8/16/2008

So ... that's it?

The graduation ceremony was yesterday. Took all of an hour. Thank god for summer commencement. I'll link to the pictures my parents took as soon as my father gets them online.

I picked up my cap and gown on campus Thursday, and as I was walking back to the car I realized I never have to set foot on campus again. It was a strange combination of feelings. Relief, certainly, but also a tinge of ... not sadness, exactly, but there was definitely some melancholy in there somewhere. After all, I've spent the majority of the past three years driving back and forth from the school. I've had a purpose, a goal I was striving toward. And now ... now I'm feeling pretty aimless.

Everyone's been telling me to relax and enjoy the weekend, and I've tried my best so far. My sister is hosting a big graduation party tonight at her place, which I'm looking forward to. It'll be fun to see everyone, but nagging at the back of my mind is the knowledge that I need to find a job now, start that whole career thing I've been working toward. So it's difficult for me not to go from need-to-finish-school mode to need-to-find-a-job mode with any sort of deep breath in between. I've long said I don't know how to relax and this is just one more example.

So I've sent out a few resumes so far, and scanned listings on Monster.com and updated my LinkedIn page. I suppose I should contact BOOM! and ask if they're in the market for a fairly inexperienced asst. editor. It's been great to see the company expanding and growing over the past year, and while I had a fantastic time working there last summer, I still don't know if I want to live in Los Angeles. Which I suppose I shouldn't let get in the way of potential employment. After all, nothing is forever, right?

Seeing the looks on my parents' faces yesterday, while I was sitting with my fellow graduates, and after the ceremony when we were taking pictures, made me understand why they wanted me to participate in the commencement. The degree I worked for these last three years is for me, but yesterday was for them, my family, who have been more than generous with their time and patience and understanding. The support they've given me over the years, even before I went back to school, is worthy of a saint, and I'm proud to have rewarded their faith in me, even when, at times, I didn't have all that much faith in myself.

So. On to the next thing, whatever and wherever it may be. But first, we party. Because, hey, who knows if and when I'll do anything else worth celebrating.

8/13/2008

Tropic Thunder

A spectacular send-up of all things Hollywood, Tropic Thunder is equal parts satire, spoof and parody. Ben Stiller, who co-wrote, produced and directed the film, has truly outdone himself. Often outrageous and outlandish, from the opening montage of fake film trailers (Robert Downey Jr.'s character, five-time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus, stars alongside Tobey Maguire as a closeted Franciscan monk in Satan's Alley) that our intrepid actors-within-the-movie made prior to embarking on the truly meta journey that is Tropic Thunder, this movie pushes all the right buttons in all the wrong ways.

Ben Stiller, as washed up action movie star Tugg Speedman, leads a cast of equally ridiculous actors (the aforementioned Downey; Jack Black as fart-comedy king Jeff Portnoy; Jay Baruchel as the young, inexperienced Kevin Sandusky; and Brandon T. Jackson as the awesomely-named rapper Alpa Chino, who is constantly hawking his energy drink, Booty Sweat) as they attempt to film the "greatest war movie ever," in the jungles of Vietnam, where the ill-equipped (both emotionally and physically) cast becomes stranded and stumbles upon a heroin cartel called the Flaming Dragon, led by a cute 12-year-old sadist named Tran (Brandon Soo Hoo - keep an eye out; this kid is fantastic).

Also along for the ride as the inept first-time director Damien Cockburn is the wonderfully silly Steve Coogan (go see Hamlet 2 when it opens) and the almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise as movie mogel Les Grossman, rumored to be a jab at Viacom executive Sumner Redstone, who kicked Cruise's production company to the curb in 2006 after Cruise's couch-jumping summer, or perhaps Harvey Weinstein. Cruise wears padding, a bald cap and huge prosthetic arms and hands, and delivers quite possibly his best performance (at least second best, after Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia) as the ill-tempered, foul-mouthed ("A nutless monkey could do your job," he tells his hapless assistant), Diet Coke-chugging producer.

Aside from Cruise's off-the-wall caricature, Downey Jr. really steals the movie as Kirk Lazarus, an actor so committed to his role as African-American Sergeant Lincoln Osiris that he undergoes a "controversial pigmentation procedure" to turn his skin black. As Lazarus says in the film after Speedman questions why he remains Osiris even between takes, "I don't break character until after recording the DVD commentary." Downey Jr. is absolutely hysterical in his portrayal of the Australian method actor (he does a dead on Russell Crowe impersonation) who loses himself so completely in his role as Osiris. The man is simply brilliant (and, if his recent Rolling Stone cover story is anything to go on, a little strange in "real life").

Tropic Thunder has come under fire from mentally-challenged advocacy groups (how else do I describe them?) and folks from the Special Olympics for its supposed offensive film-within-the-film, Simple Jack, in which Stiller's character, Tugg Speedman, goes "full retard," as Kirk Lazarus puts it, in a shameless attempt to win an Oscar award. While I don't think it's anyone's business to tell someone else not to be offended by something, I honestly don't understand why the mentally-challenged (seriously, what's the "politically correct" term?) community is all up in arms. If anything, Tropic Thunder skewers pompous Hollywood actors in their shallow quest for Academy gold. Downey Jr. delivers a beautifully scathing monologue about why Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, but Sean Penn didn't for I Am Sam: "Everybody knows you never go full retard ... Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded. Not retarded ... And then you got Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump. Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs, but he charmed the pants off ... and won a ping pong competition. That's not retarded ... Never go full retard."

Stiller and company are not making fun of the mentally challenged; they're making fun of Hollywood's interpretations of the mentally challenged, which I think makes a big difference.

But I digress.

Tropic Thunder is laugh-out-loud funny and well-worth your time and money. It's quite possibly the funniest movie of the year, and Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise alone make it worth seeing.

7/29/2008

Rash of Female Suicide Bombers Blows Up Iraq

Four women suicide bombers killed or wounded 350 people on Monday.

Do you think, like, and this is gonna sound really bad, but instead of, say, book clubs or, you know, sewing circles, Iraqi women instead get together, talk about the latest news in blowing-oneself-up-technology, share a little gossip about the hottest Martyr-of-the-Week, help each other design their bombs and the clothing they're going to wear when they go boom?

I smell sitcom. Call it, Sex and the Caliphate (y'know, instead of City).

7/25/2008

X-Files: I Want A Better Title

Aside from its awful title, I enjoyed the new X-Files film, and to all the naysayers, I say nay. Or something.

I suppose it's all a matter of expectations. This is summer, of course, the season of bombastic, overblown, overhyped Hollywood schlock, certain Dark Knights notwithstanding. Over the past few months moviegoers have been inundated with men of iron, hulking hulks, drunken fallen angels (or whatever the hell Hancock was supposed to be) and working-class demons from hell, all bright and colorful and loud, so it's no surprise, really, when shown something as quiet, thoughtful and understated as X-Files: I Want to Believe, we're unsure how to react.

Over the course of seven, I mean, nine seasons (forgive me, I do try so very hard to forget those last two agonizingly painful years), we watched FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dr. Dana Scully investigate everything from vampires and werewolves to Bigfoot and slimy fluke-men to alien abductions and government conspiracies. Their cases ran from the sublime to the ridiculous (Jose Chung, anyone?), and while the show became buried under its own convoluted, confusing alien mythology, at its heart, X-Files has always been about the growth of its characters, the paranormal, supernatural-obsessed Mulder and the rational, scientific Scully, and how they grew to first trust, then respect and, ultimately, love one another.

To me, the monster-of-the-week was simply a platform, a framework within which we learned about our heroes while they learned about each other, and that's the mentality I brought with me into the theatre. I wanted to know what Mulder and Scully have been up to, how their relationship has grown and progressed since last we saw them on the small screen, a mere six years ago. It was refreshing to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson slip so easily back into their old patterns. It was like seeing old friends, friends who have grown and changed with time, but who are still warm and familiar nonetheless.

Some critics have written about, and my father commented upon, the plot of the movie, how it's not really an X-File. "Where are the aliens?" my father asked midway through the film. He pointed out that the story, the case Mulder and Scully are brought in on, could have been any old movie, how the only thing that made it an X-File is that it was Mulder and Scully. He said they could have done the same movie with Will Smith "and that other guy," and I can't say that he's wrong. Mind you, I don't fully agree with him either, but I understand his point. The plot, involving kidnapped women and a mysterious psychic, is fairly straightforward, with no real twists or turns. No conspiracies, no aliens. It has the feel of a two-hour long episode (they went back to Vancouver to shoot the film, where they shot the first four seasons before moving to L.A. after the first movie). Nothing about the case itself screams X-File, but then again, the same could be said for every case Mulder and Scully worked on. What made the X-Files X-Files was Mulder and Scully, embodied by Duchovny and Anderson, not the cases themselves.

