Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

John (1199-1216)

It is just hard to overstate how lame John was. (There are some historians, like the one that compiled my handy royal anecdotes book, who try to rehabilitate his rep, and to those people I say, more or less, Pfft.) Let's start with this:

These were John's domains at the beginning of his reign.

And that's what he had at the end of it.

Sure, it's not like he lost everything in France, but it was a lot. Moreover, it was most of his mother's inheritance of Aquitaine and Poitou; it was the homeland of the Plantagenet dynasty, Anjou; and it was freaking Normandy, which had been cheek-by-jowl with England since the Conquest. And he didn't lose it all just because of a lack of military prowess; sure, he got the nickname "Softsword," but he also showed flashes of military . . . competence. He won, like, this one battle once? It was pretty good. But anyway, the problem was not so much that he lost a bunch of battles as it was that so many of his subjects rose against him (and allied with the King of France) in the first place. Because they hated him.

Take the people of Brittany, for instance, who preferred the claim of John's nephew Arthur, who was also their duke. They didn't like John much to begin with--and less so once he probably murdered Arthur. Or take many, many of his continental nobles who turned against John when, instead of ransoming the prisoners he took at his big victory at Mirebeau or putting them under honorable house arrest, he put them in chains in dungeons. Or, of course, take the barons in England who, chafing against John's military failures and abuses of power, were like "NO DUDE SERIOUSLY. STOP IT" and forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. John saw the famous document less as a foundation for Western government in future centuries and more as an annoying treaty he preferred to ignore.

This is not even to mention John's lust-driven second marriage to a twelve-year-old girl. (Ew.) We also haven't delved into disastrous feud with Pope Innocent III. You see, the Pope wanted one guy to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and John wanted a different guy. Things escalated and eventually resulted in the King's excommunication and an interdict on his kingdom. Interdicts were bad times, yo.

Therefore the king withdrew fromm the negotiations and so did the bishops and everyone else and, on 24 March by papal mandate, divine services were suspended throughout England. Great sorrow and anxiety spread throughout the country. Neither Good Friday nor Easter Sunday could be celebrated, but an unheard-of silence was imposed on all the clergy and monks by laymen. The bodies of the dead, whether of the ordinary fold or the religious [that is, not-monks/not-nuns vs. monks/nuns], could not be buried in consecrated cemeteries, but only in vile and profane places.
The king ordered the few monks who remained at Canterbuy, the blind and crippled, also to be expelled, and the monks to be regarded as public enemies. Some fled England, some were imprisoned, some were saved by money, others suffered many afflictions; their woods were cut down and their men were fined and taxed heavily. The whole of England suffered this burden. The people were forced to pay at first a quarter of their money, then a third, then a half. Even the rents of the cardinals and whatever they had in England were taken away from them and Peter's Pence, which the Roman Church had had since the time of Cnut, were withheld by the king. . . . Therefore the rich and poor left England, countless men and women; theirs was a thankless pilgrimage to avoid the enormous cruelty of the king rather than a devoted one.
Ralph, abbot of Coggeshall; via The Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. Elizabeth Hallam

Eventually, John gave in, even paying homage to the Pope as overlord of England and Ireland. (What was with those Plantagenet brothers, acknowledging every Tom, Innocent, and Harry as their overlords?)
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Things I've Libraried

Working at the library (and winding down as a grad student, since whenever I'm in school I feel like I should be reading "serious" things) has gotten me back into a groove of reading for pleasure.

The first things I got were collections of comics, since I've also gotten back into reading newspaper comics (albeit on the internet) for reasons I may explain in a separate post. I got some Pearls Before Swine and some Get Fuzzy. I like Get Fuzzy a lot better and will probably get more of it in the future.

I next moved on to getting a whole bunch of P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster books. (Seriously, I went a little overboard.) I'd read a few before, but Neal hadn't, and he was interested since we've been watching the TV version. I'm still amazed by how closely the TV series sticks to the books. Sure, the TV show mixes and matches the plots quite a bit, and maybe changes a character or two, but I think it really embodies the spirit of what Wodehouse wrote. And even lifts some of the dialogue right out of the books. Anyway, the point is, those books are hilarious. Highly recommended! Eleven stars!

Remember when a real live author commented on my blog? That was crazy. I decided that the least I could do was check out one of her books (the choice of which one was random--it happened to come across my work station as I was checking in books one day). And it was pretty good! I know that doesn't sound like high praise, Ms. Chadwick, if you're reading, but considering that I have an aversion to historical fiction, I was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, I checked out two more and have them waiting on my shelf. (They did have to get in line, after all.) Let me share two things I liked about The Love Knot in particular: 1) There's a male lead and a female lead, so obviously, they will get together. But instead of the hoary old structure of "They fight, but then they make out!" it's more like "They don't really like each other, but then they build mutual respect, then acknowledge that they are mutually attracted to each other, and then they make out!" which is a lot more realistic. 2) There's a BIG TWIST! in the middle. I got to it and I was all, "OH MY GOSH THAT WAS A BIG TWIST!" (It was surprising.) And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I liked the history part, too. Most of the real-person characters weren't in there very much, but all of them were (as far as I know, and it's not like I'm a big medieval scholar or anything) faithfully portrayed. That was good.

