Some stuff about 2013 movies and awards

5 Feb

Here is an alphabetical list of all the 2013 movies I have seen.
There are 52. That works out to one a week. Amazing! I saw a lot in theaters, I saw some on Netflix or online through some other means. I saw every movie I wanted to see. I didn’t “miss” anything. If your movie isn’t listed, that means I had no interest in it. Sorry. I think I will probably see fewer movies this year. Most movies prove to be bland and formulaic in most regards. I find myself in the theater rooting for unpredictability. That usually leads to a disappointing movie experience. So I think I’ll cut back. I should note that in addition to these 52 I saw probably a couple hundred older movies. Maybe even a few hundred. I like movies. Also there will probably be spoilers in here somewhere.

12 Years a Slave
The Act of Killing
Afternoon Delight
All is Lost
American Hustle
Before Midnight
The Bling Ring
Blue is the Warmest Color
Blue Jasmine
The Brass Teapot
The Canyons
Closed Circuit
Computer Chess
The Counselor
Dallas Buyers Club
Don Jon
Drinking Buddies
The East
Ender’s Game
Enough Said
Frances Ha
Fruitvale Station
Gimme the Loot
The Great Gatsby
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
In a World…
In the House
Inside Llewyn Davis
Like Someone in Love
Much Ado About Nothing
Only God Forgives
The Place Beyond the Pines
Room 237
Short Term 12
Side Effects
The Silence
The Spectacular Now
Spring Breakers
Stories We Tell
To the Wonder
Upstream Color
What Maisie Knew
The Wolf of Wall Street

Movies I especially liked
All is Lost
American Hustle
Blue is the Warmest Color
Drinking Buddies
Frances Ha
The Great Gatsby
Inside Llewyn Davis
Much Ado About Nothing
The Place Beyond the Pines
Spring Breakers
What Maisie Knew

I try not to intellectualize this kind of thing. I just picked movies that stuck with me or that I came out of feeling really good about. Inside Llewyn Davis was a borderline pick. It wasn’t always easy or fun to watch. I don’t know if it was supposed to be. I’ll need to see it again. A lot was made of the circular narrative structure thing. I thought that was great. The kind of thing only the Coens could pull off. I’ve made my love of Spring Breakers and Stoker known. Gatsby kind of got forgotten. Too bad. The Place Beyond the Pines was my favorite movie of the year.

Movies I especially disliked
The Bling Ring
The Canyons
Ender’s Game
Room 237
The Wolf of Wall Street

I don’t have the energy to trash Her and The Wolf of Wall Street. A lot of people liked them. Fine. I emphatically did not. Not for any reasons that are unique. Read Molly Lambert and Richard Brody on Her, and Dana Stevens on Wolf. It was not my decision to see Ender’s Game. I want that on the record. I think I’ve written previously on this site about the others.

How I would have voted for Oscar nominees in the major categories (obligatory note: the Oscars are a joke and are not to be taken seriously)(winners in bold):

Best Picture
All is Lost
American Hustle
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Place Beyond the Pines

Only five movies. More than that is stupid. All is Lost over Gravity. They’re pretty much the same movie. I don’t know what to make of Gravity. That opening scene shot in one take is crazy, but how much credit should Cuarón get for that? How much technology was involved? I don’t know enough about the effects in that movie to really judge. That’s not the basis for my judgment. The dialogue in that scene was so horrifically embarrassingly laughably bad as to disqualify it. Sorry. American Hustle in the Argo slot as a big Hollywood movie that succeeded. Even though I thought it had a kind of glaring script problem at the end. The actors from top to bottom were excellent and the production design was fun and it was funny and was a generally really enjoyable movie to watch. Much more so than I expected. I don’t really have anything to say about any of the various Blue is the Warmest Color debates. I have read enough about them to know that some people think that as a straight white man I shouldn’t be allowed to like it. I think most of the criticisms that have been made are fair, but you know what? I don’t care. I was transfixed by it. I was sad when it was over. I wanted it to be longer. I’d have spent the whole day in the theater watching. Loved it. I’m glad I didn’t know about the prosthetic vaginas beforehand. I think that would have been distracting. That’s a pretty weird thing. I’m disappointed no one has mentioned The Place Beyond the Pines in like eight months. My favorite of the year. I think Bradley Cooper was the weak link. Everything else was near perfect. It’s a pretty complex premise, and I thought Derek Cianfrance nailed it. When a director swings for the fences and hits it might be my favorite thing in movies. And this was the best example this year. I’m looking forward to seeing Stoker again. So many striking small moments/shots/scenes that have stuck with me all year.