So, with all that being said, I thought it was a damn fine movie. Sure, Chris Carter may not be the best director in the world, and the plot may not necessarily be "film-worthy," but once you see Mulder and Scully together again, and the great chemistry Duchovny and Anderson have with one another, it'll bring flooding back all the great memories of shows past and make you glad to see them one more (last?) time.

7/18/2008

The Dark Knight

Brilliant. Masterful. Powerful. Very nearly perfect. But, first things first.

Everyone has heard the accolades about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker, the rumors of Oscar nominations, etc. And I can say, with punch-drunk weariness at 3:11 in the morning, that Ledger is, indeed, incredible, consumed by the character. He is anarchy incarnate. As Michael Caine's stoic, sensible Alfred tells a pensive Bruce Wayne, "Some men just like to watch the world burn."

I daresay Ledger's Joker is Oscar-worthy, though whether he actually wins is immaterial. The mere fact that his performance is being mentioned in the same breath as an Academy Award speaks volumes for its intensity. Nearly 20 years ago, Jack Nicholson played up the camp in a very different Batman film, and while his performance fit the style of that film, he doesn't hold a candle to Heath Ledger's quiet, menacing insanity.

To go into too much detail would be to ruin the experience for those who haven't seen it yet, so I'm going to try to keep this short and purposefully vague:

The action sequences were very well-done. I love how Batman's more sure of himself this time around, and he's improved his fighting skills. Director Christopher Nolan isn't too keen on lots of flashy CGI, so the whole movie has a real gritty, 1970s crime drama feel to it. Very French Connection or Heat. Lots of physical stunts, very little computer-assisted effects.

Speaking of effects, though, Harvey Two-Face - Oh. My. God. Horrifying, truly.

Can I just say that I love Gary Oldman? Cause I do. He is awesome in everything he does and his Jim Gordon is one of my favorite fictional cops ever. Ever.

The Batpod is actually a pretty cool motorcycle. Looks much better in the film than in the short snippets you see in the trailers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is far and away a better actress than Katie Holmes. Maggie's Rachel Dawes was actually believable as a city prosecutor and love interest to both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent.

I miss Wayne Manor.

Batman's new suit kicks ass. He can turn his head now!

Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox has some great lines, and a poignant scene with Bruce in the third act.

Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is still the goofy, aloof, clueless billionaire playboy. I'd like him to show more emotion as Bruce, but he can't, because Bruce is really the implacable mask that Batman wears.

I loved the themes of the movie. Order versus chaos. Dual identities. That very fine line between good and evil, right and wrong.

This is a very dark film, much darker than anything Tim Burton did, much darker than the first Chris Nolan film. No one escapes unscathed, without scars.

Heath Ledger's Joker truly is mesmerizing. Every time he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off him. He doesn't completely steal the show, as Aaron Eckhart is great as Harvey Dent and even better as Two-Face, but, just, wow. I can still hear The Joker's laugh echoing in my head.

And that's all I'm gonna say. The Dark Knight is easily one of the best movies, not superhero movies, but movies, period, that I've ever seen. Maybe not the very best, but it's up there. Believe the hype.

7/11/2008

Three years down, one month to go

I finished my second-to-last undergrad course today. Grades will be posted next week. I'm pretty confident I'll get an A or at the very least a B+. My last class started a couple weeks ago and runs through the first week or so of August. Then graduation is the middle of the month. And then ... the Great Unknown.

But first, I need to write an English Lit essay about William Blake or Thomas Paine.

Wish me luck!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

If you liked Guillermo del Toro's previous films (The Devil's Backbone, the first Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) you'll love Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a veritable phantasmagoria of the fantastic, a vertiginous clockwork faerie tale wonderland that only del Toro could have conceived and created. Carnivorous tooth faeries, steampunk ogres, great, five-story tall verdant forest gods and a mechanized clockwork army populate this wonderfully imaginative film. Del Toro brings the best parts of the first movie, the humor, the blue-collar work ethic, the characterization, and adds these incredible creatures and big, vibrant, colorful set pieces and action sequences. Have you even seen a ninja elf? Hellboy II's Prince Nuada would make make Legolas seem like a slow, slogging dwarf.

The story of The Golden Army is steeped in Grimm's faerie tale magic. Long ago, Man warred with the enchanted woodland folk, you know, elves and faeries, etc. And after a bitter defeat, the elf king commissioned the building of these huge golden mechanical warriors, fueled by magic and nigh-indestructible. After laying waste to the human army, the elf king, much to the dismay of his son, the aforementioned Nuada, felt great anguish at the death and destruction the war had wrought, and so he put the army to sleep and divided the magical crown that controlled it into three pieces; one he gave to the humans, one he kept for himself and the third piece went to the king's daughter, Nuada's twin sister, Nuala, after Nuada went into self-imposed exile, vowing to return, to take control of the Golden Army and to finish the war with the humans once and for all. Which is where our story begins. The prince has returned and Hellboy and company need to stop him from wiping out mankind.

Returning as our blue-collar, beer-chugging everyman demon hero, Hellboy, is the ever-lovable Ron Perlman, along with Selma Blair as the chronically tormented love of Hellboy's life, the pyrotechnic Liz Sherman, and Doug Jones as Abe Sapien (providing his own voice this time - no more voice work by Frasier's David Hyde Pierce). Jeffrey Tambor also returns as the hilariously befuddled director of the BPRD, Tom Manning, and joining the team this time around is everyone's favorite ectoplasmic German psychic, Johann Kraus (hilariously voiced by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane).

This is what a big summer action movie should be, funny, action-packed and simply gorgeous to look at. I want to see it again just to take in all the great creature designs and sets. This was definitely one of my favorite movies so far this summer, right up there with Iron Man and Wall-E (neither of which I ever did get around to writing reviews for, did I?)

6/30/2008

Wanted

I'm not going to spend much time on this review, because, frankly, the movie doesn't deserve it.

I've long said that special effects alone do not a good (or even entertaining) movie make. There needs to be a solid, relatively believable plot and realistic, interesting characters who we as an audience give a shit about. Mindless blather about a league of assassins who get their marching orders from a "loom of fate" (yes, I said loom, like what weavers use to make clothes) that spits out assassination targets' names in binary does not even come close.

I can honestly say this movie bored me. Not quite to tears, but close. The special effects and action sequences, while certainly well-done, reeked of CGI fakery, and were nothing new, to boot. The advent of computer generated effects has been both a boon and a bane to the film industry in recent years. Producers and directors seem to think if they just slap some shiny CGI sequences into their films, they don't need to worry about little things like plot and story. Silly me for wanting something more for my $10.

Wanted is about a nobody office drone who discovers he's the son of the world's greatest assassin, who was recently murdered by a rogue assassin from a group called The Fraternity. A group, mind you, that was started 1,000 years ago by a bunch of fucking cloth weavers who, for some reason we're never told, took it upon themselves to rid the world of certain people, to "balance the scales," whatever the fuck that means.

The movie has lots of gun fu and car fu, though no actual kung fu. CGI bullets collide in mid-flight, CGI trains tumble off CGI bridges, CGI cars flip through the air and land without missing a beat, let alone popping a tire. It's violence porn taken to the nth degree, a ADD-addled adolescent male's ultimate power trip. Women, the few that make the cut in this fanyboyish wet dream, exist solely to be sexual objects or to be mocked.

I didn't care about a single character and the surprise double-crosses were anything but. It's a shame that such high-caliber actors wasted their talents in such an empty, soulless film. Don't get me wrong, the actors all performed their roles admirably. It's just that there wasn't much for them to work with. Part of me wishes the writers had hewed more closely to the original source material, but that story is pretty nigh unfilmable.

Wanted is extremely loosely based on a comic book by writer Mark Millar and artist J.G. Jones. How extremely loosely you ask? When scripting of the adaptation began, only the first issue of the six-issue mini-series had been released. The screenwriters had less than 20 percent of the story to go on. Hence, a movie that completely abandons the very premise of its source material to such a degree that it's nearly unrecognizable to anyone who's read the comic.

The comic is a black comedy, a self-parody of not only superhero comics but of the people who read them. It's a self-mocking, over-the-top, absurdest farce, the sole goal of which is to take the piss out of the recent comic book trend of overly-glamorized violence and sexuality. It's a joke. The movie adaptation, however, doesn't get the punchline.

But hey, if mindless drivel, boring, derivative action and a veritable cornucopia of explosions is your cup o' tea, then have at it. Wanted is definitely for you.

