of student loans (estimated at one-fifth) in default or included in a bankruptcy.” Yeah, right. I’m sure those laws were passed to protect taxpayers. Thank you, lawmakers!
Anyway, let’s say that you scoff at my claims, pointing out that over a longer repayment plan, the payments won’t be nearly as much. Well, genius, that really doesn’t matter too much. Because you’ll be paying more in interest (about seventeen thousand dollars more, actually), your loan payments will be $207 a month for a 20 year payment plan instead of $264 a month for the ten-year payment plan. That’s right–you’ll pay almost as much as the loan itself in interest before your loan is paid off. Chew on that for a minute.
And while you’re gnawing, you should also note this: Student loans have increased dramatically over the past decade. Pew research found that undergraduate students who received their degrees in 2008 “borrowed 50% more than their counterparts who graduated in 1996” (adjusted for inflation). Spoiler alert: That’s not dropping anytime soon, as tuition rates generally increase at about twice the general inflation rate. Tuition and fees increase everywhere, just pick a school. How are those increases going to be met? Are baristas at Starbucks going to be given more hours? Are customers at Applebees going to tip their servers better? Is McDonalds going to bump minimum wage? Doubtful. Students will just borrow a few thousand dollars more, and the increases will continue.
When President Obama wanted to help jump-start the economy, he directed a lot of help to homeowners, both current and future. The government helped with foreclosures, passed legislation to help homeowners, and even an $8000 tax credit to potential homeowners. Hey, that’s terrific, but if politicians really wanted to jumpstart the economy, they would target some of that help on those saddled with student loan debt. Ready for this plan, politicians looking to garner votes? How about this: Extend the grace period of the loans by four years (interest-free). How about it, economy? Sure, some frugal graduates would sock away their earnings and pay off a huge chunk of their loans when the four years are up. But for the majority who are working at lower-paying jobs or just enjoying youth, that’s millions of twenty-somethings dropping an extra $250 apiece each month. Sadly, the focus was on the homeowners (probably because they vote).
Speaking of homes, I recently read this fascinating piece in Rolling Stone about a court in Florida was insanely efficient at foreclosures, mostly because they were skirting the law to do so. Journalist Matt Taibbi had a wonderful section that sums up my views perfectly:
“At worst, these ordinary homeowners were stupid or uninformed — while the banks that lent them the money are guilty of committing a baldfaced crime on a grand scale.”
Here, the explicit crime doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s right (as demonstrated in this brilliant and telling graphic). Many jobs in the United States now require a college degree, and with college tuition increasing so drastically (and so consistently), the younger generations don’t have much of a choice. There is only one option: Borrow now and pray you can pay it back later.
As you know by now, I have an absolute love for monster movies. I used to hit up the now-defunct “Saturday Movie Matinee” video store at the Richland Mall in the bustling megalopolis of Mansfield, Ohio, and I would stare at shelf after shelf of classic (and not-so-classic) monster movies. With limited funds, I would pore over each box, making the tough decision between Island of Terror and The Land Unknown or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (colorized!) and It Came From Outer Space. It was fantastic.
Yet, every once in a while, I would strike gold somewhere else, normally in some discount bin at Meijer. My prize finds were UHF (granted, not a monster movie, but still a classic) and One Million Years B.C. (not to be confused with One Million B.C., starring Victor Mature), and I always kept my eyes open. On one such adventure, my eyes caught an intriguing movie box, featuring scantily-clad women in futuristic costumes fighting a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Check it:
Not as scandalous as the overseas version, but honestly the idea of people fighting dinosaurs was enough for me. Plenty of dinosaur monster movies exist, but for every One Million Years B.C., there are plenty of craptastic ones (Dinosaurus, King Dinosaur, Lost Continent, People That Time Forgot, The Lost World…). I had high hopes about Planet of Dinosaurs, and to be honest, they were met..eventually.
This movie is, by all measures, an utter disaster. It uses stop-motion effects for the dinosaurs…even though the movie was made in 1978. The actors look (and “act”) like 1970s porn stars. The script is horrible, there is way too much walking, the electronic musical score is almost overpowering, and the plot is pretty cliche. Hell, it’s so bad that the MST3K guys even riffed on it (and did a fantastic job).
And yet, despite its ineptitude, I kept coming back to watch it again and again. Hell, I still own the original vhs I purchased forever ago, the dvd that was released, and even the 30th anniversary dvd (though, through some sort of error, the dvd cover reads “20th anniversary edition“). There is just something about this movie, and if you’re a fan of campy adventure, I think you’ll feel the same way.
Let’s start with the effects. They’re actually pretty great. Check out these dinosaurs:
And speaking of effects, don’t forget that Planet of Dinosaurs has one of the greatest death scenes of all time:
Now, almost at the opposite end of the spectrum is the acting. Some people have blamed the script, but when you watch the movie…well…it’s pretty obvious. Sure, the plot is borderline cliche, but so are 90 percent of all monster movies. It’s a traditional storyline: Group is stranded, characters suffer suspicions/doubts about one another, the group bands together against a common foe, and ultimately the characters achieve harmony with themselves and their new environment. And, for me, that traditional storyline works, especially when you consider that the group is stranded on a planet of fucking dinosaurs! BAM!
Seriously though, the acting is rough, but the intent is there. Listening to the commentary track (yes, I am that fond of this movie), you hear about this group of people who just wanted to make a movie and, by goodness, they did. Only one of them was a trained actor (and he hams it up something fierce), they acknowledge all of their mistakes, but again the intent was there.
At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the fact that I have weaknesses for dinosaurs and for adventure movies. Quick, name five great dramas. Easy, yeah? Five great comedies? No worries. Five great science fiction films? Please. But five great adventure films? Tricky. And I’m not talking about action/adventure, I mean true adventure, 1950s serial-type adventure. You have Raiders of the Lost Ark (which I have talked about before) at the top, a few decent contributions (e.g., Romancing the Stone, Tarzan) and a bunch of crap. Planet of Dinosaurs swung for the fences. It was a pop-up to center field, but the exhilaration was there. And dammit, at least they tried.
So, it’s almost been a week, and I’m doing everything I can to look on the bright side of life (Monty Python style). Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Okay, it’s definitely depressing about the elections, especially because we’re not used to what’s normal. Bush’s first midterm elections were the first in decades that an incumbent president actually had an increase in seats within his own party–normally (like clockwork, actually) a president is elected and two years later his party is not in control of at least one house of Congress. Hell, the only reason it worked for Bush was 9/11. His second midterm election he lost seats. So, this is pretty typical, but to hear Fox News talk about it they just toppled the world.
I think what many are forgetting (including myself at times) is that the Democrats still control the Senate and the Presidency. So I highly highly doubt that the GOP can repeal healthcare. Anything they send up to the Senate will get voted down, and even then, if it somehow miraculously makes it past the Senate, Obama will bust out his veto pen and there’s no way the Cons can pull 2/3 override. Plus, Americans don’t like having benefits taken away from them, and already a majority of Americans do not want healthcare repealed. The best Republicans can do is challenge the funding (and, again, I can’t see Obama letting that get by him). Repealing healthcare is something that gets the base excited but has no realistic shot of being overturned (like abortion).
There was actually a pretty interesting article in the Times about how the Republicans have these huge, ambitious ideas but absolutely no plans to go along with it. The last time that happened? When Gingrich took over the Congress under Clinton, after which the Republican party got ridiculously carried away then were then collectively bitch-slapped by Clinton and the voters. Even Obama’s toughest critics on the liberal side (saying he’s not liberal enough, which I think has merit) have said they’ve noticed a change in the administration in the past six months, suggesting that they’re finally realizing they actually have to play the politics game. So, he’s not unaware of what’s happening (and I’ll take Chicago-style Obama any day).
We have three things going for us right now (besides the majority):
1) The Tea Party. The problem with so many conservatives is that they just know how to fire up their base (Tax and spend! Death panels! BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!11!!1!) but then do whatever the hell they want. The Tea Partiers are believers (like Sarah Palin), which is what makes them so terrifying. However, I could seriously see them gumming up the works for the Republicans, who kind of assumed (like Fox News) that the Tea Partiers were basically Republicans. There are going to be plenty of crazy people with microphones who believe their own press releases.
2) The Republicans have been fighting the easiest fight imaginable–against the idea of the Democrats. It’s like dating a girl and wondering what it would be like to date a different one. In your mind, it’s idealized, until you actually start dating that person and the Kunderan kitsch comes crashing down. Same thing here. The Republicans keep going on and on about what they would do if they were in power, but…now they are. They’re part of the machine and the average Independent voter (who really does determine who is elected) is going to be more wary of what they say (it’s exactly what happened during the last Presidential election). Sure, Republicans love to play the victim card even when they’re holding all the power, but their problem is that they play it so loudly, which leads us to…
3) The economy is improving. It’s moving as slow as fuck, and it doesn’t have the rapid turnaround that all of us were hoping for, but it’s slowly, steadily improving. Obama and the Dems implemented a number of policies, and EACH ONE was bitched about by the conservatives. And not just voted against, but bitched and bitched about. If the economy continues to improve, it will be very difficult for Republicans to point to anything they did as making a difference.
