Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monster Mash

I’ve seen 3 monster movies in the last week. In case you were wondering, that certainly is above average. It’s actually quite surprising that I was able to see that many in the theater in a week; maybe they’re making a comeback. In any case, in order of quality they were:

Cloverfield: great. I feel that pretty much all criticisms against this movie are unfounded. That’s not to say that it’s a superb bit of film that will change your life, but it knows what it’s doing and does it well. Criticism 1: the camera shakes. Deal with it. Your eyes shake all day long also and your brain compensates. Just crank that up and you hardly notice after a few minutes. Criticism 2: nothing is explained. I repeat, deal with it. If you can watch pretentious art-house films you should be able to handle not completely understanding a movie. Criticism 3: the characters are interchangeable and poorly fleshed out. Guess what? The characters are real people. Lots of characters in film are caricatures. In reality you’ve got a bunch of friends that are sometimes a bit dull and they tend to act in a similarly. Criticism 4: it’s too short. I disagree. If it were longer it would get redundant and diluted. Cloverfield is a great monster movie. It’s a fun experimental movie. In exchange for a slight suspension of disbelief you get a great ride.

Beowulf: good. This movie wasn’t nearly as good, but had some very interesting elements going for it. Obviously it looked great. It didn’t look like real life. It looked like watching an awesome video game for 2 hours. For me that’s entertaining. It actually had some pretty interesting thematic elements. Part of this is due to the original story, part to Neil Gaiman’s script. And perhaps most importantly it had Angelina Jolie naked. Sure it was a CG Jolie, but they obviously put more money into her model than anyone elses. And I’m not complaining.

AVPR: mediocre. In case you missed it, Alien Versus Predator: Requiem came out on Christmas. Perfect holiday fun. Like Beowulf, it was worth a dollar to see it. I’ve seen every Alien movie and every Predator movie, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to stop now. They’re removed the skilled directors (James Cameron, Ridley Scott, David Fincher), taken out the big name actors (Arnold, Glover, Sigourney) and replaced them both with tons aliens attacking each other. It was much better than AVP, but still not good. They did manage to surprise me as to who gets killed off and who doesn’t, which is a bit of an accomplishment for a monster movie. It was worth my dollar, but I’ll never see it again. I flipped for watching this or Atonement this afternoon, and heads won.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Adventures Gone Awry

I’m someone who seeks after new experiences. My laziness typically prevents me from doing things that are too terribly exotic, but I make do with my small adventures.

Earlier this week I learned that Drew was giving a lecture here at OSU. None of you know who Drew is, but he is the creator of Toothpaste for Dinner (found easily enough at www.toothpastefordinner.com) which read moderately often and enjoy. I decided to go based on 3 things:
1. I bought some t-shirts from Drew a while back, and in our emails he seemed like a stand-up guy.
2. Drew has made a career out of being amusing, not hilarious or even funny, which seems like an admirable goal.
3. I’ve never gone to a lecture completely outside of my field, let alone one by a cartoonist, let alone one by a moderately deranged cartoonist.

Turns out, the lecture wasn’t amazing. Drew was amusing in person, but rarely broke into funny. Every other audience member knew far more about him than I did, thus many of the questions they asked made little sense to me. His business model doesn’t seem likely to work for me. And while I found his lack of public speaking skills amusing in and of themselves, this significantly slowed the process of his presentation. My little adventure, while not a disaster, didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped.

Tonight after going to the temple I decided to once again have another subdued adventure. We were trying to decide where to go for dinner (you get relatively little flirting done in the temple itself, thus the dinner trip afterwards is requisite) and I suggested Clovers, home of the butterburger. My reasoning being that something that sounded so gross must actually be good, or the restaurant would have been closed down by now. Since no one had any better ideas, and I am in fact a convincing and charismatic fellow, we agreed to try out Clovers.

