Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: True Grit

Coens. Bridges. Damon. Western. Since Joel and Ethan Coen announced that their next project would be a new adaptation of the 1968 novel and 1969 movie True Grit, the buzz has been on. Not only were the Coens tackling another Western and re-teaming with Jeff Bridges for the first time since 1998, but they were taking on an iconic film in a genre unlike what they've done before and promising to be more true to the initial novel. I have a feeling that they thought they could bring a new interpretation to the material, and that their version could be more authentic. They were right on both accounts, and they can genuinely claim one of the best movies of the past year.
In the past two months, I have both read the novel and watched the 1969 John Wayne film in preparation for watching this film. The novel is very interesting, as it is written from the perspective of 14-year-old Mattie Ross - kind of a Western To Kill A Mockingbird, with a less sympathetic heroine. The 1969 film followed most of the plot of the book, but the characters changed slightly. The entire film was lighter and less weighty than the novel, and some of the characters were drastically different (ie. Glen Campbell's Texas Ranger LaBoeuf). The film dragged in the beginning, and although early performances from Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall bring much-needed boosts to the pace of the film, it does not fully work. I suspect that were Wayne's performance not so iconic that the film might have been mainly forgotten by now. The Coens were not remaking the 1969 film, but using the text to derive a new identity for True Grit, which is what they have succeeded in doing. The Coens' vision is darker, bleaker, and more well-paced than the original, and they have repositioned Mattie as the central character of the story. I believe that their vision should become the definitive True Grit.
As always, the individual contributions both on and off camera are key to the success of the film. Of particular note onscreen are Jeff Bridges as embattled U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn and newcomer Hallee Steinfeld. Bridges is as good as he's been, and except for Crazy Heart, is at his breezy boozy best. He drives the film, and his version of Rooster is as iconic as was Wayne's. Steinfeld holds her own, and she brings across a combination of seriousness, naivete, and worldliness that captures the essence of the character of Ross. Matt Damon is solid as Ranger LaBoeuf, and Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper have memorable, if brief, villainous roles in the film. Within the crew, the costuming stands out, as well as Roger Deakins' cinematography. Deakins is long overdue for awards recognition, but this film may break that streak.
Of course, the question I always have with a new Coen movie is how it fits into their canon of now fifteen films. True Grit contains many themes that are common to their films: an insecure protagonist/narrator, a mysterious character who leads the protagonist into unknown territory, a journey that includes self-discovery through pain, a deliberately chosen and styled temporal setting, and a scene of stark and sudden violence. At the same time, it is thoroughly unlike any of their other films - though all of their films are quite unique. It is a welcome addition to the Coen canon, and appears to be the last for a little while; for the first time since 2005, the Coens have no announced project in the queue.
Another interesting discussion is how this film contributes to the Western film genre. There are a few films that are added to the genre each year, though many of those in the past two decades have been films that have fused Western elements with other genres (particularly sci-fi). The Coens' True Grit is arguably one of the better westerns in recent memory, and it proves that there is still some life left in the motifs, images, and themes of the Frontier. There's still something fascinating about watching a world of saloons, rifles, horses, hangings, corn dodgers, gunfights, and rattlers, and I'm glad that Jeff Bridges and the Coens have contributed again to that genre. True Grit is a faithful revisioning of an iconic novel and film, an intense character study, and a great addition to the Coens' filmography and the Western genre.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mini-Reviews: Megamind, HP7, Tangled

In the past month, I've seen three movies in theatre and haven't been able to blog about any of them. I don't know that any of them need a full review, so here are some quick thoughts on those movies.

Megamind was a surprisingly entertaining take on the whole superhero/supervillain motif. The film turned things around by featuring the villain, and there was a surprising amount of character development in Megamind. The plot was also not entirely predictable, which kept me interested as a viewer. Throw in Will Ferrell cutting loose, a little David Cross as the henchman, and Tina Fey as the fearless reporter, along with a liberal use of classic rock songs, and you've got a movie that can be enjoyed repeatedly, much like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was an accurate representation of the book. It's one of the better HP movies (still not as good as Azkaban), and it paces the story well. I speed-read the book after watching it, and I agree with most of the editorial decisions that were made to bring the film to life (except for that weird scene after Ron returns). I'm interested to see what they do with the final instalment, which will have to feature more expositional material, but still should be very epic.

Tangled was also surprisingly entertaining, especially for someone like me who is predisposed to cynicism toward anything Disney. Sure, there were the "morals" at the end of the story, and the typical fairy tale setups, but the film took the story of Rapunzel in a different and interesting direction. There were some sweet moments, a few hilarious lines, some breathtaking scenes, and even a catchy song or two to pass the time, and I actually found myself enjoying most of the movie. Maybe that was mostly because of Zachary Levi as the voice of Flynn Rider - and the dude can sing! It's nowhere near the worst Disney princess movie, and I'll probably be okay watching it with my daughters someday.

So, out of the three, all were not only bearable but entertaining, and eminently rewatchable. But now I get to the real movies: True Grit and The Fighter.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The real redeem team

After a rollercoaster season, the Riders are back in the Grey Cup. I've gone up and down with the team at various points over the season, including a very stressful Western Semi-Final against B.C. two weeks ago, but I think I'm okay with whatever happens on Sunday against the Alouettes. They have struggled through a less-than-stellar end to the season and made it back to the Grey Cup despite what many people thought. They have come back from deficits in both of their playoff wins. I know that some people would require a win to make up for last year's horrible last-second loss, but I'm just happy they're playing on Sunday. Go Riders.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: Metroid: Other M

Samus Aran, everyone's favourite galaxy-travelling bounty hunter heroine, returns in her tenth new adventure, and the first new game in the Metroid series in three years. This game takes place following the events of Super Metroid (released for the SNES in 1994), and chronicles the events that occur when Samus responds to a distress call on an isolated Galactic Federation space station called the Bottle Ship.
Perhaps the first thing to notice is that Other M looks different than previous Metroid games. It incorporates the first-person view from the Prime trilogy with a 3/4 fighting view, and it ingeniously manipulates the Wii remote to incorporate both views. The game is visually striking - perhaps the best of the series - and the addition of dramatic cut scenes as part of the action gives the game a different feel from most of its predecessors. The scenes, besides telling a story to place the game within the established Metroid timeline, also help develop the character of Samus, creating the feel of an interactive movie as much as a game.
The game has its frustrations, though. At times, the game puts Samus in a first-person scanner view and expects the player to find the often almost-unnoticeable disruption in the normal environment; it can be frustrating to search for a nearly invisible item. Occasionally, the game places Samus in an awkward 3/4 close-up view in which she cannot use her weapons or jump; these sequences are not often, though.
Some players will find the linear format frustrating, as it allows for less independent exploration; other players will find the format easier to play, since it does not allow as much deviation from the story.
Metroid: Other M is an interesting addition to the Metroid series, as well as to the family of action-adventure games for the Wii (there are not many available for fans of the genre, especially compared to the PS3 or Xbox). It combines the classic look, feel, sound, and gameplay of the series with a new format and new environment. It has distinct appeal for fans of the series, but could also appeal to a wider audience in search of a sci-fi action shoot 'em up. The length (between 13 and 15 hours to find all items) is decent for a game of its ilk; if it were much longer, it would be frustratingly slow, but if it were too much shorter, it would not be expansive enough. Its replay value is somewhat limited compared to previous Metroid games, but I think it will be replayable every few years. It is a fun game, albeit one that occasionally requires a player's guide, but judging by Metroid: Other M, there's a lot yet to be explored in the Metroid universe. The game makes me look forward to the next time that Samus will set off on an adventure, to re-playing or finally finishing previous Metroid games, or to the time when the series finally gets a cinematic translation.

Monday, November 08, 2010

How tweet it is?

I may have either revolutionized the way I interact with the world around me, placed a large expectation on myself that I cannot hope to meet, entered into a new form of managing relationships, created an irrelevant forum for the minutiae of my life, or all of the above. That's right: I joined Twitter as @lifeofturner. I suppose it has been coming for close to a year, but I did not have the time or energy to invest in a new venture that could become a not insignificant part of my life. Much in the same way that I took time before beginning to blog and before joining Facebook, I felt like I had to determine whether to take part in the phenomenon based on its ubiquitousness, estimated longevity, uniqueness, irreplaceability as a form of communication , and its application in my life. The first four quickly became clear to me as I watched the form evolve: Twitter seems to be here to stay (unlike, say, myspace, which I never joined), and it seems to be poised to play a large role in the future of online interactions. Of course, it seems somewhat belated to finally admit this in 2010 (Twitter was so 2008, I'm so 2000-and-late), but it was that final criterion that had me hung up on joining. Would Twitter be a valuable forum for communicating about my life and my experience that I would miss if it were not there? The answer, I think, seems to be yes, which is why I joined. Whether it's pithy observations, quick instant reviews of movies/music/tv shows, links to stories I have read online, or random thoughts throughout my day, I feel like this blog or my Facebook status are not sufficient to allow for that level of communication. Of course, I also see the inherent egomania of a format like Twitter: not only do I feel I have a right to say things, but I think other people should be interested in what I say. I don't necessarily disagree with that statement in my case - obviously, I feel like other people would be interested in what I say or I wouldn't say it - but I know that a lot of what happens on Twitter is essentially meaningless blather; then again, so is much of what people say every day anyway. I know that I need to be cautious not to overshare information, and that the nature of the format itself presents a possible impediment to self-editing - after all, part of the appeal is the immediacy of the communication - but I feel that after six and a half years of blogging that I should be able to negotiate that challenge successfully. Perhaps the greatest challenge I foresee is the insatiable nature of Twitter: it is the beast with thirteen followers (as of now, and to paraphrase Iago). It is not a format that can be left dormant (as I have occasionally done with this blog); its nature demands immediate response, and there is almost an impending sense of disappointment were I not to engage an issue that would seem to require my input. (I say "seem to" because I'm not entirely sure if that is actually an expecation that my followers would have or a self-manufactured sense of responsibility that has no basis in reality.) I know I have a lot to learn about Twitter, particularly about how to connect with others using the medium, so I'm certainly not ready to declare whether I am "all-in" or not. I imagine that my experience will be somewhat tentative and experimental as I sort out how it works and how I work with it, but I know that I have to be prepared to fully immerse myself to truly maximize my contribution to the Twittersphere. I don't know how long it would be before I could say what my definitive position on Twitter is, but I know that at some point I will have to decide whether to push forward and keep going with it, or whether to let it fade into relative obscurity, revived primarily for me to live blog certain events or when I finally join the smart phone revolution. Perhaps it's not even a discussion that I can answer definitively soon; despite its seeming staying power, I vacillated about this blog for several years, and it's possible that the time still might come when it's done. But whatever the possibilities and doubts and challenges and little joys that Twitter may bring, I'm there for now, waiting to be followed. My ego would like to think that more than 13 people care what I think...right? Right?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Gamer's Lament

