08 December, 2008

The #9 Museum Exhibit of 2008

Thank you, Time magazine, for your Top 10 Everything of 2008 feature. There are many new treasures in these lists, honestly. From the year's best Science Discoveries and Fiction Books, to the top Magazine Covers, T-shirt Worthy Slogans, Oddball News Stories, and, well, Non-fiction Books, there are fascinating finds and unforeseen pleasures to be shared here.

One entry, which especially struck my fancy, was the #9 choice for the Top Museum Exhibits of 2008: Tara Donovan, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

Some pictures, from a previous exhibition at the ACE Gallery:

Untitled, 2003
(Styrofoam Cups, Hot Glue)

Bluff, 2005
(Buttons, Glue)

Toothpicks, 2001
(Toothpicks Held Together By Friction & Gravity Only)

See more of the ACE exhibit here.

Introducing: 'Ben vs. The Dark Knight,' The Blog Category

The LA Times blog is reporting that AMPAS has reversed its decision to disqualify The Dark Knight's original music score for the 2009 Oscars.

The music, for me, was one of the most compelling bits of The Dark Knight, but I think--at this point--I can safely say that I HATE The Dark Knight, and every time I see it mentioned in print, I want to bludgeon the writer. Also, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight.

22 September, 2008

'Burn After Reading' - Review

The media coverage surrounding Burn After Reading seems to be of two varieties: Pinpointing where the film fits within the pantheon of "Coen brothers" movies, and the Nature of Brad Pitt's hair. I say, In the bottom half, and Yes, his hair sure is a little goofy.

But, then again, I'm no Coen bros. expert (I probably saw The Big Lebowski when I was about 14, and I don't remember a single second of it [Sacrilege!]), and I get haircuts with the singular intent of keeping my hair short enough to not have to brush it, so I don't know where that leaves us...

At the least, I think we can agree that Burn After Reading isn't as good as No Country For Old Men, and nor did it want to be. It is silly, and wacky, and goofy, and doesn't carry the heavy burden of much intelligence or genuine empathy, at least not in the deep and existential way No Country did. Burn After Reading is decidedly superficial.

John Malkovich plays an ex-CIA man, fired from the job for alcoholism, and so bitter and so soured from--what? ...existing?--that he apparently hates everyone and everything, and therefore thinks that what he really ought to do is write his memoirs. George Clooney is married to a children's book author and works for the government as a federal agent and seems consigned to occupational impotence (and is, conversely, a closet pervert). Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt are the dimwitted boobs from the local Hard Bodies gym, who unintentionally inflict their hopeless pipedreams (i.e., a head-to-toe makeover) onto everyone else, when they find a CD of numbers and names and "secret shit" and try and sell it to the Russians. Tilda Swinton is an ice-cold bitch (inexplicably at the center of a jealous love triangle), Richard Jenkins is the boss of the boobs at the gym, and J.K. Simmons and David Rasche are two CIA agents who are left trying the make sense of what eventually becomes a very messy situation.

And, you know, I really think that's all there is to it. These characters, each a little goofier than the next, spend the hour-and-a-half runtime casually circling around each other, variously crossing paths and stepping on each other's toes and proving that, I guess, everyone who ever wanted something out of life is an idiot. Or something like that. I think.

Everyone in this movie is so over-the-top, and yet still so unequivocally simple. They make stupid decisions and talk with funny intonations and, time after time, fail to understand--or even remotely "get"--what's going on around them. The big joke at the end of the movie is that the CIA, who is in the business of Intelligence, really just can't find any. At least not here, in America, where people are mean-spirited and paranoid and horny and angry and just-plain dumb.

And don't get me wrong, dumb people can be funny. And Burn After Reading can definitely be funny. Really funny, in fact. You know, it's actually a pretty good joke, having the CIA chase after a bunch of goofs, who really have no plans, no idea what they're doing, and really don't warrant such scrutiny. This is the Coen's unique brand of intelligent observation (...of morons).

But then there are these awkward moments, sprinkled throughout the movie, where things feel like they (gasp!) get a little too serious. I mean, I guess that's the Coen's schtick, right? Finding--and exploiting--those tricky moments where comedy and violence intersect? But whereas, say, while Fargo's climactic woodchipper scene is all-at-once shocking and morbid and darkly witty--succeeding because the madness has stemmed out of a questionably "sane" world (a world grown, inevitably, unwieldy and out-of-control by Unpredictability)--the whole universe of 'Burn After Reading' already seems a little too nuts.

So when McDormand freaks out when partner-in-crime Pitt fails to return from a secret mission, her immediate emotive response feels so genuine that it actually feels...false. And when Clooney, who spends 80% of his screentime mugging at the camera, employing pratfalls, and generally cultivating the bizarrest personality for a sex-hound ever, suddenly wells up with so much real emotion that he calls his absent wife and really truly wants her to come home and comfort him...well, it doesn't seem right. Not in this movie, anyway. It makes for a really discombobulating experience, where it isn't quite as easy as it should be to laugh at each character's outrageous tics and madcap personalities. At least not when we're supposed to believe they were shedding genuine tears (or sharing remotely honest desires) in the previous scene.

And they go around and around in circles like this. Much like the story itself. Every bit of new information is based on a non-fact or a misinterpretation, and once the pieces of the plot are set in motion, it doesn't really ever cover new ground. It just circles back on itself, letting one character serendipitously run into another, or revealing a hidden relationship between two already established characters. It meanders between their misguided lives, without motive or purpose, save for watching them screw things up even more. When McDormand and Pitt meet "the Russians," the endeavor doesn't get them anywhere, or open up any new options for the story--it's a joke, in-and-of-itself, to simply meet "the Russians." The Cold War is over, but they don't "get" it. Ha ha.

And then it circles back, and the CIA agents don't get why these boobs would meet the Russians, and ex-CIA Malkovich doesn't see what the Russians have to do with anything. Exactly.

Watch the trailer here.

Heard The New Bond Theme?

No? Well here it is:

I like it. I think it's...good. Really pretty good. But not great. Not "Goldfinger" great, and certainly not "GoldenEye" great. But really pretty good. Of course it means nothing without the accompaniment of Bond titles. They add so much.

Thanks to stereogum.

For better audio, check out the official stream.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, did I ever tell you how much I love ELO's "Evil Woman"? No? Well here it is:

20 September, 2008

Is It Just Me, Or Does Crazy Tyra = Sexy Tyra?

Yeah, that's right. I said it. The wacky/tacky Good Fierce Witch herself is HOTT. Especially when delivering mail.