Now, for a bonus, long-term number 4:
Did you see Harry Reid was re-elected? It was actually kind of a shock–he was down between 6 and 7 percent in the most recent polls before the election, and we all assumed he was gone. But you know who was underrepresented in polls and actually turned out strongly for Democrats?
Why did this happen? Because conservatives, who should appeal to Latinos (especially in terms of religion and family values), keep on railing against immigration reform, and so more and more Latinos are growing up hating conservatives (kind of the opposite of the Cuban population, who always saw Republicans as fighting Castro). The conservatives could have taken a different approach, but they reached out to Tea Partiers instead. And what is their stated first order of business when they take office in the spring? Tabling Obama’s immigration reform, which would have (among other things) extended citizenship to undocumented immigrants.
This could get interesting.
Given the recent political developments and this being a hectic time of the year, I’ve had trouble coming up with something interesting to write about (unless you want me to write about grading woes or sit there and listen to my post-election soul quietly weep). Then, one of my friends inadvertently (or was it vertently?) reminded me of a long-forgotten feature: The Underrated Movie. Thanks Kenneth.
As I stated in my previous Underrated Movie entry on Pitch Black, this is not about mainstream films or award-winning movies. These are movies that unjustly slipped by moviegoers and critics alike, and they deserve better. Today’s underrated movie: Mackenna’s Gold.
Starring a slew of icons and a Western formula on steroids, this is a film all about adventure. Gregory Peck plays a marshall who stumbles upon a map that leads to the legendary Canyon del Oro (Canyon of Gold). However, he runs into an old nemesis–a thief and murderer played by Omar Sharif who wants to find the canyon for himself and also exact revenge on Peck for arresting him. Unfortunately for Omar, Greg had burned the map. So, the marshall becomes his hostage (if Gregory doesn’t lead Omar to the gold, Omar will kill his other captive–an attractive woman!) until they reach the Canyon del Oro. On the way, they run into the cavalry, Apache, and American Indian spirits, along with Telly Savalas, Lee Cobb, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, and a number of other stars.
Mackenna’s Gold came at the tail end of the Western heyday. Made in 1969, the days of John Ford, John Wayne, The Magnificent Seven, and Shane were long-since passed, but the spirit lives on in this movie.
So why do I love this movie? Why has it made it through my childhood into adulthood relatively unscathed, despite my dangerous levels of cynicism? Quite frankly, it’s because Mackenna’s Gold is SO Western and SO over-the-top that it bypasses absurd and achieves greatness.
Let me walk you through the various scenes in Gold. From a hidden box canyon hideout, the characters are ambushed at an old well by the cavalry, travel to a secret oasis, are pursued by the cavalry through the mountains and desert, and get chased by Apaches down a river before finding a secret canyon practically made of gold. Oh, and of course there were also gun fights, plenty of hand-to-hand combat, high-speed horse chases, betrayal, love, hate, and a mother-fucking earthquake. For reals.
Everything in this movie is spectacularly big budget, in the grand tradition of the Western epic. Check out these locations from the film:
As you can see, it’s all grandoise, and it’s all wonderful. What makes it especially fun (beyond the fact that it tries so hard to entertain us) is the wild disparity of quality within the movie. You’ll have one shot of a sweeping vista that captures the vastness of the Old West, and five minutes later the actors will be sitting around on a set that looks like it was swiped from The Three Amigos. You’ll see a wonderful action sequence that is both tense and exciting, but the next frame is a shot of tiny, poorly constructed models. And, of course, every once in a while you’ll have some 1970s-esque camera effects to just add to the cheesiness.
I don’t discuss this to be a jerk. Honestly, it’s this kind of thing that makes the movie that much more endearing. Sure, it has some cheesy effects, the run-time is a bit long, and some of the actors look exhausted. But it also has some great sequences, an adventurous spirit, a stellar cast, and a compelling story. But, most importantly, it has heart, which is a staple of the Western and something that is sorely lacking in many films today.
While I desperately wish I could have attended Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, I can at least be comforted by the fantastic signs that were there. I pulled my favorites from these websites (mostly news articles and forums). Sorry in advance for the lack of fanciness; I can’t stand slideshows.
No commentary necessary–they’re clever enough:
Looks like it was a blast!
While President Obama continues to work toward immigration reform (or talk about it, anyway), a disturbing poll released a few days ago shows that this may be a moot point, at least for the time-being.
Quinnipiac University recently conducted a national poll asking about immigration issues and how it might be impacting Obama’s polling numbers (which, admittedly, are less than impressive). From the look of things, the poll seems to be legit (as opposed to the joke of a polling organization that is Rasmussen). It supports a lot of traditional opinions about immigrants and enforcement of immigration laws, but there were definitely a couple of disturbing trends.
First, the usual suspects. According to the Los Angeles Times, the poll had a “strong anti-immigrant tilt, favoring, by 68% to 24%, stricter enforcement of immigration laws rather than integrating illegal immigrants into society.” This is problematic, but by no means does it stand out. Traditionally, Americans have always favored reducing the number of immigrants entering the country. Seriously, there could be one immigrant entering the country per year, and it would still be two too many.
As if that wasn’t a big enough problem, Americans also will overestimate the number of people of color in this country, along with the number of undocumented immigrants. And I’m not just saying they’re off by one or two. Researchers call it “innumeracy,” and it is evident when Whites are asked to calculate the percentage of the population that is Black, Latino, and Asian. The most recent of these studies was conducted in 2005 by Richard Alba, Ruben G. Rumbaut, and Karen Marotz in their article, “A distorted nation: Perceptions of racial/ethnic group sizes and attitudes toward immigrants and other minorities.” They found that a number of Whites actually estimated that, in the United States, Whites were in the minority (already!) and that the rest of the country was 30% Black, 22% Latino, and 16% Asian. For me, the kicker was that they estimated 12% of the country was American Indian (and all I could think about was the Chris Rock routine–after all, around the time of this study American Indians clocked in around .17% (yes, point one seven percent–I did not mess up the decimal point)). And yes, for those of you keeping track, that number of people of color combined with the estimated number of Whites does add up to 100 percent.
Along the same lines, not only do Americans over-estimate the number of immigrants in the country, but they ridiculously over-estimate the number of undocumented immigrants in the country. In fact, in an extensive survey by the PEW Research Center for the People & the Press, respondents stated that most immigrants were in the United States illegally. (For the full report, click here) Seriously. Even though, according to the census only about 30% of foreign-born immigrants are here illegally, Americans (who already believe there are far more immigrants here than there actually are) think that “most” immigrants are here illegally. It still shocks me.
However, by that reasoning, it’s not terribly surprising that the Quinnipiac University survey revealed that there was so much concern about needing to do something about immigration enforcement. If I’m a citizen and I believe crime is so bad that as soon as I walk out the door I’m going to be gunned down by street thugs a la Death Wish 3, then of course when someone asks me about my concerns, I’m going to say that we need more police and less crime. It’s human nature, however flawed the logic might be.
Now, what really threw me off was this result:
“The poll, carried out during the first week in September, found that, by 48% to 45%, an end to the constitutionally guaranteed practice of granting U.S. citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants.”
This absolutely shocked me. Contemporary U.S. immigration policy has almost always worked to keep families intact and to not punish children from their parents’ actions. The fact that so many people might actually be opposed to allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be citizens is just unbelievably devastating.
I could only come up with two possible suggestions as to how these results came to be:
1) Again, I think it all comes back to estimations. I’m wondering how frequently this happens (undocumented immigrants giving birth so their children can be citizens), and I can’t imagine it’s often. After all, that’s a long, dangerous journey to make, especially if someone is pregnant. It could be that this just doesn’t happen as frequently as people envision.
Along the same lines, I wonder if perceived intent has something to do with it. Are these respondents picturing a pregnant Latina pulling herself onto the U.S. side of the Rio Grande and immediately giving birth? Or are they picturing a husband and wife living in the U.S., deciding to have kids because that’s the next step in their relationship?
2) I also wonder about the wording of the question. It reads:
“As you may know, under our constitution and current laws, all children born in the United States are automatically granted citizenship. Do you think we should continue to grant citizenship to all children born in the US or do you think this should be changed so children of illegal immigrants are not automatically granted citizenship?”
I wonder about the phrasing “automatically granted.” I think most people born in the United States believe that they “deserve” to be here, and I think that they somehow feel that they have earned the right to be citizens. Plus, given the cultural stubbornness of the powerful Horatio Alger mythology, I think the idea of someone just being “automatically granted” anything is bound to be challenged.
I’m not saying the poll was conducted incorrectly–I just wonder how much influence these kinds of factors can have.
Every college football Saturday, I have something of a ritual. Sure I watch every game I possibly can, Tivo-ing a number of them that are close but I can’t watch right away. I have to have some kind of pizza (preferably Little Caesar’s) or wings (if I’m watching the game at a bar). I wrap up the day with College Football Final, putting up with Mark May trolling with his “angry black man” routine so I can see what the experts are saying and watch Rece Davis be one hell of a broadcaster.
But the day of football cannot begin until I watch College GameDay. It’s two hours of heaven (I haven’t gotten into the 8:00 – 9:00 hour yet, but I’m sure it’s wonderful too) as I watch the experts break down every conference and every game, living the dream job of a million college football fans. Fowler (and his biting yet disguised sarcasm) keeps things moving, Corso plays the fool (albeit an enthusiastic one), Herbstreit brings the facts, and Desmond says stupid shit. Okay, maybe I’m still a little bitter.