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Robin Weigert, Concussion

Michelle Williams, I missed you this year. This is a stacked category even without her. Tough omissions: Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Kathryn Hahn in Afternoon Delight, Amy Adams in American Hustle, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said, and Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now. Apparently Cate Blanchett is the lock of all locks to win the real Oscar. Whatever. Concussion is a great movie. It’s on Netflix and everyone should watch it. Robin Weigert out of nowhere carried the whole thing. I love all the Before movies, and Julie Delpy is the best part of them. Short Term 12 wasn’t a very good movie, but it sort of falls into the same category as Her and Wolf. Larson was magnetic whenever she was on screen. She was also magnetic without saying anything in Don Jon. I like her. I thought Adèle Exarchopoulos was incredible. Screen presence etc. I’m not good at describing actors/acting. Note: Some of these performances involve considerable sex appeal. I really try not to think about that. But it’s a part of those movies and it’s complicated and I don’t know. I think this is something that male critics like to pretend doesn’t exist but it does so I’m mentioning it.

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Robert Redford, All is Lost

As much as I disliked Her and Wolf, it’s hard to deny the quality of the acting involved. DiCaprio and Phoenix are both always good, they should be in good movies. Like The Great Gatsby, which was a better DiCaprio movie, even though I don’t think he did much acting there. He certainly didn’t extend himself like he did in Wolf. I love Gyllenhaal. I think I might be the only one. I truly don’t understand why he isn’t taken more seriously. One of my favorites. There are a lot of reasons I’m not in love with 12 Years a Slave, but Ejiofor was better than I expected, mostly because the role was more complicated than I expected. I’ve seen him in a couple other things, but I don’t remember his performances in them, to be honest. I’ll be on the lookout for more from him. Redford was incredible. The comparison is, again, Sandra Bullock in Gravity. He’s better than Bullock. More peaceful, subdued. And he’s still able to convey desperation within that. I think it’s just age and experience. Maybe they should remake All is Lost with Sandra in 30 years and we can see how she does.

Best Supporting Actress
Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Léa Seydoux, Blue is the Warmest Color
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station

I don’t feel as strongly about this category as I do about Best Actress. Nyong’o had a tough task because there’s not a lot to her character on the page. I wouldn’t presume to know what makes for effectively portraying a slave, but I was affected by her performance. Did you see what I did with effect and affect there? I hope you liked it. I thought about throwing in Selena Gomez from Spring Breakers, but I don’t think she was quite there. Sally Hawkins should be more famous. Happy-Go-Lucky is a good performance of hers to see.

Best Supporting Actor
Dane DeHaan, The Place Beyond the Pines
Nathan Fillion, Much Ado About Nothing
Will Forte, Nebraska
Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Ryan Gosling is the best thing going in Hollywood. Pines gets hurt in the acting categories because of the way its set up. I almost put in Ben Mendelsohn too but that seemed like overkill. I hate to keep bringing up Wolf, but Jonah Hill might be a good actor. I didn’t get the fuss over him for Moneyball, but I was impressed with him here. I did not expect Will Forte to be good at playing sad, but he was the best part of Nebraska for me. And good job to Nathan Fillion, who managed to be funny while delivering 400-year-old malapropisms. The overt comedy stuff is always the hardest part of Shakespeare to pull off.

Best Director
Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Harmony Korine, Spring Breakers
Baz Luhrmann, The Great Gatsby
Chan-wook Park, Stoker

There’s no accounting for taste. That’s mostly what this list is. None of the big name guys is doing anything innovative or unexpected these days. Cuarón is the guy who was most obviously pushing the envelope in terms of camera stuff. I mentioned earlier that I don’t know enough about the details there. I don’t know a lot of the details about directing in general, frankly.

Best Screenplay*
*I’m only doing one screenplay because I can’t keep track of which ones are original or not and I don’t care whether they are or not.
Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines
Joel Coen/Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said

I should probably see Upstream Color again. Based on a first viewing and a reading of the plot summary on Wikipedia afterward I was amazed. This is sort of like the director category. I like what I like and I make no apologies.

So those are my thoughts about movies. I didn’t do a movie-by-movie capsule recap. Too much work. I’ll try to get back into that this year.

Have you heard that Washington’s football team has a controversial name?

9 Oct

In this post I will give my thoughts about a topic that every person on the internet has already given their thoughts about. I don’t spend much or any time reading those thoughts. I do read Uni Watch every day, and Paul Lukas has lately been posting a daily summary of news on the topic. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make this argument exactly, so here it is.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a hypothetical world in which the team has always been called the Washington Hawks or whatever. Imagine that now in 2013 the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars franchise has decided to move to Los Angeles. This is a pretty plausible scenario. Imagine that the team wants a whole new start in LA. New colors, new logo, new name. Sounds reasonable. They’ll lose the alliteration of Jacksonville Jaguars and their team colors and uniforms are terrible. Imagine that there’s a fancy press event to unveil the team’s new identity. Everyone, say hello to the LA Redskins!

This would never happen. Why? Because calling your team the Redskins is obviously and flagrantly racist and no one today would even consider it as an actual possibility for a team name. It would be the largest PR blunder in history.

All the pro-Redskins arguments I’ve heard are about tradition or pride or “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” or some other kind of nonsense. I wish someone would make an actually intellectually honest case: “Yes it’s racist and no I don’t care.” Fine. I could at least respect the honesty of that.

