Monday, December 31, 2012


Film:  Flight

This movie felt like it belonged to a different time.  But as opposed to the Artist or Django, which are odes to silent movies and Spaghetti Westerns, Flight felt like an ode to an early 1990s Hollywood "important" drama, like say, Philadelphia or Quiz Show or A Few Good Men.  This strikes me as a strange genre to reboot or reimagine - not enough time has passed, nor is it clear this genre has stood the test of time.  There are other problems with the movie, but overall it just felt like a strange project to tackle, especially in a time when the studios make so few movies.  This isn't to say I disliked the picture -- it wasn't terrible -- and I was perfectly okay watching it, but there was nothing special to it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

We discuss on the podcast.

I re-watched the other night as a screener.  The movie holds up.  Enjoyable again on second viewing.  Some minor details clarified.

Film:  Promised Land

Surprisingly good first two acts completely sullied by a cliched and nonsensical twist toward the end.  I found myself somewhat bothered by semi-famous actors playing down home farmers.  I doubt most others will be, this is a product of me watching too many movies.
Red Flag

Yeah, I'd agree with McArdle here that our spidey senses should tingle whenever the government can claim more of your income than you take home - even for the very top earners.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Film:  Silver Linings Playbook

A good, solid movie.  Small.  Pretty similar tonally to The Fighter, but lacks the scale.  Best scene in the movie and one I will think about for a long time is when Jennifer Lawrence comes in and explains to De Niro in his own superstitious, gambler logic why Bradley Cooper should come to her dance competition and how she didn't jinx him.  It was the best De Niro moment in a movie in a long time and a scene than O'Russell can make work better than any living filmmaker.  The asides from other characters in the room "She's right." "Uh, huh's," etc are amazing and give this lively texture to a family scene and gathering that is so often missing from these type of scenes.

I listened to O'Russell on the Treatment yesterday and in a tiny aside he mentions "he writes for a living."  The thought occurred to me, directing movies isn't really a job.  It's an expensive hobby.  Even directors like Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson -- an argument can be made -- they produce and/or write movies for a living and hire themselves to direct.  They don't really get hired to direct movies and they have to perform all these functions of a producer - finding material/script, arranging financing and distribution, all this other work in order to direct the film.

I think guys like O'Russell and Alexander Payne basically doing writing jobs to pay the bills and then direct when they find the right project.  Perhaps you can look at a guy like Fincher as a director exclusively, but I imagine he still does commercials and things to buy himself time to do these big projects.  And these are all guys at the top of their games.  Maybe film schools talk about this, but I don't think the students hear it.  You hear people saying all the time "I want to be a director," which is like saying "I want to collect stamps" for all practical purposes.

Films:  Near Dark and Strange Days

The other night, I treated myself to a long overdue Katheryn Bigelow fest.  In the wake of Zero Dark Thirty, these were particularly interesting films to watch.  Incredibly different style.  Would be stretching to say the films were representative of the same filmmaker, although some philosophical similarities.  Near Dark is an interesting genre exercise, a mixture of vampire lore, western symbolism, outlaw love story.  I don't know if it was her first film, but it sure felt like a "first film," where some really cool, exciting elements, and then some amateurish ones to keep the story going along.  I was particularly impressed with the shots of vampires on fire.  There are a number of films where a character is on fire and it always looks bad to me, but in this relatively cheap vampire movie, the fire was at least interesting to look at.

Strange Days is simply put, one of the weirdest big scale films I've seen in awhile.  The movie feels both incredibly dated and oddly prescient.  It might make a bizarro pairing with a movie like Demolition Man - another incredibly strange representation of the future.  The human relationships and characters in Strange Days are the weirdest part - aside from all the futurism and virtual reality stuff.  Can someone explain to me how Ralph Fiennes is an ex-cop and spends the entire movie getting his ass kicked?  Aren't cops trained to be tough or at least be able to fight back?  In contrast, Angela Basset is this kick ass limo driver who (from the flashback) used to be a waitress?  Huh?  Why is she protecting him the entire time?  I seemed to have missed something.  The story about a rapper being killed by rogue cops and the cover up mixed in with the insane serial killer was completely bonkers.  Why did Vincent D'Onofrio start shooting all these random people at a big New Years Eve party in an effort to cover up another murder?  Wouldn't that be illegal as well and create a hundred other witnesses?

Also, why did the cops allow for this gigantic New Years Eve party in this chaotic, revolutionary times in the first place?  Doesn't the city have a permitting process?  How were the bands allowed to play and all the crazy party set up?  Just a thought.

This was a big Cameran-Bigelow collaboration and it the movie itself was any representation of the marriage, I can see why it didn't work out.  Too all over the place.  That said, I was glad to have watched it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Level of Conversation

Wow.  The NRA goes after Hollywood and Video Games to explain the mass shooting.

What a disgusting and cynical move.  It is also a good indicator of how dumb our national conversation has become.  Thank God our problems are relatively small, I'm not sure we could handle something real with our leadership today -- across industries and fields.
The Answer Is No

Is the Ivy League fair to Asian Americans?

American liberals want the Benetton Ad - the visual appearance of fairness and diversity - not actual fairness and diversity.  Then again, I suppose this is preferable to segregation, voluntary or involuntary.
Our Own Fault?

Backlast against managed care options in the 1990s could explain the rise in health care costs.  Opps.

Sometimes doing nothing is much smarter and more productive than doing something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


TV:  Homeland Season Finale

Goddamit!!!!  I think they pulled me back in.  I can't tell you how upset I am about this.

I am beginning to actively despise serialized television.  The amount of energy and time these shows ask of us to consume is sickening.  Someone recently said to me, "Boardwalk Empire gets real good in Season 3."  Oh really?  So I need to watch 26 freaking hours of television for something to get good?

I think about Treme and how I actually kind of like the show, but the show makes itself almost impossible to watch with the low stakes, low drama, general unpopularity (no one to talk about it with), and just the time and money and total disregard for plot twists and turns and any action whatsoever.

And Mad Men.  Oh, season 4 is really good.  Who cares?  If I am asked to spend 20-40 hours of watching to reap the benefits of this wonderful, important, drama, my answer is no thanks - I'd rather read a book.  I still have never read Moby Dick.  You're telling me Mad Men is worth my time over Moby Dick?  I doubt it.  Or just a pretty good non-fiction book.  I'm sure it would be better for the soul.

My favorite show of all time has swung back to Seinfeld.  I long for the good old fashioned episode.  It asks so little of you.  You can just enjoy it, get your mind off of work or whatever nonsense your day has thrown at you.  You don't need to consume the 40 hours of prior shows to enjoy it.  You don't need to DVR the damn thing.  You don't need to have some sort of interesting opinion or take on the show.  Even if the episode is lousy, you don't even feel bad for having watched it.  Even a lousy episode generally has a laugh or two.

As good as the Wire was, Season 5 begins to upset and annoy me the more I think about it.  These shows are asking for marriage when all I'm interested in is dating.  They simply ask too much for being TV.  TV is not high culture.  TV is not educational.  TV is freaking TV.  It is the boob-tube.  It is designed to sell you products.  It is designed to get you on your couch and not be productive.  And it is trying to kill the cinema, a better and higher form of experience.

I don't care about all this nonsense today about how TV is "better drama" than movies.  The form - the serialized form - is a gaping asshole trying to suck 5 years of your life away.  We should have seen this coming with shows like Lost and 24.  Just endless circles of consumption spinning around in circles, never doing anything of interest other than trying to rope you in.  Homeland is the worst offender -- we all know what type of crap is going to happen.  We all know it will ultimately be unsatisfying.  And yet they keep coming up with tricks to keep us watching.  What an offensive display.

A movie, in contrast, can be anything.  It can be a new style, a new story, a new character, a new ANYTHING.  Something invigorating.  A classic tale told in a new way.  A TV show can never be anything else than what it already is.

And that is my lunatic rant of the year.

This is crazy.

Brett Easton Ellis apologizes to Katherine Bigelow.

This episode is why I don't believe Twitter and Facebook are impressive or useful technologies.  Think about it:  Twitter enables people to broadcast every mumble and stupid thought they have all day.  By their nature, these stupid thoughts are going to be offensive and not thought out.  People read other people's stupid thoughts and then get offended and demand apologies.  Then people apologize for having stupid thoughts in the first place.  This is technology that is going to change the world?  It sounds like a gigantic waste of time.
What Can We Do?