Still, the show is hypnotic, energetic, and just starts the day off right.
Needless to say, I was disappointed to see that this week, the GameDay crew will be heading out to the Auburn/Clemson game. I’m not the only one who was bothered by this (Texas Tech fans and Arizona fans were also annoyed), though they tended to place the blame at the ol’ bias angle (“No one respects us!”). However, my man Pete Fiutak (arguably the best college football columnist out there) had an interesting take on the situation:
“College GameDay has done the near impossible by not going fluffy and continuing to be terrific despite adding an extra hour. Its importance and its presence as an influential force continues to grow, and in a sport where perception and hype mean everything when determining a national title and BCS slots, it really does matter what the show chooses to showcase. The problem, now that ESPN has ponied up the billion dollars to showcase the SEC, is that GameDay is quickly becoming a three-hour informercial for the conference. In the opening weekend the show did its thing from Atlanta with LSU and North Carolina squaring off. Fine. Last week, the show came from Tuscaloosa for the Penn State – Alabama showdown. Okay. This week there isn’t a big signature game to highlight the weekend, so it would be a perfect time for the show to put the spotlight on a different part of the college football world to give fans a taste of the landscape. Iowa is playing at Arizona in a showdown of two ranked teams; Tucson would be different. Going to Michigan State for the Notre Dame showdown would be a slice. But instead, the show is going to Auburn for the game against Clemson. Another SEC school, another three hours of SEC screaming, and yet another way of hyping up the product so it can be sold along the family of networks and in the heads of the pollsters.”
I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I really feel like Fiutak makes an excellent point. It’s a slow week for college football, no doubt about it (especially when compared with last weekend). I can understand not wanting to go to Texas-Texas Tech this weekend–the Red River Shootout is two weeks away, and covering Texas twice in three weeks would not be ideal. However, as Fiutak says, Arizona/Iowa would be a great matchup (personally, I think they’re waiting to cover Ohio State/Iowa, which is, in my humble opinion, the only possible reason for missing Ohio State/Miami (and not a very good reason at that)). I’m not sold on Michigan State/Notre Dame, but Washington/Nebraska could make for an interesting storyline.
I’m sure no malice was intended and it’s all about synergy. Hell, maybe Clemson/Auburn will be a great game! Then again, that would be completely ignoring last week (Auburn eeking out a win over Mississippi State (!) and the ACC crashing and burning on the national stage).
I think what bothers me the most is that, right now, I don’t think the SEC is that fantastic. They’ve definitely been dominant the last few years (and as a true Buckeye fan, that pains me to say). But this year (so far, and I’ll probably regret saying this), I’m underwhelmed. Alabama is a fantastic team, no doubt about it. Florida may pull it together, or it may pull a 2007 on us and drop 4 games. Ole Miss blows (Jacksonville State???), Georgia was defeated (by South Carolina in a close game), Arkansas is dangerously overrated, and Tennessee just got 48 points dropped on them.
But these teams are being propped up by the mythology of the SEC, the same way that people still go on and on about Notre Dame or about the Florida State/Miami resurgence. But here GameDay is actively reinforcing this myth. As GameDay, you can go anywhere in the country to cover any game. Cover three SEC games in a row and, in the minds of your audience, that must mean the SEC is worthy of that coverage. How worthy remains to be seen, but, until GameDay starts traveling elsewhere, we’ll never know.
As I recently wrote, Chuck Klosterman (essayist, pop culture observer, and all-around badass writer) is my new (albeit unsuspecting) writing mentor, but he might also turn out to be some sort of sarcastic xen guru as well. His words have really stuck with me; one set in particular.
Allow me to quote at length from Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur:
“There’s one kind of writing that’s always easy: Picking out something that’s obviously stupid and reiterating how stupid it obviously is. This is the lowest form of criticism, easily accomplished by anyone. And for most of my life, I have tried to avoid this. In fact, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time searching for the underrated value in ostensibly stupid things. I understand Turtle’s motivation and I would have watched Medellin in the theater. I read Mary Worth every day for a decade. I’ve seen Korn in concert three times and liked them once. I went to The Day After Tomorrow on opening night. I own a very expensive robot that doesn’t do anything. I am open to the possibility that everything has metaphorical merit, and I see no point in sardonically attacking the most predictable failures within any culture.”
This is wonderful from a writing perspective, if nothing else because he literally could have chosen anything from his anecdotally-filled life as a critic, but these perfectly explain his point. However, moving beyond the mechanics, this passage is also kind of genius.
Like Klosterman, I also despise reiterating stupidity, especially for audience approval. It’s like cherry-picking extremist quotes from the political spectrum to gain support for your own cause. And it absolutely infuriates me when this is done with humor.
Once, on my old blog (which was awesome, by the way, but also not entirely appropriate for a Website that also holds my curriculum vita…and my name), I commented on one of the one brazillion Internet top 10 lists (most kind of blend together) where the author made multiple jokes about John Tesh music in the guise of being extreme. Here is what I wrote:
“I hate this: People have the chance to slam someone down and, instead, they wuss out and go with a safe joke. The result is a slew of jokes that sound as controversial as a Jay Leno monologue. Take Gigli…please. There, see how stupid and lame I sound? Are the rabid Gigli fans going to attack me? Of course not–it’s a safe joke. However, if I were to replace Gigli with an honest response like Episode III or LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, now we’re cooking with butane. This guy could have picked any band he hated (the more popular, the better), but he didn’t and somehow managed to sound even lamer than he already is.”
I feel strongly in this aspect, but at the same time I can’t shake Klosterman’s approach to his writing (and, most likely, his life). He uses practically everything as a way of examining an artist, a concept, a perceived understanding, or even society. His statements about movies are not based in anger and hate, but rather from a technical side or story construction.
I have to believe that Klosterman hates more than just laugh tracks, but I’m sure it’s nothing on the level of my pet peeves. On the one hand, I love caring passionately about most things (one way or the other) because it means I care and I’m paying attention. Then again, at what point does my reactionary response become…well…moot because it’s so clearly reactionary.
Much to ponder…
This summer was insanely busy–I taught Introduction to Mass Communication in June, had emergency surgery on my gall bladder six days before my wedding in July, and two conferences (and my honeymoon) in August. It was hectic to say the least.
That said, while on my honeymoon I finally had a chance to do some reading. Some good, old-fashioned reading. Because it was vacation, I didn’t read any scholarly articles or school stuff–it was all just books I felt like reading. It was wonderful. You read so many books for graduate school and so many articles to write publications that reading for fun becomes something relatively rare. It’s not horrible because I’m actually interested in what I study, but I definitely miss run reading–and this summer only made me miss it more.
I read five books in August (most of them on the honeymoon where we had plenty of time for beach-reading) and I was amazed how much I loved them. I figured it couldn’t hurt to mention them just in case anyone was looking for something to check out. So here they are:
COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen
Without a doubt, one of the best books I have read in years. Published by a company called “12” (because they only publish 12 books a year), Cullen’s book explores the truths about what actually happened at Columbine while trying to (and succeeding in) answering the all-important question of why this tragedy took place. Cullen actually reported on the infamous school shooting, and his writing is absolutely top notch: strategic use of detail, fast-paced, and utterly, completely compelling. I absolutely tore through the book and have literally recommended it to everyone that I know.
FORDLANDIA: THE RISE AND FALL OF HENRY FORD’S FORGOTTEN JUNGLE CITY by: Greg Grandin
I’m a sucker for a great history book, especially if it’s well-researched. This one is great because the research is so meticulous, resutling in an intriguing book. Decades ago, in an effort to make the Ford company more independent, Henry Ford purchased a huge tract of land in Brazil to farm rubber trees. While importing rubber, Ford was also interested in exporting his vision for Utopia, and “Fordlandia” was born. This city in the middle of a jungle is the central to the book, though it also archives Ford’s own downward spiral (mirrored by the city’s downfall). The book could have been dry, but is filled with rich anecdotes and a fascinating portrayal not only of Ford, but of cultural arrogance (and obliviousness).
As a writer, I like to think that, as I grow older, I find new authors to emulate and idolize as a way of making sure my technique and style do not become stale. Chuck Klosterman’s writing is my new Everest. Both of these books are a filled with essays dealing with…well…that’s tough to say. Klosterman uses pop culture phenomena as a platform for what social phenomena they represent. I really only had a total of two essays I disliked, and the rest were fascinating. Klosterman has had this amazing life (music and movie critic for a number of publications) but, more importantly, he has an amazingway of looking at events, behavior, mental processes, and, well, everything. It’s almost completely non-judgmental–so much so that I’m actually writing another blog entry just on that aspect of his work.
SWAN SONG By: Robert McCammon
Ever since I entered graduate school (wow…seven years ago), I’ve really had no patience for fiction books. As for why, I’m sure it’s a variety of reasons. I read nonfiction for research and it tends to be pretty interesting (I study race and ethnicity), so it’s not like there’s a gigantic void of good readings in my life. From a pragmatic standpoint, what I find interesting tends to be what I research, and so reading nonfiction can be double-duty; I’m reading for research and I’m reading for enjoyment. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for post-apocalyptic writing (it was a huge phase for me during high school, starting with Alas, Babylon and ending with Farnham’s Freehold), and so I figured I’d give Swan Song a shot. And I’m glad that I did.