16 September, 2008

23 August, 2008

'The Dark Knight' Is No Longer The Best Movie Ever

The Dark Knight has been downgraded from the top spot of the IMDb Top 250. I find this news welcoming. If you want to know why, you can read my rambling response to the movie here.

Selling the Katsak: A Dirty Job

I want to buy whatever Mike Rowe is selling. Like, for example, the Katsak Cat Toy.

And the S.S. Noah Carry Bag ("Mainly it's just a novelty bag. If you really need a lot of carrying space, you probably don't, you know, want this."). And the Original Lava Lamp ("It does get warm. Not scalding hot. ...Just a tad warm.").

See these and other choice selections from early '90's QVC, starring Discovery Channel regular Mike Rowe, over at Clary Novels.

Listen Up!: 'That Handsome Devil'

New music:

Artist: That Handsome Devil
Song: Wintergreen
Album: A City Dressed in Dynamite

There Is A Small Possibility That Swiss Scientists Will Kill You

We're about two weeks away from the opening of the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile-long particle accelerator located just outside Geneva. With this new accelerator, scientists will be able to look at particle physics like never before. One of their lofty goals is to create, ahem, black holes. ...Real black holes. ...Molecule-consuming, eat-everything-in-their-sight-including-LIGHT-for-Christ's-sake black holes. And just look at that Swiss guy in the picture. He doesn't look worried at all.

I guess it's pretty unlikely that the Large Hadron will swallow up the universe and destroy us all. Gail Collins of the New York Times is comforting in her op-ed, though she admits that in physics, "there is no such thing as zero chance." And a panel of scientists released an official report reviewing the safety of the experiments, and they deemed the whole endeavor totally okay (although why they even had to assess the safety in the first place is a little eerie).

Whatever. I think it's pretty dang cool. Science rules! And don't you forget it! (Or else.)

You can read more specifics on what the particle accelerator actually does here.

Boohbah at War

[Wipes tear from eye.]
God bless you, you brave gentlemen!

"Fabio has one of the world's premiere home entertainment systems. Which he installed himself."

John and Kara and I were talking about Fabio earlier today at work. It started when John asked me if I was growing my hair out (The hair on top of my head, that is. Not my mustache. See the last blog post.). As if! Long hair on dudes is gross! He countered by mentioning Fabio and his golden locks. Still, No. But it got us thinking, that we didn't know what Fabio was up to nowadays or where he was currently living. Or, for that matter, where he was originally from. What's his story?, we wondered.

That's when Kara came in the office. She knew that Fabio was Italian (that was my guess!), and, since it was a slow work day, decided immediately to look him up on IMDb for more info. Thanks, Kara!

Did you know that Fabio was born at 11pm? Or that he is an avid motorcyclist? And while you should know that he has modeled for the covers of over 250 romance novels, did you know that he has written his very own romance novel ('Pirate,' pictured), for which he also modeled?!?

From IMDb: "His fragrance is 'Mediterraneum' by Versace."
And, frankly, don't we all want to smell like Fabio?

Mustache Update!

If you've visited either my MySpace or Facebook profiles lately, you've seen my new (old) default pic, featuring an awesome version of a 'stache, all over my face! Check it out!:

But ...it's kind-of a lie! This is an old picture, from the last time I "grew" out my mustache a couple years ago.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I'm "growing" it again, and I'll post new pics when it looks good enough (never)!

10 August, 2008

My Favorite Part of the Opening Ceremony Was...

...when it was revealed that it was peopleand not machines or computers or hydraulics systemsthat were controlling those mesmerizing, moving blocks!

Plus, their waves, after they peeked their heads out, were just adorable!

Spider Guts All Over My Finger! Gross!!

I like bugs. I do not, however, like poisonous black widow spiders living underneath my patio furniture. When this happens, I like to introduce these widow spiders to a friend of mine: the hammer. (And that's not a nickname for something. I really just mean a big ol' hammer.)

This evening, one particularly meaty spider decided, for whatever reason, that she was intent on doing as much harm to me (sans biting) as she could, and in her last, vain attempt at vengeance--at the moment of hammer-to-spider impact--she sprayed her disgusting insides all over my finger. It was gross. Really, really gross.

I guess that'll teach me.

04 August, 2008

'The X-Files: I Want To Believe' - Review

It’s like I Want To Believe is the most mature episode of The X-Files never aired. That’s not necessarily a knock at the long-running show—which, in it’s day, was the kookiest, scariest, most mystifying(ly good) series on TV. After all, the show was, by it’s nature, irrational, improbable, and occasionally naïve—thrilled by the possibility of truth within (normally) unbelievable situations. But time has passed, and while I won’t argue that the world is a categorically different place than it was in 2002 (when The X-Files went off the air), it seems more than appropriate that former FBI Agents Mulder and Scully have adapted to a new status quo. In I Want To Believe, it’s like Mulder and Scully grew up, and went from being characters on a sci-fi TV show to being real people with real dilemmas …who occasionally dabble in the supernatural.

An FBI Agent is missing, and a convicted pedophile (and one-time priest) claims to have a psychic connection to the case. Mulder is called in, not because the FBI trusts him, but because the psychic might, and the FBI needs to decipher the priest’s complicated connection to the missing woman. Makes sense.

The fundamental theme at the heart of The X-Files (both the series and this new movie) is the search for truth, and it’s relationship to faith. As always, both Mulder and Scully have their own personal faiths, as well as their doubts. Scully, who is now working as a doctor in a Catholic hospital, is treating a boy whose illness requires painful and extremely experimental treatments for any chance of survival. The way this compelling subplot weaves into the main story of the priest and the missing agent is mostly based on overlapping themes, but it also expertly fleshes out Scully’s complex response to the case, and her feeling towards Mulder’s involvement in it.

As for the status of Mulder and Scully’s “relationship,” I’ll leave that for you to find out, but I think it struck the perfect tone: believable, for two people who had been so emotionally intimate for so long, and for two people sometimes unwilling to give themselves up to trust. So many details remain unspoken, but that’s as it should be, because every subtle twist adds another layer to their dynamic.

For a time, the search for the missing agent (and subsequent victims), has the feel of an above-par whodunit. What is the priest’s relationship to the case, and how does he know so much? Why are these people being taken? When there is an intense foot chase between Mulder, the agent in charge of the case, and a mysterious suspect, I Want To Believe is as skilled as, say, The Dark Knight at arousing suspense. Of course it’s never quite as straightforward as this, as new evidence points the case in stranger directions. And because Mulder and Scully retain varying levels of skepticism, and as their connection to the case ebbs, the mysteries of the case compound eloquently.