Megan McArdle wrestles with what we can do about spree shootings.  Her analysis is very comprehensive and concludes:  nothing, really.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


TV:  Seinfeld - The Soup Nazi

This episode is a lesson on humor and how far you can take one joke.  It is also a lesson in how you don't need jokes to be funny.  During the entire Soup Nazi scenes, there isn't a single joke cracked.  All you have are people lining up to get soup they really want and the Nazi has strict procedures about what they need to go through.  No gags.  No puns.  No badumpty-dump-dump type of lines.  The humor is all in the various characters reactions and abilities to please or not please the Soup Nazi.  The episode is freaking genius.  "No soup for you."  The line is part of our cultural lexicon.  What is inherently funny about it?  Nothing.  Just a simple thing Larry David and Seinfeld found amusing.  So simple.
My Middle East Peace Plan

From my perspective, as someone who has never been to the Middle East, the major reason for prolonged mini-wars between the Palestinians and Israelis is the Arabs do not know how to lose gracefully or admit defeat.  They lost the wars against Israel and have never come to terms with it, instead choosing to manufacture a fake narrative about occupation and resistance and the right of return and so forth.

If they simply admitted defeat in either 1948 or 1967 and rebuilt their society around the areas in which they lived and pursued a legal strategy, perhaps they would have a better claim and certain a happier, healthier, and more productive people.  But instead they chose permanent war.

A leader is highly unlikely to emerge to lead them away from this self-destructive cycle.  It has become embedded deeply in their culture.  My solution, therefore, is a ground-up solution and involves something I do know about:  youth sports.

An NGO should focus on starting a highly competitive and top notch youth soccer program in the Palestinian controlled territories.  If the Palestinians are like the rest of the world, they probably love soccer.  What's not to love?  Do not try anything foolish and force the Palestinians to play with Israeli kids or anything like that.  Just make Palestinian leagues and then make all star teams and tournaments and so forth.  Let it get going.  Encourage the best players to become involved with coaching later on and training the younger players.  Give them some years to get good.  Eventually, the players will get better.  Focus only on that.  After awhile, if enough time and effort and expertise is put in, the youth national teams might get good.  They might even get competitive.  This will give them an enormous sense of pride.

All this while, however, the kids are learning the most important lesson sports can teach you:  how to win and lose gracefully.  How to admit defeat.  How to understand the impermanence of the moment.  How to move on, live to fight another day, how to respect the opponent.  Imagine a generation of Palestinian adults who fundamentally understand this natural state of being.  How to be part of a team.  What works and what doesn't.  This, I think, would work.  I suppose Hamas would probably not support it, but if there is anything more popular than Islamic Fundamentalism in the Arab world, it just might be soccer.
Bay Area Sports

From Grantland.

He captures the ironies of the supposedly laid back Bay Area with the hyper-intensity of pro sports.  If the Bay Area is too soft and hippy-dippy, how come our teams are so good?  Interesting question.

Instagram owns your photos.
More Dynamic

Cowherd spoke about Kaepernick and Smith and put it well - Smith is solid, but can only win the game one way - by playing perfect and not making mistakes.  Kaepernick will make more mistakes, but gives you more ways to win - playing conservative, QB running plays, QB making plays outside the pocket, and throwing deep.  Dynamic QB play is the key to winning Super Bowls.  It gives you more options and makes you harder to prepare for.

It makes sense.
Mental Health

If we want to stop school shootings, this seems to me the right kind of thinking approach.
In the mid-1960s, many of the killings would have been prevented because the severely mentally ill would have been confined and cared for in a state institution. But today, while government at most every level has bloated over the past half-century, mental-health treatment has been decimated. . . . People who are serious about preventing the next Newtown should embrace much greater funding for mental health, strong laws for civil commitment of the violently mentally ill—and stop kidding themselves that pretend gun-free zones will stop killers.”

Monday, December 17, 2012


Football is the best sport to watch.  Monday night, I'm bored, there is a horrible game on TV:  Jets-Titans.  Both absolutely terrible teams and still fun to watch just for the meltdowns.  A quarterback cannot play worse than Mark Sanchez today.  5 turnovers.  I've said this guy sucked for years and now it is becoming apparent to the rest of the world.  The Jets are the most fun team to root against in the league.
What Is Going On?

I read the movie studios are canceling premieres and showings of Jack Reacher and Django Unchained.  Why?  What does this have to do with the Newtown shooting?  Is the idea that violent movies are insensitive in a time of crisis?  I just don't quite get the logic.

I realize all my comments about the Newtown shooting must come across as terribly insensitive.  I guess not being on the East Coast and not having little children somehow distances me from feeling the true horror of the spree shooting.  But the senselessness of these types of things leave me feeling unchanged and not as if we should stop living how we live.  There are crazy people who will do horrible things now and again.  That's about all I can take away.

Film:  Tower Heist

My DVD player doesn't seem to work, so I'm left watching what's on HBO on Demand.  Just straight by the numbers movie.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Would Warren Buffett Say?

Gerad Depardieu moves away from France to avoid paying taxes.
"I am leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent, anything different must be sanctioned," he said.
Before you liberals mock, read this part:
Belgian residents do not pay wealth tax, which in France is now levied on those with assets over €1.3m.
Nor do they pay capital gains tax on share sales. "We no longer have the same homeland," Depardieu said. "I no longer have any reason to stay here. I will continue to love the French and this public that I have shared so much emotion with."
Hollande is pressing ahead too with plans to impose a 75% supertax on income over €1m
75% seems like a lot, doesn't it?

The Niner-Patriots game nearly gave me a heart attack, but a win against the #1 ranked team in football on their home field speaks for itself.  Harbaugh deserves credit and our trust - he went with Kaepernick because he can win games like this.  I think we go 2-1 with Smith at QB against the Rams, Miami, New England, but we win against the Rams and probably lose against the Pats.  And we went 2-1 with Kap, but we win against the Pats and lose against the Rams.  If all that matters is the playoffs, I suppose we are better off with the ability to beat the best teams versus the ability to not lose against the mediocre teams.  This is what the choice boiled down to.

Kap makes those big throws the two Crabtree TDs and the Walker TD.  Give him credit.  He also tosses the picks and can't handle the snaps.  I don't know what the hell to think.

I wonder if New England fans feel like Brady kind of choked the game away.  I know he lead the huge comeback, but then he seemed to lose his energy and missed some plays at the end.

The NFL is freaking garbage.  The only reason the Pats even got back into the game were two BS pass interference calls.

The Niners hit Hernandez so hard, he didn't want to catch the ball on the next play and it resulted in the Aldon Smith pick.

Thank God the Niners don't need to win against Seattle at Seattle to get into the playoffs.  Last year, it was the hardest hitting game I've ever seen, and there is a chance Seattle and Niners are the two best teams in the NFL on a neutral field right now.  Sadly, I'm pretty sure guys are going to get injured next week.
Disgusting Pigs

How can they cut to a completely useless Obama speech about the Newtown tragedy during the beginning over the Patriots-Niners football game?  Good grief.  This pornography of indulgence over tragedy is getting totally out of control.  Let people grieve, don't shove it down the throat of the entire country.  What the hell can Obama say that could possibly make anyone feel any better or different?  Truly disgusting.  What the hell is NBC doing?  For godsakes, end this torture.
Logging - Holy Crap

Fight:  Pacquiao-Marquez 4

Just watched the replay.  I know what's going to happen and it was still a crazy fight.  Best fight I've ever seen and I'm not an expert.  Actually felt like an early Rocky movie.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adding To The Dumb Hysterical Discussion

We'll talk about guns for a bit, I suppose, in our national discussion of the Newton tragedy.  The only big thing that is obvious to me:  there needs to be some better local systems for preventing guns - especially powerful guns - of getting into the hands of lunatics.  We know nothing of this shooter yet, but I'm sure we'll soon learn about warning signals and people who knew he was crazy and ordering assault rifles over the internet or something.  I don't imagine this would be a terribly difficult system to build, although like all things it could easily lead to abuse.  It seems rather dumb, in hindsight, when everyone who knows these shooters thinks to themselves "this guys is going to kill people soon" and there is no way to minimize the potential damage.

I don't think we want our 1st grade teachers carrying guns in the classroom.  People, I'm sure, have suggested this and anyone who has ever been in 1st grade knows this is not a good idea.

Likewise, we aren't getting rid of guns in America, nor should we.  The 2nd Amendment seemed pretty damn important to the Framers, and there is just no getting around it.  People who say the Framers didn't intend for assault rifles, etc, are basically just making shit up to support their cultural biases.

So, that's my addition to the incredibly stupid discussion the nation is having over the internet.

ESPN reporter suspended for comments about RG3 not living up to a racial purity test. 