6/23/2008

Gradumatation

So I applied for my degree today. Graduation is in less than two months, August 15. I'm almost halfway through my first summer class, Principles of Public Relations. Our first test is Wednesday. I'm feeling fairly confident so far. With the class being only five weeks long, the schedule is really compressed, so we don't go over material so much as the teacher points to certain chapters and pages in the text book and says, "I'd take a look at this if I were you." Then he takes off his glasses, throws his head back and kind of laughs maniacally for a few seconds. Not quite sure what that's all about. Guess I'll find out Wednesday.

It felt a little weird actually applying for the degree (and, you know, paying the university even more money for the pleasure). It's just one of those things, another marker along the way to being done with school. (Undergrad, anyway. If I don't land a job this year, hey, there's always grad school.)

George Carlin, 1937 - 2008

6/15/2008

Family Ties

Tomorrow is my grandmother's 90th birthday. Ninety years. She was born shortly before the end of World War I. She lived through the Great Depression and World War II and the Korean War. She saw a president assassinated and the Civil Rights Movement unfold. America landed men on the moon. My grandmother saw the Berlin Wall being built and also watched it come tumbling down. She was alive during the formation of Iraq out of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and she's watched as that country has fallen apart over the past five-plus years. Ninety years.

In honor of his mother's birthday my father, using his much vaunted iMac, put together a book, a collection of photos of her and her family and friends from the past 90 years, many of whom are no longer with us. My mother and father sifted through piles of old, weathered photographs, pictures of my grandmother as a small child, pictures of her parents, even. I saw pictures of my grandfather, my father's father who died at the age of 50 when my father was only 13 and newly Bar Mitzvahed, one of when he was a big-eared little boy in Russia before his family immigrated to America, and others of when he was a big-eared man, a father, enjoying time with his two children.

To join in celebration of this milestone of longevity, my brother and his wife and their son and daughter drove to town from Colorado, and my cousin, my father's nephew, the son of my father's sister who died nearly 15 years ago, flew to town from Pittsburgh with his wife and their almost-one-year-old son. My sister, of course, lives here in Omaha with her family, her husband and their son and daughter, as do I, my parent's youngest child who has struggled to find his place in the great, vast scheme of things.

Today, in the midst of my grandmother's birthday celebration, is also Father's Day, a not insignificant day in my family, given the number of children born over the past seven years. It was really something special, seeing my father surrounded by not only his children but his grandchildren and grandnephew as well. It was impossible not to think of my cousin, whose father, an incredibly disappointing and selfish man, died shortly after his mother.

And as we grew closer to this weekend, it's been difficult not to think of my grandfather as well, especially after looking through all those old photos of him for my grandmother's book. I regret not having had a chance to know him, and I know my father regrets it, too. But such is the fate life bestowed upon us. Life is tenuous and requires of us to enjoy every moment. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And all that remains are memories and old photographs.

So here's to making those memories and taking those pictures. Here's to not only my own father, but to my brother and my cousin, and to my brother-in-law as well. Happy Father's Day to you all. One day I hope to join your ranks, and I can only hope I exhibit the same love and patience (especially patience) that I've witnessed in all of you.

6/03/2008

Yes We Can!

Hillary as VP

As Obama closes in on (finally - Iowa was five months ago, but it feels like years) securing the Democratic nomination, talk has once again surfaced about the possibility of Obama choosing Clinton as his running mate. It's as though after all she's put the party through, she thinks she deserves a reward, that she's earned the right to be vice president, just like she thought she was entitled to be president after what her husband put her through when he was president. And to that idea, I have but one thing to say:

Go Away. Go back to New York or to Arkansas or to wherever the hell, and take your damn husband and all your fucking baggage with you. We don't want you around anymore. We've moved on. We're turning the page. No more of this Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Clinton bullshit. We're tired of your style of politics. We're tired of the petty partisanship you represent. Please, for the sanity of the nation, just go away.

There are scores of better VP candidates for Obama to choose from: John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Kathleen Sebelius, Chuck Hagel, Mike Bloomberg ...

Obama has promised CHANGE, and if there's one thing Hillary doesn't represent, it's that.

Hillary might "be open" to being Obama's VP as some sort of consolation prize, but he sure as hell doesn't have to give it to her.

6/01/2008

Addendum

Any Clinton supporters who choose to vote for McCain instead of Obama are petty, insecure children who shouldn't be allowed to vote at all (I've long thought we should institute an intelligence test, given every four years, before allowing people to vote).

[sarcasm]Why yes, it would certainly be better to have four more years of the disastrous, idiotic Bush policies (not to mention a continuation of the Iraq war and possibly an invasion of Iran) in the form of a brain-addled, senile old man, than to vote for the young, intelligent, vibrant, articulate black guy. What could I have been thinking?[/sarcasm]

Grow the fuck up, people. Stop whining and help us take our country back. Either vote Obama or stay the fuck home. Remember, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

5/31/2008

When will the madness end?

The state Democratic parties of Florida and Michigan broke Democratic National Committee rules by moving the dates of their primaries up. The punishment was to be stripped of their delegates at the convention in Denver in August. With no delegates, candidates were told not to campaign in either Florida or Michigan. Prior to the start of primary season, before the first ballot had been cast, all the Democratic presidential candidates agreed to this.

Now, here we are, finally at the end of this long and miserable primary season, and the DNC is meeting to decide what to do about Florida and Michigan's delegates. See, because Hillary Clinton campaigned in both states. Because Hillary Clinton broke the rules and campaigned and "won" both states, she wants their delegates to be counted. Oh, she masks her righteous outrage by saying that every vote should be counted, that every voter should be heard, but c'mon, does anyone really think she'd feel this way had Barack Obama "won" Florida and Michigan? Would we even be having this conversation?

Florida and Michigan broke the rules and were punished for it. They knew what would happen, but they did it anyway, knowingly and willingly. None of the candidates besides Hillary campaigned in either state. Hell, Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan, and Hillary wants to talk about fair?

What about the millions of voters who didn't bother to vote in both Florida and Michigan because they were told their votes wouldn't matter, their delegates wouldn't be seated. How many Obama supporters do you think just stayed home? How much closer might the races in Florida and Michigan have been had Obama actively campaigned in the two states? How much closer might Michigan have been had Obama's name actually been on the freakin' ballot?

Florida and Michigan broke the rules and shouldn't get any delegates.

Hillary has turned the election season into a farce. All she does is whine and complain and the DNC doesn't have the backbone to tell her to pack it in because she's lost. She lost this election months ago, but no one in a position of power in the DNC bothered to tell her, out of deference, out of respect to her and her husband's cheating. The DNC has just kept hoping she'd get the hint and drop out, but she's far too stubborn for that, changing the rules in the middle of the game every time she loses another contest: Oh, caucus states don't count. Small states don't count. Michigan and Florida need to be counted because I won them in unfair elections where I was the only candidate on the ballot.

She needs to stop. It's over. And the goddamn superdelegates need to get off their asses and end this before it rips the party in two. Hillary lost. Obama won. November is only six months away. The Democratic Party needs to focus its attention on beating the wizened, senile, PTSD-suffering John McCain instead of beating itself up. It's time to move on.

Say goodnight, Hillary. You're done.

5/26/2008

Sydney Pollack, RIP

Director and actor Sydney Pollack died today at the age of 73. Cancer. Damn shame. He was a good one. He's probably best known for directing Tootsie and the Oscar-winning Out of Africa, but he was also a solid character actor, often appearing in smallish roles in his own films. The last movie I saw him in was the Oscar-nominated Michael Clayton, which he also produced.

He was a huge name in Hollywood, a great talent, a nice Jewish boy, and he will be sorely missed.

Little Brother

I read the most wonderful book over the past two days, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. The story, set in the very near future, follows Marcus, a 17-year-old kid from San Francisco who, when he and his friends are kidnapped by the Department of Homeland Security, becomes a terror suspect after the Bay Bridge is blown up.

Marcus is a regular, normal kid who happens to be something of a geek. He used to be a LARPer (Live Action Role-Playing), but after merciless teasing from schoolmates, he and his friends moved on to ARGing (Alternate Reality Game). He knows how to write computer code and has a fascinating with hacking. Not the criminal kind of hacking you see in cheesy action movies, but fun stuff, like how to scam the RFID chips in his school's library books, and how to beat the gait recognition cameras that line the halls of his school. Simple, harmless hacks that anyone could do.