Since this qualifies as another misadventure, things obviously didn’t go terribly well. Evidently a butterburger has a toasted, buttered bun. Not very exciting. The end result is a burger slightly greasier than a greasy burger. While I’ve had countless burgers of lower quality, I’ve had a slightly higher countless number of better ones. I wouldn’t qualify this as an adventure gone awry except I did drag 9 people with me to have the butterburger experience, and the disappointment mounts with each additional visitor.

But I remain undeterred; every adventure can't be successful. Tomorrow I’ll investigate the restaurant known both as the best and worst Mexican food in Columbus. I’ll attempt to navigate a bookstore which has more than 30 rooms. And perhaps most daring of all, I’m going to attempt to make it from my house to the gym using nothing but underground tunnels. What can I say, I’m an adventurer.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In the year 2000 (In the Year 2000!) there was a website by the name of Am I Hot or Not. It probably existed before then, and probably still exists, but in the year 2000 it came into my life. As a freshman I was inventing all kinds of new ways to waste my time, and this website fit the bill. After all, Youtube and Facebook didn’t yet exist. It’s hard to imagine such a world.

A friend introduced me to the site and we decided to put our pictures up for the masses to judge. He is a significantly more attractive individual than I (as evidenced by his successful marriage and a nickname involving the word Hot) and accordingly consistently was rated higher than I was. But I managed to break into the top 50th percentile, and being hotter than average was sufficient for me. But it got me to thinking: is it healthy to know exactly how attractive you are? Sure, you have some idea, but how beneficial is it to have an actual score?

Certainly, Am I Hot or Not is not the model of scientific precision. What the masses believe isn’t necessarily correct. Wikipedia (which didn’t exist yet) and Stephen Colbert hadn’t introduced the Truthiness principle yet. But even if the masses were correct, the masses who happened to vote on AIHoN weren’t necessarily representative. And even if they were, many people, myself included, didn’t always give the people the exact score I felt they deserved. But let’s ignore those factors and return to the original query: is it healthy to know, to the decimal point, how attractive you are?

Cut to last month. Last semester I worked as a control in an autism study. At the end of the study they needed me to come back in and get an IQ test. I’m not clear exactly why, but I was relatively willing to get paid to find out my IQ. I reasoned that if it was high I’d be happy, because I frequently tell people how smart I am and it would like to have some evidence behind my claims. If my score was low, it would show how much grit and determination I must have to have gotten into med school and become the ½ doctor that I am. My score would either prove me intelligent or hard working. It was a win-win situation. Plus I’d get 25 dollars, or as I think of it, a fortnight of Wendy’s lunches.

I received my score shortly before Christmas vacation, and was surprised by the results. As I read the form I realized the error of my ways. It really wasn’t a win-win situation, but a losing one. No matter the result, my ego would be stroked. Perhaps for some a boost in self esteem is in order, but not for me. But not only would I become a bit more cocky, I’d simultaneously be frustrated. Because what IQ is satisfactory? Would I be happy to be at 100, the middle? 120 or 140, the two definitions of genius? The answer is that no score would make me happy. I’d always think that I could’ve or should’ve done better on the test. This is of course true, since I said the capital of Italy was FLORENCE. It’s not like I took 4 years of Latin, or, you know, passed grade school. Oi. So I knew that I could’ve gotten a higher score, for this and other mistakes. So I’d wonder about that, and about the person administering the test, and about the day I had to take it. And if there were no testing conditions to blame, I just should’ve done better because it’s ME. I won writing contests in elementary school. I had the 3rd highest GPA of my high school, which was full of nerds. I’m not bragging (since those are obviously silly things) but proving the point that no score short of 200 would have actually made me content. And even then, people have scores over 200, so I still could’ve done better.

Is it good to know exactly how attractive we are? Does knowing I’m a 6.2 improve my life in any way? Should this score influence the way I act or think about myself? I think the answer is obviously no.