Before long, with a casual pace and expert skill, I Want To Believe turns back into the kind of X-Files we want to see, where we don’t quite believe what we’re seeing, but we don’t quite not-believe it either. There’s a sinister scheme surrounding the missing people, in a Dr. Frankenstein-type development that feels genuinely invasive and creepy. But it also feels a little different from the usual, and a little more grounded than TV X-Files ever did: Mulder feels compelled to jump head-first into solving his case, not because he necessarily believes the priest, but because he believes he can save the FBI agent’s life. He’s got to have faith in the psychic, because what other choice does he have, when an innocent woman’s life is at stake?

Scully, on the other hand, thinks she wants to commit to solving problems with tangible solutions, but even she doubts her work in medicine will always yield real results. A disagreement with the hospital administration over the fate of the sick boy challenges her faith in a way that transcends religion, but at the same time alludes to it. As Scully joins Mulder in his search, these lessons take on a satisfyingly deep overtone.

Is The X-Files: I Want To Believe better than the best episodes of the series? Of course not. But I was amazed by how cleverly and subtly Chris Carter (series creator and movie director) turned the 6+ years between the series finale and the movie premier into an advantage. I feel like he brought these characters into a new realm of possibility, where the ideas of truth and doubt are bigger than the occasional, unsolicited monologue on believing in aliens or conspiracies or black goo or 6 foot tall parasites.

'The Dark Knight' - Review And/Or Diatribe

[Shrugs shoulders]
It was okay.

I didn’t really 'get' the early hype, and I don’t really 'get' the crazy response. Frankly, I thought The Dark Knight was a solid, if convoluted, mainstream superhero movie—much better than, say, X-Men: The Last Stand, while fitting comfortably alongside the occasionally-great-but-overall-just-pretty-good Spider-Man 2.

The thing is, I thought the Joker was under-utilized; that the bulk of the story—at least the stuff important in “ the long-run,” the kind of things that matter to Batman (the character, as well as the entire movie franchise)—seemed really to center around Harvey Dent, and his symbolic transformation into Two-Face. Everything with the Joker felt like a really long middle Act, between the mobsters and the money, through to Dent’s corruption. The Joker was too much like a diversion, or, perhaps more fittingly, a narrative tool, with which to kill Rachel Dawes and burn off half of Dent’s face. Where was the meat? I’m all for symbolism (and don’t you think that the story was really about Batman and the Joker’s battle for Harvey’s soul? And the soul of the city?), but, c’mon!, aside from setting up a couple kick-ass set pieces (the opening bank robbery; the car chase), what’d the Joker do? Mixed things up a little? Put a wrench in the machinery? Maybe so, but where’s the payoff? Citizens are saved, Dent’s legacy lives on, the wrench was removed, and the Joker is literally left hanging, while a couple of heretofore unimportant (and, narrative-wise, unrealized) crooked cops get offed, and a disappointingly lousy showdown between Jim Gordon and Two-Face happens across town. Really? Didn’t the Joker deserve more?

Well... About the Joker: he fancies himself an instigator, and, really, that’s all he is. He wires the oil drums to detonators, for example, and his part is over—the action is in the hands of the characters on the ferries, and now it’s them (and what happens to them) we’re interested in. But, gosh, if that doesn’t diminish his role as a villain. For me, that’s the major flaw of The Dark Knight. Or at least part of it. I believe that in order to compensate for the Joker’s ancillary role in the story (the “mad dog,” “let off the leash” by the ‘real’ bad guys), Nolan and Ledger took the Joker’s sociopathic personality to the extreme. They had to, otherwise the Joker would have been a dud. As it is, he’s a psychopathic murderer, as twisted as Jigsaw from the Saw movies. Is this a good thing? I feel uncomfortable saying that it is, largely because I’m not sure what we’re meant to think about him. Should we envy his nihilism? Are we meant to react positively to his casual attitude towards life? I get the feeling that when the Joker jokes, we’re supposed to laugh. When he kills a man with a pencil, we’re supposed to think how clever he is. When he burns a literal ton of money, we’re supposed to see it as an act of liberation. When he blows up a hospital, we admire the fireworks.

And that’s fine, I guess. You could argue that that makes him a good villain, and I would, of course, understand your point. He’s mesmerizing, in a way. In his speech in the hospital, to the newly two-faced Harvey, the Joker talks about hating “schemers” and their “plans.” He says, “If I tell the press that tomorrow … a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics”—because deaths like these have become part of the status quo. There is an allure to what he says, because it sounds tragic and unjust. His argument is tantalizing, and what he says quickly starts sounding like…truth. And, neatly, this line of reasoning by the Joker—who is tarted up in a candy striper’s uniform (okay, acquiring that costume must’ve required some sort of forethought and planning, right, Mr. J?)—inflames Harvey so much that he concludes that the system is at fault for it’s own corruption. His own corruption. That the ‘system’ allowed the Joker to kill Rachel. The ‘system,’ as represented by Batman, and Lt. Gordon, and Harvey himself. Interestingly, this message is echoed by another character later in the movie: “You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand,” argues Alfred to a disenfranchised Batman. Somehow, it seems, the Joker has convinced us that he is the hero of Gotham City, and maybe of The Dark Knight—or, at the very least, that he is a necessary, and perhaps even innate, evil.

The problem is, I don't know if I believe what that last sentence implies (that there can be no order without chaos, or that you have to break the rules to succeed). I could go on and on about my complicated response to Heath Ledger's Joker, and, accordingly, The Dark Knight itself (because, after all, isn't so much of The Dark Knight's success linked to the Joker?). But just understand this: in a twisted, ironic way, I like the movie less because it's so damn popular. I don't want to sound snobbish or out-of-touch, but why are people so damned passionate about such a demented, terrible, perverted killer? What does it mean when 6-year-old kids are playfully asking if their friends want to know how they got these scars?, or that you can "Become a Fan of" The Joker on Facebook? Why is this movie, and particularly this character, striking such a nerve, especially with young people? The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get. Are we all just closeted nihilists and anarchists? What does it mean if we are? so I'll stop.