I have always loved board games, even though I seem to blog on them fairly infrequently (I didn't realize that this post was written over four years ago). And we're "games" kind of people; it's usually much more fun for me to play a game with someone than to watch a movie or take a hike. Right now, we own well over 100 games of many different genres, and we still have not played over a dozen of those; I'd probably bet that I've gotten rid of more games than most people have owned. (This is what happens when you move often and buy games for an average of less than $5 each.) But what I find is that there are so many more games that I want to play than I have time to play or money to buy them, and that it's hard to dedicate time to being a "gamer" in the truest sense of the word. We own a large number of fun party-type games, both of the "get-to-know-you" and the "this is only fun if I know the people well" variety; we play these often with people who are not really interested in learning games, but are more interested in socializing with us. We do own several "strategy" games, but the list seems unfortunately small to me: Carcassonne (with the first two expansions), Thurn and Taxis, Killer Bunnies and the Journey To Jupiter, and Starfarers of Catan (not Settlers, surprisingly enough), and a not well-known game called Portobello Market. (We do own the full set of Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot, a 700+ card behemoth of a family card game, but that's not an advanced strategy game.) But there are so many more I want to try and probably own: Ticket To Ride (another favourite we don't own), Alhambra, Puerto Rico, Small World, Dominion, Zooloretto...the list could go on and on. I guess I wonder how many games it is reasonable to own and play regularly, and how many I can know well. Of course, I need to make time for them, and I need to find people who own them so I can try them (which was how I got into Carcassonne, Killer Bunnies, and Bohnanza, for example). We seem to be on the verge of having those connections here, so maybe it's just a matter of time at this point. Perhaps we should try to make it a point to learn one new game a month, for example, to keep expanding our repertoire, but I am curious as to what our limit will be. Of course, we also need to keep playing the games we have, so there could be a whole lotta shaking (dice) going on. May the games begin!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Home or hotel?

I have been sequestered in a smallish city several hours from my home while I am giving presentations in high schools. I had a day off in between working days, so I ended up spending a decent portion of my time in my hotel room. I find hotels to be an interesting metaphor for life, inspired distinctly by Moby's essays accompanying his 2005 album Hotel. The whole idea that someone can have a place prepared for them, not have to maintain its condition, and then be gone without leaving a trace seems ridiculous at face value, unless you consider it in the context of a hotel room. There is familiarity - after all, most hotel rooms are almost identical - but not a personal touch. There is a community of people sharing an experience, but rarely does anyone break out of their bubble to share it with others. There is a sense of being hermeneutically sealed in a room-sized bubble, and that this behaviour is in fact okay. I am really starting to dislike hotels. Perhaps my summer experience of staying mostly in hotels in the Bay Area helped sour me on the whole experience, but I feel stifled, contained, and restricted in a hotel. To me, hotels seem to represent the compartmentalization and depersonalization of the human experience through a higher level of socialization to what should not be considered normative experiences. Hotels are not normal life; they're a construction of primarily 20th century commercialization (I'm sure the history of the hotel goes back further, but the current state is certainly not akin to its Victorian predecessors). And so, despite the fact that I was glad to get away and to have some time for me, I have found myself dissatisfied with my experience. I feel like I'm trying to impose myself on a sterilized environment - one that actually will not withstand any form of "infection" from me or my life. I want to be at home, in community, with all of its faults and foibles and messes and joys and stuff and complications and frustrations and business and people and rest. I guess that's the key for me: I can't rest in a hotel, but I can rest at home. Maybe that's the key here: a hotel is a forced and necessarily temporary existence in which a personal experience is unsuccessfully impressed on an impersonal template. Home is the full opposite of that, and I'll take home over hotel anyday even though I have to help make the bed and there's no waterslide. After all, as Dorothy once said, "there's no place like home."

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Strange bedfellows

I have been very interested to watch the coverage of two political events over the past two days: the US' midterm elections on Tuesday and BC premier Gordon Campbell's resignation on Wednesday. As always, I find that the results, although intriguing, are often less interesting than the dialogue about the results. In the discussion of the US' elections, the phrase "Republican wave" was so far overused, and the analysis of the Tea Party's contribution to the election varied significantly depending on the news source. Obama has been either judged, challenged, undermined, upheld, chastened, vindicated, indicated, or doomed by the Republicans' taking control of the House. It's all so reactionary and futile, much like the rhetoric surrounding Obama's election two years ago. Granted, I think it's possible to create an initial impression, and it's appropriate to do so, but so much of the coverage - even on the satirical sources - is unbalanced. That brings me to today's announcement from Campbell. The variety of responses to the development is unsurprising, but shocking: most media pundits seemed to try to balance what good Campbell did for the province with his current status as "premier non grata" and how he damaged his own reputation to get to this point. Most of the commentary retrieved from "man on the street" interviews was vitriolic and full of a sense of relief, which, whether warranted or not, indicated not only that the media was trying to advance a particular point of view, but also that they had contributed to the general malaise surrounding the historically unpopular premier. This all just reminded me that politics and media are "strange bedfellows", and why we can't be consumers when we watch the goings-on around us. It should be an interesting week or two to come, and I'm interested to see how the dialogue develops.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Riders update - Week 17

When I blogged about the Riders almost five weeks ago, I stated that I needed to see the proof of who the Riders really were. Were they the team that had been shellacked by Winnipeg, or were they a team that could not only beat, but perhaps even dominate the best teams in the CFL? After seeing two road wins and a tough home loss in the three ensuing weeks, I watched last Sunday's Riders-Stampeders game with high expectation. The Stamps had stumbled significantly in recent games, and if the Riders won, they had a very good shot at first in the West and a bye in the first week of the playoffs. The green and white had one of the best starts I can remember: two possessions, two quick touchdowns, an early 14-0 lead, and a 19-10 lead at halftime. That's partly what made the final score - 34-26 Calgary - so devastating. The Riders were pounded on the ground and in the air, and the defense got only a short break in the fourth quarter when Durant engineered another quick TD. The loss meant not only that the Riders have almost no chance of getting the bye, but that Calgary took the psychological advantage in the almost inevitable rematch in the Western Final on November 21.
So here's the new reality: the Riders have clinched a home playoff game in the Semi-Final with three weeks to go. The most likely teams they will play: Edmonton and BC, who are both currently 5-10. The teams they play in the final three weeks: at Edmonton, at BC, home to Edmonton. Dominating these last three weeks would go a long way in preparing for the playoffs; even winning two of three would give a lot of confidence to the team and the fans. I'm still not sure what to expect for the rest of the year, or which Riders team will show up each week, but there's still always hope that this year's team can redeem last year's heartbreak.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lethargy

This week marks the halfway point between our return from the US and Christmas holidays. It's a little frustrating that two months have gone by, and I don't feel like I have much to show for it. I'm still working on items from my "to do" list before summer, and I have not spent much time investing in some of the activities I thought I could have time for: writing a book; watching movies/TV; re-learning Greek; thoroughly organizing my house. Last night I began to wonder what has been happening with my time, and I realized that I have been not functioning anywhere near full capacity. I have been lethargic - sick from trying too hard and not fully resting in the time I have. I've only been able to use 60 or 70 % of my time effectively; the rest is spent trying to "get better", as it were. I will have to take the time to heal before I can be back at my "normal", and that means taking the effort to rest well. I'm glad to have the time to do so, though it will be difficult. My full time job is working on me. Huh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall TV Review: The returning shows

It's a few weeks into the new TV season, so I figured it was about time to post some of my thoughts on the shows I'm watching this fall. I'll start with the returning shows, and I'll try not to spoil anything (though SPOILER ALERT just in case).

Community might be the funniest show on TV, and it has not lost a step from the end of last season. Ken Jeong is still hilarious and steals every scene he's in, and the cast works well together. I'd be surprised if the show makes it past this season, especially since it's up against Big Bang Theory, but it's funny while it lasts.