When Marcus and three of his friends, Jolu, Darryl and Van, skip school to investigate the newest clue in their favorite ARG, they're caught up in a world they never knew existed. The Bay Bridge is blown up and in the ensuing chaos Darryl is injured. Marcus tries to flag down one of the emergency vehicles that are zooming past them on the street, finally stepping in front of a Hummer to get it to stop. Unfortunately, the Hummer is full of DHS agents who immediately take Marcus and his friends into custody, i.e. kidnap them, and hold them, interrogate them, illegally, with no evidence of any wrongdoing, for days.

When Marcus is finally released, broken and humiliated, he vows vengeance on the overreaching Department of Homeland Security, the government agency that has locked down the city of San Francisco and turned everyone who lives there into a terror suspect, all in the name of security, of protecting them. Much like the government reaction after 9/11, the DHS decides to treat everyone like a criminal while claiming it's for their own protection.

Utilizing the computer skills of he and his friends, Marcus rallies the youth of the city. "Don't Trust Anyone Over 25" becomes their mantra as they wage war against those who would throw them in prison for life because of nothing more than a suspicion.

Little Brother is 1984 for a new generation, a primer for how to fight back against the tyranny and oppression of a government out of control with fear and terror. It's about our rights as citizens, rights that don't suddenly stop protecting us simply because they're deemed inconvenient. The Constitution is not, as some would have us believe, an archaic document written by men who couldn't possibly fathom the world we live in today. That document is our protection against government power run rampant, something we desperately need today as much as they needed it more than 200 years ago.

Don't get me wrong. Little Brother isn't a dry, boring lecture. There's plenty of action and intrigue, and great, realistic characters and situations. That's part of why the book kind of scares me, too. Everything Doctorow wrote about could happen. Secret detention facilities on American soil. The torture of American citizens. Ceaseless surveillance of every single man, woman and child. They tell us it's for our protection, and sure, what could be safer than putting everyone in prison. An invisible prison at that, where they watch us 24/7 with closed-circuit video cameras and track our every movement with RFID tags attached to our cars, embedded in our credit cards and IDs. Yeah, that'd make me feel real safe. Being secure doesn't mean we have to relinquish our rights to privacy, our rights to free expression.

Wouldn't it be better if the government spent their time and our money tracking actual bad guys who want to do us harm instead of wasting it by tracking everybody? It's like finding a needle in a haystack when you created the haystack.

This has turned into a bit of a rant and I didn't mean for that to happen. It's just that I love this book and everything it stands for so much. I think it's a really important book, a cautionary tale that we all need to heed before it's too late and we really do live in a police state. And, to top it off, you have no reason not to read this book. Doctorow has made the entire text available online in a bunch of different formats, free of charge, right here, under a Creative Commons license.

So, everyone should download and read the book. And while I'm old enough to bristle at "Don't Trust Anyone Over 25," I think we're never too old to be skeptical of all authority figures. That's what the Constitution is really all about. Just because someone is in a position of authority, that doesn't mean they have your best interests at heart. Question authority, don't follow it blindly.

Recount

I just watched the HBO docudrama, Recount, which told the insiders' story of the presidential election debacle eight years ago, when the Supreme Court of the United States decided to saddle us with a retarded puppet for president. I thought, hey, eight years, that's enough time to let the wound heal over, but watching HBO tonight, all it did was tear the wound open once more. I felt so many different emotions, from anger to sadness to a bizarre form of hope that maybe, just maybe, they'd finally get it right, even though the outcome was decided long before they filmed the movie.

There has never been a doubt in my mind that George W. Bush and his cronies stole the 2000 election, that we've been cursed with his blundering, bungling presence in the White House for these past eight years because of blatant partisanship and the very worst kind of political hackery. And those feelings were nothing but reinforced by Recount.

This country's plunge into war and fear and terror has not been because of Dick Cheney's favorite Middle Eastern bogeyman, Osama bin Laden, and 19 nameless, faceless hijackers. It's because of a childish buffoon of a man who never had the right to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the first place. America jumped the shark in 2000, and the rest of the world quickly followed suit.

And while I hope we've finally come to our senses, as scores of dead and wounded continue to return home from the pointless, needless clusterfuck in Iraq, I fear the 2008 election will be snatched from the grasp of sanity, of reality, much like the 2004 contest. I fear another presidential coup, and four more years of this utterly baffling madness, this time led by a bumbling, wizened septuagenarian with decades of untreated, pent-up Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If I believed in a god, I would pray I'm wrong, that my fears are unfounded, but because I choose to live in the really real world, all I can do is wait through six more agonizingly slow months before I find out if my fellow Americans have gotten the hint, or if they prefer to live in a country of fear, with their heads buried in the sand, a country where the laws can be bent and broken with complete and utter abandon, where the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are spat upon when they become inconvenient.

November can't come soon enough.

5/20/2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

While I had relatively low expectations for this fourth installment of the revered Indiana Jones franchise, I always held out a small inkling of hope that it would, if not surpass the previous films, at least come close to the high bar set by Spielberg, Lucas and Ford over the past 27 years. And, I find myself pleased to announce, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, despite having one of the worst titles ever, is an incredibly fun, enjoyable film, a rip-roaring adventure that neither denigrates nor elevates the legacy of the earlier movies, but rather insinuates itself snugly into the famed archeologist's legend.

Mild spoilers may follow, but probably nothing you haven't heard/couldn't figure out for yourself.

Set more than twenty years after we watched Indiana Jones and his father ride off into the sunset, Crystal Skull finds Dr. Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford) embroiled in a bit of Cold War intrigue, complete with international globe trotting (as opposed to, say, domestic globe trotting, which I imagine would take one to much less exotic locales), Communist paranoia, double crosses and psychic KGB agents. Indy's first foray into the atomic age is certainly ushered in with a bang (literally - you'll see).

To say that Indiana Jones films are formulaic would be an understatement, but that certainly hasn't detracted from their fun, and Crystal Skull is no exception. Instead of Nazis, bent on world domination, chasing after the lost ark and the holy grail, this time it's Stalin's Soviet Russia and an ancient, mystical (aren't they all?) artifact, a crystal skull said to possess the ability to read the minds of men, and to control them. Soviet psychic Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) thinks the United States government, Indiana Jones, specifically, has knowledge as to the whereabouts of the titular skull, and she, like Indy's previous foils, will stop at nothing to get what she wants. (And, as in the earlier films, "get it" she does, only "it" is not exactly what she expects.)

Indy, who, during World War II, was a spy for the Allies and earned the rank of colonel, is joined by his British treasure-hunting cohort, MI6 agent George "Mac" McHale (Ray Winstone), a young man named Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, who must have named himself after the dog, too; guess it runs in the family) who has a penchant for motorcycles and leather jackets, and Mutt's mother, the funny and beautiful Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who, with a twinkle in her eye and a devilish grin, is a sight for sore eyes, both for Indy and the audience. She and Indy quickly fall back into old habits, firing witty wisecracks back and forth while busting Na-, I mean, Commie heads. It's almost hard to believe 27 years have passed since Marion's Tibetan bar went up in flames, the way Harrison Ford and Karen Allen slipped right back into character without missing a beat

There are winks and nods galore to Indy's past adventures, from photographs of his father and Marcus Brody atop Indy's desk to a certain Hebrew relic collecting dust in an Area-51 warehouse to this look, this great, wonderful look Indy gives to Mutt after the two of them escape the clutches of the KGB. It's the exact same withering look Henry Jones Sr. gives his son after they escape on motorcycle from the Nazis in Austria, before they go to Berlin to retrieve the grail diary.

I can certainly see Shia LaBeouf slip into the worn leather jacket and fedora in a fifth film, as Spielberg recently intimated at Cannes. He and Ford share a great chemistry. You can almost see the admiration in the young man's eyes as he realizes he's making an Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford and Steve Spielberg. I cannot imagine the fun they must have had making this movie.

Along with my disdain for the title, I'm also not keen on the extraterrestrial turn the story takes, but I imagine that's more of an issue of taste than of good or bad storytelling. After all, if the wrath of God can melt Nazis in the first and third films, are little green men, so to speak, really that big of a leap? I'm just glad they didn't look like E.T.

But, despite Crystal Skull's otherworldly nature, I really did find myself having a great time. I felt like I was seeing old friends I thought I'd long ago left behind. I don't think I could have asked for anything more.

5/07/2008

One month later ...

It's been a month since I last wrote a post for the blog. My reasons for taking such an extended time away are numerous and varied, but the main reason is probably that I've been feeling pretty burnt out. This was not an easy semester for me, though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why. When the semester began, I thought I was going to be graduating this month, on Friday, to be precise. But it turned out that I'm a few credits short, hence the two classes I'm taking this summer, hence the graduation in August. And then ... who knows? I've felt equally exasperated, exhausted and lifeless this semester. I can only hope I can hold it together for these last two classes, and for the endless job search that's sure to follow. Even now, with a month between the end of these classes and the beginning of the new ones, I feel worn out, worn through, threadbare. I want to get out of here, recharge, refresh, but I don't know where I could go to "get away from it all." I worry so much, so often, I don't think I've ever gotten away from it all. Something I need to work on, to be sure. Anyway, more later, when I'm more coherent and less rambly.