Here’s another point. Maybe the most common pro-Redskins argument is the “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” one. It makes sense to me that that’s the case. When people refer to the Washington Redskins, they aren’t using the word pejoratively. In modern discourse, the NFL team is by far the most common source of that word’s use. I imagine most Native Americans have heard the word redskin used to refer to the football team much more frequently than in any other context. This has caused to word to lose a lot of its power to offend, and has over time become more and more innocuous. That argument makes logical sense. That doesn’t mean it’s a good argument. Let’s take it a step further. By the same logic, it would be a good idea to rename the team the Washington Niggers. Hey, there are a lot of black people in DC, and after fifty years or so the word nigger will stop being so offensive. Great idea, right? Obviously not.

So those are my thoughts. HOT SPORTS TAKE. OUT.

Film review quarterly: 2013 Q3

6 Oct

My Q2 review didn’t get as much traction on Google as Q1. Disappointing. But I’m still doing it. I wrote about all of these movies individually when they were released. I’m too lazy to link to all of them here. Search for them in the search box if you’re interested. I also slowed down a bit on seeing movies in the last couple months. A lot of movies are starting to run together. Even the ones that are good. It’s so disappointing to me that small independent movies are starting to get just as boring and formulaic as big blockbusters. Maybe I’ll catch some on Netflix or whatever. If you feel passionate about a movie I missed let me know in the comments jklol no one ever reads these let alone leaves a comment.

Much Ado About Nothing
I still feel great about this movie a couple months later. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets any awards heat. I doubt it.

Fruitvale Station
I was a little disappointed that this one didn’t seem to catch on much with a big audience. Maybe if you’re not from the Bay Area it doesn’t resonate as strongly. Either way, I hope this becomes the template for movies like this. Avoiding moralizing and overreaching. I was impressed with Ryan Coogler. Looking forward to more from him.

Computer Chess
This is the kind of weird movie I wish there were more of. I don’t even know if I would call it good, but it was totally captivating.

Blue Jasmine
I wonder what someone would think of this if they’d never seen a Woody Allen movie before. Would they love it or hate it? What would they think of all the little Woody Allen things? Maybe I’ll try to get my sister to watch it on DVD or something and ask. She’s probably one of millions of twentysomethings who’ve never seen a Woody Allen movie. This horrible younger generation etc.

The Canyons
I’m still amazed at how bad this was.

In a World…
Fine. Entertaining. Some good performances. Etc. This is a pretty good example of the formulaicity I was talking about.

Closed Circuit
Sort of the spy movie version of In a World… .It was good and everything, but what’s memorable or interesting or unexpected about it?

The Spectacular Now
Shailene Woodley is a star. I heard she had to turn down the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey because of a scheduling conflict. That would have been interesting. But that movie will probably be interesting regardless.

Short Term 12
Maybe the best case scenario for this kind of suburban Landmark Theaters-friendly independent movie. Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever were great.

The New Yorker blurb compares this one to Mystic River and Zodiac. Zodiac is a good comparison, in a general feel/tone/Gyllenhaal way. Zodiac is the better movie. I actually watched Zodiac again recently. It was nominated for zero Oscars. That seems dumb to me, especially after the way everyone loved Argo last year for being a big expensive good studio movie. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as Zodiac. Maybe it was as good as Prisoners. I should stop thinking about Argo.

The New Yorker: September 30, 2013

2 Oct

Breaking Bad is kind of a cool thing to put on the cover, but combining it with a Syria commentary is dumb. Like, is it supposed to be funny? Hard to take it too seriously as political discourse when you start adding TV characters.

The paleo running thing kind of grabbed me. In that running actually barefoot seems crazy. Without any of the little sandal things you always see joggers wearing now. The big thing is that it forces you to strike with the balls of your feet, which is supposed to be biomechanically superior. I tried that in my (pretty minimalist) running shoes this week and it feels unnatural. Hard to do for more than several strides. And I don’t think I could run barefoot in my neighborhood. There is a LOT of broken glass on my usual routes. Shoutout to East Oakland.

My note on the Harry Dean Stanton piece: looking up guys like him on imdb is fun. He’s been in a lot of notable movies/TV shows in the last ten years. And also shows like Bonanza, The Untouchables, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Amazing.

I liked Xan Rice’s Letter from Somalia. Somalia seems like a fascinating place. I’d rather see TNY run recurring reports from there than Syria etc.

Cora Frazier’s had some good S&M (this is my funny new Shouts & Murmurs abbreviation) pieces of late. This was about as it gets in the “series of statements that connect into a comedy piece” genre. I also liked the illustration.

I am almost incredulous about Josh Eells’s report on Las Vegas dance club DJs. How can they be so popular? Maybe this is just an indication of how profoundly not fun I am, but going to Vegas to party at an 8,000-capacity dance club playing dubstep sounds like just about the least fun thing in the world to me. More evidence that people are terrible, I suppose.

Dexter Filkins deserves note for his tightly put-together, well-reported piece about the Iranian operative controlling Syria. I say this every time TNY runs a Middle East report, but it’s just so depressing. The main takeaway is that the more the US is involved in anything, the more fucked up it gets. The secondary takeaway is that essentially no one in the US government has any kind of clue what’s going on over there or how to effectively advance US interests.