Big Bang Theory is the only "sitcom" I watch, which should tell you something. It's awesome, and the shtick is still fresh, thanks to "Shamy".

30 Rock is absolutely hilarious. I'm stoked for the live episodes this week.

Chuck is my favourite show on TV right now. It still has the comedic edge, a great story hook, and the energy it needs to keep things captivating. It also has a great sense of humour about itself, like having Dolph Lundgren guest star as a Russian in the season premiere and spitting out lines from Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Awesome. I am part of a devoted, though still small, fan base, so I hope that NBC gives the show the chance to finish what it has started.

Glee is a mixed bag for me through the first three episodes. Though there were flashes of musical genius ("Stronger", "Telephone", "Toxic", and "Losing My Religion" come immediately to mind) and some interesting character developments, the show has also featured a number of incomprehensible music choices, sporadic character development, and cloyingly saccharine sentiment disguised as genuine emotion. I suppose it's the trap of being a hit, but I think the show could return to the form it displayed in the first half of Season 1. Still, it has presented some interesting conflicts, and the "Grilled Cheezus" episode was at least worth watching to see how the show dealt with crises of faith. I think there is still a temptation to wrap everything up within each episode, and that there still might be too much pandering to audidences, but it's perhaps the biggest "watercooler" show around, and it is still interesting enough to watch. That may change, but for now I'm still tuning in.

Survivor: Nicaragua has had an interesting beginning, though there seems to be little strategic ability in this group of players. The Medallion of Power is a great twist, and it should be an interesting season as it plays out.

Dexter seems to still be strong, and I'm interested to see where it goes. You can't top John Lithgow, so I'm glad they're not trying to, but the show still has a lot of life left. It should be an interesting season, and Michael C. Hall is enigmatically captivating as always.

Other shows I keep track of, even if I do not watch them each week:

The Office is irrelevant to me. I might catch up on Season 6 and 7 sometime, but I haven't watched it since Jim and Pam's wedding. But when I binge on it, I'll probably get sucked back in. I know the show is still going, but I'd call it quits soon - next season if it keeps going the way it has. (And yes, that plan still fits my "7 season" theory, since "Season 1" was only six episodes long. Unless a show really has something meaningful to say, Season 7 should end it. See: Scrubs for proof.)

Futurama is on a temporary hiatus, but it's as good (if not better) than it ever was. Thank you, Comedy Central.

Friday Night Lights is entering its last season, but I still need to catch up on the last two seasons.

My wife has been watching How I Met Your Mother recently. She's partway into Season 3, so she may catch up soon enough. I like it enough to watch it once in awhile, but the whole feel of a sitcom with a laugh track really kills it for me. And again, I hope they end it at Season 7 (next year); it would just be cruel to keep it going.

I may try to catch up on Modern Family sometime. I haven't watched it yet, but I at least want to give it a try. And Breaking Bad and Mad Men are still on my "I'll watch them someday" list. And maybe I'll finally try out Parks and Recreation before it comes back in the spring.

And for those keeping track at home, that's three comedies, two comedy-dramas, one reality show, and one drama I watch every week, for a total of 7 shows in 4 hours. There are two comedies and another drama in my sphere of awareness, as well as a couple of shows I've been meaning to watch, but my TV-watching schedule feels almost full even without the new shows. I'll post about them soon, but so far it's not looking good for many of them to crack the line-up permanently. But that's the returning shows I'm watching this fall.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Review: The Social Network

The Social Network may just be the film of the year. I am not suggesting that it is the best film, or even that it would win awards (okay, maybe I'll suggest that), but that it may be the film that helps define not only this year, but both the decade past and to come. It is receiving perfect reviews from almost every major film critic, and it currently has a score of 97 on Metacritic, which makes it one of the top films reviewed in the sites decade-long history. So why is the film so amazing? It has the cachet of a top-level director (David Fincher), one of the most notable writers in film or television of the past decade (Aaron Sorkin), and a number of up-and-coming actors (Andrew Garfield, the next Spider-Man; the underrated Justin Timberlake; and Jesse Eisenberg, the nerd-du-jour), as well as impeccable timing in release. Let's take a closer look.
I can think of few examples in which both the writer's and director's styles are so distinctive yet identifiable in one film (Eternal Sunshine comes immediately to mind). Both Sorkin and Fincher have left their mark on this film, and it is difficult to imagine it succeeding without both creative influences. The feel of the film is undeniably shaped by Sorkin, with whose pen Zuckerberg is transformed into a neurotic archetype, preceded by similar characters in his previous works. (Jeremy in Sports Night, Matt in Studio 60, Gust in Charlie Wilson's War). The medium of the film, Sorkin's rapid-fire repartee, fits its subject matter while tapping into both the irony and the meta-ironic awareness of both its subjects and audience. (And yes, there are a couple of walk-and-talks, and a few shots at blogging.) Meanwhile, Fincher's steady and deliberate direction counterbalances the frenetic pace of Sorkin's script, and frames the personal nature of the film well. Fincher is known for featuring characters undergoing emotional distress, and The Social Network focusses much on the main characters in a way that could have easily been lost in the attempt to focus on the "bigger issues" (as Sorkin is sometimes wont to do).
There are some stellar performances in the film. Eisenberg's portrayal of founder Mark Zuckerberg, though occasionally too aloof, is mesmerizing in its variety. Eisenberg manages to convince the audience that Zuckerberg is egomaniacal, despotic, disloyal, self-absorbed, and arrogant, while maintaining a fairly likeable character who can also be seen as ingenious, driven, innovative, witty, and even... Several of the film's main questions concern Zuckerberg's motivations for creating Facebook and conducting himself in that way, and Eisenberg gives both the film's creators and the audience the opportunity to consider the answers. Andrew Garfield serves as the emotional core of the show as co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and Justin Timberlake steals every scene he's in as Napster founder Sean Parker. All three may receive attention in awards season, and understandably so.
Of course, the film would not be as significant were it not so directly a huge part of society. There are few films that tap into the zeitgeist so pressingly, immediately, and effectively and that can become as iconic as this one seems destined to. The list in the past two decades is arguably short, perhaps one or two per year: Fight Club (another Fincher film); Jason Reitman's Juno and perhaps Up In The Air; Good Will Hunting; High Fidelity; Lost In Translation; Crash; and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name a few, but I digress. Perhaps the only disappointment is that the film may not go far enough into acknowledging the influence of Facebook on society. I know that's not the point of the film, and it comes across tangentially, but it may have gone further in its exploration. Still, the film does touch on issues of intellectual property, privacy, and business and life in an electronic age, and sets itself as a piece for discussion in this new e-world. Facebook, like Google or even Napster before it, has not only shaped internet culture but ultimately life. But perhaps, like Zuckerberg and Parker both state in the film, we're still figuring out what Facebook is and how it works. To wit: FB went fully public only four years ago, and has only started growing exponentially in the last year and a half. We still don't know where FB is going, how much culture has shifted as a result, and what the next step is. And that future may shape the way this film is perceived: we may look back at this film as a quaint reminder of time gone by; or we may see it as a visionary examination of a transition from the world that was to whatever will be. Or perhaps we'll see it for what it is at its core: a story about people, relationships, and how ideas can grow and change along with those relationships. Perhaps it's a cautionary tale, but I think it's more like a parable for our times. Zuckerberg, likely unwittingly, is a representative of a new way of thinking, and this film showcases that shift. That's why this film is worth watching, and what makes it the film of the year: it captures the moment and communicates it in a way that leaves more questions than answers. It's a good thing we have Facebook to help us figure it out together...right?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Helping friends move

I'm one of those people that helps friends move. I know some people who are almost dogmatic in their refusal to assist in the ritual, but I'm one of those people who almost always says "yes." I helped some friends from church move this weekend, mainly because I had told them that anytime they needed help I would be willing to step in. Blast! But what was interesting was realizing how much better I got to know them through the experience, as moving is a very vulnerable and stressful time. Your emotions are heightened because you're going through transition, and your life is on display: your method of organization; your conflict resolution patterns; your problem-solving skills; your crisis management philosophies; and especially your stuff. Stuff tells a lot about a person: not only how they have it packed and organized, but especially about what they are choosing to keep, and in some cases pay to have stored. I'm certain that people do the same thing with me: for example, trying to move, in 2nd year university, 2 balsa and wood glue dinosaur models I had finished in grade school comes to mind; why did I think they were valuable? But if it can be true that one man's junk is another man's treasure, the reverse is also true. Obviously, as a mover, I don't necessarily understand the reasoning behind everything, but it's just interesting to see how people value their possessions. It has again reminded me of the book Clutter Busting, and how interesting it would be to have to come in and try to divest people of their possessions, dealing with all of the false reasoning and emotional attachments to things. I still think I could do a pretty decent job at it, if I could get people to listen to me. (Perhaps starting on moving day might not be a great idea...) I've been working hard to declutter since reading the book, and I would say that, although we own a lot of things, we're probably down to between 15% and 25% clutter (and whenever we move again, that number will decrease significantly). But this whole idea of how people's stuff shows who they are has intrigued me, and I realized that I have helped almost all of my very good friends move. It wasn't hard, considering that several of them were roommates during my college days, but it made me think about how much I got to know them through the experiences. In some cases, it was a mutually beneficial experience; occasionally, it kickstarts a relationship or bumps it up a few levels; sometimes, it could have killed a friendship. That's why it's important to move well, and to consider carefully who to get to help you to move. I don't know when we'll have the chance to move again, but I know I'll be thinking about how my friends perceive me through my actions and my stuff, and picking carefully who I want those people to be. Especially that they like the same kind of pizza toppings I do.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Riders 43, Stampeders 37

