Sunday, November 30, 2008

the best movie named "crash"

I like to pride myself on my knowledge of the cinema, but sometimes I don't see movies as promptly as I should. When possible, I try to rectify that via DVD. So last night I watched "Crash," winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2005.

My thoughts: well, my first thought was, "How did this thing win Best Picture?" Director/screenwriter Paul Haggis certainly meant well, aiming to expose the cultural and racial stereotypes that prevail in daily life in LA, and their sometimes tragic consequences. Also, I'm a big fan of Don Cheadle, so it was good to see him. And watching the tandem of Terrence Howard and Ludacris, it was easy to see why they'd work so well together later in "Hustle and Flow."

But sweet Jesus, how did this thing win Best Picture? It's only been out a few years, and already it feels incredibly dated. Like someone's delayed response to the Rodney King trial and the LA riots, made with the earnest conviction that it would actually create lasting racial harmony in LA. Here's kind of how the scenes went: Asian woman and Hispanic woman insult each other. White man and black man insult each other. White man and Asian woman talk about Jewish people. Jewish man and Aboriginal woman make love. Aboriginal man, black man, and white woman have a 3-way argument. Asian teen and Latino grandmother reconcile. Black cop shoots mixed-race pedestrian. Multi-ethnic group hug. And repeat.

(I'm sorry. It just felt very contrived and unrealistic to me. I'm sorry if you're someone who liked the movie. Feel free to make fun of one of my favorite movies, like "Scorpion King II: Rise of a Warrior.")

But you know what's really sad about "Crash?" The fact that it stole the title from a much better movie. I'm referring to David Cronenberg's 1996 adaptation of the J.G. Ballard book about people who are sexually aroused by car crashes. Do you remember all the controversy when that movie came out? Probably not. Because when you think of movies named "Crash" now, you probably think first of the Paul Haggis one.

But as with many movies that provoke controversy and outrage among people who never actually see said movie, there was so much to like about the other "Crash." To begin with, you've got David Cronenberg directing and James Spader in the lead role. Come on! That's awesome. They were both in their primes, too. Deborah Kara Unger proved to be one of the sexiest beasts to ever grace the silver screen; and Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette, and Elias Koteas also turn in strong performances. The creepy soundtrack by Howard Shore is absolutely riveting, the perfect counterpart to the dark psychodrama that unfolds.

I don't even know how to characterize this dang movie! Was it science fiction? Film noir? A dark psychodrama? A foreign film? (It's set in Toronto.) Auto erotica? I just don't know. If I was a video store clerk, I don't know where I would put this movie. All I know is, it was creepy and beautiful and ultimately ... uplifting. If you're the kind of person who's only uplifted by "Beaches," maybe it's not for you. But as for me, I was strangely uplifted.

P.S. I don't really like "Scorpion King II: Rise of a Warrior."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

million dollar baby

I don't know if I've mentioned my old friend and roommate Chris Volinsky before ... but I will be mentioning him a lot more often now. Because the dude went and got himself profiled in the NY Times over the weekend! Boo yah!

It seems that Chris, who is also known as CTV and who works as some type of smart employee for AT&T in New Jersey, has been competing in a contest sponsored by Netflix. The challenge is to improve Netflix's "recommendation engine," which is a computer program designed to read your mind and figure out what other movies you might like when you choose one. All manner of computer scientists and tech wizards and so forth have been competing at this thing, and for a good reason: the grand prize is a cool $1 million. Chris hasn't said what he's going to do with the money if he wins, but I do hope that part of his plans will be helping a brother out.

Chris and his ad hoc team from AT&T were in 1st place for a while, but apparently they got thrown off track by "Miss Congeniality." Is it a crime thriller? Comedy? Chick flick? They couldn't figure it out, in spite of their combined Ph.D brain wattage. So now they're playing catch-up, I guess.

I would like to wish them well, except there's just one problem: I am viscerally opposed to what they're doing! Remember the movie "Terminator?" Remember how they made the computers so smart that they finally figured out that mankind was obsolete, and declared war on mankind? And sent Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to knock off Linda Hamilton? Well, I am totally against anything that's going to bring us closer to that point. Oh, and "War Games." Remember that movie? Matthew Broderick? Same type of scenario. It could happen so easily.

And also, should we really be strengthening the hand of these upstart Internet companies like Netflix, that only deal with customers through the mail? What's going to happen to the small neighborhood businesses that keep our communities glued together, like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video? Did you think about that before unleashing your nefarious talents, Chris?