Ariel Levy’s profile of gay marriage plaintiff Edith Windsor was pretty standard stuff. The highlight was the picture of her late spouse in Suriname wearing a pith helmet at a jaunty angle. One for the ages. I wish someone in my family was in a picture that cool so I could hang it on the wall.

Really good one this week from Joshua Ferris. The formal gimmick isn’t that new or noteworthy. I’d even say that to use something like that you really need to be on point otherwise it looks amateurish. His execution of it was just about flawless. The strength of the story is the way he was able to capture how fragile the emotional harmony of a relationship can be. His structure added to that and was the cherry on top.

I’m always excited to see Louis Menand in the TOC. He was terrific as always this week.

The main thing I took away from Anthony Lane’s Rush review is that he seems to know more about the characters than Ron Howard does. This bit introducing the racing storyline needs to be quoted in full:

Never was battle joined with more fury than in 1976, when the outcome was decided in the final minutes of the final race, and settled by a single point. In the words of Tom Rubython, whose timidly titled book, “In the Name of Glory: 1976, the Greatest Ever Sporting Duel,” covers the same ground as the film, “No Hollywood screenwriter could have scripted such an ending or described the human drama of such a dramatic season.” That sound you hear is the nibbling of an author’s fingernails, as he waits for a producer to call.

The best.

“Bread torn into little pieces” on page 32. HA. Taco at a burrito fight is also funny. Page 68. Special note to the waves on page 80. I wish there were more weird cartoons like that.

Caption contest entry
“Cool robe!”


1 Oct

There are spoilers in this. And this is a movie with actual stuff to be spoiled.

I really enjoyed Prisoners. It wasn’t anything spectacular or unusual or especially ambitious, but who cares. It was two and a half hours long, and held my attention for the whole time. Not only that, but it did a very good job of building and releasing tension, staying unpredictable, and doing all the other things that successful thrillers need to be successful.

I don’t have much to say about the plot. I don’t think it was watertight, but I’m not interested in dissecting it. It won’t go in the pantheon of thriller plots, but I don’t think that’s necessary for a successful movie. I think the goal was to have a character-driven rather than a plot-driven movie. That’s generally a good idea, because there’s a lot more room to maneuver with characters than the plot. If you make the plot the centerpiece, it needs to be perfect and memorable and you need some kind of hook etc. Inception is probably the standard-bearer. If you go down that road people start picking it apart, and no one remembers the acting performances, and if your gimmick or big reveal or whatever isn’t totally mind-blowing and amazing, you’re left with Shutter Island and all people remember is the gimmick. So Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are thrust to the forefront. That’s really the focus of the movie, and I have some comments about each of them.

Hugh Jackman doesn’t usually do the kind of movies I like, so I haven’t seen a lot of his work. I’ve only seen two or three of his movies. I hear he does a lot of stage work. Musicals and such. That really isn’t my thing, but I suppose that’s impressive range. I was not impressed with him in this movie. I can’t decide how much was him and how much was the script. His character is wildly unlikeable. For me at least. That kind of Real America white male who knows that all of society’s problems would be solved if everyone were just more like him. Those guys are out there. I’ve known a few. They’re the worst. I don’t know if we’re supposed to relate to or sympathize with this guy, but I definitely didn’t at any point. Mr. Jackman sure didn’t bring any nuance to the role. A lot of aggressive blustering and self-righteousness, but no sign that he’s acting with any kind of thought and never a hint that he stops to consider that he might be wrong about anything or that anyone else might have a better idea of what to do than him. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to delight in him getting thrown in the pit under the car. But the movie isn’t set up that way. I don’t think that was the intent at all. With a character like that, you’re either dispositionally drawn to him or not. For those of us who aren’t, Mr. Jackman didn’t do anything to get us on his side. Obviously he’s not exactly a hero, and the director, Denis Villeneuve, wants us to stay skeptical of everything, but on some level it has to be the actor’s job to make us understand why his character is doing what he’s doing. The only reason I can think of is that deep down inside, all he is is a jerk.

On the other hand.

I’m a big Jake Gyllenhaal fan. I think he’s great. He doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect from critics or moviegoers, but I don’t understand why he’s not seen as a heavyweight. Maybe he’s still living down Bubble Boy. I haven’t seen all of his movies, but Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, and End of Watch are three big-time Movie Star level performances off the top of my head. I think the reason he’s so good playing cops in End of Watch and Prisoners is that he doesn’t have the same air of impenetrable hardness that Mr. Jackman tried so hard to affect throughout this whole movie. He brings the sense of underlying vulnerability that these men always have. He communicates it so well without needing to say anything. His eyes, the way he carries himself, the considered way he speaks, all the subtle things that don’t draw attention to themselves. That’s where he really separates himself. That he’s able to do all that and simultaneously project the kind of authority that makes him believable is something that not many actors can do. He should be getting better roles and winning awards.