Neal and I really like to watch Rick Bayless's show on PBS. So when I saw that he (and his daughter) had written a cookbook that my library carries, I decided to check it out. So far, we've only made one of the recipes, but we were very excited about it. We bought a whole bunch of vegetables, beef stew meat, corn tortillas, and even a food processor. (All of Rick Bayless's Mexican recipes require a food processor.) We cooked the meat for an hour, we chopped and then processed the vegetables, we made salsa--oh man, it was fun. But then the actual food was pretty lame. I found our shredded beef tacos to be far, far less delicious than regular ol' ground beef tacos in cheap crunchy shells. Also, we got the corn tortillas because Rick Bayless makes a big deal about how that's what people in Mexico eat; it's Americans that eat flour tortillas. But, upon eating the corn tortillas, I recalled that Rick never actually said the corn tortillas were better--just more authentic. (I thought they were terrible.) So anyway, it was an adventure, but we're not going to make that particular recipe again. I want to give something else from the cookbook a shot, though.

In other "it came across my work station, so I thought 'why not' " news, I checked out a DVD called The Reduced Shakespeare Company: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), claiming to be all of the plays of Shakespeare in 90 minutes. It looked like a rapid-fire, clever comedy! It was not. It was remarkably slow and dull, dull, dull. I skipped some scenes, trying to find something good, but gave up pretty quickly.

So those are my recommendations and dis-recommendations so far. I'm working on some things now about which I have already formed opinions, but I feel like I should wait to finish them to make sure I'm right.
Click here to read more . . .

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Friends: Season Four

In general:
Objectively speaking--or as objectively as one can speak when dealing with something as subjective as entertainment--this is the best season of Friends. (It's not my favorite season, but we'll get to that.)

As I have previously argued, story arcs (as opposed to plots entirely contained in one episode) are indicative of a show's quality. They show that the writers trust their audience to watch every week and to care about the characters enough to watch them go through extended stories. By my count, the fourth season has the most in number and most substantial arcs of any season so far (and maybe any season at all--I'll keep counting as I go). While my rough count of arcs for the first three seasons is three, four, and five respectively, Season Four has eight--and they're good, too. (1: Chandler and Joey get robbed and only slowly re-accumulate furnishings; 2: Joey dates and Chandler falls in love with Kathy [who then dates and cheats on Chandler]; 3: Monica and Phoebe run a catering business; 4: Monica gets a new job where everyone hates her; 5: Phoebe is a surrogate mother for her brother; 6: Monica and Rachel lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey [and then get it back]; 7: Rachel clumsily pursues and then dates Joshua [ok, that one's not so good]; 8: Ross conducts his over-hasty courtship of Emily.)

Another impressive thing about this season is the willingness to change up the status quo (in, of course, relative terms--it was a network sitcom, after all). They married Ross off, for one thing. I also admire the commitment to the changes in set dressing required by the robbery and apartment-switching storylines. Also, the Kathy storyline is great if only for its showcase of Chandler's emotional depth.

But commitment to keeping the status quo isn't always a bad thing--the way the writers handled Lisa Kudrow's pregnancy avoided almost all the pitfalls of TV pregnancy and kept it in Phoebe's character . . . but I'll come back to that later.

Also, this is the first season to feature The Joey Special (two pizzas), Ross's hand gesture, "How YOU doin'?", and Monica's "I KNOW!" (the latter of which is part of my daily vocabulary).

Little things that drive me crazy:
Despite the overall commendable commitment to keeping up continuous storylines and situations, they did drop the ball on a couple of promising things: most disappointingly, Joey's bargain with Phoebe that he'd be a vegetarian while she was pregnant so she could eat meat guilt-free. (This comes up exactly once after it's brought up, in the first episode of Season Five.) Wasted potential, I think.

Wait--if Chandler hates Thanksgiving, why does he love the parade?!

Michael Vartan (who plays Richard's son in "The One with Chandler in a Box") is pretty, but not a good actor (at least not here.) Tate Donovan (who plays Rachel's obseesion, Joshua [and who was dating Jennifer Aniston at the time]) is an OK actor but, in my opinion, definitely not pretty.

Little things I love:
Chandler's evil plan to get Phoebe to name a triplet after him

It's mentioned in the first episode that Joshua appears in that Rachel loves the name Joshua. And Aniston remained committed to pronouncing the name with relish in every episode after that.