I just realized something: now Chris knows that I like "Terminator." Great, just great! Why should I even bother picking out my own DVD's anymore? He's probably already compiled a list of all my potential favorites ...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

joke of the day #2

Who came up with these library fines? What's up with that? You mean you're going to take my money for not returning books, CD's, videos, and other borrowed library materials before their due date? Well I'm not "fine" with that at all!


Some months ago, people, I started getting random "friend requests" in my email, from people I'd already considered to be my friends. It took me a while to figure out what was going on: Facebook. Now, if you're technically and culturally savvy enough to be reading this blog, I probably don't need to explain Facebook to you. But for those who somehow accidentally blundered their way aboard here, Facebook is a social networking site that's now enjoyed by millions of people. And not just in the US: Canada too! It's published in the English language, and you can put photos and videos on there, and it's cool. I'm not sure how it's different from Myspace - I just know it is. And I think Facebook is cooler, because I don't have a Myspace account.

I guess I have a little confession to make: I've become a Facebook addict. In a way it's not much different than email, but I've suddenly found myself in touch with people who never would return my emails before. Well, maybe "in touch" is not the most accurate term. I can still write to them, but also now I can look through their personal online photos, and try to become friends with their friends, and post ribald comments on their profiles, and so forth. It's awesome.

On the down side, messing around on Facebook makes me feel like a 12-year-old girl. But on the plus side, messing around on Facebook makes me feel like a beautiful, popular 12-year-old girl. Oh, how I wish I could do junior high school all over again! I would rule that place like Vanessa Hudgens on Ritalin.

I not only had a confession to make tonight, but a little boasting to make as well. The last time I checked, I had nearly 85 Facebook friends. I've calculated that I'll reach 100 friends by the end of 2008 (provided there's a little extra holiday cheer in people's hearts this year).

That's right - triple digits.

You know, people, there's a word for someone who has more than 100 friends on Facebook. And that word is "winner." And my list includes 5 ethnicities! I've got people from 5 different ethnic groups on my friends list, and that doesn't even count white people. I guess you could say I am rich with ethnic diversity.

And yes, I know there are others out there who count 5 or 6 or even 7 hundred people on their friends lists. But believe me when I say that my list is legit. I didn't pay anyone to enlist. And while I have begrudgingly permitted a few stragglers and vagabonds to set up temporary residence there (just where the heck did you come from, "Ellen Dennie-Beausang"???), by and large these are people who know me well and vice versa. I've broken bread with them, shared stories with them, babysat their kids, stroked their hair and murmured soothing words as they vomited in the gutter, and just generally been there for them. I've never slept with anyone just to get them to sign up for my friends list, and I rarely use the "People You may Know" feature.

It's legit, I tell you. And if you're reading this, and you're not one of my Facebook friends yet, you should know that I'm offering a special prize to the individual who becomes my 100th friend. The winner will be announced at 12:01 am on Jan. 1 ... on Facebook.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

mystery of the day

So, for today's blog note, I'm streamin' live from my office at Mad City hospital. Right now I'm working on some horrible drudgery, involving a lot of tedious data entry, so I took the liberty of playing KEXP Live on one of the other computers here. I'm listening to Expansions, DJ Riz's show, from Nov. 10.
Now, I don't know much about DZ Riz. But here's what I do know:

1. I like Expansions, even though I'm not much of a club-dweller or be-bopper or whatever. Years ago, I was introduced to Sparrow Orange by this show, and "Hands and Knees Music" remains one of my all-time favorite CD's.

2. DJ Riz speaks with a lisp. Always has. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

OK ... so why doesn't Riz have a lisp now??? I shit you not. The esses I've heard from him today have been as clear and icy as a shot of chilled vodka. In addition, he sounds about 10-15 years younger than I remember, and he's mellifluous. He sounds like Al Jarreau or Frank Sinatra or Patsy Cline in her prime, or some shit like that.

This all makes me wonder: has he undergone vocal cord surgery? Or just some sort of aggressive speech therapy? How do you get rid of a lisp? This is kind of freaking me out. I want the old Riz! But at the same time, I'm happy for him ...

(Little-known Mad City factoid: I also had a mild speech impediment when I was little. I had a hard time saying words that started with "L." So, I did some speech classes in elementary school. I made great strides, and showed a lot of courage along the way. But ... even now, I'm not completely 100 percent on "L" words! But don't test me, people. Please don't test me ...)