Two smaller roles of note were played by Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. Melissa Leo is another actor who doesn’t get the kind of credit she deserves. And I really like Paul Dano. He didn’t have a lot to work with here, but I think he made it as believable as it could be. And poor Viola Davis. I say Mr. Dano didn’t have a lot to work with–he had far more than Ms. Davis. She deserves better than this. Come to think of it, I would have much rather seen the movie focus on her and Terrence Howard than Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello. Oh well. And one plausibility note. Guys like Hugh Jackman’s character don’t have black friends. That’s all there is to it.

Also of note was the cinematography by Roger Deakins. He’s a treasure. Cinematography is one of those things that I have to consciously focus on and in an absorbing movie like this I miss a lot of it. But this movie looked terrific. The sequence shot from inside the car while Jake G. was driving to the hospital in the rain was amazing. I loved everything about it. That was the highlight of the movie for me.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 8 THE FINALE OMG

30 Sep

So this thing turned out to be the cultural event of the year. At least for the people in my age/class/race group. Which is a pretty privileged group. Which makes it the overall cultural event of the year. Shoutout to privilege.

I’m not going to write a big comprehensive thing. I think a lot of people are doing that. I read a bit of Matt Yglesias on Slate and I even listened to the Slate Spoiler Special about the episode. It seems like there’s been some disappointment and backlash over the finale. I don’t get that. One complaint is the rather high level of implausibility of everything. That’s a fair criticism, but it’s one you could make about dozens of episodes going back to the first season. This is a show that traffics in implausibility. The coincidences, the lack of repercussions, all the normal TV drama standards are taken to new levels in Breaking Bad and no one has said a word until now. I don’t get it.

Here’s the other, larger complaint. Walt won. He goes out as the hero. He accomplished everything he set out to do in the finale and died happy. People seem legitimately angry about it. That totally baffles me. I mentioned this last week, but I’m glad that things didn’t end with that kind of heavy-handed moralism. I think a lot of people wanted the show to make some kind of definitive statement that Walt was a bad person, and therefore deserved a bad outcome as a result of his actions. One of the reasons that Breaking Bad is a good show is that it has always avoided dumb easy answers like that. Bad people are successful all the time. A lot of bad people go their whole lives without any kind of comeuppance. That’s how the world works. And that assumes that you’re dumb enough to separate all people into a good group and a bad group in the first place.

If you’re looking for a bad ending for Walt, I think it’s helpful to think of the end of episode 6 as the ending. Or at least an ending. It’s amazing to me how long Walt held on to the notion that he would be totally and unambiguously successful. That he would just walk back into his house and go on running the car wash and bask in the adulation of his family. That was obviously never going to happen. Walt’s realization of that was the closest the show came to a repudiation of him. A lot of the two episodes after that were Walt coming to terms with the fact that he cared about himself more than his family. His intellect, his empire, his reputation, etc. I was glad that he came out and said it to Skyler.

For that part of Walt the ending was perfect. He died alone in the lab. Everyone will assume he was running it. The only people who can tell the whole story are Jesse and Saul, and they never will. Walt’s dead so he can’t do anything to diminish his reputation after being arrested. The people who will come forward to give interviews etc. about him will only burnish his reputation. Marie, Huell, Skinny Pete/Badger, etc. He goes down as a Pablo Escobar-level crime legend. Which is not at all the case, by the way, not with all of his frequent bumbling, mistakes, almost getting killed, etc. That was always a big part of things that got mostly ignored. The most famous thing about the show is his “I am the one who knocks” speech. That’s just not really true. He came out on top in the end, but it wasn’t because he was so ruthless and ingenious. He got totally outsmarted by Jesse on the fake money barrel thing, for one. He was on the brink of running away because of other people knocking. Multiple times. And then he finally had to. Walt’s actual meth empire prowess never matched his self-image.

All that being said, going into the final scene I was hoping Walt would live. His actions leading up to the machine gun massacre made it obvious that he was expecting to die, and that’s how it probably had to end. The show started out with him being diagnosed with terminal cancer, after all. His death has always been hanging over everything. But still. I wanted him standing in the lab with his fists at his sides, mean-mugging the SWAT team as they filtered in. Oh well.

I do have one grievance that I want to air. I was wrong on the self-ricining. Fine. I feel like I was right in spirit, because Walt pretty obviously came back to Albuquerque planning to die. But Lydia? Really? The whole Todd gang storyline never really did it for me. They weren’t around that long, and they never had any personality like the other meth world people. That they were set up as the final boss of the whole show was a little disappointing. It felt a little low-stakes compared with the drama over Gus Fring and the various Salamancas.

Overall series thoughts: Good show 10/10 would watch again.

Rename your streets after presidents and watch your city thrive

26 Sep

I have an idea. It’s a small idea, but I think it’s a terrific one. It’s an urban planning idea and I think Oakland should do it. You might have guessed what it is from the title. The idea is to name city streets after US presidents.