Friday, December 14, 2012


Film:  LeS Miserables

Carve Anne Hathaway onto the supporting actress Oscar.  I witnessed something I've never seen before in a film:  applause during the movie.  Real, true applause, as in "wow."

I was thinking about whether I've seen this before - perhaps in some nostalgia fest screening (and certainly it is the norm in musical theater) - but this felt different.

Hooper uses the camera well.  He uses some type of weird lens during many sections of the movie.
Good Quote
"People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels -- people you don't want to resemble when you grow up." -- Nassim Taleb
He Should Know

BofA CEO says not everyone should own a home.

I don't even know why so many people WANT to own a home.  If you don't have kids, a stable job, and a stable place in the community, what advantages does it confer?
Fixed Costs

Are what's driving Americans to the poor house.

Yeah, I hate the personal finance articles that tell you how to save more money by eating out less and making your own coffee.  You want more money?  Earn more, pay lower rent, and don't use debt to pay for things.

A journalist has a puzzling problem with Zero Dark Thirty.
But as it stands, we're getting the myth of history before getting the actual history.
This is a strange claim.  Of course we get stories about the present - whether they exist in films or not - before historians can reflect upon them.  Should we only make period movies and cartoons?
Amen, Brother

There's no perfect time to have kids and other smart points.

The tendency to see death, and therefore life, as impediments that can be removed through more optimal strategizing—that's not feminism, per se. It's late capitalism, or modernity, or the post-enlightenment, or whatever you want to call where it is we live now. The obsession with empowerment requires us to see our lives as things we tinker with and recalibrate and drive beneath us towards some perfect, ever-expanding nirvana of utility. From this perspective, the most real part of us becomes not who we love, nor even who we are, but rather what we have "sacrificed". If only I hadn't had kids, I could have gotten that job; if only I hadn't taken this job, I could have had kids; if only I'd slept around; or married and settled down; or started a family earlier, or later. We spend all our time mourning the stronger, brighter, better selves we could have been, if we had only more fully maximized our choices.
The impulse to "tinker." The vain attempt at "perfection." Gigantic waste of time and energy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Film:  No Country For Old Men

I re-watched the mysterious scene of Tommy Lee Jones going back to the crime scene where Chigurh is apparently hiding behind the door several times.  The only explanation is that Chigurh is in Tommy Lee Jones imagination at that point in the movie - he is a "ghost" as referenced in the scene before.  The scene is physically impossible.  He cannot be literally behind the door, as the filmmaking suggests.

This is my favorite movie of the aughts.  I can't decide whether it's better than Fargo.

Restaurant:  The Apple Pan

Steak Burger or Hickory Burger?  I used to always get the Steak.  Last night, I tried Hickory.  I like Hickory better.  Smoky taste.  Very nice.

TV:  Homeland

Officially one of the most annoying shows ever created.

Film:  Django Unchained

Thoughts will be saved for the podcast or post-Christmas.

UPDATE:  I can't resist saying, I think it might be my favorite DiCaprio performance ever.

Films:  Romancing the Stone and 48 Hours

Some re-watching of 80s films this past weekend.  Romancing the Stone is such a beloved film, but it doesn't quite do it for me.  Too cheesy.  For my money, Raiders gets the proper seriousness vs. cheese balance correct, whereas Romancing the Stone overloads the cheese.  A perfect movie to show a beginning screenwriting class, however, about story structure.

I remember 48 Hours as a comedy, but the film is actually a hell of a lot grittier than all the later "action comedy" films.  Even Lethal Weapon, the 48 Hours sequel, Beverly Hills Cop, all of these films feature significantly more comedy than the original 48 Hours.  In fact, other than the famous redneck bar scene, I would venture to say the comedy in 48 Hours is more akin to the comedy expressed in Westerns than the comedy expressed in the genre known as action comedy.

Monday, December 10, 2012


The upper 1/5 of households will pay an average of $6,000 per year next year in taxes to fund the healthcare law.

I wonder what happens when we run out of people to pay for all these things.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Episodes 8 and 9

Of the Moviegoers Podcast are up.

I prefer the Lincoln discussion in 9 to the Cloud Atlas discussion in 8.  The source material is incredibly important to the podcast - some movies are just more interesting to talk about than others.
Film Directors

A roundtable discussion with Tarantino, David O Russell, Ang Lee, Gus Van Sant, Tom Hooper, and Ben Affleck.

At one point they discuss how to keep sane as a movie director.  It strikes me, the key to being a good director is to be both sane and insane at the same time.  This might be the greatest challenge to being a filmmaker and why the job is so difficult, to be able to find the balance of sanity and insanity.  No completely sane person could be a good filmmaker, just like no sane person could be a good football player.  A little insanity is needed.  But no insane person could possibly organize and run a film shoot, much less have the discipline needed to complete a script, develop a vision for a film, sell the money people, wrangle and convince the cast and crew, etc.

Also, they discuss Tarantino's position that he will stop making films after 10.  At first, his position comes across as a bit childish, but he articulates it rather well -- he wants all of his films to be worth seeing -- his list is incredibly important because he is making his films for the 14 year old kid who discovers his work 20 years after he is dead and he wants to feel confident that kid can go to any of his movies and be satisfied by watching them.  He says "Deathproof HAS to be my worst movie."

There is something to be said for this.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


TV:  Homeland, season 2, a couple of new episodes

I think I forgot to write about this show as Zero Dark Thirty made me block it out.  I've really turned on it.  I now find this show incredibly trashy and stupid.  And it's one of those things where it makes you look back and regret ever getting sucked in.  Some stuff turns bad and it saddens you a bit because of how awesome you know the earlier parts were and you wish it didn't just go off track.  This is more severe.  This show's ridiculous nature makes you question why you allowed yourself to get sucked into watching it in the first place.  Kind of reminds me of The Killing in that way.

I'm going to rent and watch OZ, I think.
Brick and Mortar

How the buying experience is better in person than via the internet or big box stores. 
I've bought my daughter, who's nine, a lot of shoes at big discount places: Target, Kohl's, Shoe Warehouse. When she was little, that was fine. Now that she's older, it's harder to find shoes that she likes, and that will fit, and hard to keep her size straight. So on Saturday I went to Coffin's Shoes, a venerable Knoxville outfit that's been selling shoes the old-fashioned way since the 1920s. A friendly salesman, who had obviously been doing his job for quite a while, measured her feet, listened to her talk about what she liked, had her try on a couple of shoes made on different-shaped "lasts" to get an idea of what she found comfortable, and then disappeared into the back, reemerging with a stack of shoes for her to try. 
After about half an hour of individual attention, we departed with two new pairs of shoes that she pronounced "the best shoes ever." And, she reported, they were comfortable.
I think about the video store.  I still go to the video store.  I love the video store.  But the video store is dying.  I don't often consult with the employees, usually I know what I want, but occasionally I will.  I'll ask them for recommendations or if a particular title is out, they will suggest, "oh, how about so-and-so."

I think people should still use the video store.  I hate this movement to all digital.  What a waste of time in the end.  Think of the joy you are brought by seeing a good movie vs a bad movie.  How is that capture in sales statistics?  How is it captured online?  And I'm not talking about yelp reviews or internet commentators or this aggregation bullshit.  I'm talking about just saying, dude, "I liked Charley Varrick, what else do you got?"  That's how you see movies -- that's how you find good movies.

People sometimes call me a luddite for taking such positions.  They like Netflix recommendations.  They are nerds.  And worse, they fetishize the promise of the internet versus what works in the real world.  Check out this month's Atlantic cover story about why the future of manufacturing is in America.  (print edition).  Some manufacturing is moving back to the states in some cases because they found it cheaper overall, even though the wages were higher.  Fuel costs, innovations, expertise, pairing engineers with builders all made the process better and more efficient, as opposed to chasing wage cuts by building things in China.

I'm not a luddite, I just don't believe in fixing things that aren't broken.  The video store works.  I wish people would see it.