Friday, November 14, 2008

joke of the day

I have long been an admirer of comedians: their creativity, their ability to make people laugh, their fearlessness in front of large audiences, and so forth. I'm not exactly a comedy-club-frequenting type of guy, but I have seen a few good shows here and there. Neil Hamburger! I saw Neil Hamburger here in Mad City a few months ago. Great show, great comedian. Check out the link.

But as much as I admire comedians, I've never been able to get a grip on their craft. Don't get me wrong - I can tell a joke. Sweet jesus, can I tell a joke. But it's the writing of jokes, I think, that separates the men from the boys. I know some comedians out there have others write their jokes. And that's fine. But can you imagine being able to write and then deliver your own jokes? It'd be like some musician who can write his own songs, then perform then very well. Hot damn.

My new goal in life is to be able to write good jokes. I can't think of any other way to get started than to dive right in, so here goes:

Q: What type of gas do draft animals like to inhale, to help maintain their vigor and health and their ability to do farm work and so forth?

A: Ox-ygen.

Now, this is funny on several levels. First of all, it gets away from some of the standard puns that get kicked around a little too much, like the ones about cows that like moo-sic or omelettes that are eggs-cellent. Second of all, when was the last time you heard a joke about oxen? I can't even remember the last time I saw an ox. But everyone knows what they are, so it's OK.

Hopefully, for the next joke of the day, I won't have to explain things so much! Just getting warmed up here. You all can expect some better work down the road; but at the same time, I really believe I've hit the ground running ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

you are a runner and i am my father's son

The concert and show season is winding down here in Mad City with the onset of winter, but I did have the opportunity to see Wolf Parade the other night at the Majestic Theater. I went with my friend Jacob, one of the excellent first-year oncology fellows at Mad City General. Good show. I don't have Wolf Parade's 2nd album, but the first one has some rocking numbers and they played them well.

Something else about the show: you know how the liberal media keeps reporting that the "Seattle scene" in music is dead? Well, I've seen 2 bands with Seattle connections - Fleet Foxes and Wolf Parade - put on good shows in the past month or two. I think the rumors of the death of the "Seattle scene" are greatly exaggerated! And sure, Wolf Parade is from Montreal, but they're a Sub Pop band and that's what really matters.

And what's all this have to do with San Francisco? Well, I never mentioned anything about San Francisco. But since we're on the topic, I will note that I was introduced to Wolf Parade by my excellent friends Dean and Caroline, who I recently spent time with down in SF. I also met up with them in Chicago back in the spring! We're kind of doing a slow-motion tour of the great American cities together. We've already done Chicago, and SF, and Burlington, and Essex Junction. Next up: Mad City? They said they might be heading out here sometime in the spring! We'll see, people. We'll see ...

I would now like to close this blog note with a selection from the song "Lights," by the classic rock band Journey. As you may know, Journey is also from SF, and I think this song may have something to do with SF.

When the lights go down in the city
And the sun shines on the bay
Well I want to be there in my city
Whoaaaaahhhh ooooohhhhh

And don't you stop, that believin'
Hold on to that feelin'
Street light people
Whoaaaaahhhh oooooohhhhh

Friday, November 7, 2008


All right, I've decided it's high time to get to my recent trip out to San Francisco. It's actually been killin' me to wait this long, but first I had to track down some photos. We'll get to that ...
So, it was great. I stayed the first night with my friends Leah and Som, after having dinner with them at Park Chow. Any of you people heard of Park Chow, in San Francisco? It's pretty good. I had pork chops. Anyhow, I stayed the rest of the time with my friends Dean and Caroline, who were in town for a conference. Some of the highlights of my brief visit:
- biking across the Golden Gate Bridge
- seeing the new Maya Lin exhibit at the DeYoung Museum
- the weather (Yes, the weather was great in SF, believe it or not. The first couple days, anyway. Sunny and in the 80's. Then it turned to foggy and in the 40's ...)
- checking out Chinatown
- walking through the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park
- and at the peak of the trip, the East Coast met the West Coast, as Dean and I met up with Som and Leah for dinner. Unfortunately Caroline had to fly out that morning, also Leah had lost her voice and sounded a little like Louis Armstrong, but we still had a good time.