Sigh. I don’t know. If I stop all this analyzing (or, you might easily argue, over-analyzing), then I’m afraid I’ll feel the opposite effect from what you’d expect: I’d like The Dark Knight less. It’s made with master craftsmanship, and it looks and sounds fantastic. When all the gears are aligned, it hums along with a satisfying briskness and ingenuity. But, it’s just…well, I like my big budget movies to be a little bit more than mindless, populist crowd-pleasers, packed with as many explosions, gadgets, and one-liners as the focus groups found appropriate. I like it when my movies think. So I understand that the Joker, as a character, was carefully constructed by Chris Nolan, his co-writers, and especially Heath Ledger, to arouse certain responses, and that it was an intentional choice to keep his origins elusive and his underlying motivations murky. I just don’t think I responded all that favorably to their creation. Maybe I just don’t like chaos.

But at least I can take a little comfort in one thought: With The Dark Knight grossing in excess of $400 million, following one of the most carefully planned marketing schemes in Hollywood history—for a Warner Bros. release that was meant to be the studio's (a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., by the way) biggest summer tentpole release, no less—it's refreshingly ironic to think that as we passively participate in the status quo in such a ‘meta’ way, the Joker would be sitting back and laughing at us all?

01 August, 2008

The Pussycat Dolls Need To Enunciate Better

"When I grow up
I wanna be famous
I wanna be a star
I wanna be in movies

When I grow up
I wanna see the world
Drive nice cars
I wanna have boobies"


Considering what we know about the Pussycat Dolls, I think it's safe to assume that the final lyric is probably about desiring "groupies," and not "boobies."

However, I haven't ruled out that the song ("When I Grow Up") isn't meant to be some sort of empowering anthem aimed at young girls--who, as conceived in the minds of record producers, may, indeed, be desirous of boobies.

After hearing one of PCD's earlier singles ("Buttons"), I mistook the lyric "I'm telling you to loosen up my buttons baby" for "I'm telling you to loosen up my butt [uh] baby" (that's the word "butt" followed by a vague, sexual grunt). At the time, I reflected that this would be a strange thing to sing, but perhaps it was in reference to getting loose and booty-shaking on the dance floor, or at least that's what I hoped, because to loosen up a butt sounds, frankly, diarhettic.

Does anyone else have these kinds of mishearing problems? Do you blame me or the Pussycat Dolls for dirtying up their lyrics (although 'loosening up her buttons...in order to take her pants off' is, you know, already fairly dirty)? And why do I not hate the Pussycat Dolls more than I do?

30 July, 2008

New Trailer! - 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'

The new movie trailer for the series' sixth installment can be viewed on Moviefone.

All I can say is: YESSSSSSSSS!

The pensieve flashback, with Dumbledore visiting a young (and definitely creepy) Tom Riddle at the orphanage, is exciting stuff. And seeing Ron and Ginny in various states of, what appears to be, immediate and life-threatening danger is chillingly good. It would have been nice to see some Snape or even some Draco, but for a brief teaser, it's almost better this way.

Siskel and Ebert and Roeper and Others and the Movies

Roger Ebert is one of the most brilliant writers I've read, and that's no joke. He is, of course, my favorite movie critic (although I'll be the first to admit his writing suffered during his health battles). He is a man who is both fiercely intelligent and absolutely genuine. Roger recently wrote a journal entry (appropriately titled "The balcony is closed") about the history of his television show and specific recollections surrounding it's successes, in response to the news of it's producers taking it in a "new direction."

In that article, Roger posted a couple YouTube videos of some promo outtakes with himself and Gene Siskel. These guys are pretty awesome.

21 July, 2008

Box Label

I'm moving, so I've got a lot of packed boxes. I have one small box, labeled, simply, for it's miscellaneous and unrelated contents:

"Pogs, Wigs, Viking Helmets."

That is all.

20 July, 2008

Bug-Inspired Poetry

These two poems were written awhile back, set in motion by an encounter with a live scorpion inside my friend's house. Their current posting, however, was inspired by a litter of baby praying mantises (mantisi?), crawling, adorably, around my mom's front porch. They are the cutest thing!

It's my first attempt at poetry! How novel!

Untitled ("Mona Lisa never swatted a fly, so far as I know." ?)

Mona Lisa never swatted a fly, so far as I know.
Her hands are--of course--too virtuous
(notice the absence of a wedding band!)
to be soiled by the guts of a hairy shit-eater.
But did she ever have a picnic ruined
by a swarm of bees or ants or locusts?
Were her delicate, enigmatic features
ever contorted in disgust or anger or flippancy
by her accidental penetration of a lacy spiderweb?
Could she ever have been put at peace
by the gentleness of a butterfly or the incongruity
of a caterpillar's breached cocoon?
To show her these things now would be an insult,
of course, to beauty, to her, and to the bug.

Still-life, With Obstruction

When he spotted the spider, nimbly crawling
Over the apricot, the painter had a choice:
Preserve the integrity of the moment
And include the wayward creature
On the canvas, among the stationary fruits,
Inviting critics to establish it's meaning
Beyond the magic of it's arbitrariness,
Or admit the impermanence of it's passing
And excise it's cursory, scrambling self
From the art of inanimation.
He was ensnared, he thought, aptly.

Well, what did you think? Were they okay? Were they lousy and amateurish? What's up with the weird connections to art & painting? Did you get lost in all the unnecessarily indulgent "thesaurus" words? (Don't be afraid to say you didn't "get" it. It's not your fault.) Do you love (and, simultaneously, loathe) bugs as much as I do? Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

13 June, 2008

Dear Whoever Stole My Library Books and CD's From My Car

Dear Whoever Stole My Library Books and CD's From My Car,

I hope you enjoy the soundtrack to Rudy, and that you return David Rakoff's book of autobiographical essays, "Don't Get Too Comfortable," back to the library on-time. I probably wouldn't have, but, hey.


05 June, 2008

"I can't just sit at home and do nothing..."

The deadly earthquake that hit China nearly a month ago continues to deeply affect a lot of people. Cartoonist Coco Wang has written and drawn some amazing sequential art, documenting real-life stories of hope and tragedy. Read the ongoing set at paulgravett.com.

Wang writes: "Thousands of heart-breaking stories are happening 24 hours non-stop everyday, some are so sad that you can hardly bear, some are incredibly moving that you just can't stop crying... I wanted to go to the front to help with all those people ... but I heard that the traffic needed to be kept totally clear for rescue transportation at the moment. ... I have never felt more proud of my country and people ... their love, courage and kindness rock me to my core! I am going to send you comic strips almost everyday from now on, I hope you could know something about the earthquake in China, although you don't have to do anything, but I hope you could feel our love and hope."

Read the ongoing collection here.

04 June, 2008

"When I Fart, I Look Behind Me," and Other Bon Mots

David Sedaris visits The Daily Show, promoting his new book "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," and riffs on the Japanese and quitting smoking.