4/07/2008

Best. Headline. Ever.

NZ man 'used hedgehog as weapon'

A man in New Zealand has been charged with using a hedgehog as a weapon, the New Zealand Herald has reported.

Police said William Singalargh, 27, had hurled the hedgehog about 5m (16ft) at a 15-year-old boy.

"It hit the victim in the leg, causing a large, red welt and several puncture marks," said Senior Sgt Bruce Jenkins, in the North Island town of Whakatane.

It was unclear whether the hedgehog was still alive when it was thrown, though it was dead when collected as evidence.

The police spokesman said the suspect was arrested "for assault with a weapon, namely the hedgehog."

Mr Singalargh is due to appear in court on 17 April. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.


Now, it doesn't say how big the hedgehog was, but I will contend that throwing a hedgehog 16 feet, with accuracy, regardless of size, is impressive.

Five years in prison. For hurling a hedgehog at someone. "Assault with a weapon, namely the hedgehog." You'll excuse me while I proceed to laugh hysterically for a good 10 or 15 minutes.

Also, poor hedgehog. What must have been going through its mind, provided it was alive at the time, as it flew through the air?

3/23/2008

The end?

I'm thinking of shutting down the blog. As I'm sure the one or two people who actually read it are aware, it's not like I write very much these days. I've been feeling rather unfocused lately, and I don't think I have anything to write about. (Not that that stopped me before - cue rimshot.)

I've been focusing on school and only school since I came back to Omaha and that's a pretty boring topic, believe me. I haven't seen any new movies for a while. I've been reading, I suppose, but I've never really written much about the books I read. What there is to say about our Fuck-Up-in-Chief and his miserable quagmire in Iraq is being said more often and more eloquently on other blogs. Same goes for the inane, endless election season.

(Quick aside. Hillary needs to realize she's done. People need to tell her. The media need to tell her. There is absolutely no way she can overtake Obama in either the popular vote or the pledged delegates. It's mathematically impossible. So she needs to pack it in. And the media really need to stop focusing on Obama's pastor and find something, you know, important to discuss, like John McCain's apparent senility, not to mention his willingness to allow hundreds, maybe thousands, more American soldiers to die in the wasteland we created in the Middle East. John McCain is not some great, mythic war hero. His entire campaign is based on the fact that he didn't die in a North Vietnamese POW camp. John McCain is a sad old man who is completely out of touch with the reality of modern warfare, to say nothing of his utter disregard for who is actually fighting whom, and why, in the Middle East. He is a sham. He is a befuddled, war-mongering fool who doesn't understand war. He doesn't understand economics. He doesn't know the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, for crying out loud. He wouldn't vote against water boarding, which is, hello, torture! He is a wrinkled, geriatric Muppet for the Right-wing fear-mongering NeoCons, nothing more, and it's time the media realized it.)

Huh ... maybe I do have something to write about, after all. Ah, but it'll get old after a while. The truth is, when it comes to politics, religion, race, you're either preaching to the choir or talking to a brick wall. There's no changing people's minds, especially not in today's environment. People seek out opinions that are similar to their own and ignore and denigrate anyone who disagrees with them. That's the landscape the Right-wing talking heads have sown. And until we all start thinking for ourselves and talking to one another as adults (see "The Speech"), that's the way it's going to remain.

I'm gonna sign off now, before I start railing against the absurdity of religion. Today is Easter, after all. Enjoy your faerie tales, folks. Some of us live in the really real world.

3/17/2008

Luck o' the Irish

Hope everyone has a fun (and safe) day while pretending to be Irish. I tell ya, we don't have enough holidays for which the main purpose is to get plastered. As my literary journalism instructor (name o' "Reilly," so he knows what he's talkin' about) said last week, "Real Irish take St. Patrick's Day off. This day is for amateurs."

Last night was the fantasy baseball draft for the league I'm helping my brother-in-law with. It was a decent draft, I think. We did well with what was available on the board. The major enjoyment that came from the draft, however, was the knowledge that the baseball season is a mere two weeks ago. Less than two weeks, if you could the series between the Red Sox and A's in Japan starting on the 25th.

March Madness is beginning, too. Every year for the past however many years (at least 10), I've put together a bracket and guessed my way through the rounds. Some years I did all right, like the year I had more than half the teams in the quarterfinals before ending up with three of the four Final Four teams. Other years have been not quite as kind. Regardless, I don't think I'll be putting together a bracket this year. I don't think I care enough. It's college basketball, something I pay very little attention to until this time of year, the conference championships and Selection Sunday. So, yeah, meh.

HBO aired the first two episodes of its John Adams mini-series, but I was at the draft. I'm sure they'll be reaired throughout the week. I hope it was good, given the talent involved and the amount of money surely spent. I've already read one blog post from a guy who said he's not going to watch the rest of the episodes because he just couldn't buy Paul Giamatti as Adams, that Giamatti didn't bring the right persona to the character, the right amount of gravitas. I hope he's wrong, but we shall see.

Nothing else going on here. I finished watching Babylon 5, finished reading The Long Goodbye and started The Golden Compass. (I still want to know why the American publisher insisted on changing the title of the book, given that the object in questions isn't even a compass. Same reason they changed the title of the first Harry Potter book from Philosopher's Stone to Sorcerer's Stone, I imagine: because they think Americans aren't all that bright ... Sadly, they're probably right.)

3/15/2008

Beware the Ides, whatever that means

Spring break is next week. It should serve as a nice, quiet respite before the last month and a half of classes kicks in. Like I said before, I think I'm doing fairly well in all my classes thus far. And after this semester, I'll just have two summer classes to go and I'll be all done. Of course, I won't believe it 'til I see it. I've learned over the years not to count my chickens before they've hatched.

I had been planning on going to Chicago over break, to visit some friends, but that kind of fell through. I'm slightly broke and with gas prices where they are, it's really tough to justify the drive right now. I just had some work done on the car this week, too, which further depleted my already meager funds, so, yeah, I'll just have to try to make it out there later in the year. Between semesters, maybe.

As it stands, since I'm going to be around the house during break, I'll probably just get a little work done for classes, in between finishing up watching Babylon 5, and various other TV shows and movies. I've got a lot of reading I want to get done, so I should probably get started. My "to read" pile keeps growing and growing. I've got to finish Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye and then I'm going to start Philip Pullman's Golden Compass, the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Never saw the movie. Don't wanna see the movie. Not until I've read the book, at least. So, yeah, I think I'll get to work on all that.

Today is the birthday of someone who used to be a really good friend, someone I haven't spoken with in a few years, not since I fled CA and came back to Omaha. I acted pretty badly toward her before I left. I feel like I used her, and I know I did. Use her, that is. I think I knew it at the time, too, but I couldn't stop myself. I wasn't in the best place, mentally and emotionally, back then, and for a short while after I came home, which is no excuse and I don't offer it up as one. A reason, maybe, but not an excuse. It's something that's been grating on me ever since I started putting myself back together, as well it should have. For a while, anyway. I thought about trying to get in touch with her when I went back to San Francisco a couple weeks ago, but that's all I did, think about it. I don't know if she still has the same phone number or email address, and I'm not sure what I'd have said anyway. "I'm sorry," I guess. I'm not sure what else there would have been to say. Except today, when I'd say, "Happy Birthday."

3/11/2008

Konichiwa

It's been kinda busy here since I got home from San Francisco, so my apologies for the lack of posts. I was sick for the week after I got home and I lost a couple days of classes and schoolwork. Been trying to play catch up in the last couple weeks leading up to next week's spring break. My midterms were yesterday and today. I think I did all right. Maybe not wonderful, but I'm sure I got solid B's on both exams and I can live with that.

A couple weeks ago, one of my professors asked me if I'd care to participate in a luncheon for visiting Japanese journalists. The journalists have been traveling across the country as part of this East-West exchange program, stopping in Washington and New York before making their way here, and then they're on to Phoenix tomorrow before heading back to Japan. Anyway, the lunch was this afternoon, and it was fun and interesting, though the journalists were a bit pressed for time, having other places to be right after lunch. There were more journalists than I was expecting, too. I had been hoping for more one-on-one discussions, but it was this big group of maybe fifteen journalists. In addition to myself, there was another journalism major in attendence, as well as a couple members of the UNO Democrats.