Film:  The Dion Brothers aka The Gravy Train

A Stacy Keach film from 1974 - very difficult to find - wasn't on DVD, and I eventually got a copy from Cinephile which was recorded off some strange TV station a long time ago.  The film is a comedy heist movie about two hicks brothers who get screwed over by their crew and seek revenge and money.  A pretty joyous, 70s, B-movie romp, with an absolutely fantastic final scene involving a chase through a building while it is being destroyed by a wrecking ball.  Ahhh...I miss the grindhouse and the straight to video films from the past -- it seems like that kind of imagination is moving over to graphic novels or something.  Or maybe it's Jason Stathem.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


We need more failure.
A Case Against Passionate Arguments

Man shoots girlfriend over argument about The Walking Dead.
Interesting Point

Defending David Stern on the Popovich fine.
The NBA will always provide the illusion of competitiveness, which fans will unconsciously accept as viable entertainment. If you turn on an NBA game, you will see the game you expect (and will be able to pretend that it's exactly the game you desire). You will get what you think you want, and any question over what that should (or should not) be will not factor into the equation.
It's about the NBA as product vs. the NBA as about winning. Viable point. Otherwise, why do we sell tickets to all these games?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Grantland Podcast:  Nate Silver

Interesting podcast with Nate Silver.  Toward the end, they talk about sports betting and confirmed what I've long suspected:  you can't beat the house.  They talked about a guy who they both considered the most mathematically sound and best bettor in the country and he gets 57% of his bets correct.  That is big enough to make a handsome profit, but he works 80 hours a week in order to stay ahead of the curve while already being essentially the most knowledgeable dude in the world.  A somewhat less skilled guy, if he can predict 55% correct, can still make a living.  Any less than that, down to 52 or 53% and you get into trouble turning a profit because of deviations, etc.

What an incredibly difficult racket.

Silver also talked about online poker gambling.  He made a really smart point - for awhile there was easy money out there - but it quickly went away.  He said he was in the top 90 percentile for awhile and making dough online, but then all the losers either stop playing or get good and soon, the easy money disappears.  The only way to sustain easy money in poker is continually getting new people to play.

By the way, I see the same trend of social media - the currency of social media is new people joining.  Once everyone is on it - what's the point?

Film/Animation:  Ratatouille

Good for what it was.  But I had a realization watching about these Pixar movies -- they are easier to write than "real" movies.  They are able to maximize dramatic irony and set up good situations because they aren't constrained by real world logic.  I think if you went back and examined all the Lassiter/Pixar movies, you'd find this same issue, and why a smart betting man might bet against the directors/writers coming out of this school in their transitions to live action.

Brad Bird did Mission Impossible 4, which did well at the box office, but was pretty preposterous.

Andrew Stanton did John Mars.

And I suppose we'll see what happens with these new Star Wars movies.

I'd say there is some evidence supporting my suspicion.


Film:  Killing Them Softly

Boy...well, I didn't think it deserved an "F" cinemascore, but it was far from a masterpiece.  You'd think with the Dominick pedigree and this level of dialog from the source material, it'd be tough to go wrong.  Goes to show plot and ideas matter.  This core concept of the movie taking place during the 2008 election feels so dated and hackneyed, I can't believe no one in the brain trust just said - we have to take it all out.  Overall, the casting felt a bit off as well.  Johnny Sack, Richard Jenkins, the guy from Animal Kingdom, all were in the right general concept of casting, but it didn't glue together for some reason.  A puzzling overall movie and yet, I still found myself enjoying parts.  I'm such a freaking sucker for guys with guns movies, it is like tossing a dog a bone.
Good Lord

Jim Harbaugh was on Saved By The Bell.
Lincoln Roundtable Discussion

At the Atlantic.

Monday, December 03, 2012


Books:  Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and Tiger Trap by David Wise

Finished both these books.  Both worth reading for the subject matter.
The Flip Side:  In Defense of Kaepernick

Maybe at some point during the 23-3 loss to the Giant's earlier this year, Harbaugh came to the realization that the Niners could not beat the very best of teams with Smith at QB.  And he may well be right.  I still hold that game goes different if a few plays swung our way -- but maybe the reason we don't get into the end zone in the first quarter rather than settle for field goals is Smith.  Last year, we had chances to beat the Giant's, but eventually they prevailed.
Delusions of Grandeur

I am reminded by a Grantland column today of San Diego firing Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season to go with Norv Turner.  The idea was Schottenheimer couldn't win the big one.  How has Norv Turner done in that department as a replacement?

In high pressure, competitive environments, people make stupid decisions by seeing all upside to the unknown and refusing to imagine the unexpected from the known.  Yes, I am talking about Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, but I am talking about other things as well.

The Niners lost on Sunday because of Kaepernick.  Anyone who denies this claim is lying to themselves.  This doesn't necessarily mean it was a mistake to play Kapernick, but let's not lie to ourselves.  We must be saying, we will take these losses because the future upside is better.  Perhaps it is.  But a lot of people have lost a lot of money and wasted good parts of their lives chasing unknown upsides.  You hear about the good stories - the stories where Brady replaced Bledsoe is a ballsy move.  Or the stories like Robert Roderiguez selling his blood to make his first movie or Kevin Smith doing it on credit cards.  We like stories when people risk it all and come out ahead.  But I'd be willing to bet, of the people who risk it all, well over 90% lose it all and we hear stories about the others.

I used to be a win the Super Bowl or nothing guy.  Then I watched the Niners from 2002-2010.  I came to appreciate the playoffs and chance to play for something.  And with the NFL structured the way it is structured now, with parity, it's just luck and timing if you put yourself in the top 8.  The Niners are in the top 8 with Smith.  Kaep is the future - maybe - or maybe he isn't.  Smith was the future once, too.

Film:  Zero Dark Thirty

I'm almost hesitant to write about it because technically it isn't out for about 3 weeks.  But I thought it was terrific.  It made Argo look like amateur hour.
Real Bummer

Oyster farm closed by government in Drake's Bay.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Niners - We Made Our Bed

I don't know the right football call - Smith vs. Kaepernick, but as a fan, I know this:  I like our team less right now.  When a man leaves his loving family for his hot secretary, you don't root for their relationship to succeed.  You don't necessarily root against it, but you don't root for it.  The Niners went that way.  We got swept up in the bullshit.  We got swept up by Kaepernick making a few great plays and passing the "eye" test.  Although, as I pointed out last week, the Bears game was a bit deceiving because the Bears did not come to play.  It wasn't like Kaepernick defeated a team who came to play -- and Kaepernick has played against such teams - the Rams twice and the Giant's for a few snaps.  Both times, he looked decent to bad, just like Smith has looked at times.  And if Brooks doesn't intercept that pass at the end of the half against the Saints, that game goes a different way.  I hate rushing to judgement on a rookie, but that's what kind of environment we've built, the type of expectations we've set for ourselves with installing Kaepernick.  He has to outperform Smith to justify playing.  And thus far, simply put, he has not.  Smith has games that can stack up against Kaep's performance against Chicago - Green Bay week 1, Arizona a couple weeks ago, Saints playoff game last year.  Do we forget all this?  And why are people bringing up 6 years ago with respect to Smith?  If we want to go back and look at college tape of Kaepernick, I'm sure it wouldn't all be pretty.

Make no mistake, we lost the game today because of Kaepernick.  Let's not sugar coat it.  We all know that game is a W with Smith at quarterback.  If Kaep is the future, so be it, let's accept the rough spots.  But these Niners are built to win NOW.  We have as good a chance as any team in the NFL to win with Smith at QB.  For chrissake, if it weren't for Kaep, that game is a shutout.  He handed the Rams 10 points with a dumbass safety where he either needed to take the sack early or throw it way and that ridiculous read option play.

And I don't like the look of Kaep's throws.  He takes too long to wind up.  This is not good.  He threw people for a loop, and everyone thinks he's Tom Brady.  It makes me really not like the sports media and the hubris and arrogance of the Niner brain trust.  They made decisions just like all the bankers moving into mortgage back securities and all these other tales of guys thinking they are smarter than they are (Vietnam, etc).

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Future

The birthrate dropped 8% during the Great Recession.  Ross Douthat makes some important points:
The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

From my perspective and in my field, I see this represented and celebrated in movies and television, this "spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be."  Is there a better description of the ethos celebrated in HBO's Girls?

Friday, November 30, 2012

How Did I Miss This?