02 June, 2008

Sigur Rós & Ryan McGinley

Sigur Rós has a new single, "Gobbledigook," available for download from their official website. It's a pretty sweet song, and it's got a great-looking video to go with it (which is also available, exclusively, on sigurros.com).

(A warning: nudity and puns to follow!)

Stereogum uses the phrases "cheeky (as in ass-y)" and "We can Sigur asses, guys" in their write-up on the release, because both the video and the album feature the work of photographer Ryan McGinley...who, well, usually sometimes features naked people.

But don't let that deter you. Or arouse you, for that matter. McGinley is a really talented artist. So just like I'm excited for the new Sigur Rós, I'm excited to take this opportunity to look at some of my favorite photographs of McGinley's:

(Whoa! Slow down. Take your time and look at them again. Probably while listening to Sigur Rós.)

...So, um, in summation: Sigur Rós' new album, með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, drops stateside June 24th.

And, because I just can't pass him up, here's McGinley's portrait of Michael Cera for this year's NY Times Magazine Oscars feature:

You go, George Michael!

30 May, 2008

New Discoveries

A couple of fascinating new articles--

From BBC News:

"One of South America's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been spotted and photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru.

The photos were taken during several flights over one of the most remote parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil's Acre region.

They show tribe members outside thatched huts, surrounded by the dense jungle, pointing bows and arrows up at the camera."

From NYTimes.com:

"Two monkeys with tiny sensors in their brains have learned to control a mechanical arm with just their thoughts, using it to reach for and grab food and even to adjust for the size and stickiness of morsels when necessary, scientists reported on Wednesday.

The report, released online by the journal Nature, is the most striking demonstration to date of brain-machine interface technology. Scientists expect that technology will eventually allow people with spinal cord injuries and other paralyzing conditions to gain more control over their lives."

Wow. Really captivating and beguiling stuff. The world is indeed an incredible place.

28 May, 2008

‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ – Review

Let’s just say it: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not an “Indiana Jones” movie. It has little to do with it’s predecessors, save for some flagrantly transparent references to the earlier trilogy. If anything, it’s a rip-off of a rip-off, having more in common with schlock like National Treasure and The Mummy than a classic like Raiders of the Lost Ark. To call it “tongue-in-cheek” would be putting it mildly—it is a total assault on seriousness.

But now that that’s out of the way (and I think we’re in agreement so far), I really have to admit a couple points to myself: 1), National Treasure and The Mummy—and, indeed, Crystal Skull—have such an unabashed joyfulness in reckless adventure that I find myself admiring their offhandedness, and 2), The visual wit of Raiders (and, to a lesser extent, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade) is still here—it’s just buried under layer after layer of self-referential citation.

Too often, movie sequels inspire an obligatory “checklist” in their audience (and, for that matter, their filmmakers)—and I think the more beloved the original, the truer this axiom. Fedora? Bullwhip? Underground tomb? It’s all here, and then some. You’ll find, among other thematic repeat offenders, secrets hidden in plain view (sometimes right under your feet!), issues of trust and duplicity (i.e., “So what are you, some kind of... triple agent?”), and righteousness in the face of greed (“Their treasure wasn't gold, it was knowledge.”). But this is a dangerous game for filmmakers, as no two viewer’s expectations are ever the same. Favor conservatism, and the film is labeled a retread. Sway too far into novelty and fans complain about the changes. It’s the proverbial double-edged sword (though you could argue that the best solution would have been to simply not make another Indiana Jones movie…but that’s a moot point. Where there’s money to be made…).

So, of course, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and screenwriter David Koepp made incredible miscalculations in the plot. Gone is the user-friendly Christian mythology that was so successful for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade. Instead, we’re treated to a convoluted story about Soviet communism, parapsychology, mind-control, Aztecs, aliens, and expected (but tiresome) questions of parentage. And, unfortunately, that’s it—it doesn’t add up to anything. Plot points are hit, pert jokes each have their turn, and one regurgitated sequence after another only serves to remind you of another time in the series when Spielberg and Lucas and Harrison Ford pulled it off better. And because each of these moments comes packaged with its own pre-made punchline, based solely on recognition, the purpose of the 'jokes' is to “get” the 'jokes' (i.e., that Indy is old, that ants are the new snakes, etc.). Sometimes this works—like when Indy shifts gears into problem-solving mode (watching Ford as Indiana Jones is a kick, as he reinhabits the ticks and mannerisms of his most iconic character)—but usually it doesn’t (see: “ants are the new snakes”).

But that assessment's not totally fair, and I say that for two reasons. One, because even when the gears aren’t quite lining up and you can feel the effort behind the hamhandedness, there’s still some genuine pleasure to be gained from the attempt. Cate Blanchett makes as unconvincing a Soviet spy as I’ve ever seen, but the slipping accent and cartoon-dominatrix persona seem to be what makes the role fun (for her and, maybe, us). And when Blanchett asks Indy to find a single artifact in an eerily familiar military warehouse, stocked with wooden government crates—well, of course Indy hasn’t been there before and won’t know his way around, but…hasn’t he? It’s like the characters know as much about themselves as we (the audience) do, and because we’ve already seen such an enormous storage center (in Raiders), what’s the point in pretending we haven’t? Simply, places like that don’t exist in reality, but we believed it 17 years ago, so the characters themselves are willing to unquestionably believe in such a space.

And two, while the story is lacking, it’s the deft visual eye of Steven Spielberg that elevates Crystal Skull, if not to Ark/Temple/Crusade levels, than at least to the positive side of The Phantom Menace. Notice how even the most rote sequence can have moments of brilliance. For example, Crystal Skull begins on a highway in the Nevada desert, with a chain of military vehicles being passed by a speeding car full of teens in poodle skirts. Yes, it’s a lazy device to establish that we’re in the 1950’s, but pay attention to Spielberg’s camera movement. Before the lead truck is overtaken by the car, as they’re side-by-side, the frame moves from the point-of-view of the sock hoppers, to between the vehicles (reflecting the moving car in the truck’s side mirror), and then through the window into the truck, mischievously shifting the POV from flippant to combative in one fluid movement—and perfectly setting up the deadly confrontation at the military base. This kind of elegant and playful (and presumably difficult) camerawork makes for subconsciously compelling viewing.