The "Morning's Here!" guy:

When Phoebe tries to write a holiday song for her friends, it's Rachel and Chandler who point out problems in the first two versions, and it's they who get a mumbled nonsense line in the final version. (And, for the record, I think "Rachel" and "dreidel" is perfectly serviceable as a rhyme.)

There aren't many hints in "The One with Ross's Wedding" that Monica and Chandler are going to hook up, but there are two little tiny acknowledgements that the director slipped in--there are two shots in the episode where Monica is in the foreground and Chandler is included in the shot in the background, framing them together even though they're not interacting. (Yes, I've thought about this too hard. Nobody's arguing with that.)

The cute bit in "The One with the Dirty Girl" where Ross is putting on a tie, but then he hands it to Joey so he can put it on pre-tied.

What is this, Seinfeld?
There are a few things this season that are just weird in the Friends universe and seem lifted from Seinfeld's. Namely:

Rachel's boss, Joanna, promises Rachel a big promotion. But then before the paperwork goes through, Joanna is hit by a cab and dies.

When Phoebe finds out she's having triplets, Frank and Alice freak out about money and Phoebe tries to think of a way to help out (so Frank doesn't have to drop out of refrigerator college). So she (and Rachel) invent the Relaxi Taxi--Frank can drive people around while they get a massage from Phoebe. (This ties together the money, Phoebe's inability to carry a massage table as she gets bigger and bigger, and Phoebe's ownership of a van that she and Monica had planned to use for catering.) To be fair, I can't decide if this was actually too weird for Friends, or if it was a really good idea that I wish they had brought up again ever.

The big one is when, to get out of dating Janice, Chandler pretends to move to Yemen. (I do not like the Yemen plot.)

  • Joey: "If I had to, I'd pee on any one of you."
  • Phoebe: "It's been a really bad day, whore-wise."
  • Monica encourages Chandler to talk to a pretty girl: "What's the worst that could happen?" Chandler: "I could die."
  • Chandler: "Oh, man, I am so excited I may vomit!"
  • Joey, after Monica fires him: "It's gonna be a lean Christmas at the Dragon house this year!"
  • Chandler: "You don't want to be guys. You'd be all hairy and you wouldn't live as long."
  • Phoebe: "Yeah, definitely I don't like the name Ross." Ross: "What a weird way to kick me when I'm down."
  • Rachel: "Well, maybe there was a dog lookin' at him."
  • Monica, to everyone in turn: "Fine, judge all you want to, but married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl's wooden leg in the fire, live in a box!"
And there are a ton just from "The One with the Dirty Girl":
  • Rachel, on Ross's impossibly hot date: "Well maybe she and her friends are just having a contest to see who can bring home the biggest geek." Ross: "Fine by me, hope she wins!"
  • Phoebe, on Chandler's thoughtful gift for Kathy: "What a great way to say 'I secretly love you, Roommate's Girlfriend!' "
  • Phoebe: "You sound like Monican't, not Monican . . . ."
  • Joey: "Man, it is so hard to shop for girls!" Chandler, seeing Joey's bag: "Yes it is, at Office Max."
  • Rachel, on what Chandler should do about the gift: "Return the book, let Joey give her the clock pen, and you just give her something worse than that, like . . . a regular pen."
  • Ross, on the dirty girl's apartment: "You know how you throw your jacket on a chair at the end of the day? Well, like that, except instead of a chair, it's a pile of garbage. And instead of a jacket, it's a pile of garbage. And instead of the end of the day, it's the end of time, and garbage is all that has survived."
Let's talk about Phoebe:
I'm actually not very excited to talk about Phoebe, but everybody gets a turn.

Why don't I like Phoebe very much? Like I said, I adore first-season Phoebe. But over the course of the series, she is the single most inconsistently-written character on the show. She starts out sweet and weird but slowly becomes mean and weird. For example, take this clip from Season One's "The One with George Stephanopolous" (from about 2:00 to about 2:13 in particular). Phoebe is shocked that she said something angry to a woman who couldn't hear her. Compare that with a clip I chose basically at random from Season Nine; the first 45 seconds of "The One with Phoebe's Birthday Dinner" shows typical late-series Phoebe who isn't ditzy, just callous and rude. It's true that all of the characters became one-dimensional and less likeable near the end of the show, but Phoebe is an extreme case.

It also doesn't help that at some point, Lisa Kudrow stopped caring about acting. During the first half of the series, you will occasionally be able to kind of tell that Kudrow is having a little bit of a hard time keeping a straight face after jokes. In later seasons, she doesn't even try to keep from smirking after she delivers a punchline.

Of course, there's a lot to like about Phoebe. Her wacky life story could always be milked for laughs ("I had a similar problem when I lived in Prague. . . . So much you don't know.") or not--I just love her speech in this clip starting at 6:40 about how lucky Ross's baby is for having three whole, loving parents. Phoebe is also a useful plot-mover in that new one-off characters are often friends of hers, since she's the only one who believably has a social life outside of what we see.