The main reason the journalists are visiting America is to learn about our electoral system and to report on the current election. As I said to Kota, the journalist I was sitting next to, our election system is pretty awful and badly in need of repair. I mean, how do you explain the concept of "superdelegates" to someone without sounding like an insane person? "Well, after the citizens cast their votes, there's this relatively small group of elected officials who can decide to ignore their constituents and just nominate whomever they wish." I mean, it's asinine when you really think about it.

Anyway, I got a couple cards and email addresses from some of the journalists. A couple spoke English pretty well, most spoke it at least a little, and we had time for a little conversation after the lunch, while everyone was packing up their gear to head off to wherever they were going next; a farm in Gretna, I think. Lucky them.

Not much else has been going on here. Just school. I'm looking forward to next week. I have a lot of reading I want to catch up on before heading into the home stretch of the semester.

3/05/2008

Because I'm that bored

My authentic japanese name is 緑川 Midorikawa (green river) 一真 Kazuma (one reality).
Take your real japanese name generator! today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Name Generator Generator.

2/26/2008

Home

Plane landed in Omaha a little after midnight. Tired now. San Francisco was good. Rose & Johnny were fantastic hosts, and it was wonderful of them to let me crash in their home for a few days. I hope I wasn't too intrusive a guest. WonderCon was fun. Long days. Feet still hurt from the endless standing and walking. Throat is a bit rough from the seemingly endless talking. I was able to catch up with some friends, got a couple sketches and some cool graphic novels. The BOOM! booth was right across the aisle from the CBLDF booth. It was great to see them again. It's too bad Cody didn't make the trip, but I got to talk to Ross and Chip and Mike and Daniel a little bit. I met an editor who works at IDW. Seemed like a nice guy. We talked for a while at the Isotope party Friday night. I'll have to email him later this week. Bedtime now. More later when I'm more coherent.

2/20/2008

Left my **** in San Francisco

I'm flying out to San Francisco tomorrow (Thursday), to see Rose & Johnny for the first time since their wedding back in October, and to attend WonderCon, the first major comic book convention of the year, where I hope to hobnob with various publishers and editors and try to find out who might have employment opportunities in August, when I graduate. I'm not really putting much faith in the idea that I'll find someone this weekend who'd be willing to hire me. Graduation is still months away, after all.

At the very least, I'm looking upon this weekend as a chance to catch up with friends, see a little more of the city, and snag some cool autographs and sketches. Which reminds me, I need to find my sketchbook. I'm just looking to relax for a few days away from home, something I haven't had much of a chance to do for a while.

I fly out around 3:30 in the afternoon, and I get home Monday night, around midnight, if I'm lucky. Suffice it to say, there's a very good chance I may not be attending my Tuesday morning class next week. I'll have my phone with me, of course, if anyone needs me for anything. I'm not sure what my internet connectivity is going to be like, so emails may not be replied to for a few days and the blog might not be updated until next week. I'll be sure to upload plenty of pictures when I get back.

All y'all be good while I'm gone.

2/17/2008

Don't write crap

I spent the past two days at Creighton, where I attended the Omaha Film Festival Screenwriting Conference. I know, I know. You're saying, "Omaha has a film festival?" Yes, it does. This is its third year and its been pretty successful for the past couple years, and this week should be no exception.

The screenwriting conference is something new, though. At least, I don't remember reading anything about it the last couple years, so I'll assume it was new for this year. They brought in some screenwriters and editors, some of whom have ties to Nebraska, including Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives, Perfect Stranger) and Academy Award winner Mike Hill (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and pretty much every other Ron Howard movie).

Also in attendance was Josh Stolberg (Passion of the Ark, which became Evan Almighty, Good Luck Chuck), who's not from Omaha, though he does have family here. As both Josh and Jon were quick to point out, just because their names are on the aforementioned films, that doesn't mean that what you see on the screen is what they wrote. It's a long, arduous process from writing your original script to the movie being in production, and a lot of people have ample opportunity to fuck up the script along the way, which means, in essence, they take no responsibility for the crappy films to which their names are attached.

Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) was supposed to be in attendance also, but he had something of a trip from hell from L.A. to Omaha and he didn't arrive until just a few hours ago, so he missed the panels he was scheduled to speak at. He will be at the screening of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang tonight, though, and taking part in a Q&A session afterwards. I just need to decide if I'm up for going. I'm awfully tired for some reason. It's been a long weekend of sitting and listening to people talk about movies.

The conference itself, the panels and seminars, were all fun and interesting, but I don't think I really learned anything new from anyone, as far as writing and storytelling goes. I heard a lot of great stories, behind-the-scenes-of-Hollywood-type stuff, which were very entertaining and sometimes cautionary, but as far as the craft of screenwriting goes, well, the title of this blog post really sums up everything you really need to know. Don't write crap (thanks for that post-it note, Alissa). If you don't write crap, you've got a chance. The actual writing process itself, it's different for everyone, so it's not something you can really learn from a seminar or a book.

I'm not sure how many of the film festival movies I'm going to get to see, what with school and all. I should have gotten some writing done this weekend, but I was at the screenwriting conference. Oh, the irony. I got a little done in between speakers, and I've still got some time for the couple assignments I have due in the next couple weeks, so, as usual, I'm none too worried.

I just wish I had more time to devote to writing for myself instead of for class. I keep telling myself it'll come soon, after I graduate, and I may just be fooling myself into thinking that, but, as I've told myself for the past three years, school comes first. Everything else can wait.

2/12/2008

Bloody hell

So it turns out that, after this semester, I'm still two credits shy of actually graduating from college. All graduates are required to have 125 earned credit hours before they can, well, graduate, and, with the 16 credit hours I'm currently enrolled in, I'll have only 123.

Bummer. Big freakin' bummer.

I spent half of last semester, all of winter break, and now the first month of this semester under the impression that I was finally finished. That this was gonna be it. My advisor thought the same thing. Neither of us thought to actually do the math. We were just looking at required courses, what I needed to take in the School of Communication, but we never looked at the credit hours I had accumulated until last week.

The only reason I signed up for 16 credit hours this semester was because I was done, this was it, so I figured I could slog through the five classes, which is more than I've ever been enrolled in at one time before. I was unsure of myself, if I could get through five classes, get the work done, etc., and things have been going along pretty well so far, but I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. And I know it's going to just get worse as the semester progresses.

So, what I think I'm going to do is, I'm going to drop one of my five classes and then take two over the summer. This will lighten my load for this semester and make me eligible for financial aid for the summer classes. You need to take six credit hours over the summer for the financial aid, which I wouldn't get if I were to only take one class. And then I'll graduate in August instead of May, which kinda sucks, but mainly only because I thought I was gonna be done in May. If I had known I was two credits shy going into this semester, it wouldn't have annoyed me as much when I found out.

Anyway. That's my week so far in a nutshell. How's everyone else doin'?

2/09/2008

Nebraska Democratic Caucus '08!


For the first time in 44 years, Nebraska Democrats held a caucus to determine who they want as their nominee in this year's presidential election. At caucus sites across the state, Obama and Clinton supporters (and undecideds) showed up in record numbers. (I don't have any evidence to back up that particular claim, but c'mon, the last caucus was in 1964. I'd like to think there are more Democrats in the state these days.)

I live in District 20, which stretches west to east from 132nd to 39th Streets and north to south from Pacific to I-80. Our caucus site was Westside High School (where I took my ACTs, or maybe it was the SATs, or both, way back in the day). The caucus was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., with registration starting at 9:15 a.m. Dad and I got there around nine o'clock and the main parking lot in the front of the school was already full. We drove around the back of the school and parked near the baseball field.

Staying true to the spirit of the Democratic Party, registration was, initially, completely disorganized, with everyone milling about inside the school's main entrance, shuffling their feet and wondering how, exactly, a caucus works. No one, it seemed, had every caucused before and everyone was curious about the process.

Eventually the volunteers put up signs that directed us to line up by last name, A-C, D-G, H-K, etc. Once they actually began signing people in, it took about 20 minutes for us to go from the outer doors to the front of the line. As you can see in the above picture, taken after Dad and I signed in, the line of people still waiting to get their feet in the door was HUGE. The caucus, which was supposed to begin at ten o'clock probably didn't start until closer to ten-thirty, and even then, people were still filing into the theatre where the actual caucusing was to take place.

The organizers, and I use that term loosely, split the theatre into three sections: Obama supporters on the left, Clinton supporters on the right, and undecideds in the middle. Dad and I noticed pretty quickly, and with much glee, that the Obama side was a lot more crowded than the Clinton side. People were standing on the outside of the section, against the wall, and they were up in the balcony, as well. The organizers started to allow Obama supporters up on the stage because there were so many of us.