This Is Fun

The Randell Cunningham play is my favorite.  You watch these plays - and Berman makes the note that the Eagles don't win the game - and it is a reminder of one of the great elements of sports -- that sports are not entirely about winning, sports are about glory.
The Power of Narrative

Talking about Matt Ryan and sports narratives.  This is an astute article.
The opposite of that is true, too; once we've defined a player to possess something special in terms of his ability to win in the playoffs, he can do virtually nothing to erase those claims. The thought experiment I always pose in arguing that one is simple: Take Tom Brady's playoff career and flip it, so that he begins his career with the 2011 season and ends it with the 2001 campaign. Brady's a totally different player with a totally different career story line. He's the guy who can't win the big game, the quarterback who has the Giants stuck in his head from the start. He loses to them in the 2011 regular season and then in the Super Bowl when Manning finds Manningham. Given a second crack a few years later, he finally beats them in Week 17 to extend New England's perfect season, but the Giants come up in the clutch in the Super Bowl in a way that Brady just can't match, as the "greatest offense in league history" implodes and scores just 14 points in an embarrassing loss. You can feel the invective spewing through the Boston papers as Brady gets blown out by the Ravens in 2009 and is trampled by the Broncos in Denver in 2005. Finally, he gets his ring after seven disappointing playoff runs at the helm, but only by blowing a playoff lead to Jake Delhomme before getting bailed out when the opposing kicker boots the final kickoff of the game out of bounds. Brady goes on a nine-game playoff winning streak and shakes his playoff blues. In the real world, Brady's playoff career is pretty similar to Derek Jeter's, a guy who repeatedly won at the beginning of his career before a long stretch of mostly coming up just short. Flip it, and he's more like Jordan, a guy who had the playoff choker label slapped on him before making the whole thing look silly. Winning in the playoffs matters, but a win in the 10th year of a guy's career means just as much as one in his second year.
Kobe and Brett Farve are my two biggest beefs in sports narratives. These guys are totally overrated for their clutch performances, which are average at best. The impressive thing is their longevity, not their playoff mettle.
And All That Said

This might be the best stand alone scene (or shot) I've seen all year in the movies:

The shipwreck sequence in Life of Pi is close - but I need to see it again to understand what I saw.

Film:  Holy Motors

By far my favorite sequence was the accordion musical bit.  It was exciting and joyous.  It takes one a moment to get oriented into the mindset to watch a film like this, a true art film, and challenges the viewer to accept it on different terms than a conventional film.  I guess the only way to evaluate is one's enjoyment of the movie, and although there were parts to enjoy, I felt a distance from the movie while watching it.  There is a feeling that anything can happen and this can be a double edged sword - exciting and annoying.  In the movies, there are all sorts of references to other movie genres and even ways of making movies (I'm thinking of the motion capture bits), but it leaves me thinking - don't I just prefer an actual gangster film to an art film which references gangster films?  And so forth.  I've been thinking about this lately as there was a New York Times article about hipsters and the possible social problems with ironically enjoying things...dressing ironically...listening to music ironically.  I guess I think about it this way - does it make a difference if you are being an asshole ironically or just being an asshole?  If you are being an ironic racist, is that different from just being racist?

All said, I could see this film being a great hit at Cannes and it was worth seeing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Fast food workers trying to unionize.
Cheap fast food and their cheap workers impose a cost on the country in the form of food stamps, welfare through the tax code, and social safety net programs. This is a place for government to intervene -- and for corporations to sacrifice some of their profits -- by raising wages to a livable level.
It's pretty hard to be unsympathetic to people trying to earn a living wage given the state of the economy and the trends of globalization, if you have any sense of fairness or equality of opportunity.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That Time of Year

Niners suffer two somewhat worrying injuries:  Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams are both gone for the season.

Both play important roles.  Williams is our "quick" receiver, in the mold of Welker.  Not nearly as good, he gets a few tosses a game.  He also returns kicks and is our back up punt returner.

Hunter is our 2nd back and gets a lot of playing time.  He averages over 5 yards a carry and with Gore makes the Niners one of the best backfields in the league.

So these losses will matter.  Hopefully, however, we'll get to see the Niners two top draft picks from last year get some playing time:  AJ Jenkins and LaMichael James.

Will James return some kicks?  I hope so.  Our kick return game has been pretty bad this year, with Ginn being out and then fumbling a horrible ball last game.  Maybe James can spice it up and become a Sproles like player.  Will Brandon Jacobs get some more runs?  He looked good in the two hand offs he got last week.  I still like a platoon running situation to keep Gore rested for the playoffs.  Hopefully James and Jacobs can step in and be effective.  It will be nice to see what these guys can contribute.  Last year, Williams started playing around midseason and looked pretty effective out there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Facebook = Stress

The Atlantic makes an obvious point about facebook.
Facebook's power, and its curse, is this holistic treatment of personhood. All the careful tailoring we do to ourselves (and to our selves) -- to be, say, professional in one context and whimsical in the other -- dissolves in the simmering singularity of the Facebook timeline.
This idea of personhood is what a college sophomores thinks is "authentic." I say the folks who experience stress deserve it. No one forced them to sign up for facebook.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Night Football

Oy Vey - what an ugly game.  I'm just watching the end now - Carolina vs. the Eagles.  Just this sequence alone - Eagles go for it on 4th and inches down by 2 points with about 7 minutes left.  They call a slow developing run play and Carolina stuffs it.  Carolina gets the ball back and starts driving down the field.  During this sequence, the Eagles commit 3 offsides penalties in the red zone giving Carolina about 10 chances to score a TD, which they finally do.  So now Carolina goes up 8 and misses the extra point.  How impossibly stupid - they can put the game out of reach and can't convert an extra point.  But never fear, the Eagles fumble the ball on the kick off and the Panthers get it back.  They smartly run the ball on 1st down, but do two more stupid things - 1) commit a holding penalty and 2) the running back runs out of bounds.  This is with about 4 minutes left, up by a score and they are just trying to run out the clock.  This is a battle of dumb teams to see who will blow the game.

Watching Cam Newton play and I'm reminded of Kaepernick.  They bring the same type of strengths - running and downfield passing - and explosive play.  They bring the same type of excitement in their first two games.  But remember this:  Cam Newton has had a huge drop off since the first half of last season and doesn't win close games.  The NFL figured him out.  Granted, the Niners have a much stronger supporting cast and a better coach.  But would I trade Alex Smith for Cam Newton?  I wouldn't.  Would I take them on the same team?  Yeah, I would.

The most effective quarterback in this mold is Big Ben Roethlisberger.  I think the Kaepernick - Newton comparison is better, however, because Big Ben isn't as fleet a foot - he doesn't run like the other guys - he more uses his size to stay alive in the pocket and make plays downfield.  The big difference between Big Ben and Cam is his late game performance and knack for winning big games.

I guess all I'm saying is the folks who are excited about Kaepernick are the same type of folks who were excited for Cam.  Those type of folks overestimated Cam's value.

Note:  Finally, someone makes a smart play - Mike Tolbert goes down after securing a first down by staying in bounds.  Now the Panthers can run out the clock.
Niners - Saints

All the national media can talk about is Colin Kaepernick.  His stats were about the same as Alex Smith.  He brings some stuff to the table - the run option - more downfield passing - and more confidence on 3rd and longs.  I feel like the Niners are more "explosive" offensively with Kaepernack, but also higher risk.  In either case, the Niners have the best back up QB in football now and will be effective with either one.  If Drew Brees doesn't throw that pick 6 at the very end of the 1st half yesterday, the game goes totally differently and this QB controversy is heated.  I'm wondering if Smith supporters will come out of the woodwork the first time Kaepernick loses, which I imagine he will at some point.

The most noticeable element of the game, by the end, was the sheer physical intensity the Niners brought to the Saints.  They were done at the end.  Brees didn't want to be on the field and that guy is normally a warrior.  The Niners KO'd two receivers on big passes over the field.  Donte Whitner hit Lance Moore so hard, I couldn't believe it.  His arms went limp and the ball fell out.  That poor bastard probably had a tough time getting out of bed this morning.  Where did the Niners find these safeties?  They are dangerous, man.  I was seriously worried about the Saints yesterday.  I'm not kidding.  There was a play where it looked like Patrick Willis grabbed Brees by the neck and threw him to the ground.  It was brutal.

Data shows the 401(k) doesn't work.  People use it, but they don't save any more money.  At least in Denmark, where the study was conducted.  It doesn't surprise me.  The 401(k) was never truly designed to help people - it was meant to shift investment risk from employers to employees.  And people ate it up because the stock market did well.  Until it didn't.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Film:  Life of Pi

I still don't get 3D.  I look at it through the lens of the audience experience, as opposed to being wowed by technological accomplishment.  It does not make the movie any more immersive or special to me.  It gives some depth - but for all these directors who talk about 3D being more life-like, etc, this is a complete joke and a borderline hoax.  In no way is the theatrical 3D experience even close to life-like conditions of experience.  First of the, the depth feels to me like about 6-7 feet of screen depth.  You get maybe one or two "layers" of space.  In real space, I can see from inches in front of my face to miles away with innumerable space in between and all around me.  This 6-7 feet of space illusion with glasses is nothing.  It still feels like a gimmick to me.  I don't get any more emotional or narrative satisfaction from the experience - it does not enhance performance or writing or visual wonder.  It is more artifice and less dream.  If anything, the whole set up feels less realistic.