I should have expected it. I should have known that the Riders returning home (where they still are undefeated) after their worst game of the season (a 31-2 drubbing in the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg) against the best team in the league as the primetime game on national TV would be a thrilling overtime come-from-behind victory that could end up being the turning point in what could have been an otherwise lost season. I should have expected that the collective funk affecting Darian Durant and the offense could not continue, and that the loss of a couple of weaker players (kick dropper...er, returner Dominic Dorsey to injury and receiver Prechae Rodriguez to waivers) would energize the rest of the team. I should have expected that Stevie Baggs signing in Hamilton, rather than Regina, might create a hunger to prove that they can still be the best team in the league on a given night. I should have predicted that the team's best offensive players - especially Durant, Cates, Dressler, and Fantuz - would finally click in a huge way. I should have expected that my choice to not watch the game would mean that I would miss one of the can't-miss games of the season (much like Game 1 against Montreal).
But until it happened in tonight's game, I was anticipating that the opposite result was entirely possible: that after three terrible weeks against two of the league's worst teams resulted in two losses and a near miss (if not for an inspired fourth quarter in the Labour Day Classic) that the Riders might completely wilt against a former teammate and the strongest team in the league and most likely the host for the Western Semi-final. I just as much expected that this game might be a turning point for the worse, or the proof that this year's team is still suffering a collective hangover from last year's devastating last-second Grey Cup loss. I can now see how those expectations have been disproven, and that tonight's game revealed that there still is a lot of heart and fight left in the 2010 Riders and gave me hope for the rest of the season and the post-season, but it was an OT score away from being the most heart-breaking loss of the season.
This is the life of a Riders fan: bipolar at best, soul-crushingly devastating at worst. There are lots of highs for the team, especially in the last ten years: The team is the most popular in the league; the years of sub-.500 seasons are behind them; the spirit of the fans is unrivalled in almost any North American professional league (Packers, diehard Red Sox and Cubs fans, Clevelanders, and who else?); and they currently have perhaps the best collection of young core players in the CFL (even without John Chick and Stevie Baggs this year). But they never seem to do anything easily; everything comes as part of a rollercoaster ride, and they seem dominant in spurts, not as a whole. It might be entirely psychological for the team, but it seems that there's some kind of hump of success that they can't get over. I would love to see a few 13- or 14- win seasons in a row, just to show that they are the team to beat. I would love to see back-to-back Grey Cup appearances, if not wins. I would love for there to be a time of prosperity in which every Riders fan could look back and reminisce about the glory days (which is now confined mostly to discussions of 1966-76, one day in November 1989, and a strong run to the end of the season and playoffs in 2007). But I'm not sure how I could handle it: the Riders have spent so long in this cycle that it's almost hard to imagine what I would do knowing that my team was the best by a longshot and not doubting them. It's much like Saskatchewan now being a have-province; it was a have-not for so long that prosperity is unsettling and even confusing.
So maybe I don't wish that the Riders became a dominant force and ripped off consecutive 15-win seasons. Maybe I would rather ride the rollercoaster and take the ups and downs and not know what's going to happen. Maybe I would rather have the discussions about whether the team can finally take the step or not. But part of me wants to know what it's like to have a team that I can count on to win every week. So maybe, just maybe, if we fans get a taste of extended excellence, we can decide which we like better. So here's my plea for the Riders: give us a taste of that dominance in the last seven games. You're allowed to lose 1 game as a bad loss, but not to a team you shouldn't lose to. You can have another game, maybe even two, that are hard-fought heart-rending losses. But you need to have at least three, preferrably four, games that establish your place and set fear in the hearts of your enemies (namely, Calgary, Montreal, and Hamilton, in that order). You need to show that you can be the best team when you want to be. You need to end up with an 11-7 or even 12-6 record and make people bet on you, not against you. And you need to allow me not to want to miss a second of a game lest I miss a moment that might mesmerize me for years to come. Tonight was a big step, but now it's on you with two games in Hamilton and Toronto, and lots to prove: tonight wasn't just a fluke, and you're not just a home team. Win them convincingly without showing any mercy, and keep the momentum going. Amaze me. Please.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Last Temptation of Pullman

I recently read Philip Pullman's controversial new novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, in which avowed atheist Pullman presents his take on the story of Jesus. Pullman's central conceit is that Mary actually gave birth to twins named Jesus and Christ:Jesus is an outgoing anti-authoritarian humanist; Christ is the soft-spoken neurotic recorder (and reviser) as well as the main character of the story. Pullman has tried to parallel the New Testament account, including in writing style, cadence, and basic plot with a limited amount of success (read the review in The Globe and Mail for more information), tweaking and twisting the story in ways both slight and significant to fit his central purposes: to show that the story of Jesus Christ was a myth that was added onto after Jesus' death and to negate the supernatural nature of his life. It is a short and easy read, and at best serves a mildly intriguing revisionist diversion from the Gospels. Pullman is not expecting to be taken seriously, but he is seriously positing that people think about how stories are created and evolve over time. The book definitely has an agenda, including some pointed criticisms of belief in the miraculous and in the role of the church, though Pullman's lack of subtlety makes it easier to process his point of view. I'm not sure I would recommend reading the book other than as an interesting distraction, but it has made me think about how we treat Jesus' story as a church. Too often we look at the doctrines that we have derived from Jesus' life without considering it as a story, and that attitude transfers to how we treat one another's stories, as only good for sermon illustrations, "how-tos", or cautionary tales. We often do not interact with stories as they are, and we feel like we have to have agenda coming into hearing someone's story. Consider how stories like Pullman's, or The Last Temptation of Christ, or The Da Vinci Code are received: with vitriol and venom and hatred, rather than with a spirit of openness and dialogue. (I find it interesting that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ also contained significant divergences from the story, but it has been widely accepted as evangelical canon. Just a thought.) True, Pullman's story is heretical, and its very premise undercuts a significant belief of the Christian faith, but what I find interesting is how reading it actually led me more toward the actual story than to his perversion. And I think story has the power to do that in a way that doctrine or dogma does not: it can communicate truth to our hearts, even if it is obscured by some untruths. And yes, I recognize how post-modern this all sounds, but I think it's true: when we focus on the story, we can relate more, and we can sort out some of those belief issues together. Pullman has attempted to create a piece for conversation here, and I sincerely hope that there are some people who can use this as a starter for dialogue. It is a story, not a theology, and the same goes for Jesus: he wants us to engage with his story, not his theology. And when we engage, we can dialogue safely in community. So rather than condemning Pullman for twisting the Gospel, we (as Christians) should use this opportunity to listen to his story and tell our stories. I believe, through that exchange, that Jesus' story will come through, and that the truth will set us free.

P.S. Here's a slightly amusingly smarmy response posted at Christianity Today. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Good news everyone!

When I was in Grade 11, I remember being stoked about Matt Groening's new show, Futurama. I, like almost every other teenage fan of The Simpsons, had no idea what it was about, but we were prepared for anything with Groening at the helm. The Simpsons was in its prime - just take a look at the episode lists for Seasons 6-9 and you'll see what I mean - and Futurama looked hilarious. And it was. In a few short years, it supplanted its predecessor in every way. I did not watch every episode when it came on (I did, after all, have some time when I did not indulge in the delights of television), but the antics of the Planet Express crew became one of my all-time favourites. Of the initial run of 72 episodes, not one was unfunny or poorly written; a few were even quite touching ("The Sting" and "Jurassic Bark" stick out the most for me). I've watched every episode at least twice, and I often was in the mood for watching a disc at a time. I was very excited when Comedy Central announced the development of the four DVD movies, and even more excited when they turned out well. But for me, the real test was when it came back as a half-hour comedy: would it keep the same kind of manic pace and hilarious premises as before, or would it lose a step like The Simpsons? Thankfully, the show is sharper, more outrageous, and even more bitingly satirical than it ever has been. Though the show pushed some boundaries in its initial run on Fox, the double whammy of 10 years of depravity and being on cable has given the writers even more leeway with what they can do. This "season", which was 12 episodes long with a 13th coming in November and another 13 in 2011, has featured some of the best satire that the show has offered, as well as many memorable stories. The finale celebrated the show's 100th episode (the four movies are considered the equivalent of 16 episodes) in style, and I hope it keeps on delivering the goods.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

First day of non-school

For the first time in twenty-four years, I did not go to the first day of school. The last time I was at home when September kicked off was when I was three years old, terrorizing my mom and reading everything in the house (yes, I was reading at three). It's a little surreal to not be at school after thirteen years in K-12, seven Septembers in university (including my internship), and three years of teaching. It didn't hit me too hard today, but that's probably because I'm still somewhat in summer vacation mode with a dash of job hunting; give it a week or two, and it will really start to feel strange. My life is still somewhat decided by the academic calendar, as many of the jobs for which I am searching are still in that sphere, so it's not a huge paradigm shift yet - just a little tweak. I'm applying for substitute teaching positions, but it looks like I may have an extended period of no school. I'm thinking of this time like a sabbatical, and it seems like I have enough to keep me busy over the next few months. I'm sure it will hit me occasionally, and that I'll have hard days when I really want to be back in school, but for now I'm appreciating the time away from the fluorescent lights, especially since it might be my only one for awhile.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Review: The Expendables