Swan Song is basically The Stand, only instead of a plague, it is nuclear holocaust that destroys civilization. It is a story about survivors and how those survivors ultimately end up in a showdown of good vs. evil. However, the characters are wonderfully written, the visuals are imaginative, the pacing is fast, and it truly is a masterpiece. The two main things I liked? While “evil” played a significant role, there was little mention of God, Jesus, scripture, and a minimal amount of prayer–the author truly let the humans battle for humanity, rather than having the survivors serve as pawns for higher powers. Secondly, I loved that it was such a dark book–unlike something like The Stand, where everything (except 99% of the population) is intact, in Swan Song the human population is practically obliterated and the nuclear attack decimates the landscape. THis is definitely worth a read.
Even if you only check out one of these books, I’m certain you won’t be disappointed. It was wonderful to have some time to read again, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better combination of books to get back into things.
This is the problem when you get so caught up in user comments as a way to try and connect with your audience in the laziest way possible. The result? Utter pablum.
The most recent example of this comes from Entertainment Weekly. As evidenced by my posts, I absolutely love movies, and I thoroughly enjoy articles discussing them (the Onion‘s AV Club and Den of the Geek are consistently intriguing). So, imagine my joy when I saw EW’s article entitled “20 ‘Classic’ Movies You Call Overrated.”
Now this had potential. It’s the ultimate Internet argument article because you can argue over what is considered a classic and whether or not those movies are overrated. That’s gold! Well, at least it is in theory…
See, much like when CNN reads Twitter posts out loud as a way of establishing some sort of coolness/technology credibility with its nonexistent young viewers, many pieces are doing the same thing with reader comments. Because, you see, this isn’t really an article at all–it’s just what you get when you Google “classic movie” and “stupid.”
Check it: For Lawrence of Arabia, here is the insightful commentary on the Oscar-winning film:
“Growing up, I loved watching old movies and heard this to be epic. Was never on TV, couldn’t find it to rent. Finally came on PBS, commercial-free. I was so excited. I fell asleep 3 times. Every time I woke up, just more walking on sand. — mlk”
No, that’s not a comment from the article, it is the article (at least the part about Lawrence of Arabia). First off, someone alert the fucking press, because Martin Luther King, Jr. is back from the dead! Secondly, that’s it? That’s your critique? It was boring? Nothing about the acting, the pacing–just that it was boring?
Here’s another, this time for “The Wizard of Oz“:
“Totally agree about The Wizard of Oz. Those flying monkeys made me flee the room screaming as a child; still hate that movie. — HarrietMck”
First of all, Harriet, what do you totally agree with? I’m confused. Secondly, what exactly is your critique? The monkeys made you leave the room…when you were a kid. So do they still scare you? Is it just the bad memory?
This is lazy “journalism” at its worst. Now I’m wishing I worked for Entertainment Weekly–hell, I can do this!
Here’s my newest article (this time without the obnoxious slideshow):
11 “Good” Movies You Call Crap
11. Forrest Gump – Lame
10. Star Wars: Episode 1 – Stupid
9. Erin Brokovich – Awful
8. Transformers – Dumb
7. Armageddon – Dreadful
6. Twilight – Piss
5. The Village – Repulsive
4. Ocean’s 12 – Idiotic
3. Spiderman 3 – Rough
2. One Missed Call – Vapid
1. Crash – Foolish
Pulitzer Prize, here I come!
Yes, I will continue to analyze this movie because it is absolute genius. And yes, this entry is designed for people who have seen this movie before–spoilers galore.
As I said, I have analyzed this movie before, and I have written pages and pages on The Descent. But I cannot stop until I solve the mystery. Again, enough cannot be said about this film. Nothing is wasted in this film – every line of dialogue has a purpose and every shot is necessary. The characters themselves are rich and this is one of the very few films to feature a nearly all-female cast (typically the closest thing Hollywood comes to an all-female cast is The Women). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that for a character to count, (s)he has to speak at least three lines of dialogue. By that definition, this cast is comprised solely of women. But can you think of any others? By that same definition, an all-male cast is relatively easy to find: The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, First Blood, Patton, Shawshank Redemption… That’s just one of the many things that makes this film so unique.
Of course, what’s perhaps most interesting (as we’ve discussed before) is what truly happened in this film. Last time we talked about the possibility of Sarah being in the hospital and dreaming everything, the possibility that she murdered everyone, and the possibility that she remained trapped in the cave.
Let’s discuss this further.
After the bitchin’ car wreck, Sarah wakes up in the hospital, attached to a variety of machines. She pulls the sensors off of herself and the camera focuses on the heart monitor, which reads as a flatline (naturally, since she removed the indicators). Then things get really interesting. Sarah walks out into the deserted hallway and turns around in time to see the lights turning off, slowly overtaking her as she runs away. Darkness, as we will see, plays a key role throughout the movie.
I think you can make a decent argument that Sarah never actually leaves the hospital room. She remains in a coma and the crawlers slowly kill off her friends (which represent part of her psyche) until none remain and she dies right there.
Her friends could easily represent her psyche–just look at the roster:
Beth – Loyalty, friendship
Sam – Innocence
Juno – Adventure (or “the id”)
Rebecca – Responsibility
Holly – Sexuality (could easily be adventure as well)
But, to me anyway, the idea that it was all in her head feels like a cop-out of a movie–while we’re making it “all just a dream,” why don’t we hit on all the cliches and give some character amnesia. Brilliant!
No, The Descent deserves better than that.
I believe that Sarah did leave the hospital room and, a year later, she was reunited with her friends. Then, during a caving expedition, they were trapped, she slowly went insane, and savagely murdered everyone in the group.
As any good horror movie would do, this is hinted at in the dialogue. Early on, Rebecca warns that down in the caves, “you can get dehydration, disorientation, claustrophobia, panic attacks, paranoia, hallucinations, visual and aural deterioration.” When Sarah first sees a crawler, Juno is frantic in trying to convince that it’s Sarah’s eyes that are playing tricks on her.
Furthermore, watch Juno whenever she sees Sarah near the end of the film – Juno is clearly terrified.
The most damning piece of evidence occurs at precisely 1 hour 20 minutes into the movie. Sarah has just been born again hard, emerging from the pool of blood and ramming a horn into a lady crawler’s head before braining another crawler with a gigantic bone. Victorious, she stands on a rock with her torch in hand, takes a deep breath, and screams as loudly as she can. The film then cuts to Juno, Sam, and Rebecca who are startled by the scream. However, this is where it gets nuts. The scream is NOT Sarah’s, at least not the one they hear. The scream is continuous, but as soon as the shot cuts from Sarah to the remaining members of the group, it changes into the screech of the crawlers.
In case you couldn’t follow that, here’s the video clip:
So, if I’m correct, the group is trapped by a cave-in, which pushes Sarah over the edge. Driven mad by the situation, by the darkness (which the girls warned about), and the death of her family, Sarah kills her friends before settling down to die underground (either by her own hand or by the elements over time).
This is where the faces come into play. Remember talking about the faces? They’re everywhere in the movie. Some are obvious examples:
While others are less obvious (like the eyes hiding behind Sarah when she awakens from a nightmare in the cabin:
See the eyes?
These shots bothered me to no end, because I couldn’t figure out what the faces represented. This last time watching it, I realized that it wasn’t about faces; it was about the eyes. The eyes represent a point of view, a way of explaining to the viewer through whose lens we’re watching the events unfold. I argue that, after Sarah goes insane, we (the audience) start seeing the events through two different points of views: Sarah’s and everyone else’s.
Every time we cut to shots of the crawlers attacking the other women in the group (Juno et al.), that’s Sarah’s warped vision of what’s going on–her mind’s coping mechanism for understanding what’s happened to her friends. Every time Sarah enters the shot, the viewpoint switches.
Don’t believe me? Look at the utter horror on Juno’s face when she sees Sarah for the first time since hearing her scream:
Throw in the fact that Sarah spends the last part of the film covered in blood, and the fact that we see Sarah kill Beth and Juno, and I feel like this “mystery crawlers” theory has some merit. Sure, we see the crawlers when she’s fighting with Juno, but, no damage is done to either woman. It’s the confrontation between those two women afterward that determines Juno’s fate.
Another reason that Sarah may have been killing people was because of her daughter. What? Yes. Her daughter.
What I noticed the most this time was the constant presence of the image of Sarah’s daughter. In the film, there are no fewer than four shots of Sarah’s daughter (after the girl has died) holding a birthday cake (they had spoken of her upcoming birthday in the car). She only appears when Sarah is unconscious, most of the time after falling and hitting her head. Specifically, these occur when Sarah is in the hospital, after Sarah is almost trapped in the tunnel, after she falls into the pit (before seeing Holly), and at the end of the film. There is also another spot after Holly breaks her leg where Sarah hears her daughter’s laughter and pursues the sound (this is the first time she sees a crawler)–not technically a sighting, but the daughter was involved.