James Cameron has talked about people watching 3D and how it activates more receptors in the brain and ends up triggering all these different things to make it a higher level experience.  Maybe he is scientifically correct - but I'm not going into movies to maximize my brain triggering mechanisms.  I'm going into movies for a variety of reasons - to relax and enjoy a community storytelling experience, to enter a dream world, to get told a nice story, to see a wonderful performance, to laugh, to cry -- and none of these things are much enhanced by 3D.  3D is a businessman's gimmick to get people into the theater and to pay a premium price.  It is also a technical accomplishment of what seems to me, astonishing complexity.  But that is not why I see movies - maybe some do - but I do not.

Pictures - photography - have a special power.  They capture moments to the exclusion of others that clarify and identity an emotional state.  They summarize what it feels like to be alive.  I don't think we are getting tired of looking at photographs - nor will ever tire of looking at photographs.  After all, facebook is really just one big photo album.  Movies are extensions of this fundamental technology and power - photographs plus movement plus sound, which creates an emotional experience of looking at a 2D representation of 3 dimensional space and time.

But yes, Life of Pi is wowing.  Watching the shipwreck all I can think about is - how the hell did he do this?  Watching the Tiger and the animation or whatever you want to call it - is amazing.  But ask yourself this - what would a similar movie look like if they used an actual tiger?  It would probably be impossible to make - but what would that experience feel like watching?

As to the story - bleh.  Didn't care for the framing device of the author interviewing the guy.  I've seen survival stories before, done better.  Not a great movie, but not a terrible movie.  Will not be in my tops for the year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


TV:  Homeland, S.2 e.7

Ugh.  This show is becoming a real bore.
Taxes Going Up

Megan McArdle corrects the correctors.
To be sure, there are a bunch of people who confuse marginal with effective tax rates, and their error should be gently pointed out. But it is hard to correct the errors of others while simultaneously making a fairly sizeable error of your own. So I've put together a handy graphic showing you what income levels trigger deduction phaseouts or surtaxes.
Gotta Love SF

Driving home to SF yesterday, I love hearing the local radio.  All the sports people can talk about is Colin Kaepernick.  On the news channel, the big issue yesterday was the San Francisco city council voted 6-5 to ban public nudity except on certain events like Bay to Breakers, etc.  I love this story.  First of all, that there is a problem with public nudity is hilarious unto itself.  Apparently, in the Castro, there are lots of dudes - and they made the point it is mostly dudes - who just sit around nude all day.  People complain.  So somehow it gets to the city council and the vote is narrow - 6-5 - in the favor of banning public nudity.

And this ban has prompted nude protests, of course.

What's not to love?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Who's Hiring

$100,000 per year jobs people don't want.

It is somewhat embarrassing to list the number of books I am in some stage of reading.  Why don't I finish one before starting another?  I don't know.

2666, part 2, 3, and 4 by Roberto Bolano:  I was loving this book and then got to The Part About the Crimes.  I stopped reading.  I just got tired.  And in a 900 page book, it is tough to start slogging through only to get to another 300 page section.  I hope I will pick it up again and finish.  I like the idea of reading hard things as well as easy things, although I imagine you could easily waste your entire life this way.

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming:  I once read Dr. No and thought it was terrible.  I figured the Bond movies were better than the Bond books.  But I enjoyed the recent Bond film and decided I wanted to check out some new spy books and Fleming's name kept popping up.  I can't believe how good this book is.  I'm going to read at least two more Bond novels afterward:  Moonraker for sure (which is acclaimed as the best one) and possibly the short stories or Goldfinger, we'll see.

This book is strangely dark and hard boiled.  It is racist and misogynistic -- one of the characters talks about how women have fantasies of being taken off into caves and being raped.  Foreign characters are often portrayed negatively with exaggerated racial features.  And I think these elements are why Bond books are pooh-poohed by critics and academics and just generally not read much anymore.  But the writing and storytelling is wonderful.  And Fleming's descriptions of the world are born out of experience -- the man interacted with the types of people he writes about.  It isn't politically correct, but I prefer this kind of candor to the mealy mouthed politically correct "opinions" that are not born out of experience living in the world, but rather experienced by hiding within the walls of academia and suburbia, taking cues of the way the world is by Benetton ads as opposed to seeing it for oneself.

Apparently, the Bond books are of mixed quality.  From Russia with Love and Moonraker are supposedly the best two.  Fleming would write one a summer while he vacationed in Jamaica.

Suspects by David Thomson:  Going to read this one slowly.  You could call it noir fan fiction.  Thomson imagines the lives of famous movie characters from Jake Gittes to George Bailey from beginning to end, outside the lines of the films.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain:  Pretty fun and easy read so far.  Kind of a must read for those of us interested in the behind-the-scenes element of the food world.  I generally don't like reading memoirs very much and this will suffer from being one of those.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl:  See above.  I may have already logged this one before.  Can't remember.

Tiger Trap by David Wise:  How America does battle with Chinese spies.  Really strong, grounded book thus far.
This Movie Sounds Terrible

I can't barely read this glowing review of The Comedy. Try reading this paragraph:
People who hate The Comedy (and possibly Girls) will argue (with good reason) that the indie exceptionalism it eviscerates is also what makes a film with such a narrow scope possible. The Comedy won't play to audiences in Bismarck or Sheboygan, and this is obviously by design. As off-putting as The Comedy is, it feeds into the vanity of those most like the characters on-screen. If this is true, what does that say about the audience? That, at best, they accept the premise that their lives are cinematic shorthand for soullessness? Or, at worst, that they inhabit an impeccably curated hellscape filled with bitchin' stuff but no substance? What have they done to believe that they deserve to be subjected to a film like The Comedy?
This is the world Facebook hath brought us.  Everyone an opinion, everyone the star of a movie.  If anyone thinks internet comments are what the people in the future will read, then I suppose these folks are onto something.  I imagine people of the future will be smarter than the folks in the present and not waste their time with them, or these kind of movies, or the reviews, that address such small, unimportant things.
Secession Fever

Well, I'd hardly call it a fever, but yeah, this is a good reminder of why a Federalist system is a good model of government.
Living Without Irony

Interesting article.  Hat tip, Viner.
Why Soccer Is The World's Greatest Game

Great article.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Film:  Perks of Being a Wallflower

Screener season has begun, and I started getting them.  I heard good things about this film and was happy to receive it.

But the good/bad thing about getting screeners is how easy they are to turn off if you aren't enjoying the movie.  And turn off Perks I did.  I just couldn't get into it.  Felt incredibly cliched.  And boring.  Recognized one of the actresses from Arrested Development.  She played Ann, George Michael's girlfriend who Jason Bateman refused to recognize.  So I watched 3 episodes of Arrested Development.  What an amazing show.

I Go Back and Forth On This

The death or estate tax. 
"The idea behind the estate tax is to prevent the very wealthy among us from accumulating vast fortunes that they can pass along to the next generation," said Patrick Lester, director of Federal Fiscal Policy with the progressive think tank -- OMB Watch. "The poster child for the estate tax is Paris Hilton -- the celebrity and hotel heiress. That's who this is targeted at, not ordinary Americans."
Is it the job of the government to prevent fortunes from being spread?  And wasn't the money taxed already when the person first earned it?
If I Were A Republican...

...and I wanted to win the Presidency, I would focus on California.  Absurd?  California lone can flip 55 votes - it would swing an election - and there are plenty of issues to divide Californians.  But the big one for Californians elites:  copyright.

You want to mess with Hollywood, mess with this system and the laws.  You want to pit Hollywood and Silicon Valley against one another?  Copyright and piracy are the issues.  One simple flip in Hollywood could throw the town into chaos:  what if screenwriters had copyright to their work?  Imagine the ramifications to the movie making process and the money.  Screenwriters have never fought for copyright because they always took the money - but it isn't out of the realm of possibilities to imagine a world where studios don't own screenplays, they simply act as publishing houses or theaters with respect to the underlying work.

There would be less money all around - and I'm not sure if I'd personally like the situation - but it would be entertaining to imagine this alternative world.
The Future

When I think about the future of entertainment, I'm less inclined to listen to prognostications from CEOs of media companies -- since usually they are just hawking their products -- and more likely just to look at the landscape of porn.
At the same time, shrinking porn profits and a talent supply-and-demand imbalance have caused performers' salaries to decline....While a decade ago the average female performer would make about $100,000 a year, Spiegler says she now might make as little as $50,000 -- all while juggling responsibilities such as social-media outreach and personal appearances.
More work and less pay. Sounds like Hollywood. Sounds like the rest of the America. Get ready folks -- we might see a revival of Colonialism as soon as people realize how difficult life is when the free market gets hold of every corner of the earth.  All the folks who cried for social justice and fairness will hate their new jobs as much as the next person.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why McDonalds Is A Smart Company

They own the land, too.
McDonald’s has a pretty unique approach to opening new stores. While many investors don’t realize it, McDonald’s often owns the land underneath franchised store locations, generating bigger royalty streams from each location than rival quick service restaurant chains.
Hot Money

is flowing into SoCal right now screwing up the local housing prices.