Should I know exactly how smart I am? I certainly believe in the value of an IQ scale. Mental function can be an important diagnostic tool for psychiatry. But does the patient need to know their score? Do I need to know how my brain compares to the average?

I think C. S. Lewis is vastly overquoted, but we was probably a genius and he said “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” Knowing my IQ can bring pride and pleasure, but not contentment or happiness. But it did bring me a fortnight of Wendy’s lunches.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Top 10

Reasons to watch American Gladiators

Top 10 Reasons to watch American Gladiators:

10. The Office, Scrubs, 30 Rock, House and Heroes are over.
9. Lost and Battlestar Galactica haven’t started yet.
8. Hellga and Wolf.
7. The new Assault is even better.
6. Watch Titan throw fools down the pyramid.
5. The competitors can’t handle the inclined treadmill.
4. Hulk’s constant hyperbolic commentary. I quote: “You just got hit more than I did in 30 years of wrestling.” “That was the greatest feat of aerial wrestling I’ve ever seen.”
3. Laugh at the utterly ridiculous sideline interviews. Seriously, you’ll be amazed at what comes out of these peoples mouths. It’s simultaneously cliché and mind-blowingly nonsensical.
2. Venom.
1. Crush.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Punxsutawney Pilgrimage

Some of you have already seen this, but I thought it would be appropriate to post as we count the days to February 2nd.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More of the same

Yesterday I blogged about music in movies. Today I’d like to talk about something completely different: movies about music. I know, my versatility is astounding.

This weekend I saw both Across the Universe and Sweeney Todd. I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but cute girls were involved in both events and I’ve never been one to turn down interesting movies or cute girls.

Now I must admit, I’m not a huge Beatles fan. They have my respect, but very rarely have my ear, i.e. I very rarely put on my Beatles playlist. I find their early work a bit simplistic, their later (translate drug-induced) work a bit intangible and for whatever reason they have just never clicked for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like them, but they’re probably not in my top 50. But I’ve noticed that Mormon girls think they’re great, so accordingly I have a vested interest in their work.

I quite liked Across the Universe. The conceit of the movie is interesting, and the Beatles has perhaps the best repertoire of lyrics around which to write a movie. Though I did think a couple times during the movie that a Queen version would be more fun. Though the movie was too long (it could easily have lost 30 minutes), I enjoyed some of the meandering that was required to fit songs in. I really watched it more as an extended music video than a film. And in that light, it succeeded in spades. The visuals were fantastic and the music top notch. And while I just indicated my lukewarm feelings about The Fab Four, I quite enjoy covers in general, and the covers herein ranged from good to great.

Some people didn’t like the acid trips, which didn’t bother me. Some people didn’t like the moderately unnecessary lesbian cheerleader story, which didn’t bother me either. Though, I can think of few lesbian cheerleader scenarios that bother me. The plot and acting were fairly inconsequential to me, so while they aren’t likely to win any awards, they were more than sufficient for my needs. All in all it was an enjoyable and successful experiment. And a Queen movie would be AWESOME. Take note Hollywood.

The next night I saw Sweeney Todd. I had missed a chance to see it over Christmas break due to my mystery illness, so I was glad to find a chance to see it on the big screen. I saw it with two girls who were fans of musicals and Johnny Depp, neither of which were my purpose in being there. I was there for Burton and blood.

I’m a pretty big Tim Burton fan. I don’t think he’s the best director in the world, and he certainly could stand to stretch himself a bit. But you know what you’re going to get when you go to a Burton movie. It’s going to be dark and it’s going to be interesting. Sweeney provided both in abundance. I thought the tone of the movie was perfect. The pale, dirty London looked fantastic and fit perfectly. The humor was a bit sparse, but was appropriately black and surprisingly effective. I laughed out loud several times (as a gage I didn’t laugh once during Chuck and Larry.) Though I wasn’t familiar with the play before seeing the movie (I’d seen it as a child, but didn’t remember a thing) as I’ve looked at it a bit afterwards I think his adaptation worked very well.