So where does that leave me? Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is, at times, a discombobulated mess. But certainly a tentpole picture like this is almost exclusively about spectacle, and as a serial adventure it doesn’t have to follow all the established rules of logic, or even come close to them, right? Therefore, maybe Crystal Skull has more in common with the “Indiana Jones” spirit than I (and it’s detractors) would like to believe—not because it rehashes all the past successes of the series, but because it harks back to the pulp serials of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ childhoods (which inspired the character in the first place). Where else would you find man-eating ants and an adventurer swinging through the vines of a rainforest? Isn’t it kind of refreshing to have a movie as enamored with logic and history as The Da Vinci Code, but function without the deadening weight of it’s own bloated self-importance (which, perhaps, explains the venture in plot from the spiritual to the supernatural)?

Inevitably, though, Crystal Skull doesn’t quite work. It’s like drawing in a coloring book. Though you may have all the “perfect” colors from your crayon box, sometimes you’re just stuck with the wrong picture for what you’ve got. Sure, the sun isn’t supposed to be purple, but damn if it’s not a pleasant shade of purple, and kind of endearing in it’s kindergarten simplicity.

24 May, 2008

“Wow, he is so great.”

A context-free highlight* (and picture!), wrought from the World Wide Web:

“ "You’re late again, Ma Nan."
"I’m sorry, Miss Zhang."
"When do you get up every morning?"
"At 7."
"Get up earlier. Don’t be late next time." ”

(*So, I plan on making "Context-Free ..." a regular feature here, but I actually think this little story is served better with just an eensy bit of context: it's from an English-language grade school textbook. And really, isn't hectoring the best way to learn English?)

More Pugs in Costume! (Sci-fi Edition)

22 May, 2008

Scoot On In...


So says the roadside marquee at Hume Veterinary Hospital (at Eubank and Comanche, in Albuquerque).

You might think it's strange that Hume has, in my mind, a notorious reputation for displaying bad puns on their marquee, but I think this is the perfect example. I mean, what do you think of when you hear the word "scoot," when paired with a place associated exclusively with dogs and cats? Think about it: What are dogs doing when they "scoot"?

So...why in the Hell would you want to bring this imagery to the mind's of your potential customers? Why would you choose the word "scoot," when there are innumerable (and less, um, visual) alternatives still implicitly associated with animals (i.e., dash, trot)? ...I just don't get it.

(Just to be sure it wasn't just me, I did a Google search for "dogs+scoot", and the top results included pages titled 'Why does my dog scoot his butt across the floor?' and 'The Anal Sacs Page'.)

(I understand that this pun may actually be intentional--that is, they want to remind you of your dog wiping his butt on your floor, in order for you to bring your dog into the office to help it. But, seriously, is that really necessary? Even, ahem, diarrhea medications [like Pepto Bismal] have the decency to not allude to the physical act of...well, you get the picture.)

(Any reason to write about dogs is reason enough to post a picture of pugs in costumes.)

12 May, 2008

Daytime Television: A Sad, Strange World

You are ...NOT the father!

So, I was sitting at home the other day, flipping channels between the Maury show and the Today show, and all the other shows that show up on weekday mornings on broadcast TV, but I stopped on Maury because he's usually the most lascivious. On that day, Maury was revealing some exciting Caught On Tape footage, and he was discussing the outrageousness of it all with a certified specialist, some sort of therapist-type woman, who's gregarious personality and wide smile perfectly matched her simple, moralizing "advice."

Maury and the therapist-type were talking about a man who videotaped unknowing women in his massage studio, in various states of undress. Boos! Jeers from the live studio audience! He's a sick man! Those poor women! Well, of course they didn't show the actual video--that'd just be in bad taste. So instead they hired actors to "dramatize" the salacious invasions of this most intimate privacy. They hired women to strip to their underwear. For their cameras. They videotaped women, in various states of undress. To publicly scold a man who videotaped women in various states of undress. The live studio audience, of course, cheered when the therapist-type announced the man's prison sentence.

All in all, I don't really understand daytime television. Watching it really just bums me out. I mean, all it is is advertisements for diets and exercise programs, Associate's degrees, high school diplomas, game design classes, and airplane maintenance licensure programs, in between court shows, talk shows, soap operas, and The 700 Club. I mean, c'mon! What kind of sad, pathetic person watches The 700 Club?!? ... ... Well, I guess the same kind of person who'd condemn a man for doing THE EXACT SAME THING THAT THEY'RE DOING! I guess it's okay for women to be taken advantage of, as long as their bodies are being displayed to thousands of TV viewers, and she's getting paid for it. ...Hypocrites!

09 May, 2008

Different Majors, Different Worlds

It's been kind-of a complicated time for me at UNM--a period of transition, you could say. Next week I'll have my Bachelor's degree in Media Arts (or, less pretentiously(?), "Film"), with a minor in Psychology. However, next month I'll start a full year (still at UNM) of science and education classes, as part of earning my Master's in Secondary Education (with a specialty in science curricula). In keeping in communication with this grab bag of departments (and the many others I've been in and out of), I've seen an awful lot of what makes up the University of New Mexico. And, I've got to say, I find it all really wacky.

It has been an incredible shift in gears to go from a full slate of Media Arts classes to taking exclusively Biology labs and Chemistry lectures. Each one has it's own rhythms and routines. MA classes are nearly always in the evening (Why? I don't know. Because the department thinks it's somehow sacrilegious to watch a movie in the daytime?), and they're one night a week, consisting of an hour of lecture, a short break, and then a movie. Assignments are always quizzes and papers. Papers, papers, papers. Science lectures, on the other hand, require a lot more rote memorization, textbook reading, exams, and hard facts. Labs demand specific methodology and, sometimes, numbers (Who knew?).

What's been especially strange, however, is how little interaction or association all these departments (and their students and faculty) have with one another. Once a student's core liberal arts curriculum is completed--or, actually, much sooner, when majors are declared and focuses are plotted--the whole university structure gets very cliquish. And I understand that's a natural process (similar interests, and what not), and I don't think there's anything wrong with it, but for me, as someone who passes through each one but doesn't feel particularly connected to any single department, I find it...alienating.

Buildings have their own smells and color schemes; bulletin boards have their own visual and written languages; the people look different and act different and talk different; cut-out comic strips, pasted on office doors, have different punchlines; students who excel at their subject are recognized differently than if they were a top student in another subject; department parties and get-togethers have varying ideas of "fun" and "professionalism" and "on time."

I guess what it all means, for me, is that it's hard to feel like you fit in any one group, when you're unsure what'd direction you'd like to take, and therefore stuck on the fringe of all of them.

(Sometimes I wonder what title each department would receive if their students were all given university superlatives. Like, Exercise Science majors are Most Generically Attractive. Or Foreign Language students are Most Likely To Take Pride In Their Egotism. Or Music [Vocal Performance] majors are Most Boring.)