These real estate speculators are real pricks.  Kind of makes me want to get in the game.
New Poverty Terms

Now Obama's team wants to measure poverty in relative (vs. absolute terms).  This confirms Republican suspicions of his redistributive goals.  Of course, no one is talking about it.

Restaurants:  Soot Bull Jeep and Hiko Sushi

Went to Soot Bull Jeep last week and it delivered as always.  I've yet to find a better group dinner spot in LA.  You eat meat and drink beer until you are full and it costs between $25-30 per person.  Your clothes stink and you'll wake up the next day with a headache from smoke inhalation, but the pork?  The steak rib?  The bean paste and cooked garlic?  Worth it.

Hiko Sushi is arguably the best sushi I've eaten.  Not that I'm some sort of connoisseur, but over the years, I've been to some good spots.  But the overall quality of sushi seems to be going up as it has become more and more popular and main stream.  Thinking back - I probably didn't even try sushi until right after college.  And now?  It is as common as a hamburger, at least in LA.  Hiko is a small little spot in a strip mall on the Mar Vista / Palms border.  It would be quite easy to miss it.  You walk in and it seems like a middle of the road little sushi joint.  The omakase comes out on cheap, inexpensive dishes.  The beer costs $3.50 for a draft of Kirin.  But don't let the ambiance fool you - this place is NOT cheap.  We ate, not paying too much attention to the cost.  The Toro was like butter, the albacore delicious; but the best piece was a white fish with a piece of seaweed on it - I think the waitress said "like Sea Bass," but I can't remember what it actually was.  I don't think it was on the menu.  Really, all the sushi was delicious.  The only thing I could have gone without was the crab roll, which was just okay.  Don't go here to save a buck -- go here to splurge.

Film:  Arthur, the original Dudley Moore version

I never saw the remake, but there is no way it is as wild as the first movie.  This was clearly a huge influence on the Adam Sandler and Chris Farley man-child films.  And it got me thinking about Bad News Bears.  Why do studios remake these gonzo, wild movies, and then totally neuter them?  It makes no sense.  It's like they don't understand why these films are beloved.  They think Bad News Bears or Arthur works because of the title?  They work because they are drinking movies about alcoholics.  All the comedy in Arthur is drunken comedy.  The movie is far from perfect and I'm not even sure I'd recommend it, but it is full of life and sloppiness and absurdity.  I'd take a movie like this any day over the glossy humorless trying-too-hard versions of remake comedies - even one's that do ok, like 21 Jump Street.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Nate Silver, Nate Silver, Nate Silver

The nation, as we all know, is swept up in the fact Nate Silver predicted 50 of 50 states.  But isn't this achievement a bit overstated?  How many states were actually close?  In the end, only really 2 states were within 2% -- Ohio and Florida.  There are about 8 states listed as battleground states.  So really, Nave Silver was 2 for 2 or 8 for 8.  Still good, but not exactly 50 for 50.

Now I say this as a person who suspected Romney was going to win - a person who got caught up in the media coverage and who didn't pay attention to polling.

I was more impressed with Brower going 11-1 a couple Sunday's ago against the spread.  Now that's impressive.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another Thing About Lincoln...

They don't shine too big a light on it, but Lincoln was basically self educated.  I almost can't fathom a person in today's America being self-educated, much less being able to rise to the President of the United States.  And much less rising to being the greatest President of all time.  I find this notion a tad maybe the structures of our institutions are faulty.  Perhaps we overly focus on credentials.

Film:  Julie and Julia

I am live blogging while watching this film.  It isn't good.  I don't enjoy main characters whose goal is popularity.  Diary of a Wimpy kid uses this device, of course, the character is a middle school student.  In Julie and Julia, the Julie character's main goal is to get popularity via her blog.  This is distasteful, both as a moviegoer and a blogger.

Scary, But True

How to get a Hollywood Greenlight.
AO Scott

I don't usually agree with him, but he nails it on Lincoln.

Film:  Lincoln

I'll be surprised if there is a better film this year.  These type of movies are the hardest to make - historical dramas without any action.  How do you keep the audience engaged?  Here's how they do it:  fantastic writing, surprising humor, and top notch acting all the way up and down the movie.  The most incredible accomplishment of the film is how they convey a complicated legal reasoning for the necessity of the 13th Amendment within the dramatic form and how this need drives the movie.

Normally, there are blips in Spielberg movies where it gets overly sentimental and annoying.  There were hints -- he almost went there with the Sally Field character, almost made the Joseph Gordan Levitt relationship too much -- but he pulled back from the brink, probably constrained by the reality of events.

I can't praise this movie enough.  It is my favorite Spielberg film in years and would be deeply surprised if there is a better film this year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Thinking more about Bond and The Walking Dead and the tone of the cultural touchstones at the moment and surprised by how dark our national mood has become.  Looking back, at least artistically, it strikes me the two earliest and most influential voices that properly express our current cultural tone are Alan Moore and Cormac McCarthy.  Specifically, I am thinking of The Killing Joke and Watchmen  for Moore and Blood Meridian for McCarthy.

The Killing Joke was published in 1988 and Watchmen in 1987.  Blood Meridian was published in 1985 and is probably McCarthy's magnum opus (along with the Border trilogy) with themes he later explored in tighter, shorter stories:  No Country For Old Men and The Road.  But Blood Meridian was the major introduction to this noir western tone and the earliest work people seem to talk about - at least popularly.

Moore's Joker is what influenced Nolan's Batman trilogy and this McCarthy tone has found itself reaching all the way to Bond, if you ask me.

I wonder what was happening in 1985-1988 and where these visions came from.  And why are they influential now?  The Soviet Union wasn't even done yet.
Militarization of the CIA

The "real" Patraeus scandal is the increased militarization of the CIA.  Very good article.  Hat tip, Chuck.

It's as if the CIA started acting how they were depicted in the movies.  Which, by the way, would be completely unsurprising given the times we live.  After all, the imagination behind 9/11 was straight out of a Bruckheimer film.
Discouraged Workers

Marginal Revolution suspects we are undercounting very discouraged workers in the unemployment rate.

They might want to also point out: the jobs aren't coming back.  If anything, the American workplace was bloated with superfluous employees for the past 15 years pre-recession.  Anyone who worked in an office or saw Office Space can attest.  What the recession did was forces businesses to get lean to get profitable, which they have, and maybe will hire a few more people now to stop leaning too hard on the productive employees.  But the jobs?  I don't see the jobs coming back.  Someone is going to need to figure something out to get our full population working again.  A world war is not preferable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


TV:  Homeland S.2 and The Walking Dead S.3

These shows are absolutely bonkers.  Homeland is a such a curious show.  There are times when it is incredibly good and arguably the best show on TV and two scenes later will be soap opera quality.  Very strange.  I feel like a total idiot watching it at moments and yet, probably look forward more to it to any other show on TV other than Game of Thrones.

The Walking Dead is easily the most holy-fucking-shit of all the holy-fucking-shit TV shows on right now.  In fact, this little era of TV, post-Wire, post-Sopranos, should already be termed "the holy fucking shit era."  We are experiencing the hangover period for a great leap forward in TV-drama quality - the whole Six Feet Under, the Wire, Sopranos era is over - and in the wake of it we have the lesser quality offshoots:  Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Treme and then the holy-fucking-shit shows:  Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Walking Dead, Girls, Homeland...I must be missing some others as well.  These shows are nuts.  They are like the insane crazy younger brother of the star athlete in high school who could never imagine measuring up to the older brother, so he doesn't even bother and carves out his own identity by being totally bonkers.  Half of them involve eating people or cannibalism, the "grounded" ones include a girl hooking up during a miscarriage, a terrorist running for vice president, and a high school chem teacher becoming a drug lord and poisoning little kids.

But The Walking Dead is the king of all this madness.  I personally like Game of Thrones the best of these shows, and superficially, it would appear to be the more bonkers show with the gratuitous sex and dragons.  But Walking Dead...I don't even know where to begin (and there will be spoilers in this)...maybe with the amateur c-section being performed while under attack by zombies.  Who thought of this?  How did this get through?  I thought there was Standards and Practices and you know, studio executives who wrestled with what middle america wants to see and were the "suits" making sure the creatives didn't get too offensive.  Half the stuff shown on Walking Dead I cannot believe makes it onto television.  One entire storyline of this last episode was a dude going crazy and bashing zombies heads with an axe and then finding the zombie who ate his wife and killing it and trying to cut it's stomach open.  I am not making this up.