In one intriguing shot (after Sarah runs away from the alleged crawler, falls down, and hits her head), she has another vision of her daughter. But, as you can see, her daughter literally transforms into a crawler:
Assuming the daughter is a representation of Sarah’s psyche, this might be a marker for when her mind split.
Now, the other times we see the daughter, young Jessica is blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Here is a screen shot of the cake flashback:
Notice the five candles? How about the five friends? This film is far too good for that to be a coincidence. Especially given the last shot. Prepare to have your mind blown.
And here is a shot of the cake that appears at the end of the film. Notice anything different?
Six candles! BOOM!
So what’s the significance? For me, I think it goes back to the basics. Before you blow out your birthday candles, you make a wish. I think that, in Sarah’s mind, her daughter (Jessie) was wishing to be reunited with her mom. In order for that to come true, the candles all had to be blown out. There were five candles, and each represented one of her friends. One by one, Sarah snuffed out those candles by killing her friends. In the last shot, there were six candles. As Sarah sits across from the image of her daughter, you can hear the crawlers screeching in the background. The sixth candle is Sarah (evidenced by the fact that she is the only one carrying around a torch), and she’s about to kill herself to finally be with her daughter.
We assume these shots are interrupting the film. Could it be that, as far as Sarah is concerned, the movie is interrupting these shots? She needs to get rid of her friends in order to be with her daughter. This would suggest that her friends were either killed off in her mind or that Sarah literally killed them all in the cave.
Again, this is an interpretation, not the interpretation, but it’s one that I think is worthy of this film. What a masterpiece.
Eyewitness testimony has never been incredibly reliable (especially when it comes to race), but Dr. Gary Wells, a professor at Iowa State University, has taken an interesting approach to demonstrate just how unpredictable and difficult eyewitness testimony can be.
Wells created a video of someone planting a bomb on the roof of a building (probably not a real bomb, unless he had one hell of an IRB proposal! Am I right people? HEY-OOOOO!) The idea is for you (yes you) to watch the video, and then identify the suspect in a police lineup. You can watch the video here.
By the by, I’m sure Dr. Wells is a swell guy, but try to avoid his Web site if you can. It’s only slightly better than any Top 40 radio station Web page, though, admittedly, it’s still not as bad as this monstrosity of Web site design.
Okay, have you watched the video yet? Go ahead and do so–spoilers ahead.
I do think not having the guilty man in the lineup is a bit cheap, considering that the page actually reads, “Can you identify the bomber on the roof from the lineup? Click on the number of the lineup member you identified.” So, it definitely suggests that the culprit is somewhere in the lineup and your options are limited to those on the screen. A little ridiculous–it’s like chastising your students for not writing in “None of the above” on a multiple choice exam or telling your roommate that his lost keys are definitely somewhere in the apartment (Ha! They were at the zoo the entire time, IDIOT!”).
IRregardless, it’s still intriguing. Wells can talk all he wants to about eyewitness testimony, but I look at this from a media perspective. Just as juries continue to insist on nonexistent forensic evidence from their favorite CSI spin-offs, this mini-experiment speaks to the power of television.
Basically, cultivation theory states that television shapes the way we understand the world around us, at times so profoundly that we behave and believe irrationally. This study is a perfect example of that. Quick, when was the last time you sat through a police drama and they showed a lineup without the bad guy involved. Probably never, because it’s unheard of. You either put the guy in the lineup and he’s eventually convicted, or the witness refuses to identify the bad guy (in which case they have to turn to Detective Infringeonrights, who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules (not even his own)). And why wouldn’t you? If you actually showed the pure monotony of forensic science or being in the courtroom or filing paperwork on a car crash…well…it would not make for compelling television (see Fig. 1).
However, in the process of making TV more predictable, it has molded our expectations the same way. Of course the guy is in the lineup, because few of has have ever (or probably will ever) be in that situation. So, we draw on the next best thing: television. It becomes our sole reference point for solving problems and, in the process, we actually end up creating a few.
I would love to see this conducted as an experiment–show the video to two groups, but make sure the first just watched a couple of episodes of Law & Order. I’d love to see those results.
Dr. Wells, I understand your argument (and it makes sense, especially from a hegemonic standpoint). But you may want to consider the added impact of media and how cultivation theory may be shaping our beliefs.
You know, I complain so much about The Blind Side I sometimes forget I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen the publicity-hype around Sandra Bullock to snare her the Oscar, I’ve seen the trailers, and I’ve read my share of reviews (this one is particularly good). But I’ve never actually seen the movie.
So, I figured it was time. I am going to type my thoughts while I watch this movie. I should warn you that there is no hint of objectivity here–just sarcastic Joshua T. being bitter at a movie. Oh, and this movie is over two hours long, so this may be a lengthy entry.
Okay, let’s get started.
• Oh, good, the writers awkwardly managed to work in the phrase “blind side” a whopping 3 minutes into the film. Hey, that’s the name of the movie!
• What a lame-ass stretch to show the infamous Theismann/Taylor tackle and then paint it as something other than a pathetic YouTube/Boomer shout-out.
• Obligatory drive through the “bad part” of town. OMG, a lingerie store??!! They must be in the ghetto!
• Maybe this is just Larry Liberal talking, but these shots of suburbia are far more disturbing than the so-called projects we just saw
• BAHHH! You’re right, movie. White people are crazy! Have you ever noticed how White people drive cars like this but Black people drive cars like this? Cutting edge humor.
• Sandra Bullock finally shows up! Chew some scenery, girl from Speed 2!
• Crikey, that kid has spoken eight words and already I’m annoyed.
• Jesus, we learn “Big Mike” can write, but even the White teacher reads it aloud for him. He entitled it “White Walls.” Do you get it people?? Symbolism! I’ve seen more subtlety in a Michael Bay film.
• The kid has a name–Shawn Jr. He’s giving Big Mike pointers on how to be nice to girls. Stellar.
• In case you were curious, we’re 18 minutes into the movie and Big Mike has said exactly 20 words. Shawn Jr., who we met like 3 minutes ago, already has more.
• It’s possible that this Shawn Jr. lowered the bar so drastically that Bullock’s performance was Day-Lewis-esque by comparison. Right now he’s decked out in a full-length American Indian headdress. He’s the second-most offensive stereotype in this movie.
• Sandra Bullock doesn’t swear. I’m sure that won’t be a running joke/dramatic speech later on
• But the gym is closed, Big Mike! BAM! Sandra Bullock: P.I.!
• Bullock glares (stares thoughtfully? What the hell is she trying to convey?) at her husband (Tim McGraw/Shawn). Tim: “I’ve seen that look many times.” Yeah, so has anyone who has seen any Sandra Bullock movie ever. She’s got the acting range of Hayden Christensen.
• Oh, her husband sleeps on the couch when he’s bad. No doubt who runs this household!
• Of course they have a book of Norman Rockwell paintings sitting on their coffee table. Who doesn’t? Nothing like being beat over the head with clunky metaphors. It’s about CONTRAST, people!
• Wow, he folded the sheets. Diamond in the rough indeed!
• Big Mike is sitting at the dining room table while the family is watching football! WHAT??! Now Bullock has brought them all into the dining room too. Man, they can learn a lot from this guy. This is what family is really about. Seriously, I’ve seen less heavy-handed writing in a Danny Tanner monologue. Keep ’em coming, Blind Side. I’ll keep throwing out references if you keep doling out this bullshit.
• Hesitation by the daughter, but then she metaphorically takes Big Mike’s metaphorical hand to say metaphorical grace metaphorically.
• Oh ZING! Bullock is taking Big Mike shopping because he “obviously doesn’t know how.” She’s so outrageous! She’s saying what everyone is thinking!
WORD COUNT: It’s 30 minutes into the movie and Big Mike, who so far has been in practically every scene in the movie, is up to 36 words. Seriously. That’s okay, Blind Side. Let’s just let Whites characters talk about racism–what could a Black character possibly have to offer?
• Ahhh, Big Mike doesn’t like to be called Big Mike. He prefers to be called Michael.
• Oh PG-13 ghetto–you are terrifying. Loud music and people sitting outside??! Take that, Hamsterdam!
• Shopping for clothes. A purple shirt on Michael? Sandra, what were you thinking?? You know what they need? “Pretty Woman” playing in the background. Kind of an homage to Julia for her bullshit Oscar.
• Oh, but don’t worry–he has picked out a shirt that they’re not showing the audience, and Sandra seems incredulous. Oh, man, when they show that shirt, it’s going to be outrageous!
• Here comes the pay-off…OH NO! A striped shirt that is gold and maroon? I’ll bet the audience was rolling for hours.
• Sandra talking with her haughty Southerner housewife friends. I’m sure this will end well. Jesus, is everything in this movie a walking cliche?
• Oh good, they’re talking about Sandra’s interest in the “projects” with disdain, suggesting that she’s just taking on another “charity case.” (And yes, the character in the movie used scare quotes). Oh, and Sandra’s already indignant. How could they possibly be saying these kinds of things? My god, she’s been living with a Black man in her house for almost two days and she just drove him to his place on the so-called wrong side of town. She’s so much more enlightened than they are.
• They’re looking over Michael’s scores and, after testing in the third and fifth percentile in everything else, he tested in the 98th percentile in “protective instincts.” Ummm…they test for that? In the 8th grade? God, I’d love to see those questions.