I can’t remember when I first had this idea, but it was before I moved to Oakland. I was probably living in Minneapolis or Chicago. This would work in both of those cities too, but I’m endorsing it for Oakland. I had the idea because a lot of cities have a problem. A dumb problem. They have numbered streets that intersect with numbered avenues. This is confusing. You can’t say to someone “I live at 14th and 27th” because those coordinates specify two different locations in the city. 2700 14th St and 2700 14th Ave are two different places. This is a problem, like when my old employer tried to send me my W2 form and it went to the wrong place because they didn’t know they had to specify St or Ave. This is so obvious that it amazes me the people who first laid out grids in our nation’s cities allowed it to happen. But there aren’t any simple and obvious solutions. In Chicago, the South Side has this numbering problem. On the North Side, both the north/south streets and the east/west streets have names. The names are random, and you have to know where every street is to get places. The best solution I’ve seen first-hand is Southwest Minneapolis, which has numbered streets and alphabetical avenues. That is, the north/south avenues have names, the first starting with A, until you get to Z and it repeats. But. If you did this over the whole city, you’d have to repeat several times and it would get confusing.

So here we are, with suboptimal street naming protocols everywhere. In East Oakland, the avenues start at Lake Merritt and are numbered 1-110ish. The streets start at the bay and are numbered 1-35ish until you get to the hills. This is a vast oversimplification for some parts of East Oakland. The grid is fucked up in all kinds of dumb ways. I could go on about it for days. But whatever. Here’s my suggestion that would make Oakland or any other city great.

Rename 1st Avenue to Washington Avenue. Then Adams Ave. Jefferson Ave. Etc. Up until Obama Ave for 44th. This would be so great. It would reduce confusion. It would get people to learn the presidents. History would come alive. You get the idea. Plus, every four years, people would get excited about a new street name. You could have a big unveiling ceremony. Maybe the President-elect would attend the dedication ceremony. There would be great press for Oakland.

There would be problems. But they would be stupid problems for stupid people. Would Oakland residents protest George W. Bush Ave? Probably. So what. Would real estate values on Reagan Ave drop? Would people clamor for an Obama Ave address? Interesting questions. It would be fun to see.

I’ve been talking about Oakland. This would also work on the South Side of Chicago and South Minneapolis east of Nicollet. There are probably countless other cities that would benefit from this scheme. I will also mention here that as per usual, I did no research into this. Maybe there’s a municipality out there that does this already. If so, good for them and sorry for stealing your idea.

The New Yorker: September 23, 2013

25 Sep

OK. This is the big week. The big redesign. I’m going to start with a special redesign review and then do the regular review.

I might have missed some things. My opinions might change over time. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything and everything in this section.

I didn’t notice any change to the main font, although I didn’t look closely. I’ll reserve judgment, I guess. There is a new secondary font. I don’t think I like it. It’s very appealing within the new design. Bold and clean. I think a lot of that is a factor of novelty. Once that wears off, I think it’ll look out of place and I’ll start wishing for it to disappear.

There are places with two columns now. And places with four. Some places with one, even. It makes sense sometimes (Tables for Two, Briefly Noted). Otherwise, it seems like change for its own sake and doesn’t have much of point. This is the kind of lazy “how can we make the magazine look different?” idea that should never have gotten past the brainstorming stage.

Table of Contents*
I don’t like that they did away with the department listings. That’s just as helpful in the TOC as it is in the pages of the magazine. It often gives you a better idea of what a piece is about than the title and brief description. Minus.

*TNY was once famous for not having a TOC at all (see also: The Mail). The things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same over time are pretty remarkable. Go to your local library and scan through the bound archives. It’s a good time, I promise.Especially if you have a particular thing to look for.

The two columns now cover the whole page instead of using the traditional three-column layout and saving one of them for ads. Plus the new font and the contribution in red instead of the contributor’s name. I suppose the new bold font makes the name stand out enough in black. It looks bold and clean I guess. That’s not really what I’m looking for in TNY though. I like displacing the ads from the page. Neutral.

The Mail
Vastly expanded. I never read letters to the editor. What a waste of time. Minus.

Goings On About Town
This is the most noticeably different section. Mostly for the better. Less cluttered, more features/artwork. Also four columns instead of three. Plus.

Talk of the Town
Comment and The Financial Page have two columns now instead of three. I guess the point is to distinguish and highlight them from the rest of Talk. I think that’s a bad idea. The Financial Page already has the box, and if they want to differentiate Comment, they should just make it a separate section. I’d be in favor of scrapping it altogether myself. Minus.

The story title and author are now incorporated into the illustration. This is a great idea. Like a little book cover. Sometimes the illustrations seem arbitrary or a little too on-the-nose. Hopefully this will allow for some more creativity. This is the best change. Plus.

Briefly Noted
Instead of having two standard columns, the blurbs are now a single double-width column, with all four books in line, with thumbnails of their covers. Looks much better this way. Plus.

Regularly Scheduled Programming
This might be brief. I just wrote in excess of 500 whole words about the redesign and I’m getting tired.

I like it. I’m warming a bit to these multiple-panel treatments. This one is cute and the colors are really used well. The smaller drawings are perfect with no coloration, but the blocks give it some pop from distance.

The MOMA/Magritte review was notable for its mention of Super Magritte, which reimagines his paintings as NES pixel art, and wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped. Still cool though.