The action genre seemed to have fallen on hard times. In its heyday in from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, it was one of the guaranteed moneymakers, but in the last decade, it seemed that it might not resurface. Sure, there were some sci-fi kind of action movies, some spy-style action movies (a few Bonds, the Bourne trilogy, a couple of Mission: Impossibles), and a whole lot of comic book adaptations, but the purest form of action movie seemed to be gone. No longer did one man face impossible odds in a (possibly) real-life situation. There was always the need for something more than what had come before, like character backstory or actual dialogue. There have been a few attempts to keep the "pure" action genre going, but they have mostly been duds (see - or rather don't see - 2007's Live Free or Die Hard). Cue Sylvester Stallone.
Say what you want about Stallone's acting and his career, but perhaps more than any other figure in modern Hollywood, he has known what people want and how to give it to them. He has created - not just starred in - two movie franchises, and he has written, directed, and starred in movies for 35 years. Sure, he had a rough stretch in movies from 1997 to 2005, but that also happened to be a period in which he fathered three young girls and rediscovered his Catholic faith. And who knows what twitched in his brain around his 60th birthday, but his revivals of Rocky Balboa and Rambo certainly demonstrated that he was not done yet. Now, almost in his mid-60s, Stallone has engineered the rebirth of the action movie with The Expendables.
Let's face it: people who go to see this movie are aching for some old-school, straight-up testosterone-filled action, with a little bit of funny dialogue, repeated shots of at least one hot woman, and a classic rock soundtrack. Then there's that list of stars: Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Austin, Couture, Crews, Rourke, and even cameos from Willis and Schwarzenegger. So does it matter that the plot, characters, and even the names are paper-thin at best? Does it matter that the entire movie's course of action can be predicted before the opening credits roll? Does it matter that the dialogue is wooden, hamhanded, and cheesy? No (although a very touching monologue by Tool (Mickey Rourke) about a Bosnian woman halfway through the film breaks the monotony of poor acting and sets the tone for the finale of the movie). What matters is that Stallone and company go in, blow stuff up, and creatively kill as many people as possible. And that's what Stallone makes sure of, to an count of 250 (by my estimation). The film is excessively, unabashedly, and unflinchingly violent - at times disconcertingly so - and it certainly should fulfill anyone's quota for rock 'em sock 'em action movies. And Stallone, undoubtedly backed by his years of experience, finds a way to bring a visual poetry to the action, especially in the final half-hour.
What is perhaps the most interesting (and disappointing) part of the film is the complete lack of irony. The movie tries to be sincere, and it kind of succeeds, but it seemed as if some of the meta-self-awareness that peeks through occasionally might have been appropriate, if only to reward viewers. (There was one example in the film.) For example, couldn't they have had Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) commenting to Ross (Stallone) that "I will break you" or "if he dies, he dies"? Wouldn't that have just been awesome? Perhaps it is too much to ask, or perhaps action movies cannot be ironic; it's an idea to be explored in the future.
The Expendables did what I expected it would do: give me a distraction for just over an hour and a half of my life. Am I glad I saw it? Yeah. Would I watch it again. Probably not. It is what it is: an action flick that gets the testosterone pumping and gives some eye-candy (both of the explosive and female variety) to the viewer. In all, it might be one of the most aptly named movies I've seen in a long time: for me, it really was expendable. Am I glad that it's bringing action movies back? I'm not sure. But I do know that if they manage to bring in Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, or a larger role for Bruce Willis in the sequel that I'll at least be intrigued to see what happens.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The day the rap rock died

I often told my students when they vehemently defended their choice in music and movies that they would not listen to any of the same music in ten years anyway. What I did not realize at the time is how true that statement is in a way, even in my late 20s. It turns out that my tastes have changed considerably over the years, and that I own a lot of music that I never listen to. I have been feeling the need for a cull of my CDs for a few months, but I could not get around to it until now, so I have spent several hours over the past few days going through my music and getting rid of many albums (around 70 - about 3.5 GB or 1.5 days of listening on iTunes). I was somewhat surprised at the high total, since I had last gone through my music only two years ago when moving to Victoria, and I had departed with over 100 discs at the time. But when I considered it further, I realized that I should not have been surprised: many of the albums with which I am now parting were "on the bubble" two years ago, and I almost got rid of them then. I have some interesting observations about this group of albums - some similarities that intrigued me as I sorted through them. None of the albums are newer than 2004, and I have owned almost all of them for five years. This indicates two things: first, that my tastes started to change around 2005 (very true), and that these albums have had their shot to earn their keep, but just have not cut it. A vast majority of the albums were purchased secondhand - often as used demos - so many of them were actually bought on a trial basis initially. I began to realize how many of the albums I bought just to try them out, and how many of them never really caught on other than as an idea. There were some genres represented that I don't listen to anymore (oh, rap rock), and some that I used to like more but have been dialing back in recent years (hiphop). There were some artists that I really tried to appreciate, but just couldn't get into (Living Sacrifice). The cull did not amount to much in the end, but I feel a lot better now, like I can again not have to feel that annoyance when I boot up iTunes. Perhaps I can only handle so much music, and a necessary part of attempting to integrate new albums is getting rid of old ones. Perhaps I just need to go through my collection more carefully more often and keep it more tailored to my tastes. But as my CD purchasing has curtailed significantly in the past two years, maybe it will not be as much of an issue in the future; instead of buying the kind of albums that will inevitably end up in the rubbish heap, I'm only buying the albums I really like. All that is to say that if you're the kind of person who's still into rap rock c. 1999-2004, I may have some music for you.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Camp detox

This summer marks my eighth time in the past ten years of working at summer camp or camp-like experience. This year's time with Encounters was a little different from past summers - working with Chinese students on several sites with a cross-cultural component - but I think it still qualifies. We finished earlier than expected, as it turned out to be unnecessary (and even inconvenient) for us to travel to LA with the group, so we have had a previously unexpected downtime in the Bay Area. We have spent some time in Berkeley, and a day in San Francisco, but most of our time since finishing the camp has been spent simply resting and preparing to re-enter life. This has included a larger-than-usual dose of sleep and internet use, both of which have been intended to correct a deficiency over the past month. We have been very privileged to stay with a great family in Walnut Creek, and we have been able to kick back, relax, and connect with some people in our spare time. There's nothing quite like being able to just exist for a few days, and to have access to laundry and internet; it has been almost four days, but I feel like the "camp detox" is almost complete. Camp takes such intense focus that I find it usually takes at least a day or two to get back into a groove; because this experience was so intense (though shorter than most summers at camp), it has taken a few more to get back to "regular" mode. Of course, we still don't know what that looks like for us when we return, and our return is still a week away because of a conference next week, so we'll probably have to "detox" again when we get back home. Sigh.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The art of location

I just finished reading Dave Eggers' mostly-non-fictional autobiographical account A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG). I have been meaning to read it for a few years, but I only found a paperback copy a month ago in a thrift store and decided to purchase it. I thoroughly enjoyed Eggers' almost obsessive self-referential meta-narrative, and I appreciated the ways in which he framed his stories. Because of his deconstructionist, often non-linear style, a story that may have otherwise seemed un-significant became much more meaningful, and its success helped launch the career of one of the more interesting authors writing in America today. But what I found serendipitously interesting was the fact that I read this book, most of which chronicles how he, his older sister, and his younger brother moved to the Bay Area after their parents' deaths, as I have been staying in the area. I did not realize this beforehand (though I recognize that it would be like me to try to manufacture such a meta-reading experience), but I realized that I was better able to connect with the events of the book because I knew a bit more about the area about which he was writing. I know that it should seem obvious - of course location affects the writer - but I do not know that I had realized it so clearly as now. It is interesting how much, in some ways, location can affect the narrative, and how much richer the experience becomes when one understands the creator's home. Donald Miller has made me want to spend time in Portland; similarly, U2's work is a primary reason I'd like to visit Ireland. There is a certain kinship that the reader is able to develop with the author when that barrier of physical location is breached, and a new level of understanding can be gained. It's not necessarily true that meaning is lost without the familiarity with the author's location (although it can be), but, like understanding increasingly complex layers of metaphor and allegory, more can be taken from (and consequently put into) the story. In the same way, I find it more and more interesting how location affects musical artists, and how that emerges in music. I know this realization is not earth-shattering - on the contrary, it's arguably one of the most obvious realizations I've had and thus not even worthy of being called a "realization" - but it just made me think a little more. And, of course, it has given me a new list of locations to explore in order to fully appreciate some artists' works. Middle-earth, or True Narnia, perhaps?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Saskatchewan's literary tradition

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Saskatchewan is a very unique place to have grown up as a writer. Trevor Herriot's recent reflection in the National Post captures the essence of why the literary community in Saskatchewan is so strong. As I have spent more time away from the prairies, I have really begun to realize what makes it special for cultivating writers, and I almost always enjoy re-experiencing "home" through the words of others. I think there may be something to add to his thoughts with the evolution of the online community, and I for one am glad to be part of a rich literary heritage.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review: Inception