WORD COUNT: 40 minutes into the film and we’re at 85 total words that Michael has spoken. Awesome. Seriously, the guy has been in every scene except for the shots of the teacher’s lounge, Sandra and Tim talking in their bedroom, and Sandra’s scene with the school counselor. 85 words.
• Fantastic–Shawn Jr. is suggesting that his dad (Tim) donate leftover food from their restaurant franchises. All those employees, all the people he consults with, and all this time all Tim had to do was ask his son. His ridiculously annoying son.
• And now for some product placement at Borders®. Where they find a book. A book they used to love. Ferdinand the Bull. Let me assure you, America, I’m positive that this isn’t some heavy-handed metaphor and I’m sure this will never be mentioned again.
• Michael sees someone at the restaurant where he just worked. Someone Black. But that person wasn’t eating there…he was working there!
• And it’s his brother. Seriously. His brother. What a small, contrived world.
• Seriously, that was his fucking brother.
• Now they’re back at her house, and Sandra Bullock is reading Ferdinand the Bull to her family. And Michael is laying there too, listening obediently.
• Move ahead to Tim and Sandra in the bedroom. PG-13 sex. Hot.
• Family portrait at Christmas and Michael’s not in it. Oh, I’m sure Sandra will have something to say about that.
• Yep, she did. And a freeze-frame of the family picture with Michael. I’m sure it’s heartwarming, but all I can think is the Christmas card at the end of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 6. What a good show.
• And we’re back to the Southern housewives at the hoity-toity restaurant. And they’re making comments about Michael. Uh-oh, Sandra’s getting offended. “Is this some sort of White guilt thing?” one of them asks. You know, that’s actually a valid question. Anyway, Sandra scolds them and responds, “I don’t need you to approve of my choices, just respect them.”
They apologize. One asks, “Isn’t it amazing that you’re changing his life?” Sandra’s writers reach into their Hallmark bag and pull out, “No, he’s changing mine.” *vomit*
And now one of them asks if Sandra is worried that Michael is going to rape her daughter. Sandra sneers at her and says, “Shame on you.”
You know what, Blind Side? Shame on you. This scene offends me on so many levels it hurts my brain.
Go to hell, Blind Side. Racism in the United States is a ridiculously complex issue encompassing practically every facet of our lives. It is everywhere, and…brace yourself…it’s not just people who are in the KKK. Shocking, I know. It’s something that needs to be explored and discussed, but this piece of shit film actually shuts down the conversation. It completely glosses over issues of wealth and poverty in exchange for some trite epiphany about Michael never owning a bed. It belittles the education discussion by suggesting that if teachers only tried harder, it would make up for the massive disparities that students of color experience. And, worst of all, it depicts racists as thoroughly unlikable people who we can spot a mile away and avoid. They act like they’re better than everyone, they’re hyper-privileged, and they are completely disconnected from reality. This way, suburbia-types can shake their heads in disapproval, reassured that racism is safely segregated in the 1960s and maybe elite social circles in the South. Vindicated! Whew! That was close! Now they can go back to talking about “urban youths,” the “bad part” of town, and talking about how stereotypes exist for a reason. Way to go, Blind Side. Build up that straw man and then burn it to the ground. Oh, and get that Black guy to shut up! We came to see Sandra tell it like it is to racist caricatures!
WORD COUNT: We’re at 50 minutes and Michael has spoken a whopping 154 words. Wow. To put this in perspective, in broadcast news the average speaker talks at around 130 words per minute. For reals.
• Oh boy, the daughter (whose friends have mocked Michael because, you know, everyone in the South is racist) is warming to Michael. She sees him pushing the girls on the swings.
• Wow, that happened quickly. She defies her friends while studying in the library and defiantly walks over and sits with Michael. METAPHORICALLY! Take that, society! Defiance is not just a city in Ohio!
• You know, whenever Sandra walks on-screen, I am just blown away that she won an Oscar. Seriously.
• And we’ve hit the football scenes. But there are problems. Michael doesn’t know anything about football. Seriously. Not a thing. And I’m not talking “girlfriend stereotype from a beer commercial” clueless, I’m talking “aliens from another world who never discovered competition” clueless.
• And now he’s distracted by balloons. Seriously. Balloons.
• Sandra sure has some sass. But she’s insightful! Michael doesn’t want to hit anyone…because he’s Ferdinand the Bull! Just like the book they casually pounded into the script earlier! This is officially no longer a movie, people. It is a film!
• Dear gods, Shawn Jr. is in charge of training Michael. I liked this racism better the first time I saw it, when it was called The Toy.
• Do they still make training montages? Apparently so. I liked South Park’s much better.
• And now they’re going to adopt Michael. I think the problem with this movie is that it’s too much like real life.
• Hey, it’s a sassy Black woman in a Hollywood movie! How uncommon!
• Sandra is indignant that the State would let her adopt Michael without even asking Michael’s mother! What a horrible loophole! I can’t believe it even exists! I’m sure it’s not for any logical or serious reason.
WORD COUNT: One hour into the film, and Michael has said 186 words. I really can’t even believe this.
• “Mrs. Orr, you’ll always be Michael’s momma.” You can cut the condescension with a knife.
• Now they’ve adopted him. And Michael said something funny! If there’s something more awkward than child actors laughing, I don’t know what it is
• Shawn Jr. is using condiments to learn about football plays.
• Now Shawn Jr. is singing “Bust a Move” with Michael in the car. And they’re in a car wreck. It looks like the kid will be fine, though I was kind of hoping his voicebox would be temporarily disabled (for about another hour or so)
WORD COUNT: One hour ten minutes into the film, Michael has said 228 words (though about 20 or 30 of those came singing “Bust A Move” with Shawn Jr.
• Michael can’t play football. They need Coach Bud Kilmer out there! (or, better yet, Coach Lance)
• Sandra Bullock explaining how to protect the quarterback by equating the team with her family is easily the most condescending, contrived, idiotic thing I’ve ever seen on film. Utterly unbearable. You know, I saw clips of this in the trailer, but I had no idea how bad it was going to be. This is weapons-grade stupid.
• And now he knows how to play the game! Cinematic gold!
• Racist fan in the stands! That’s right, Sandra–“sticks and stones!”
• Racist football player on the field!
• Holy shit, it’s the aforementioned fan’s son!
• Sandra called her coach on the sidelines on his cell phone. She’s so outrageous!
• Don’t worry, America–she told off that stupid fan. But Shawn Jr. pointed out the “sticks and stones” comment. Oh, Shawn Jr.!
• Racist player is racist! And so are the refs! But coach stood up for Michael. And now Michael will protect him too! But not before Sandra’s voice echoes in his head. Literally. Ugh.
WORD COUNT: 247.
• Don’t worry, White people. Michael took the racist football player out of the game. We’re safe from the racists!
• Another montage of SEC coaches. This is a really long movie.
• Now Michael needs to get the grades. But he’ll have to make all A’s or else he can’t play college football.
1) <sarcasm>Yeah, because the SEC has been really stringent with academic standards and football.</sarcasm> “If Michael doesn’t pass his ethics class they won’t even consider him for USC!” If he’s the world-beater like they portray him, I’m sure a team would make it happen.
2) Timmy McGraw suggested that he go to a junior college, but Sandra wisely points out that “most inner city kids who go to junior college drop out in the first year.” Yeah, Sandy, because Michael’s life is exactly like that of other inner city kids going to junior college. Idiotic.
• Kathy Bates: tutor. You know what this movie needs? Another White person spouting knowledge!
WORD COUNT: One hour 30 minutes into the movie, and Michael has said 256 words. Using the earlier estimate, if he said his lines in a row, it would almost be 2 minutes. If someone pays me thousands of dollars, I’ll watch this movie again and count Sandra’s words.
• In case you’re wondering, Shawn Jr. just sat down with Michael and Nick Saban. The scene with the three of them takes exactly 45 seconds. Nick Saban says about 80 words. Shawn Jr. says about 45 words. Michael says 0. My 130-word estimate may have been way off.
• More football. You know, when the movie is about an individual and not a team, football scenes are incredibly boring.
• The coaches are all pitching their offers to Shawn Jr. Phil Fulmer getting fired was apparently not the low-point in his career.
• Now Sandra (a huge Ole Miss fan) is giving the inside track to the Ole Miss coach. She actually said that, on one of the recruiting trips, she said they “took him to a titty bar” and “he had nightmares for weeks.” She advised the coach to take him to a movie “but not Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he’ll just cover his eyes the entire time.”
My GODS, this movie is going to extremes to make sure the Black man doesn’t scare audiences. Give him a fucking personality! Must everything be absolutes? The family is unnaturally perfect, Michael is a puppy, and racists are loud and obnoxious. The fact that this movie is being touted than anything other than a Lifetime Original Movie is a crime. Seriously, put Penelope Ann Miller in Bullock’s role and that baby’s airing after the Jessica Lynch Story and a Mary K. Letourneau event!
• Who thought this kid was a good idea? It’s Hayden Panettiere in Remember the Titans all over again.
• He chooses Ole Miss. Wow, that was suspenseful.