The piece about the 2001 soundtrack was the best kind of blurb. I’m not going to go see the NY Philharmonic play the soundtrack live along with the movie, but reading about it gave me a couple interesting nuggets about the movie and the composers involved. Bravo.

The best Talk piece was about An-My Lê taking photos of Coast Guard recruits. Artists interacting with the military bureaucracy is a funny situation.

I should mention here that this is the Style Issue, and all of these are vaguely style-related. Not my favorite theme issue.

Janet Malcolm’s profile of Eileen Fisher seemed very Janet Malcolmy to me. The meta ruminating on interviewing profile subjects and such. Although I haven’t read enough of her stuff to say that with any authority. I should read more. She’s a true heavy hitter.* Heavy enough to have her own Slate Completist feature.** And everyone should read The Journalist and the Murderer.

*Perhaps due to her no doubt excellent undergraduate education at the University of Michigan.

**Kind of depressing to read. Alice Gregory’s subhead is “I’m in awe of her.” So, she feels far below Janet Malcolm. Well I feel very far below Alice Gregory. In truth, I’m not even on the spectrum that those two are on. Speaking of spectrums, if Janet Malcolm is full blown autism and Alice Gregory is Asperger’s syndrome, then I’m the most popular kid from your high school.

Lizzie Widdicombe’s brutal takedown of the guy behind Bleacher Report and Bustle was very fun to read. Christ he sounds terrible. A quote: “You remember what you were wearing three days ago? Just so you know, most guys don’t remember what they’re wearing right now.” Just so you know, most guys aren’t douchebag morons like you.

I spent most of my time while reading Calvin Tomkins’s profile of Black Architect David Adjaye thinking about Chelsea Peretti. I hope for your sake that you know why. She is hilarious. Truly one of the greats.

This was really good. An engaging setup, some nice little details, then the stakes change out of nowhere. But Tessa Hadley still kept the same tone and feel. Didn’t try to do too much in such a short piece. Liked this one a lot.

Pankaj Mishra’s book review had some good stuff about one of those huge chapters of world history that most Americans know nothing about. Nixon and Kissinger sure were shitty people, huh.

I’m kind of amazed at the vitriol and contempt oozing out of every Salinger review I’ve read. Sounds like I can probably skip it. And hey, since I’m a TNY subscriber, I can go read some of his old stories in the archives instead. Good for me.

Two notable style ads in this, the Style Issue. First, Michelle Williams for Louis Vuitton on the inside front cover. Sold. If I’m ever rich and have a girlfriend, I’ll buy her a LV handbag. Does Michelle Williams endorse any other products I can buy? Second is James Franco for Gucci sunglasses on the back cover. I truly do not understand spending hundreds of dollars on sunglasses. There is not an explanation that makes sense to me.

No Edward Steed this week. Boo. The Duchamp thing on page 70 was OK. The caption is really what makes it.

Caption contest entry
“Well, this is certainly a new take on the desert island cartoon.”

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 7

24 Sep

OK. I’m pretty confident at this point that no one reads these, but I don’t care. Only one episode left, and I’m writing this more to clarify things in my own mind than anything else.

The obvious scenario for some time has been Walt coming back to shoot up Todd et al. with the giant gun, and that seems like the only real indisputable event that’ll take place. The unexpected and great wrench in things was Gretchen and Elliott’s appearance on Charlie Rose. My assumption has been that Walt will find out somehow about Jesse being kidnapped and that would be the trigger for him to return–and Charlie’s comment about blue meth seems to be that. Walt also seemed pretty pissed about the whole tone of the interview. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that Walt will ricin himself, but now we have a new candidate: Elliott. Was that just a plot device to prompt Walt to go back to Albuquerque? Or will we find out more about Gray Matter Technologies? I don’t think that company has ever really been explained. Maybe Walt’s plan now is to get caught so he has a platform to proclaim his indispensability in whatever it is they do. That would fit nicely with the whole “remember my name” marketing campaign.

From what I can gather, most media people think that Walt will die, or that he should die, or that he deserves to die, or that the finale has to provide some kind of moral justice; to definitively say “Walt is a bad person”. I won’t be surprised if Walt dies, but I think that’s a profound misreading of things. I think that’s a lazy and simplistic view of the world and I think Vince Gilligan is too smart to think that way. “Deserve” is a stupid concept. If Walt dies, I think it’ll come from a place other than “Walt deserves a bad outcome because he is bad”. Or at least I hope so.

Riding across the country in a propane tank would probably be really uncomfortable. And you’d think they’d stop on the way for some DVDs/books/magazines/etc.

I just read Matt Yglesias’s thoughts about this week on Slate. He says something that a lot of people think, that Todd’s uncle and pals are Nazis. That’s what everyone calls them at least. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they hate Jews and black people, but the obvious explanation for the swastika tattoos in that they’re ex-cons who got down with the Aryan Nation in jail. Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. Prison gangs don’t have an ethos. This also, of course, explains how they had the connections to carry out the jail hit.

Question: Will Walt take his barrel of money back to New Mexico? He has the box, will he take the time to go back for the barrel or will he just pay cash for a car and split? He knows the feds are coming after the phone call.