Christopher Nolan had one of the most interesting last decades of any filmmaker: Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight. He has positioned himself as the heir apparent for cerebral filmmaking in the sci-fi/psychological/thriller genres, in the tradition of Hitchcock, Kubrick, and early Ridley Scott. He is almost fanatically driven in his attention to detail in his films, as evidenced by his eschewing a second unit director, preferring instead to capture the scenes himself. He has had critical acclaim, as well as one of the biggest money-making movies of all time. This has all led to one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and one of the only original summer blockbusters, Inception, which has had one of the highest level of expectations of any new movie this year. And it delivers.
The concept is well known by now: a team of high-functioning thieves attempt to steal secrets from the brain of one of the world's most significant energy moguls. Nolan faces the difficult task of not only establishing this alternate reality, but ensuring its integrity throughout and explaining it to the viewer. He has to create new jargon and have it catch on, in addition to maintaining the expectation of a heist movie. He does it incredibly well, and that is largely why the film succeeds. The film continues in the tradition of classic SF films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Matrix in addressing the question of what is real and how we know it's real, of perception and illusion, and of imagination and creation. It is a journey through the mind and psyche, and Nolan deftly guides the viewer through an ever-deepening world of complexity. He helps direct his actors, as always, to exact performances. DiCaprio, Cotillard, Gordon-Levitt, Murphy, and Page each perform their roles with intelligence and elegance, and it is clear that Nolan has given them very clear missives as to how to bring their characters across.
At the core of Inception is an idea that festers like a virus. It is planted, like a seed, in the viewer's brain, and it continues to grow throughout the film. Nolan is the master gardener of his idea, tending carefully to all of its ramifications, and he brings it to a near-perfect fruition with the conclusion. It is a film not only worth watching, but re-watching, and appreciating for every little detail. Including that last scene.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Freeways and dollar bills

I have now been in the US for over a week - my longest stay south of the border - and I have been collecting some random observations I have made in that time. There's nothing particularly poignant here - just a list of curiosities and oddities that have struck me, in no particular order.

1. The infrastructure of US cities is amazing. The freeway system, especially in the Bay Area where I have spent most of my time, is at times unbelievable. The criscrossing of concrete pillars and clover leaf exits and interstates is at times spectacular, although it is simultaneously a symbol of the madness of American capitalism. I have also surprisingly enjoyed my time driving on freeways here, despite the amount of driving I have had to do; maybe it's because I never get to drive on freeways at home, but it's still fun.

2. U-turns are legal here in some places, but not all. I almost got a very expensive ticket yesterday, but I think my (legitimate) defense of "I'm from Canada" helped me out. Note to self: if the U-turn will impede traffic, it's illegal.

3. Gas is very very cheap, and so is liquor (which is also available everywhere!), which may explain why there are so many drunk driving-related deaths in the US. It also indicates that the government typically adds 25% to the price of the goods in Canada.

4. I have occasionally been surprised by the foods both available and not available here. I did not know that tiger tiger ice cream was Canadian. And I'm disappointed that I have been here over a week and have still not had a pint of Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream! Other great discoveries include that both Cherry and Vanilla Coke are going strong here, and that In-N-Out burgers are really good.

5. I don't like American money. I don't like the way it looks, the way it feels, or the one dollar bill. I far prefer Canadian money and our one- and two- dollar coins. Maybe it's because I'm used to Canadian money, but I'm just not a fan of the currency here.

I still feel like I haven't experienced much in the past week because of the amount of work I've had to do. I estimate that I spent between 70 and 75 hours on work from Monday to Friday (for those keeping track at home, that's approximately 75% of all hours in that time period, including sleeping). Much of that time has been spent driving and riding the rapid transit, but a significant portion has also been spent figuring out logistics and hosting the Chinese teachers. I am looking forward to a more relaxed week ahead (I hope), and eventually really getting into the heart of San Francisco. It's a fun place, but I'm really looking forward to spending a few days getting past the tourist highlights and into the city.

Wires crossed

For the last week, I have been teaching students and teachers from China in a total immersion program in San Francisco. It has been fascinating to learn a lot more about Chinese culture and language, but it has also been exhausting. I have had the opportunity to talk closely with several of the teachers, and it has been very interesting for me to try to understand and overcome the linguistic barrier between us. Today, I taught them the phrase "wires crossed" to signify a miscommunication. But this week really - even more so than last summer in Taiwan - has made me consider how ambiguous, irrelevant, useless, and undecipherable much of the English language is. So much of what we speak is pointless - meaningless metaphors, cliches, and figures of speech - that it is difficult to sort out what is really the core of what should be said. I have been learning to simplify my sentence constructions, especially the verbs I use - "go" is very useful in many situations. It almost feels like Orwellian doublespeak to continually reduce my linguistic output because so much of the richness of English is lost in simplistic communication, but I also think that I am continually refining my speech through these exercises. Of course [how's that for a phrase that is almost devoid of at least its initial meaning?], I also occasionally turn to French when Chinese is spoken around me, because I think my brain goes automatically to the next language in its repertoire when it hears something unfamiliar. And that makes me think of how little communication I would make in a French speaking environment; I would be confined to very simple phrases and constructions, much like these Chinese teachers are in English. So I will keep to think about how to speak more clear, and how to make understanding to people from speak different language.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thoughts on "The Decision"

It's almost three days after LeBron James announced his decision to join his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and there are still commentators all a-Twitter about it. It is being condemned almost universally as one of the most disloyal, backstabbing, selfish, egotistical, narcissistic moves in sports, and the vitriol coming not only from Cavaliers fans but also their owner (read his letter to fans) is unsurprising, if not overwrought. Yes, Cleveland has had a tortured history of sports, and yes, those memories should even be wired into LeBron's Ohio-bred DNA, but why should he be doomed to repeat them? There is some sense of loyalty that is expected of him to keep losing? The Cavs have had at least three years to build a team around the beginning of his prime, and they could not. The time to drastically change was this year, and the best they did was a very washed-up Shaq. The team, even if they wanted to win, didn't, and I cannot blame LeBron for leaving. He doesn't need to be their saviour, and he's a 25-year-old male who had a choice: hang out with two of his best friends in Miami or spend all winter in an ice-cold town knowing that he wouldn't be able to live up to the Messianic complex assigned to him by his fans. (By the way, it's fascinating how Wade and Bosh fare in this transaction: Wade is seen as loyal after his seven years with Miami, and Bosh left a bad situation in Toronto, a cold-weather small-time NBA market in which he could not possibly bring a championship without serious help, which likely caused him to decide to leave months ago. It's almost exactly the same as LeBron, but Bosh is mostly forgiven and excused; is that because the agony of TO fans is focused on the Leafs? Hard to tell.) How many people pick loyalty to Cleveland out of that mess? It still seems as if Miami may end up being the poor choice - after all, now he is second banana in his prime, and all possibility of his being considered as the best all-time is gone - and it wasn't even one of Bill Simmons' options in his column on LeBron's choice in mid-June. He will win at least one championship, but it probably won't be in 2011; it will likely take a year or two for the trio to gel fully, and there are still two big competitors in the East (Boston, Orlando) for Miami to overtake. But what is really interesting is how this has gone from a sports decision to a life-changing event and a PR killer. He has undergone the second-most rapid negative transformation of a celebrity athlete (Tiger set the standard for that one), and his defection will likely be cited as the cause of suicides in the Cleveland area (I'm unfortunately not joking about that - I think it legitimately might). Is that fair to LeBron? Of course not. He's a celebrity, an athlete, a young male - he owes no loyalty to a franchise and fanbase that might not currently exist were it not for his presence there. He did owe them more than what he gave them: a nationally-aired special that featured the backstabbing after months of Cav fans trying vainly to convince themselves that he had not made up his mind months ago and a summer (or lifetime) of wondering what could have been. But, Cav fans, never fear - the Cavs may make the historic drop from best in the league to worst - a legitimate possibility, even in the weak Eastern Conference - and, in so doing, be able to draft the next LeBron James. Because if one thing has been proven in all of this, LeBron is not one of a kind - he's just like any other athlete who only kind of cares about winning. And I do hope that ESPN films the new series "Nine Men Out": a look at the no-names who make up the rest of Miami's roster.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Review: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Mario is one of the most recognizable figures on earth. Despite his beginnings as a lowly plumber and some ill-advised forays into Saturday morning television and the silver screen, he has persevered and bears what is perhaps the most famous mustache other than Hitler. He has made his way through around seven dozen games for every Nintendo system, and his adventures are singlehandedly responsible for lost weeks of my childhood. But despite his near-ubiquity, if you put aside the puzzlers and games and just consider the platformers (as I did for this postwhen I first played the first Super Mario Galaxy), it is easy to just how versatile Mario has been. Almost each game has revolutionized not only the Mario series, but the system for which it was released, and almost each one has become the benchmark for games to follow. So in attempting to recreate the genius of Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo was setting a high task for itself in using the same game engine for the same system for a Mario platform sequel - a first in almost three decades. But not surprisingly, they came through with flying colours, and somehow managed to improve on a game that was perfect. I should note that I played only about a quarter of the game, but it was certainly enough to get a strong sense of its features.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 does not attempt to pick up storywise from its predecessor - perhaps the most welcome change of all - but it does not dispense with story completely. Mario has to use a starship shaped like him to travel through the universe and collect stars from different galaxies. The basic gameplay and controls are much the same, making the learning curve almost non-existent for fans of Galaxy; of course, like Galaxy, these controls are almost flawless (there are very occasional issues with camera angles, but that's about it.) The first edition was so expansive and featured so many new powers and abilities that most of them seemed to get short attention, but they're almost all back this time (Bee, Boo, Fire, Spring, but not Ice Mario) to get a second try, along with a few new additions: Cloud Mario (Mario can create and walk on clouds), Rock Mario (Mario rolls around demolishing anything in his path), and the Spin Drill (Mario can drill through to the other side of a planet). But, of course, the biggest game-changer is Yoshi, the beloved green dinosaur. Not only does he revolutionize much of the game by himself, but he can gain different powers (superspeed, floating like a blimp, glowing and lighting hidden platforms) by eating different fruit. With the existing powers and the new powers, Mario has roughly a dozen different abilities to use. It's on the verge of too many, but they are balanced well, and they seem to stay fresh throughout the game. It helps that the game designers have crafted new galaxies that are fun and expansive and still draw the player in with rich environments and stunning graphics. There have also been improvements in the 2P Co-op mode (it's much better for the companion player now), the comets (now you collect medals in each level to activate them) and the role of coins in the game. Perhaps the only complaint I could register - if it could be called a complaint - is that some of the galaxies seem too short; of course, this means that there are more galaxies to play, which is not a bad feature. In short, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is another perfect game, and has set the standard high again. Furthermore, it is rich enough to allow for a third entry into the series, if the developers so choose to accommodate us. Maybe the next game can feature multiple playable characters, like Peach or even Bowser. But I'm sure I'll be playing this one, trying to get those final stars, until the next one is released. Well done, Nintendo.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Big HeiST