• Isn’t this movie done yet? Crikey, it’s like watching Transformers 2.
WORD COUNT: One hour 40 minutes into the film, and Michael is up to 259 words.
• Tim McGraw…breaking down “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Interspersed with shots of Shawn Jr.
• Holy crap, Michael’s paper that he wrote he read (in a dramatic voiceover) was almost longer than all the words up to this point combined
• “Way to go, bro” from the daughter after Michael graduates. Oh dialogue…so natural-sounding.
• This movie just keeps on going! He graduated! What a natural ending! Now they’re prattling on about Ole Miss and potential NCAA violations. Ugh.
• This NCAA representative is accusing Sandra and Timmy of being boosters. You know, it kind of sounds like they are. Way to go, movie.
• I think he believes what this NCAA representative is saying. Why did I ever think watching this movie was a good idea?
• And now the movie has a misunderstanding of romantic-comedy-esque proportions. OMG, Sandra said something in a tone she didn’t mean!!!1!!
WORD COUNT: Well, it’s much better this time, thanks to Michael’s narration of his paper. In one 10-minute segment (and really only a few minutes of that), Michael more than doubled his word count with 295 more, for a grand total of 554 words. Just imagine if he had been allowed to speak the whole movie!
• Christ, Timmy is comforting Sandra, and here comes the Full House music. Make it stop. This is so amazingly bad. Seriously, how in the holy hell did she win an OSCAR for this???
• Now Michael’s at a party in the Blind Side hood. Oh no! Alcohol is also attending the party! And he took a sip! I’ve been to karaoke parties that were scarier than this.
• Oh, Blind Side. Now the head Black guy (the one who was making eyes at Sandra earlier in the film) is suggesting that Michael had sex with Sandra’s daughter. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
Just to clarify. Just so we’re ALL on the same page, the film first creates these ridiculous cartoon racists who ask in a restaurant in front of their friends if Sandra was concerned Michael would rape her daughter. And, with that underhand pitch, Sandra knocks it out of the park, storming off with righteous indignation. But now, about an hour later, there’s actually a fucking Black character who is suggesting and encouraging this exact thing happening. This movie is so ridiculously racist I don’t even know how to handle it.
• Michael loses his temper because this dial-a-bad-guy keeps talking about doing Sandra and her daughter. But not before the bad Black guy says he’s going to “bust a cap in yo’ ass.” Because, you know, they have to use painfully outdated slang that the White theater-goers would recognize (and quote). “Hey Michael, that’s a radical shirt! NOT! Waazzuuuuuuppppppp!”
• Apparently Sandra’s accent kind of optional. Anybody can use an accent the entire time!
• And now Sandra is telling off the evil Black guy. And she said something that I’m sure was meant to be witty (Sarah Palin-style). Something to make housewives across America pump their fists in the air. Absolutely disgusting.
• Ferdinand the Bull reference. Again.
• Seriously, writers, cram in the word “family” one more time. It might have an iota of meaning left.
• And Shawn Jr. eyes some college women. Don’t worry folks, he’s straight! It’s okay to still like this movie, Bible Belt!
• I’ll be honest, I stopped counting Michael’s words. He hasn’t said a ton more. It’s 2 hours into the movie. I just want it to end! MAKE IT STOP!
• Another Sandra narration. How powerful. *Yawn*
• Oh, and what the hell happened to his brother?
• And Shawn Jr. gets the freeze-frame. Painful.
And it’s done.
That movie was Phantom Menace-esque in its god-awfulness. Remember the movie’s valuable lessons:
1) Blacks should be seen, not heard.
2) Metaphors are defiantly metaphorical
3) Stereotypes are bad, unless they bring in money at the box office.
March Madness is second only to college football season in my book. Lebron James is the only reason to watch the NBA, I never got into the NFL, and baseball…well, it’s baseball. I always make sure to watch the entire tournament, especially those first four days. This year, I’ll be in Columbus, sitting at a bar with my friends for hours on end, drinking and watching great game after great game.
But we’re not there yet. It’s still the last week of regular-season play. Then it’s the pointless conference tournaments (seriously, why?) and finally March Madness officially arrives.
Well, I hate to keep dwelling on this, but the anti-BCS crowd drones non-stop for the entire college football season (and smugly gloats during the NFL playoffs). It’s only fair that I keep defending my side. The college basketball regular season is a painful reminder of what could easily happen to college football if the pro-playoff pundits have their way.
If the BCS ends and we go with an 8 or 16 team playoff in college football, the college football season will spiral into mediocrity. Period.
The college football season, start to finish, is arguably the most entertaining season in sports. College basketball…not so much. March Madness is incredible event, but it lasts only a month (and, by the time the Elite Eight rolls around, there are rarely any real upsets left). Because of the 64-team playoff, the regular season has virtually no meaning.
Two weeks ago, there was a prime-time matchup: Villanova v. Syracuse. It was supposed to be a hell of a game–two top teams from their conference, ranked number 8 and number 4, respectively at the time. And I literally couldn’t care less. See Fig. 1.
Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit. For the best example, check out Duke.
Duke has always been a team I respect (growing up I thought Bobby Hurley was incredible), but this year they represent what is wrong with the college basketball system.
Duke was ranked #4 a week ago when they played Maryland (#22). In a thrilling game (at least that’s what they said on SportsCenter), Maryland squeaked out a win. Now, in college football, Duke plummets and can only dream about what would have happened if they had beaten the Terrapins. In college basketball…not so much.
The next morning after the loss. Twelve hours after the loss. ESPN analysts asked one another if Duke would be a #1 seed in the tournament. And they all agreed that Duke was a guaranteed lock for a #1 seed. Someone even posed the hypothetical scenario that Duke loses early in the conference tournament and Ohio State wins its conference tournament. The analysts all agreed it was irrelevant – Duke was in.
Think about that. A loss in the final week of conference play and a loss doesn’t even drop them out of a #1 seed. When people say the college basketball regular season is meaningless, they really meant it.
Let’s hope the fans don’t trade months of incredible drama for a couple of upsets in a four-week tournament.
It seems everyone has a list of Best Picture snubs, especially around this time of year. Well, “everyone’ includes me, and so here is my list.
But first, a couple of clarifications:
First off, this list does not include movies that were not nominated. There have been countless injustices for Best Picture nominations (Babe and Apollo 13 nominated over The Usual Suspects???), but if I start listing movies never nominated the possibilities become TOO endless. Plus, I’m working on that list for a later entry.
Secondly, each movie needs a replacement from the list of those nominated for Best Picture—we just can’t say a particular year didn’t have a Best Picture that year. A Beautiful Mind was a lame-ass choice for Best Picture, but 2001 was a horrible year for movies. What would you have rather selected? Gosford Park? In The Bedroom? Not every year is going to be of 1939, 1976, 2005, or 2007 caliber.
And lastly, the disparity between the actual winner and the deserved winner must be significant enough to warrant attention. I think Shane is better than From Here to Eternity, but not enough to warrant making an issue out of it.
Okay, let’s get started.
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
I get it. It’s an epic film and it practically invented the concept of the cameo (“Wait a minute…that was Frank Sinatra. But he wasn’t listed as a star in this film!”).
But the film wasn’t that good. It was bloated, repetitious, and a bit racist. However, the real crime is that this film won…against Giant, The King and I, and The Ten Commandments. It’s like Sesame Street’s “One of these things just doesn’t belong here.” No real preference for me—I’ll take the field over 80 Days.
KRAMER VS. KRAMER
I get it. The Deer Hunter won the year before and you didn’t want back-to-back Vietnam movies winning Best Picture. You have the star power of Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman in an American Beauty parallel (some have said this is film was a continuation of The Graduate if Benjamin and Elaine had gotten married). Why wouldn’t this film win?
Two words: Apocalypse Now. Even the backstory is compelling—the monumental effort to bring the film to the screen (documented in the wonderful Heart of Darkness documentary) that included budget issues, a typhoon, and Martin Sheen having a heart attack. But forget all that – the movie itself is a masterpiece and anyone thinking this is a movie about Vietnam is sadly misinformed.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
I get it. Following the personal struggles of two runners (one Jew, one Gentile), culminating in a single event to determine the winner…that’s based on a real story? That’s a guaranteed Oscar, as evidenced by its Oscar.
That said…Chariots of Fire: classic song…and that’s about it. It’s not even one of the top five sports movies ever made (none of which won Best Picture), let alone the best picture of the year. That honor, in 1981, should have gone to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tell you what—instead of me doing all the work, why don’t you tell me why this shouldn’t have won. Oh, and you cannot hold the genre against it. Give up? Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.
A great action-adventure movie is like a great comedy—overlooked, derided, and incredibly rare. What was the last good action-adventure movie you saw? (if you even think Transformers 2 then you are no longer allowed to read this blog. Seriously.) Raiders of the Lost Ark was an absolute masterpiece, a relentless, thoughtful adventure that has never been equaled. Roger Ebert wrote this review of Raiders and, if it doesn’t sell you on the film’s greatness, nothing will.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
I get it. Solid performances and a script laden with Shakespeare references. I mean, come on—it’s Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet WHILE HE’S LIVING IT! BOOM! Consider your mind blown.