But in my haste to do so much on this whirlwind expedition, I didn't even get a photo of Som and Leah! (Don't worry D and C, I'll get to your shots later ...) So, what I ended up doing was scanning some old med school photos of Som. I'm not even sure who all these women are: I just remember that I had to buy them a ton of drinks, and even lay out some cold cash, before they were finally willing to pose with him. But he hasn't changed much since then, except now he's married and living in SF.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

chocolate nation

Yes! Yeeeeessssss! If you can imagine a skinny white guy screaming in jubilation out in Mad City, well ... that's me. My only question: why the fuck was it so close? I'm not talking about the electoral vote; we all know McCain got a good ass-whuppin' there. But the last I checked, the popular vote was about 51% to 45%. And what would it have been without a looming recession (depression?), and an unpopular 5+ year war, and the worst president of the past century except for Nixon, and Sarah Palin?

You know what? I don't even care at this point. We won. That's all that matters. We all won. Even those of you who voted for McCain, long after he'd demonstrated that there was really no good reason at all to vote for him. You'll see what I mean soon enough, if you'll take the damn blinders off and turn off Fox News and stop talking about terrorist fist bumps and shit like that.

Sorry for all the profanity tonight, people. Seriously, I'm trying to get rid of 8 years of anger, incredulity, and profound unhappiness about what was being done to the US, both by the people directly responsible and the people who insisted that we had a competent, functional government. We didn't. What we had was a crass misappropriation of this country's resources and power, to further goals which were often contrary to its best interests.

Well, no longer. For the first time in 8 years, I'm not going to spend part of every day dreading some new malfeasance coming from the White House. Honest to god, it's something that has weighed on me for 8 years, and maybe you too.

Did you see Obama's speech tonight? Could Bush have done something even close to that, in a million years? With even a modicum of his grace, dignity, and intelligence? I'm so proud of my new president. We've finally got the best that our country has to offer.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

an important revision

Hello, did I say something about writing about my recent trip to San Francisco sometime this weekend? Well, I had every intention to, but other important stuff just keeps popping up ...
So, I've been listening to a lot of 80's pop music lately for a project that I've been working on (long story). Among the bands that I've been getting reacquainted with: INXS. I liked INXS a lot back in the 80's, and even into the 90's. And I wish like hell that Michael Hutchence hadn't died, because I think they still had some good stuff ahead of them (and also, it was a tragedy that he died). But I haven't listened to them with that new lead singer.
Anyhow, what I've discovered is that the music of INXS has stood the test of time. I borrowed "The Best of INXS" from the local library, and was really just struck by the number of great songs they had, when their whole career is condensed like that. There's "What You Need," and "The One Thing," also "Suicide Blonde" and "This Time" and "Don't Change" and several others. And to cap it all off, "Not Enough Time," which is just tremendous. See, it starts off kind of slow and hypnotic, with just a low beat and Hutchence singing, but then you add bit by bit these backing vocals and some piano and castanets and whatnot, and before you know it ... wow! And the lyrics: "Attempting to make sense/of my aching heart/If I could just be everything/And everyone to you." Great! I love it!
People, I made a mistake here a month or two ago. Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," while an awesome song, is not the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time. "Not Enough Time" by INXS is the greatest rock 'n' roll song of all time. Even if it doesn't have "rock" in the title ...

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I know, I know, you people want to hear all about my trip out to Cally! I'll get to that, trust me. But first, I've got another important piece of business to attend to ...

It's hard to believe, with all the mud I've been slingin' and blood I've been spillin' here, that my most controversial work would revolve around fruit. But several readers have sent in some heated remarks about my piece on nectarines. Interestingly, they both had anecdotes about some time or other when they had a nectarine and it was really good. Like, you know, la de da. But then they had to go on about how peaches weren't "all that," and how nectarines were way better, and so forth. One of them even compared eating a fuzzy peach to "trying to eat a baby's head."

I think what we have here, ladies, is a failure to communicate. I mean, what part of "peaches are better than nectarines" don't you get? And the forcefulness of your comments just reassures me that I'm really onto something, and it's making some people uneasy. You know what they say: The closer you get to the mark, the more the mark gets defensive and angry, and realizes that there's a truth-sayer out there who's tired of all this hysteria and hype about nectarines, and that he's going to pull the veil away from a lot of people's eyes and help them see the light.

Sometime over the weekend, I swear, I'll get to the San Francisco trip. Peace out ...