The gouging is on, and the people are pissed off. The HST - Harmonized Sales Tax - became effective July 1, which means that the PST has been eliminated and that many products which were previously only charged GST (currently 5%) are now charged HST (12%). It has been debated since its announcement last summer, and there has been a public movement that has culminated in the first successful Citizen Initiatives Petition to the Legislative Assembly by former premier Bill Vander Zalm, as well as a constitutional challenge from his organization and a corresponding spike for the opposition NDP and a drop in the polls for the Liberals. It has been argued (I think appropriately) that the Liberals misled the public about the possibility of instituting the HST when they were running for re-election last May, and that they scuttled the announcement until summer so that it would make less of an impact. It is interesting to note that the government conveniently made changes to organizations like Tourism BC shortly after they publicly spoke out against the HST, and that even cabinet ministers within the party have resigned (Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom) in opposition to the tax. In short, it has not been popular, and it's not done yet - between the constitutional challenge and the petition, the tax may yet be repealed before the end of the year. It has been interesting to watch the dynamic as politicians, economists, business people, and consumers have all engaged in the debate, and the styles of rhetoric each have used. The government has focused on the fact that, according to their stats, over 11,000 jobs will be created in the province by the HST in the next decade; of course, they neglect to mention that they likely could have pursued initiatives to create that many jobs without putting the onus on the consumer. Economists assert that consumers only bear the brunt of the cost for the first year or two, and that prices fall afterward; however, I am skeptical that prices will drop across the board by 7% - is the price of eating out or a movie really going to go down that much? (The answer is no.) This is partially an economic debate, partially political (which has been very poorly managed by the government), but also an ideological debate: who should bear the cost of running the province? Pure capitalism agrees with the HST, but we do not have a purely capitalist system; we have a hybrid system in which the government is supposed to be responsible for the good of the people, including the consumer. A value-added tax like this, it seems to me, passes the buck from the government to the consumer, and that's not a good thing. The heist is on, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reliving Grad 2000

Today was the school's graduation, and it also marked a milestone for me: my graduation from high school was a decade ago. I remember so much about that day so clearly. I remember driving without my glasses for the only time ever because they had to be fixed. I remember arriving early and playing my trombone for the last time in band. I remember almost dropping a trophy because I had too many to hold. I remember the almost embarassment of repeatedly being called on stage, and the excitement of knowing that I won the major school life award by the lead-up to it. I remember my suit, and my date (who was stunning in a backless royal blue gown), and taking pictures, and all kinds of little details about the seating arrangement. I remember the sense of accomplishment and anticipation, and I remember calling one of my teachers by his first name. (Dude wore chino shorts and sandals to a grad. Wish I could have done that today.) Sometimes I have thought that the whole pomp and circumstance is kind of pointless, and then I remember how vivid that day is for me. It is a significant day, and it is important to help make it memorable. I did my part today, with a couple of toasts and well-timed roasts (for which I was amply and fittingly complimented, since one of the trophies I won ten years ago was the public speaking award), and I am genuinely proud to have taught these students. As they have pointed out, I'm in much the same situation as they are: not sure what's coming next and going along on the journey until I figure it out. It's been a fun ten years, and I'm definitely not at all where I thought I would be, but I'm happy with where I am and where I'm heading. Oh, the places you'll go, indeed.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Toy Story 3

One of my family's Christmas holiday traditions was to go to a movie over the holidays, often on the afternoon of Christmas Eve after a hard morning of last-minute shopping. Some faded into memory - Zathura - while others have become some of my favourites, even if only in nostalgia - Space Jam, Muppet Christmas Carol, The Incredibles. But the one that I remember experiencing the most clearly was in 1995: Toy Story. Here was an audacious movie in a new format directly following the hit string of Classic Disney films Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King which became one of the most influential movies of a generation. The film essentially kickstarted the computer animation industry; it gave Pixar the traction to create several of the most memorable films of the last fifteen years (by my estimation, six or seven of ten in the top thirty in that time period - a mighty accomplishment); it energized the retro toy craze just in time for E-bay; and it contributed two unforgettable characters - Woody and Buzz Lightyear - to the collective pop culture vernacular. Toy Story 2, the 1999 sequel, was incredibly even more popular than its predecessor, and was actually a better movie. It validated computer animated movies, which had had a rough few years (remember Antz?), and it changed the way that studios thought about animated sequels, since it had originally been cast as a direct-to-video film. So, with these two films in its rear view mirror, Toy Story 3 was released after eleven years of waiting. It had a lot to live up to, but it is arguably the best film in the series, and a great conclusion to what could be considered one of the best movie trilogies ever, animated or not.
Toy Story 3, after an unexpected and entertaining onset, continues to its primary plot: Andy's toys are existentially concerned about their present and future, and all the more so since he is finally going to college. (A side note: this plot line makes the film instantly relatable to people who have grown up with it, since the timeline roughly corresponds to real life. But I digress.) The toys, as before, are taken out of their element, have to stick together and undergo several close calls as they try to get past their obstacles and get back to Andy. The basic plot has not changed since the first film, but somehow the filmmakers keep it fresh and original. This time, the challenge is surviving Sunnyside Day Care, a facility with an attractive appearance but a seemingly sinister underbelly. One way things stay fresh is with new characters, to go along with the old gang. Lotso Huggin' Bear and Ken are the best of the newcomers, and it is still amazing to me how there manages to be so much character development in an animated film. The film keeps the same tongue-in-cheek tone as its predecessors, as it features many sly nods to other movies, as well as jokes intended for the older audience along with its madcap cartoon antics. It is, in short, the culmination of the franchise, with everything that has been featured this far and more.
There are few films that can be considered "family" entertainment that can be enjoyed by all members of a family. The humor is either too sophmoric or too elementary or too obscure or too unfunny for someone. I think what makes Toy Story 3 (and the franchise and most Pixar movies) work so well is that it navigates that tension better than almost any other movie. It takes itself seriously enough to have some thematic significance along the way, but it is light enough to allow for slapstick laughs. It is innocent without being naive, sophisticated without being mature, and transcendent without being preachy. Perhaps the only negative part of the movie is knowing that this is the last major film for the crew (though Pixar has promised future short films featuring the characters), and that the journey is over. The good part is that it can be relived over and over again, which I intend to do with my kids someday. After all, good toys never die; they just get put away until someone is ready to play with them again.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Longest Day

We had a great conversation tonight with a friend who we had not seen in almost a year. She just got back from Africa less than a week ago, and we obviously had some catching up to do. That's when it hit me: a lot has happened to us in the past year - big stuff, life-changing stuff. Since the end of the last school year, here's the outline of what's happened... We went to Taiwan for six weeks, after which we returned and hosted visiting with family and friends, and Ariann got passed over for a teaching job. I stepped onto our church leadership team and became Treasurer. We endured a rocky start to the school year, and things slowly got more uncertain until we received a 10% pay cut the week before Christmas holidays. We spent the rest of December processing that change and looking for international jobs, only to be rebuffed continually. The school went through more transition in January that made our lives difficult, and just as we started to come out of that, we found out that my cousin killed his father. We were blessed in March to be able to go back to SK and then to have Ari's mom visiting, and we were working through whether to stay or go. We felt called to stay, and then got letters in early April informing us that we would both be laid off. Meanwhile, our church decided to go without a budget and was still in the process of switching banks. In early May, the news about my layoff became public, and we had to deal with it. It then seemed that everything was lining up perfectly for me to take a job in Regina, which I did not get. And now, here we are, tired and exhausted, with no jobs or prospects for jobs. We are going to volun-work in San Francisco for the summer, so we have an immediate future, but neither of us have anything beyond that. It is to the point that it is almost exhausting just telling the story to our friends. This helped me realize why we have not called some people; it just feels like too much to tell and to catch up on. But what I also realized in our conversation tonight is how much God has worked in our lives in the past year, and how much of our testimony is of God's faithfulness despite all of the junk. And further recognizing that today was the longest day of the year made me think that perhaps things will begin to trail off for us now, much like the hours in the day trail off from now until December. We're certainly not done our story, but it is possibly through the climax and into the denouement. I suppose I have written this post partly to share our status, partly as a personal record, and partly as an apology and a way to catch up. We're here in Victoria for now, with a great church and community and no jobs as of mid-August, and we're actually starting to be excited for it. I think the longest day may be behind us, and that's truly invigorating.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stanley Cup reflections

I have been kind of quiet about the Stanley Cup playoffs since my picks went sideways after Round 2, but I figured I should break the silence and comment on the playoffs now that they're finished. Here are some of my thoughts:

- I'm not surprised that the Blackhawks won the Cup, but I am surprised at how quickly they did. I figured them to be a year or two away from winning it all. As long as they can keep their core together, they figure to be the favourite from the West for many years.