Yeah, watch this one again sometime. Seriously. And while you’re watching, put a little Post-It® note on the TV so you can occasionally look over and be reminded that this was selected as the best movie of 1998. For added fun, count the number of times you say to yourself out loud, “Really?” My average is 17.
Saving Private Ryan was released in the summer, but that shouldn’t be held against it. Ryan is the Best Picture of 1998, and the only movie that was even close was Thin Red Line (slow but underrated). The first 20 minutes of Ryan are undisputed genius, the closest thing to wartime captured in the cinema (<sarcasm>except, of course, the gritty war epic The Green Berets</sarcasm>). The fact that the rest of the movie is pretty damn good (carried by wonderful casting) after the soldiers stormed the beach is nothing short of amazing.
I get it. Cutting edge special effects (“Wait a minute…Forrest Gump never met the President!”), a heartwarming story, and an underrated performance by Tom Hanks (paving the way for actors to “never go full-retard”) combined to form a genuinely enjoyable movie.
The Best Picture award is not about an enjoyable movie—otherwise, Back to the Future would have swept the Oscars. Being Best Picture is about greatness, and there are few films (if any) greater than The Shawshank Redemption. There’s no way that Gump should have beaten Andy and the gang. None whatsoever. Shawshank is a gripping, powerful film about friendship, hope, and determination. Gump is a two-hour tribute to the self-importance of the Baby Boomer generation.
Notice how each one of these entries has a suggestion as to why a particular film could have feasibly been chosen? I would on this entry, but I have absolutely no idea what in the holy hell the Academy was thinking on this one. For reals.
Call me naïve, but the Best Picture should be something looked back upon as a timeless classic, something we can watch decades later and have it still move us,, affect us, or at least tell us something about that time period. I love Ridley Scott (literally!), but Gladiator was an above-average action film that never tried to be anything more. For gods sake, Scott actually forgot about the dog (named “Hell”) when he released the movie and had to throw him into some dvd alternate ending. For reals. The movie drags on for 30 minutes too long, the special effects are laughable (remember the tigers?), and the ending is preposterous (A slave fights the emperor in the Coliseum…TO THE DEATH!).
So what nominees instead? Traffic? Sure, that would have been better (almost anything would), but it never achieved its own lofty aspirations. Chocolat? Really? Erin Brockovich? Two hours of Julia Roberts playing a slightly louder version of every character she’s ever played? Sign me up!
No, the rightful winner of 2000 was a foreign film by the name of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a film of unspeakable beauty and whose sweet, understated storylines (and acting) were astoundingly effective. In a year of boring and bland (did you see the list of nominees?), Crouching Tiger was something radically different. Characters were flying, balancing on trees, and sky-fighting somewhere other than the matrix. And, because of the film’s sincerity and intentions, people invested themselves in it. I watched this in a movie theater in Columbus and, apart from occasional (appropriate) laughter, the audience was absolutely mesmerized. And rightfully so.
Crash (2005): Over Brokeback Mountain? News flash: When you have a story where every plotline revolves around race, it’s just as bad as a movie that ignores race completely.
The Departed (2006): Over Letters from Iwo Jima? Were you that afraid Martin would never direct another movie? The Departed is a well-done film, but if we’re handing out Best Pictures then Heat and Collateral should be up in arms over this.
Ordinary People (1980): Over Raging Bull? This one doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people, but they definitely have a point.
My Fair Lady (1964): Over Dr. Strangelove? I realize the Academy would never risk selecting Kubrick’s masterpiece when a safer film was available, but this is probably the most vanilla victory ever.
A bit tardy, but a similar story appeared over a month ago on fivethirtyeight.com. Newsweek recently reported that respondents voice strong opposition to Obama’s healthcare plan…until they learn about the details.
This actually is similar to a fascinating book called Why Americans Hate Welfare by Martin Gilens. In it, Gilens finds that welfare is despised by many people in this country. To be honest, that’s not too surprising – on standard “feeling thermometer” tests (“On a scale of 1-100, with 1 being cold and 100 being hot, how do you feel about xxxxxxx group/person?”), the only people who who rate below those on welfare are “illegal immigrants.” For reals.
What is surprising is that Gilens found that, when welfare was broken down into its components, it received significant support from people surveyed (e.g., people who despised welfare were the same ones who would argue in the next breath that welfare and unemployment were necessary). It was an interesting disconnect, and one that Gilens (convincingly) explained was a result of racial prejudice. In other words, when respondents felt that the poor were Black, the prevailing attitude was that these were “undeserving poor’ who were unfairly leeching off of the government and taxpayers.
So why the disconnect? It’s a combination of the Democrats not properly conveying the message of healthcare and the Republicans contributing to the disinformation campaign. I’m still baffled as to why Obama just doesn’t hammer this “31 million people without healthcare.” Seriously. Drive that home. Get a bunch of people to do testimonial commercials, sell out and put helpless children up there…do whatever you need to do. At some level, Americans have to have some sort of compassion for something like this. If not, we’re worse off than I thought.
Secondly, we have the aptly-named Republican Noise Machine (though I would have gone with the catchier “Republican Constant Bitchfest,” but whatever) throwing out a steady stream of “blah blah socialism blah blah blah death panels blah OMGEE COMMUNISMS!!!11!!1!” Back in the day (when he was relevant), Rush Limbaugh was significantly better at driving down opponents’ poll numbers than raising those in his own party. This is more of the same.
Still, the fact that these ideas are still embraced is enough to make one hopeful about the entire process.
Yesterday Jared’s in-laws sent him this video of this latest conservative malcontent in an effort to explain (and justify) to him how they feel
Since Jared’s too polite so send a response (actually, he’s probably composing one as I type), this is how I would have handled it:
Hey, I just watched your video on YouTube. I had some thoughts, if you’re interested. This is going to be lengthy, but rest assured that it won’t feel as long as that joke of a speech I just watched.
I disagreed with practically everything you said, but honestly the way you said it pissed me off the most. Was that speech written by a ninth grader? Honestly, replace “president” with “our school rivals” and it sounds like something you’d hear at a pep rally—a quickly-assembled, poorly-planned, sparsely-attended pep rally.
Let me recap your speech for you:
Something something incoherent point something something inaccurate description of the American revolution something something something failed comparison something something awkward personal anecdote something crazy-ass example something painfully awkward acknowledgement of armed forces something failed attempt to rally crowd. BEAT STATE!
It was painful. You try to compare this struggle to the Revolutionary War (did you get your information from a Mel Gibson movie?) to try to set-up your call to arms (literally) at the end. You offer what might be the vaguest, most generic critique that make Sarah Palin look like a keen political mind (lower taxes, cut spending, create jobs, change this country’s attitude!), like you were afraid of offending any one of your potential voters. Then you build your case by making a comparison to someone who “won’t be paying for gas under Obama.” Hey, I can generalize to a larger population based on one person too! Timothy McVeigh had ultra-strong right wing beliefs. That means all Republicans love blowing up children in nurseries! Wheeee, what fun!
Oh, and great timing, Allen. Way to speak out now. You know why you didn’t “go down and tell my children that I didn’t have the courage, the commitment, the conviction, or the character to fight for this country” Allen? Because you were too busy going down on George W. Bush for the last eight frickin’ years.
What has Barack Obama done to upset you so much that it prompted you to spend 13 whole minutes writing that speech? Was it the fact that he’s trying to provide healthcare for everyone? Was it when he lifted the ban on stem cell research? Tried to salvage relationships with other leaders from around the world?
You want to talk about “freedom” and “liberty,” where have you been for the last eight years, you ignorant asshole? Where were you when Bush passed the Patriot Act and made warrantless wiretaps and rendition not only legal, but also acceptable? When Bush invaded Iraq and got thousands of Americans killed for phantom WMDs? When Bush used cronyism to erode our government, causing us to be unprepared for natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina? The first bailout? The second one? Where were you, you selfish hypocritical sonofabitch? Oh, it was okay then, because politics is just like a sports game and you want your “team” to win, even if that means the downfall of this country.
Oh, and my favorite part of your speech? That “bayonet” bullshit at the end. What does that even mean? THAT was your solution??? Like so many other people in your rapidly-shrinking base, all you can do is bitch. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, BITCH. You don’t want universal healthcare? How about providing a viable alternative, something other than the typical Republican wet dream of building a time machine to transport back to the halcyon days of the 1950s, where it was all bobby-sox and malt shops. Actually, Allen, if you opened your history book past the 1700s, you might be disappointed to find out where you end up in that Republican paradise.
But I digress. Seriously, do something other than complain. If you’re a member of the opposition party, you have to do something other than saying “Nuh-UH!” That way lies madness and, I think, a Monty Python sketch. How about you go back to your room, get out your crayons, and come back to the grown-up table when you want to have a real conversation.
Lastly, I want to be extremely honest with you, Allen. You’re not a viable candidate. You’re an amateur pundit, leeching off the populist emotions and catering to the lowest common denominator while clinging to the fading hope of staying relevant. At least the talking heads on Fox News get paid to spew their manufactured outrage. You’re just some dupe who’s working pro bono to put the next Republican into office. And it’s not going to be you. You’re doomed to live forever in obscurity, every once in a while opening up your pathetic YouTube clip, staring at the stagnant view count, and wondering what could have been while knowing, deep down, that you never had a shot.