So here’s Walt’s plan as I see it: Go back to Albuquerque, get the gun and the ricin, take out Todd and crew, rescue Jesse, kill/not kill Jesse, recover his cash, get the cash to Skyler somehow, make a public appearance explaining his role at Gray Matter and making sure everyone knows how great he thinks he is, ricin self.

Unless Walt’s convinced the family doesn’t want his money. I could see him totally giving up on that part of it. Maybe he’ll give the money to Jesse or light it on fire.

I’m most interested in this new Gray Matter angle. I won’t be mad if the following loose ends aren’t tied up: Todd/Lydia’s business/romantic relationship, Skyler’s legal problems, anything about Marie and Junior, Huell in the hotel room, finding Hank’s body, whether Bogdan resumes control of the car wash, etc.

That was more unfocused than usual. Maybe I’ll edit in more stuff later. I’m very excited for Sunday.

The New Yorker: September 16, 2013

18 Sep

Not into this one. I assume it’s a commentary on Manhattan real estate and moving to the suburbs and such. Don’t care. That’s a dumb thing to comment about. And if it’s something else and I missed it then whatever. Time to step the cover game up. They’ve been very subpar.

First I want to mention the redesign that’s apparently happening next week. I’m glad someone at TNY has been reading and took my advice. You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to it. Note that I do NOT approve of any change to the font. That’s distressing to read. More next week. Three quintessential Talk pieces this week. A rich Korean guy who is trying to make it as a knuckleballer, shipping pieces of a giant bronze sculpture on flatbeds and installing them in Brooklyn, and an off-Broadway theater making a performance solely out of Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions. Plus a well-explained economics piece by James Surowiecki. And a fairly standard Comment from George Packer. This might be the Platonic ideal of Talk of the Town as it exists in 2013.

I was excited to see Flannery O’Connor’s name in the Table of Contents this week. TNY always gets first dibs on newly-discovered work from dead famous writers. Not so excited when it came time to read it. It’s a collection of prayers from Ms. O’Connor’s journal as a young writer. I didn’t get anything out of it. Maybe if you’re not familiar with religion in America or how prayer fits into it there could be some interest. It wasn’t that revealing about Ms. O’Connor’s writing or personal life. It mostly served to remind me why I stopped going to church and to reassure me that I made the right decision.

New trend in mental illness: paranoid delusions that you’re the star of a reality show. It’s called the Truman Show delusion. The article does a good job explaining how delusions in schizophrenics are culturally-based and how that does and doesn’t impact the treatment of the disease. Andrew Marantz uses a case study of a guy from Ohio to illustrate how the delusion works. Crazy stuff is always happening in Ohio. I would not want to live there.

Ryan Lizza always brings it. A very lengthy summary of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. I try to avoid politics in all facets of my life, but I appreciate the level of detail and information in Mr. Lizza’s reporting. I feel like I have a good understanding of the issue when I’m done reading. That’s surprisingly rare in political reporting.

I like Tad Friend. He’s a good writer, and he always seems to find interesting people and topics to write about. His Bryan Cranston profile was fairly standard for a TNY profile. I enjoyed it. The most interesting thing to me was the abundance of Breaking Bad spoilers it contained. Not just old spoilers, but new, last week’s episode spoilers. With no warnings! I’m not opposed to that, but it totally flies in the face of our new SPOILER ALERT culture. I wonder if there was any editorial discussion about it. I get the feeling that anything about Breaking Bad TNY might publish online would have warnings. I guess the feeling is that anyone reading a Bryan Cranston profile either a) is caught up on the show, b) never plans to watch the show, or c) knows better than to read a lengthy piece about its star. I know I have avoided any and all writing about TV shows I like that I’m behind on.

A very engaging story this week from Tahar Ben Jelloun. I know I’ve said I wish there were fewer in-translation selections in the magazine, but this one was good. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t see the ending coming. In retrospect it was pretty obvious. Oh well. I suppose you could say that the ending turns it into a piece of propaganda or politics or something. I’d be interested to hear someone smart talk about that, but I think that subject is a little beyond me.

I like when they put the movie reviews first instead of last. Gives Anthony Lane a little room to spread out. I wish they’d do it more often. Hard to think of two more different movies to review. Wadjda and Riddick. Guess which one I’m interested in?

David Denby back with another non-review movie piece. A review of recent books detailing how Hollywood related to Germany and Hitler in the 30s. One of those short pieces that’s interesting mainly as a microcosm of a larger issue. No one really wants to remember how many powerful people in America felt pretty good about Hitler until 1941.

Talking about Generations and media and how the new Generation is changing everything and they need to be catered to etc. has been a tired media trope for my whole life. It’s a dumb topic and I don’t care about it. That’s my feeling about this new TV network for Millennials and any and all media reactions to it.

Edward Steed on page 77. His drawings are just funny, that’s all there is to it. I can’t even explain why this one is so good. Just the facial expressions and the guy on the left stirring the pot… he’s great.

Caption contest entry
“Larry, quit whining or you’re fired.”