There is an entire side show to The Walking Dead called "The Talking Dead" that is simply devoted to talking about the show.   Because, I forgot to mention, The Walking Dead is like the most popular basic cable show to ever be on TV.  I'm pretty sure it is more popular than anything on NBC.

What the hell is going on?

Film:  Skyfall

Or should I call it No Country For Old Bond?  On the one hand, I want to put points against Bond for shamelessly ripping off The Dark Knight in the main bad guy plot line and basic conception of evil-as-emotional-chaos, but I found myself enjoying the film in a way I didn't expect.  It is far from great and I would have been pretty satisfied if it ended with the shootout in the courtroom, but these modern studio films for some reason feel the need to tack extra acts (Batman, Mission Impossible, all the Marvel films).  So I stayed and watched and they did a mini-Bond version of Straw Dogs and did my favorite moment of the film - just a look by Javier Bardem - after Bond plunges into the water with the 2nd to last villain - of complete and utter exhaustion and preposterousness.  I laughed for a good few seconds.

I'm not sure whether this movie got good or bad reviews.  At first, I heard it was good, and then I heard everyone hated it.  So I don't know what is going on, nor does it change too much my experience with it.  What did I expect from Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig?  Well, Daniel Craig is serious-Bond with Freudian issues, so I knew it would be a certain tone.  I know Sam Mendes as the director of American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, and Road to Perdition, not a really good movie on the list.  So given all this, I was surprisingly satisfied with the film.

The story was not totally smooth - it took too long to get going - and then they couldn't figure out a good 3rd act transition because you could feel the movie almost come to a stop and then need to re-start again.  But it did a good job of crystalizing the themes for mass audience consumption - youth vs. experience, computer/desk vs. the field, loyalty - all these ideas that are ripe for exploration in our present time and work within the context of the Bond universe.

This was not a callback to earlier Bond movies and did not employ much humor or sexiness.  It tried to explore modern ideas of cyber-warfare and a post-national world in a serious way.  I prefer this above all the other Daniel Craig Bond movies and is my favorite Sam Mendes film.  In terms of the Bond franchise...time will tell...

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Niners

In 9 games this year, the Niners have already had 3 let downs.  Strange year.  At times, the Niners look superior to last year, and at times, inferior.  There are many factors.  The raised expectations affect the team internally and externally.  Yesterday's game reflected both.  The Niners came out totally flat after demolishing Arizona and expecting to cruise against St. Louis at home.  The Rams were pumped up for the game - hitting hard from the opening snap - and clearly prepared to try and steal the game by plotting the fake punts.  Alex Smith goes down because of the hard hitting and the Niners fall behind 14-0.

But, to the credit of the Niners and Kaepernack playing decent back up, they came back.  In fact, they had the game when they went up 21-17 and stopped the Rams.  But then another fake punt and the Rams drove down on the defense.  Akers missing the field goal was killer.

The selection effect - and why people who move to California from the midwest tend to be unhappy.

The basic idea: those who "think" their unhappiness will be solved by moving anywhere (in this case California) are bound to be disappointed, but those who end up moving somewhere with lower expectations tend to be surprised at how much they like it.  Again, it goes back to lowering expectations.

I have a little personal history with this - I moved across LA from Silver Lake to Santa Monica a couple years ago because I got a new job and could not bear the commute.  I thought I wasn't going to like Santa Monica as much, but it turns out I liked it quite a bit.
Lower Expectations

Keys to happiness - mostly deals with the degree to which you meet or exceed lifetime expectations.

And the happy stuff comes when you are young.
Good News

Energy agency predicting US will be oil independent by 2017.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Romanowski on Cowherd

Bill Romanowski was on Cowherd this morning and said a few interesting things.  For those who remember, Romanowski was a linebacker on the Niners, Denver, and Oakland.  He was a total psychopath and a maniac.  One, he said there were times on Monday morning - and almost all football players go through it - when he literally could not get out of bed.  It came up because Trent Dilfer said there was a time he needed to crawl to the bathroom.  Romanowski described it as worse than that.

Second thing he said was Mark Sanchez was a really talented guy who doesn't love football.  This is why he won't be great.  Interesting.

Last thing he said:  he works out everyday in some capacity.  If he ever takes a day off, his back starts to hurt or some old injuries that existed during his playing days.  I found something similar happen - when I started working out more - little back problems started to go away.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Poverty and Allocation of Resources

Poor people are inclined to make certain types of bad financial decisions regardless of their education level.

I've played craps and blackjack, so I know this from experience.
Wise Words

Kevin Drum puts the election in fair perspective.

Film:  Seven Psychopaths

There are some memorable parts, and I think it would be fun to talk about this movie.  That said, as a whole, I don't think it holds up.  I was falling asleep towards the end of the film, which of course, is not a good sign.

It made me think a bit about storytelling, because it is a big theme of the movie itself.  I imagine a film like this receives more critical interest and is considered more artistically ambitious than a middle of the road studio film.  But I actually think it is harder to write a cohesive film than taking this meta-movie approach, which felt uninspired.  The movie is saved by fun actors inhabiting the roles and in that respect is indebted to McDonough's artistic reputation.  But hey, refs used to give Michael Jordan the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Filmmakers and Artists

Should be incredibly disturbed by this.

California just put a man in jail for the content of a film he made using the excuse of "parole violation."  If this isn't government censorship and a violation of free expression, I don't know what is.

So why are filmmakers and other artists offended?
Two Americas

This article outlines very accurately the division between two Americas and how we aren't talking to one another.  Plenty of people like it this way.  I personally, do not.  I think it encourages radicalism and tribal thinking and empowers the delusional maniacs on both sides.  So what's a moderate to do?  Keep their head down, I suppose.
The Election

I was wrong.  I suspected Romney was going to win because I vibed people were more passionate about Obama losing than they were about Obama winning.  I actually think my analysis was correct, judging by the reaction to the election - the despondency of libertarian blogs I read versus the not-very-excited-more-like-we-avoided-disaster reaction of all the Obama supporters.  Where I was wrong, was my conclusion:  you don't unseat an incumbent in a referendum vote.  You unseat an incumbent by providing an inspiring candidate.

When it comes down to the Presidential vote, I think agenda matter less than personality.  And more importantly, the enthusiasm and love of core supporters, or a strong "base."  Looking at the last couple Presidents:  Obama, GW Bush, Clinton, all of these candidates had bases who really loved them.  Sure, Bush had many haters, as does Obama, but both candidates enjoy very passionate support of a certain segment.  If you look at the losers:  Gore, Kerry, McCain, and now Romney, none of these candidates seem to arouse passion in their core supporters.  They each seem like journeyman politicians, good sons, good holders of the torch kind of candidates, but none of them transformative.

The one election I'm curious about:  1988 when G Bush Senior won.  In that election, it seemed like neither candidate had particularly passionate support.  But Reagan did.  And I wasn't around before that.

Anyhow, looking forward to paying more taxes the next four years...

Monday, November 05, 2012


TV:  Treme S. 3, ep 1-2

The first episode was awkwardly directed and the second episode was one of the best in the whole series.  Where do they find these faces for the small speaking roles?
I Wonder What We Should Take From This

Cat Power is broke.  Here is the gist:
It's no shock to learn that musicians lead financially precarious lives, but the thought of an artist as big as Cat Power going broke is particularly disheartening. The album Marshall released last month was as successful as any indie product could hope to be in 2012. Sun broke the Bilboard Top 10 and made a splash in Europe, peaking at No. 6 in France. It went over just as well with the critics, with reviewers calling the album "honest, accomplished, and pretty much just beautiful." Then she did what's required of every modern day songstress wanting to put bread on her table—she went out and played, selling out a number of clubs. If that's not enough to turn a profit in indie music, then who knows how deep in the red all the artists who didn't make it onto the Juno soundtrack must be.
The future is going to be ugly when people who do all the right things in their field aren't rewarded.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Film:  Someone to Watch Over Me

I knew this person once who cited this movie as being their favorite of all time.  Strange choice.  Ridley Scott does this after Blade Runner and borrows his own "look" for the film.  Watching this movie is like being transported back to a different time.  That is a kind of way of saying it doesn't quite hold up.  Someone should do a study of male-female infidelity thrillers from like 1987-1992 because I think there is something interesting going on during this time period in American consciousness that has to do with the breakdown in the institution of marriage.  Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about this film, Fatal Attraction, Internal Affairs, Basic Instinct, and Final Analysis, although I'm sure there are a lot more.