- Chicago's win (and Philly's run) again demonstrate that a rebuilding process can (and should) happen in two or three years. Other recent examples include Pittsburgh, Detroit (who never faltered, but still had to almost completely revamp their team after 2002), and Carolina.

- It doesn't seem like coincidence that this year's Finalists were last year's losing Conference Finalists. They got their reps in, so we really should not have been surprised to see those two teams in the Finals.

- Judging from recent successes, the template seems to be set for creating winners: two young emerging superstar forwards with great chemistry; an experienced forward or two who contribute timely goals; two workhorse defencemen; and timely goaltending. Just think about the post-lockout winners (and almost-winners), and some of the teams who are set up for perennial success largely due to their leading duos: Chicago (Toews and Kane); Philly (Richards and Carter); L.A. (Brown and Kopitar); Pittsburgh (Crosby and Malkin); Detroit (Datsyuk and Zetterberg); Vancouver (Sedins).

- The Leafs are still in big trouble for this season. They're doing well on the rear end, but after Kessel there is no one up front. Here's hoping for picking up a centre like Marleau to help him out, and that the team can get a strong draft choice or two next year.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Glee: Season One Review

Spoiler Alert! The intitial reactions are in, and the zeitgeist is palpable after the season finale of Glee last night. Entertainment Weekly, that great bastion of pop culture overreaction, has posted several different takes on the season finale and the season in general: an instant reaction; thoughts on what the show can improve next year; questions about how the baby issue was resolved; and a
a retrospective of the best 10 performances of the year.
After viewing the episode, I am left with mixed feelings. I think it was, perhaps, their best episode in the last half of the season, and certainly since the Madonna episode - arguably the distinctive point at which the show both gained and lost its way. The performances were inspired, simmering plot lines were wrapped up (however unsatisfactorily), and there was an epic Sue Sylvester tirade or two along the way. It seemed as if the show abdicated the need for moralizing and just got back to having fun for an hour. Here are some of my thoughts after the finale (and season 1).

1. Vocal Adrenaline: While setting up a rival for New Directions was welcome and needed, it didn't seem necessary to make them so unattainably unmatchable. Also, what's up with that 40-year-old woman in the group?

2. Rachel's mom: The whole storyline with Rachel meeting her mom was intriguing, but I think ultimately superfluous to the main thrust of the season. It could have waited, except that they needed to introduce it so that they could resolve...

3. The baby: After the writers (unwisely?) decided to write Terri out of the show, they needed an out for Quinn's baby, and Shelby Corcoran was the only real option. It made sense, even if it wasn't satisfying, but it still seemed forced and a bit of hamfisted writing.

4. The moralizing: Whereas the first half of the season (mostly) made its points subtly and deftly, the latter half began to show the problems of moral grandstanding. We need a lesson on disabilities! We need a take on teen sexuality! Here's the baby issue again! It was a little too much, and it does a disservice to the show to feature it so heavily.

5. The supporting characters: While I understand that a cast with as many principal members as this wll struggle in featuring everyone, it seemed that the second half lost its way in bringing out the background characters. Artie and Tina got somewhat superficial screentime, Emma was all but gone, and many of the richer back-sceners were nearly entirely eliminated. It was nice to see Santana being featured more, but there weren't enough funny background moments.

6. The plot: I'm not sure if there was too much plot for 9 episodes, or if they tried to cram too much music into those episodes, but something didn't work. Although the finale did tie up some loose ends - if only superficially - I hope that they either scale back on what's happening or, at the very least, feature certain storylines that run over several episodes. On a show that has an audience like this, a lot of nuance can be featured, and I hope the writers learn that soon (especially regarding Kurt's character). Friday Night Lights is the perfect example of how this works, and I hope Glee learns the lesson before they go the way of Heroes.

7. The music: The Madonna episode mostly worked, and episodes in which an idea (eg. home, dream) was featured were okay, but the music needs to be more organic rather than forced; the theme episodes don't entirely work. I think there can be some more balance between the theatrical-type numbers and the scaled-back numbers; they just need to take that back a notch too. For example, the episode "Theatricality" featured five numbers: two big numbers and three scaled-back ones; it was just too much for one episode. Of course, the music is what is propelling the show forward and selling albums, so I suspect that there will continue to be a lot of music in Season 2.

Overall, I enjoyed most of the season. Despite the issues of pacing and forcing plot and music in the second half, there were enough highlights to keep the show interesting. I am interested to see what happens with the show now that it has been renewed not only for a second, but also a third, season; perhaps Ryan Murphy can now back off from fighting for popularity and focus on creating a show with the nuance and flippant buoyancy with which it began. And that's what happened on...Glee!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Off the Record with U2

U2 is arguably the most influential rock artist of the past three decades (challengers to that title: Madonna, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, and Nirvana, with maybe a couple of hip-hop artists on the outside); after all, they've even been "Glee-ified" (a not unsuccessful version of "One" that got better with repeated listens). But even as much as an artist's influence can be measured by the musicians who come after them and cite them as meaningful, it is more eye-opening to understand how the artists see themselves and their influences in the chronology of rock. In the past month, I have watched two interesting pieces that have discussed these ideas of influences and legacy. One was an episode of HBO's "Off the Record" in which Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics fame) interviewed Bono and Edge for an hour, discussing their music and taking questions from the audience. The most fascinating segment was when Stewart spent ten minutes pulling out albums to ellicit short thoughts from the two. The artists included were Patti Smith, the Ramones, Bowie, Dylan...the list went on and on, and it was fascinating to hear Bono and the Edge reminiscing about these albums that shaped them in their teen years. The other interesting investigation into the past came in Davis Guggenheim's 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud, which sought to look at a recent history of the electric guitar through the eyes of three of its practitioners who have different styles and generations: Jimmy Page, the Edge, and Jack White. It was very interesting to see the three guitarists not only telling their stories, but also interacting with one another and trying one another's riffs. The mutual respect among the trio was palpable, and the glee with which they experienced one another's songs was infectious. For any fan of their bands, or even of rock music in general, Loud is a must-see.

And here's a surprisingly enjoyable acoustic cover of "With or Without You" by We Are The Fallen (better known as those guys who used to be in Evanescence with that Irish chick from American Idol), which includes a short interview that discusses how they have been influenced by U2.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Turner TV update

NOTE: possible spoiler alerts!

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains ended over a week ago, but the bad taste lingers in my consciousness. Russell should not have won, but Parvati should have won instead of Sandra. It was an intense season - perhaps too intense - and I hope that most of the players are now "retired" from Survivor. I'm looking forward to next season in Nicaragua, and I am still holding out hope for a "second chance" season in which they bring back players who did not make the jury on their season.

John Doyle's thoughts on Glee sum up what I've been thinking: the magic might be gone. The episodes since the show's return have showcased much of the worst about the show, and much of the quirkiness that made the first thirteen episodes endearing has vanished. The past few episodes have featured too many awkward guest stars, too little character development, and and too much "fandering" (pandering to fans). I hope that Fox's recent announcement of a third season pickup means that Ryan Murphy can relax and focus on the show as a whole, rather than the ratings and spectacle of each episode.

Community ended fantastically in its final few episodes, in which the show paid homage to Goodfellas, Good Will Hunting, Animal House, and pretty much every action movie ever made in the best episode of the season, "Modern Warfare", which also included some timely mockery of Glee ("get some original songs!"). I hope that the show can gain momentum in Season 2, but it may be its last against new schedule rival The Big Bang Theory.

30 Rock has been as sharp as it ever has been, but I tuned out of The Office after Jim and Pam's wedding. I'll probably catch up on the season sometime, but it's starting to get old.

Chuck's season finale was amazing! I was very glad to see that they wrapped up the big storyline (The Ring and Shaw), that Jeffster was back for an epic action sequence, and that the show continues to reveal more of the back story behind the Bartowskis. It is still one of the smartest, most fun shows on TV, and I'm excited to see where it will go next season. The last six episodes did feel a bit rushed, but I think might be due to the fact that nine episodes' worth of material (the usual back order for a show) was crammed into six after the show got a further order due to the Leno debacle. Despite that small issue, this just might be my favourite show on TV right now.

Shows I'd like to catch up on: Friday Night Lights Season 4, Treme

Shows I'm excited to see in the fall: $#*! My Dad Says, starring William Shatner; No Ordinary Family, a superhero drama starring Michael Chiklis; Running Wilde, with Will Arnett back in a Fox comedy.

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