08 May, 2008

What I Love: Delayed Movie Titles

Movie titles can be an art, in and of themselves. In March, Nerve compiled an admirable list of The Twelve Greatest Opening Credits in Movie History, which included some of my personal favorites, like Do the Right Thing and Dr. Strangelove. Of course, the list cited the work of the two biggest names in title design--Saul Bass, who did some of his best work with Scorsese and Hitchcock (e.g., Vertigo), and Kyle Cooper, who's best known for his collaborations with David Fincher . (Stanley Kubrick must, along with these other directors, be placed in the upper echelon of design collaborators, for his work on Strangelove, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.)

Sometimes opening credits are great because of impeccable graphic design (like in Catch Me If You Can), or sometimes because they set the perfect tone for the movie that follows (Monty Python and the the Holy Grail). Sometimes the credits are entirely better than what follows (Cooper's Dawn of the Dead [2004]).

There has been a recent mini-trend, however, which I absolutely love, and must acknowledge...

You expect a movie to have titles. You expect to see them, after the start of the movie, within a reasonable length of time. But sometimes a movie will play with that expectation, and make you wait. And wait. Until at some point, you've forgotten you're waiting, and you're simply watching a movie. The story has begun, there's no turning back. And then, BAM-- Credits.

I've got two examples--Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (above). Both movies wait until the end of the first reel of film (about 20 minutes in) to get to the opening titles. And in both cases, watching them for the first time, it was at the titles when I realized I was watching a masterpiece. It's such a maverick decision to pull the audience out of the action of the (already developing) story, and remind us we're watching a movie--but it also displays the incredible control these directors have over their medium. In a time where it feels like, in Hollywood, everything's been done before, to withhold the credits and delay our systematic pleasure in the routines of even fine cinema--well, it seems audacious.

So, one thing I LOVE... is delayed movie titles.

(Oh, and great end credits, too. But not lousy ones. Like, alas, 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake. You don't get a link for that. Because it's end credits suck.)

30 April, 2008

I Finally Got Around To Watching The Christmas Special Of 'The Office' (UK Version)...And It Was AWESOME!!

Best. Finale. Ever.

That is all.

'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' - Mini Review

Lots of penis, and very funny. ...Unrelated points, but nonetheless accurate.

(View the trailer for Forgetting Sarah Marshall here.)

You Shall Pass!

According to Empire (by way of the man himself), Ian McKellen is likely to reprise his Oscar-nominated role as Gandalf in Guillermo del Toro's Hobbit films.

All I can say is ...Whew.

28 April, 2008

Lykke Li - "I'm Good, I'm Gone"

A former professional dancer, Swedish singer Lykke Li certainly brings, ahem, something else to her videos... and I like it!

Her debut album, Youth Novels, produced by Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, releases stateside May 6th.

(Why is everything the Swedes do cooler than what we do here on this side of the Atlantic?)

24 April, 2008

At Long Last, 'The Hobbit' Has a Director (Officially)

Well of course Guillermo Del Toro is directing The Hobbit. That's old news. But apparently the people involved had to, you know, make it "official."

I, for one, don't like the idea (and that's not just because I've had a long-standing [but fleeting] hope that Peter Jackson and New Line would come to their senses and put the Tolkien-maestro himself behind the camera). I simply think Guillermo's and J.R.R.'s styles are too dichotomous. While they both are drawn to fantastic--but ultimately human--characters, Del Toro's visuals are a bit too metaphoric for my taste, his characters a bit too allegorical. The Hobbit needs to function as a parable, for sure, but above all Tolkien writes about characters. Characters that need the assured hand of a born humanist like Jackson.

I admit that Del Toro's Hobbit may very well be visually stunning (though, perhaps, a bit too dark or dank), because Del Toro certainly has a capable imagination. But to think of the decisiveness and unbridled spirit Jackson could have brought--or the intelligence and reverie someone like Alfonso Cuarón would provide--I feel a bit too disappointed to revel in the thought of a future that holds not one but two new films from Middle Earth.

How? Why?!

There is no justice in the world.

23 April, 2008

Follow My Logic: from Dante to 'Big Brother'

I've been reading Dante's Divine Comedy, and that has me thinking about the Seven Deadly Sins. In John Ciardi's introduction to his own translation, he writes that, of the Seven, "Acedia is the central one, and it may well be the sin the twentieth century lost track of." Ciardi says that while Acedia is generally translated to English as Sloth, there is simply too much lost in translation: it's not just laziness or physical slovenliness--it's more of a spiritual failure, "the failure to be sufficiently active in the pursuit of recognized Good."

Now--follow me here--whenever I hear the word "sloth," I always think of "television." Perhaps that's a result of reading Devin O'Leary's "This Week in Sloth" entry in The Alibi, which features some of the noteworthy selections in the week's television schedule, or perhaps it's actually the result of the same attitude that fueled O'Leary in the first place: an interest in making fun of a wide range of the TV viewing spectrum, and the overwhelming existential torpor and depression that comes with it.

So, to the point: While I was reading about the Cantos of Hell (and thinking about where I'll fit in), I immediately thought of the time* that I watched an episode of CBS' Big Brother and kinda liked it. (...You know the show. The one with the dumb gregarious sluts pretty people, participating in ridiculous stunts, parading themselves around on national television in order to win two minutes of fame $500,000.) And though I, like, knew that something interesting was probably on public television (i.e., the Good) that very second, I still chose to ignore the truth. And therefore I am going to Hell.

Does anybody else ever feel like there is something out there that goes waaaaay beyond a "guilty pleasure," something that is so fundamentally evil, that by watching/listening to/reading/choosing it you are going straight to Hell?

*Oh, and that time I watched Big Brother? Yep, this past weekend. The same weekend I also spent my time watching Saved by the Bell.

Screech & Slater: Educational & Informative!

As I was channel-surfing this past weekend--as I am occasionally want to do, post-PBS cooking shows, pre-dinner--I happened across an episode of Saved by the Bell (pre-College Years, pre-Showgirls) airing on NBC. I'm not big into TV nostalgia ('SBTB' was a staple of my pre-teen years), but after a decade-long departure from Bayside High, it was kind-of a kick to return.

Despite the show's complete absence from my consciousness for so long, there is definitely a level of (uncomfortable) familiarity here, like being at a high school reunion--Look! There's overachieving Jessie Spano! Oh, it's meathead A.C. Slater! And fashionable Lisa Turtle! So, while I remember quite a bit (Remember when Kelly couldn't afford to attend Junior Prom, and Zach arranged their own private picnic just outside the gym, and they danced to the music coming from inside? ...No?), I, however, certainly do NOT remember Saved by the Bell being particularly educational, nor informative ...but NBC obviously does.