There was a lot of energy in the room. People were really fired up and excited to be taking part in the democratic process in this manner. The way a caucus works is, once everyone is signed in and has picked a side (Obama, Clinton or undecided), they do an initial count to make sure each group makes up at least 15% of the whole, which the Obama and Clinton sides did easily. The undecideds, however, only numbered about 50 or 60, so they, in essence, were not allowed to remain undecided. If you're part of a group that has less than 15% of the whole, you need to side with one of the larger groups or your vote doesn't count.

After the initial count, the Obama side had over 600 supporters in attendance and the Clinton supporters numbered about half that. It was basically a two-thirds to one-third split. That's about a thousand people who showed up from District 20, which, packed into a relatively smallish theatre, seemed like a whole helluva lot of people. It was wonderful to see so many people at the caucus, and such a diverse group it was, too. There were old people, young people (I even saw a few Obama babies; start 'em while they're young, I say), white people, a few black people (this is West O, after all), men, women. The amount of young people was pretty impressive. There's a reason almost every caucus and primary to date has recorded record numbers of participants and it's because young people, 18 - 30 year olds, are finally coming out and voting. Here's hoping the trend continues and they don't forget to come out for the general election in November.

After the initial count, both sides, Obama and Clinton, then had five minutes to woo the undecideds, which turned into a pretty raucous affair. The Obama side would alternately chant "O-ba-ma!" and "Yes We Can!" while the Clinton side would chant ... well, I couldn't exactly hear what they were saying. I was too busy with my Obama chants. Each side had designated one person to give a little speech to make their case for their candidate. Our Obama leader was none other than former radio personality Otis Twelve, who told us he worked for the Bobby Kennedy campaign in 1968 and that no one else has inspired him like that until now, until Barack Obama.

After the five minute wooing period, a count was taken of the undecideds who had, well, decided. The Obama crowd had picked up close to 30, while Clinton had gotten maybe 10. Then there was another five minute wooing period to try to sway the remaining 10 or so undecideds, followed by the final count tally. I don't have the final numbers yet. I'm sure they won't be all counted until later this afternoon, but it's a safe bet that Obama won two-thirds of District 20.

District 20 has 11 delegates, which will be split along that two-thirds/one-third line, so Obama will probably get seven delegates and Clinton will get four. I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the state turned out. I'll post an update with the final numbers when they come in tonight.

I had a lot of fun at my first caucus. Once they got things rolling, it really didn't take that long at all, maybe an hour. And being surrounded by nearly 1000 passionate voters was an amazing experience. It gives me a little bit of hope that, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, Nebraska might finally turn blue. Not a lot of hope, mind you, but at least a little.

I sure hope Obama wins that nomination. I fear that McCain would beat Hillary in the general election, but Obama, Obama would siphon off the McCain independents, as well as some moderate Republicans. Hillary, I believe, would have the opposite effect, driving the independents, and even some moderate Democrats, to vote for McCain. There are only nine months until the general election. Just keep telling yourself that. Only nine more months.

More caucus pictures at my Flickr page.

::UPDATE - 2/10/08 10:32 AM::

I don't think I've ever been as proud of Nebraskans as I was last night when I saw the first election results coming in. Statewide, Nebraskans chose Obama over Clinton by a 2-1 margin. In my congressional district alone, District 2, Obama won by a margin of more than 3-1. More than 75% of caucus-goers in District 2 caucused for Obama. That's pretty damn impressive if you ask me.

Of course, come November, the state will probably still go to McCain. But that's why it's called Hope.

2/02/2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood certainly lives up to its title, both metaphorically and literally. Blood is shed, to be sure, but blood comes in many forms, be it the life-giving crimson liquid pumping through our veins, or the ties that bind families, blood-related or otherwise. The movie is a fascinating character study of a turn-of-the-century oilman, played by Daniel Day-Lewis with his usual explosive intensity. He is, without a doubt, the finest method actor working today. Day-Lewis completely disappears inside his characters, whether he's playing a Mohican Indian or a vicious New York butcher, and Daniel Plainview, the would-be oil baron, is no different.

Paul Thomas Anderson, whose previous films include the porn industry epic, Boogie Nights, and Punch-Drunk Love, for which he coaxed from Adam Sandler his finest performance to date, has crafted a dark (and darkly humorous), complex story about a country's descent into capitalism and godlessness, and the type of men who would let nothing stand between them and their fortunes.

Very loosely based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood follows Plainview on his journey from silver miner to oil prospector. He travels the West, going to potentially oil-rich counties and, with a little help from a young son he acquired after a drilling accident, talks people into selling him their land so he can dig for oil. One day, a young man comes to see Plainview, and the young man tells him about his family's ranch in California, in a town called Little Boston, where oil is seeping up from the ground. Plainview gives the young man $500 for this information and heads west to verify the young man's claim.

Plainview indeed finds oil in Little Boston and proceeds to buy up all the land in the area. He comes into contact with the twin brother of the young man who sent him there, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, in a wonderfully devious performance), an evangelical preacher who has dollar signs as well as Jesus in his heart. What follows is a visceral, volatile struggle for both their souls and, perhaps, the soul of a nation.

Greed, God and oil, the very ideals America was built on.

Shot by Roger Deakins, who also served as director of photography on No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood looks absolutely amazing. Never has America looked so beautifully bleak as it does in these two films. Deakins has such a masterful eye for framing and lighting a movie, even the most innocuous of images carries such weight and gravitas. When an oil well catches fire and the flame shoots up and engulfs the oil derrick, it's simply an incredible sight to behold, the orange and red flames roaring against a darkening sky.

I won't go so far as to say There Will Be Blood was the best movie of 2007. That honor still belongs to the grim, desolate violence of No Country for Old Men, in my ever-so-humble estimation. But it's certainly one of the top movies of the year, and perhaps one of the best of the last several years. It's by far Paul Thomas Anderson's finest film, an American Gothic epic for the 21st century.

1/26/2008

Obama-rama

Huge win tonight in South Carolina for Barack Obama. Seventy-five percent more people voted in this year's primary than the one in 2004. Nearly 300,000 people voted for Obama, which is 10,000 more people than even voted in 2004. Big, big win. Obama had a great speech, as he usually does. Watching him tonight, I got the very distinct impression that I was looking at the future president of the United States. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John, niece of Bobby and Ted, certainly thinks so.

John Edwards posted a pretty strong third place finish, with nearly 20 percent of the vote, a lot more than anyone thought he was going to get at the beginning of the week. So when Edwards has to eventually withdraw from the race, I'm thinking he'll throw his support behind Obama, which would increase by a fairly substantial margin his lead over Clinton.

I think "Obama/Edwards '08" has a very nice ring to it, and it will sound even sweeter come November.

::EDIT 1/28/08::

Speaking of Teddy Kennedy, looks like he's an Obama fan, too.

1/22/2008

Have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight?

The Associated Press, CNN and MSNBC are all reporting that actor Heath Ledger has been found dead in his New York apartment, naked and surrounded by pills. It is currently unknown whether his death is a suicide or an accidental overdose.

Ledger recently wrapped filming his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the sequel to 2005's Batman Begins, set for release in June.

He had a young daughter with fellow actor Michelle Williams, whom he met on the set of Brokeback Mountain, a film for which Ledger earned an Oscar nomination. He was a good actor, and a decent fellow by all accounts. What a damn shame.

2008 Oscar Nominations

Yes, it's that time of year again, when talking heads the world over prognosticate and erudiate their choices for the best movies and actors of the past year, like so many bloviating blowhards who think their opinions actually matter. Much like the upcoming presidential election, the coming weeks will be filled with discussion and debate, and while I usually like to think of myself as above the usual fray of Hollywood gossip, Oscar time is something else entirely.

And so, without further ado, here are the nominees in the major catagories (film, actors, writers, directors), along with some pointless commentary. My picks are in bold. (For a complete list of this year's nominees, click here.)

Best Picture
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

From the moment I walked out of the theatre on Thanksgiving, No Country for Old Men has been my favorite movie of the year, and while I saw a lot of really amazing movies in 2007, Michael Clayton and Juno among them, nothing quite topped the Coen Brothers' film. Of course, I still have to see Atonement and There Will Be Blood, which hasn't opened here yet, so I reserve my right to change my mind. But I don't think I will.


Best Actor
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

Clooney may be the safe choice amidst such an amazing array of talent, but I do think his performance in Michael Clayton was the best of his career to date. Viggo was extremely impressive, too, in Eastern Promises, and like I said above, I haven't seen There Will Be Blood yet, and I've heard great things about Day-Lewis in that movie. So, again, I reserve the right to change my mind.


Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Juno ran a very close second to No Country for Old Men for my favorite movie of 2007 and Ellen Page was a big reason why. She was so funny and endearing as the title character that even if I had seen any of the other films from which actresses were nominated, Page would still top my list.


Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Both Hoffman and Wilkinson were wonderful in their respective roles, but Javier Bardem was such a monstrous force of nature in No Country for Old Men, I can't imagine anyone else winning.


Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Amy Ryan took what could have been a cartoonish, stereotypical character, the alcoholic, drug abusing, neglectful mother, and turned her into a real person, someone with whom we could identify and understand, and ultimately care about.


Best Director
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Best movie of the year generally, though not always, equals best director of the year. This is one of the years in which it most certainly does.


Best Adapted Screenplay
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away from Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

I've always thought it was difficult to have a best movie without also having the best screenplay to work from.


Best Original Screenplay
Diablo Cody, Juno
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava & Jim Capobianco, Ratatouille
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

I cannot express how extremely heartened I am to see Ratatouille, an animated film, on this list. As comics are more and more garnering respect as a true art form, so too are animated films, which I one day hope to see included in the discussion of best picture instead of being lumped into a separate category. That being said, Diablo Cody has such a strong and unique voice. She took her first screenplay and really knocked it out of the ballpark.


Best Animated Feature Film
Persepolis
Ratatouille
Surf's Up

Persepolis has not come to Omaha yet, so I haven't had a chance to see it, and while my head might lean toward it, due to its graphic novel roots, Brad Bird's Ratatouille is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and probably one of my new favorite films. It's full of such wonderfully imaginative characters, and you can really feel the sheer, absolute joy the filmmakers must have felt while creating it. Ratatouille is easily one of the best movies of 2007 (and it would have made my list of best movies of the year had I actually seen it in the theatre last year, instead of having bought and watched the DVD only a few weeks ago).

1/21/2008

MLK on Vietnam

The man knew how to give a speech, that's for damn sure:



When I look at those who are vying for leadership in this country, it almost makes me want to cry. Whether it's the candidates themselves or simply the vile game that American politics has become, there isn't a man or woman among them who elevates the discussion and inspires the masses the way Martin Luther King Jr. could.

He was part of a dying breed while he lived, Dr. King was. Him and Bobby Kennedy. And they were both murdered for their trouble. And today? Today there doesn't appear to be anyone like either one of them left in the country. And that is a damn, sad shame.

1/16/2008

The Jewish Americans

Last Wednesday PBS aired the first of three two-hour segments of a documentary called "The Jewish Americans." The second part aired tonight, with the third airing next Wednesday.

It's a wonderfully produced documentary, filled with fascinating insights into America's Jewish community, which began over 350 years ago, when 23 Jews arrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later known as New York). It's a fantastic, well-researched examination of how those early American Jews assimilated themselves into American culture, and, in some cases, even helped shape the way America has evolved and grown.

I am, of course, a big Jewish geek, especially when it comes to the history and culture of my people, so this kind of thing is of great interest to me. The documentary is filled with incredible old photos and newsreels and filmstrips, along with interviews with well-known American Jews like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and comedian Sid Caesar, as well as non-famous Jews, children of immigrants from the early 20th century.

This documentary is so cool, I'm halfway tempted to spend the $40 on the DVD set.

1/13/2008

Countdown to uncertainty

My final semester of classes begins tomorrow at 10 a.m. I'm taking five classes this semester, the most at one time since I returned to school with a single class at Metro in the summer of 2005. Graduation is May 9 (with a party to follow; details will be forthcoming - all are invited).

I've been trying to figure out how I feel about my upcoming graduation. It's been a long, strange, twisty little road from that first year of college, way back in '97/'98 at Youngstown State, to now. For long time, during the intervening years, I thought I might never seriously go back to school, while at the same time I had no idea what I was actually doing with my life. Then I moved to SoCal, had an epiphany of sorts (in truth, I simply had no job, no money and was scared out of my mind), and here I am, nearly three years later.

For a brief period of a few days, maybe a week, I was pretty terrified at the thought of actually graduating. What the hell do I know about the real world, y'know? Enough to realize I wasn't exactly ready for it a few years ago, I guess. Yet the question remains, am I any more ready for it now? In some ways, the answer is probably yes. Regardless of what some may believe about a college degree, the number of doors that are opened for those who have one are still greater than for those without. I keep thinking about what my cousin said to me last summer, while I was interning in Los Angeles. She said that she won't even interview someone for a position at her company unless they have a college degree. Of course, I can only assume that that's also true for the majority of production companies in L.A., instead of my cousin being an exception to the rule.

And even if she is the exception, I came back to school with the goal of finally graduating. I was ready for it, after all this time. Once my first class began at Metro, I knew I wasn't going to stop until I had that degree. If for no one else, than for me. And now I'm thisclose to getting it. And then ... I don't know what.

I'm flying out to San Francisco in February, to visit Rose and Johnny, who are graciously allowing me to crash at their place, and to attend this year's WonderCon, the first big comic book convention in the country. I'll visit with some friends, hopefully run into the BOOM! crew, whomever they decide will be manning the booth, and try to speak with as many editors and publishers as I can find.

The reality is, after these years back in school, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Though I do know what I want to do: I want to work as an editor at a comic book company, or a magazine, or a newspaper. I would love to work at a production company in Los Angeles. (Of course, I can't imagine a great many of them hiring right now, what with the ongoing WGA strike, but the strike will have to end sooner or later, right?) I want to work in a creative field, with like-minded, creative people. I want to help tell stories, all kinds of stories, any kind of stories. It's what I've wanted to do since elementary school.

Maybe I'll have an opportunity to go back to BOOM!. Maybe my cousin would be able to put me in touch with people she knows in the industry. Maybe I'll meet someone at WonderCon and that will lead to a job, if maybe not a career. I have no idea what's going to happen. After May 9, it's all up in the air.

The only things I'm sure of are, a) I'm going to graduate from college in a little less than four months, and b) I'm not scared anymore.

1/09/2008

New Hampshire '08

So Hillary came back from the dead, so to speak, as many pundits had buried her after her third place (by the barest of margins behind John Edwards) finish last week in Iowa, and especially after her supposed (and overblown) "emotional meltdown" yesterday, and won New Hampshire, with Barack Obama, the winner in Iowa, coming in a close second.

It's still early in primary season and no one knows, despite all the talking heads' vapid bloviating, who's going to eventually nab the presidential nominations. That's a subject for a later date, at least after Super Tuesday next month. But one thing is absolutely certain after Iowa and New Hampshire:

Regardless of your political affiliations, whether you hate Hillary or love her, whether you think Obama has enough experience to be president, you have to admit that it's pretty damn cool that a black man and a woman won the first two major primaries of the year.

That, my friends, is called History.

1/05/2008

Decision '08

This year's presidential election can be summed up thusly:























In the blue corner, stumping for Democratic Senator Barack Obama, we have the lovely and talented Scarlett Johansson.

And in the red corner, on the campaign trail with Bible-thumping Republican and former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, the washed up has-been that is Chuck Norris.

You make the call, America. Scarlett or Chuck. Who's it gonna be?

1/03/2008

The Final Frontier

This is why I love science:



(More awesome space images in the link.)

1/01/2008

Happy New Year!

Had dinner with the parents last night before swinging by Mick's to drop a Mark Waid signature off for him and shoot the shit for a little while. He and I haven't had much opportunity to talk lately, other than via Gchat. I'd always enjoyed talking with him. He is truly a Geek's Geek, well-versed in the customs and trappings of Geekdom. (I assume I don't have to point out that I mean that as a compliment.)

After leaving Mick's with a bagful of comics he's lending me to read, I drove down to Becky & Jason and TJ's to ring in the new year. I showed up close to 11 p.m., I think, and hung out 'til about 3:30 a.m. Got home at four this morning. Slept 'til nearly noon, which is a good eight hours that I've gotten accustomed to getting.

Other than a little bit of champagne at midnight (and a Jack & Coke at dinner), I didn't drink last night. I like to think my head is thanking me for it this morning. Of course, I'm a little sick now, too, with a sore throat and a stuffed-up nose. Couple that with a lot of alcohol and I'm pretty sure I'd be feeling fairly crappy this morning, so I'm glad I didn't imbibe. Plus, I didn't want to black/pass out and wind up sleeping on their bathroom floor again. Once was enough, thank you very much.

I hope everyone had a fun (and safe) night last night. And to steal a little something from Neil Gaiman:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.


Have a great 2008 everybody!