To say I went to see blood is an exaggeration. But I was interested in how the gore would factor in. Turns out that the last year and a half of looking at diseased and infected bodies have rendered movies a bit mundane. The throat slitting didn’t bother me in the slightest. But it was pretty and watching one of the girls squirm was an added bonus. The blood certainly keeps me from recommending the movie to anyone and everyone, but I can say that it didn’t bother me at all. I definitely wouldn’t rank it any worse than Braveheart or Gladiator, an oft-used benchmark.

I really liked the music of Sweeney Todd. I’m not sure if I would’ve rushed to the internet to find the music of Across the Universe. I already had it so it’s a moot point. But I definitely downloaded both the full movie and stage soundtrack for Sweeney when I got home. Whereas I find the songs in many musicals to be overly long, I thought these were just right. This was in fact due to Burton, who cut the length of many of the songs from their original versions. I also don’t like how the songs in many musicals some artificial and pull you out of the story, I didn’t have that problem at all with these songs. I couldn’t tell you why, but can only say that it felt more like an opera than a musical. The plot always seemed to be moving forward in the songs.

In the end both movies were very enjoyable. Sweeney catered more to my tastes, but both were effective. If you can handle blood, see Sweeney Todd. If you can handle boobs and clowns, see Across the Universe. Enjoy movies while they’re still coming out regularly.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Delayed (ergo) Gratification

Movies and music, my favorite topics

I recently saw Juno. Aside from a few minor qualms which I won’t go into, I greatly enjoyed it. Prior to going to the film my sister had mentioned buying the soundtrack so I had the music a bit more in mind than I normally do. For me at least, soundtrack appreciation is quite variable. Sometimes I dwell a lot on it, sometimes I don’t notice it at all. It could be argued that when I don’t notice the music it must be a poor soundtrack, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think sometimes the music is important, sometimes it’s not, and large mistakes can be made either way. Case in point: I greatly enjoy the soundtrack of House. It’s quite common for me to track the songs down on the internet that night after I watched the episode. On the other hand, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia only uses occasional elevator music as it’s soundtrack, and I think that works fine as well. Each show and each movie have their own feel. I digress.

In Juno, a lot of the music is pulled from The Moldy Peaches, or more specifically, from Kimya Dawson of that band, which has been on hiatus since 2004. Now this is an unusual band, and it certainly doesn’t cater to the masses. I first got their CD after hearing their songs “Who’s Got the Crack” and “Downloading Porn with Davo.” So I was surprised to hear their music in the trailers. But I was also gratified, because of course, I’ve known about this band for 4 years. That’s how cool I am. And to the credit of Diablo, or the director or whoever selected the music, it fit very well with the movie, which itself doesn’t really cater to the masses. But I found this move to part of an interesting trend.

Kimya was featured prominently in Juno, but not as prominently as Loudon Wainwright in Knocked Up. It’s an interesting coincidence that both movies are about pregnancy, but this seems to be a coincidence. Loudon is the father of the slightly more famous Rufus Wainwright, and is a talented musician in his own right. Judd Apatow hired Loudon to perform the whole soundtrack of his movie, though I do believe Loudon chose to include songs by other artists. This is interesting to me because 1. Again I’m cool for having listened to Loudon for several years and 2. Hollywood is taking alternative artists and giving them free reign with the tone of their movies. I think both Juno and Knocked Up would be very different movies with different soundtracks. Loudon and Kimya each provide angst, peace and quirk in the appropriate locations within the films. Some people might claim that an independent artist doing something so mainstream is “selling out” but I’m really not a believer in that concept. I do avoid most things popular, but being popular is not in and of itself “selling out.” Selling out is changing who you are to fit whatever mold is currently popular. Again, a topic for another time perhaps.

The take home point is that the movie making machine seems to be opening the door for lesser known but talented musicians to contribute to international media, and I for one count this to be a great thing. And secondarily, that I am cool.