As part of an FCC requirement, broadcast channels are required to air at least 3 hours of "educational and informative" children's programming every week. Apparently, 'Saved by the Bell' fits the bill, earning it's E/I insignia. Why? Because it deals with "issues"? Like that time Jessie got addicted to caffeine pills? Or because it helps teach kids to "socialize"? Like that time Slater had to dance his way to a date?

13 February, 2008

Tina Fey To Return To 30 Rock To Host 'SNL'

I don't usually watch Saturday Night Live. But in SNL's first post-Strike broadcast (Feb. 23), Tina Fey will be returning to 30 Rockefeller Center to host the show she once worked for. I'll watch it because I think Fey is a comic genius, and 30 Rock, her scripted series based around an SNL-style variety show, is so funny I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

But here's the thing: when Fey was head writer for Live (the first woman to hold that position), the show was in one of it's worst creative slumps in recent years. It was during her reign that I really stopped watching the show (although, in all fairness, blame can also be placed on Jimmy Fallon, whose biggest talents were botching his lines and mugging for the camera). So I wonder: How will the performer in Fey (who recently won a Screen Actors Guild award for her work on 30 Rock) fare without the pressure of heading the chaos of a live television show? When she was behind the Weekend Update desk, SNL was actually (wouldn't-you-know-it?) funny. That's not to say the WGA-card-carrying scribe is a bad writer (she isn't, not by a long shot), but... Well, I don't know. That's the thing. Why didn't SNL work better with her in charge? ... I guess that's why I'll be tuning in on Saturday night, to see what's changed.

P.S.: Tina,
If you're reading this, ditch your husband and marry me.
xoxo Ben

I Finally Got Around To Watching the Second Half of Season 3 of 'LOST'...And It Was Awesome!

It had been nearly a year since I last watched an episode of Lost (according to IMDb the last one I saw, "Stranger in a Strange Land," aired on February 21st, 2007! That's last year!). But that's all changed now. Over the past three days, I hunkered down and watched all 13 episodes of Season 3 I missed, including the time-warpy finale.

And it was awesome! ...Hey, check out Jack's beard!

I know, I know, I'm still behind the times. But FYI, there is no other show on TV that has the potential to excite me as much as Lost does. Just so you know.

11 February, 2008

The Best Thing About The End of the Writers' Strike

The chance for Once stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova to perform their Oscar-nominated song "Falling Slowly" live on-stage at the Academy Awards.

Oscar-Themed Food!

The folks over at Epicurious.com have done exactly what I was too lazy to do: They've assembled an Oscar-night menu with foods themed around the Best Picture nominees! So while you're watching No Country for Old Men sweep through the ceremony, you could be munching Texas-Style Chili and Sage & Honey Skillet Cornbread (make sure to wash it down with an adequately Tex-Mex beer like Negra Modelo!). If you're rooting for crowd-favorite Juno, you could be enjoying Waffled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches and Frozen Chocolate Bananas. If high-minded political pretentiousness is more your style (or if, like me, "upscale" food still sounds just as delicious), you could opt for a Michael Clayton-inspired Filet Mignon with Merlot Sauce

As a novice foodie, I don't know if I'll want to go this far out of my way to please my Oscar party invitees, but it's a cool idea, and it all looks and sounds delectable.

Warning: It's just the Best Pic nominees, so no, you don't get to make human meat pies with Sweeney Todd.

Scarlett Johansson: A Case of Diminishing Returns

Don't get me wrong: Scarlett's hot. According to Esquire, she's the Sexiest Woman Alive (or at least she was last year). I saw her in person once, when she guested on The Tonight Show while I was in the audience, and--needless to say--I was not disappointed.

So shouldn't I be more excited about the news that Scar Jo and Penelope Cruz have a steamy love scene in Woody Allen's new movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona?

I've come to realize that the more I see Scar Jo, the less I like her. Back when she was fresh and new to the Hollywood scene, her scintillating mix of vulnerability and understated sex appeal, showcased in intelligent turns in top-notch indies like Ghost World and Lost in Translation, made her into the thinking man's dream babe. There was a mystery about her, as if she knew more about life (and, perhaps, sex) than she'd ever let on except under the most intimate of circumstances. But the more popular she got, the more confidence she displayed (see photo above), and the less interesting she became. Gone is the sense of mystery and measured vulnerability, to be replaced with a blatant and self-congratulatory awareness of her own sex appeal. Which actually makes her less sexy. Sigh.

(Apparently, the two actresses, Johansson and Cruz, also have an on-screen threesome with Javier Bardem. Now he's mysterious.)

10 February, 2008

Amy Winehouse + 'Quantum of Solace' = Awesome

Seriously, who cares about the Grammys? Sure, Amy Winehouse took home, like, a bazillion statues, but the big news this weekend, at least in my mind, was the rumored coupling of the "troubled" star and the new James Bond flick. I, for one, think 007 theme songs are best served by sexy-voiced women (Tina Turner, anyone?), and in that respect this pairing makes perfect sense. Her distinctive sound--a mix of old and new--is perfectly suited to this franchise-in-transition.

And anyway, if not her, than who? Who would be your top choice to sing Quantum of Solace's theme?

'Project Runway' is better than 'America's Next Top Model' ...barely

Yeah, yeah, I know. But it's true.

Tell me, though: What the heck are ANTM contestants Dani, Jaslene, and Bianca (pictured) doing in Runway's Bryant Park finale? Couldn't they find enough real models? ...JK, girls, JK.

Not that I don't love me some Top Model success stories--especially when they involve two of my past favorites (Cycle 6 winner Dani, left, and Cycle 8 winner Jaslene, center)--but don't you think this is a strange case of reality TV cross-pollination? Project Runway is like Top Model's cooler, hipper, and sexier cousin, what with it's highfalutin "School" of design, and requisite "talent."

Could this new development, paired with the relocation of ANTM back to New York, make for a new infusion of "class" into the Top Model proceedings? Also, I'm interested to see whether the girls get specifically mentioned on the Runway finale--or, if in a case of ironic serendipity, they actually had to earn their way into the fashion show.

Oh, and since I went ahead and spoiled the designers' final collections for myself by flipping though Bravo's online photo gallery, you might as well know that I thought Christian's was the best. And the fiercest. See it here.