This is an important Phoebe season, mostly because of her pregnancy. Like I said before, I think the writers dealt with Kudrow's pregnancy extremely well. They didn't pretend that she wasn't pregnant (which is always obvious) and they didn't write in a baby for her (which wouldn't have jived well with her character or with the show itself at that point). Most importantly, the way they did use it, by having her be a surrogate for her brother, was totally in character for Phoebe. It's a weird thing to do, to have your brother's babies, but Phoebe is generous, deeply appreciative of the family she has because of all the family she doesn't have, and above all, weird.

Top six episodes:
"The One with the Jellyfish"
or: "The One with Phoebe's Birth Mom" or: "The One with Rachel's letter"

"The One with Joey's New Girlfriend"
or: "The One with Phoebe's Cold" or: "The One with Ross's Non-Girlfriend" or: "The One with Rachel's Young Boyfriend"

"The One with the Dirty Girl"
or: "The One with the Velveteen Rabbit" or: "The One Where Monica and Phoebe Become Catering Partners" or: "The One where Rachel Does the Crossword" (It gets demerits for the crossword plot, but you remember that list of hilarious lines, right?)

"The One with Chandler in a Box"
or: "The One Where Monica Dates Richard's Son" or: "The One with Secret Santa"

"The One with Ross's Wedding"
or: "The One with All the Hilarious English People"

including the total classic:
"The One with the Embryos"
or: "The One with the Game" Awesome!
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment

Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199)

Let's get one thing straight: Richard I was not a good king.


I mean, it's not like he was the worst king ever--or even the worst king his momma brought into the world--but he sure wasn't great.

Now this is a pretty accurate historical portrayal of John.

If you'd like an American comparison, I'd say Richard was a combination of the panache and charisma of Teddy Roosevelt and the economic and foreign policy success of Jimmy Carter (had Jimmy Carter himself been taken hostage).

OK, the economic comparison isn't perfect--with Richard, it was less general economic downturn and more a straightforward bleeding dry of his subjects. You see, Richard wasn't so much interested in ruling all the stuff his daddy left him; he just wanted to Crusade. So at the beginning of his reign he got all the money he could from all the people he could in all the ways he could so he could buy ships and siege engines and soldiers and stuff. He is said to have joked, "If I could have found a buyer I would have sold London itself."

Well, ol' Couer de Lion went on his Crusade (it was #3) and he did OK, by Crusade standards. He kept the slaughter of his men to a minimum, although he didn't take back Jerusalem from the infidel or anything. But then he went home through the territory of his enemy, Leopold of Austria. He posed as a pilgrim to escape detection, but just like he was a better warrior than a king, he was also a better warrior than an actor.

A German chronicler says that when Richard was captured he was found in a kitchen, roasting meat on a spit, hoping that by doing servile work he would escape recognition. Unfortunately the kitchen hand was wearing a magnificent ring, worth many years' wages. The details of this story are probably false but in common with the accounts in other chronicles it suggests that the travellers--despite their elaborate pilgrim's attire, long hair and flowing beards--did not take enough trouble to conceal their wealth. . . . So, shortly before Christmas 1192, less than fifty miles from the safety of the Moravian border, Richard fell into the hands of Leopold of Austria.
. . . Leopold sent Richard to a strong castle built high on a rocky slope overlooking the Danube: the castle of Dürnstein. The castle is in ruins today, but a legend still clings to its broken walls, the legend of Blondel, the faitful minstrel who travelled the length and breadth of Germany in search of his missing lord. He visited castle after castle and ouside each one sang the first lines of a song which he and Richard had composed together. At last, at Dürnstein, he heard the refrain.
John Gillingham, Richard the Lionheart, 1978
After a few months, Leopold handed Richard over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who in turn gave Richard his freedom. You know, after everybody in Richard's realms had to pay through the nose again to raise the enormous ransom that Henry demanded. (According to Elizabeth Hallam in The Plantagenet Chronicles, "The ransom itself was roughly twice England's gross income; in today's terms, something like a hundred billion pounds.") And after Richard swore fealty to Henry as the feudal overlord of England. (Wow. Embarrassing.)

Despite this, and despite the fact that he only spent six months of his ten-year reign in England, he was very popular with his subjects.

As popular as if he actually were Patrick Stewart!

It must have been the panache.
Click here to read more . . .

Sunday, June 21, 2009


One of the least disputable opinions about entertainment today is that Pixar is awesome. Have you met anybody who thinks Pixar movies are lame? I haven't. They are meticulously made works of art, designed to amuse and provoke thought in audiences of all ages--with very few exceptions (well, one, as I will mention below), they succeed.

(I have found something that bothers me a little about Pixar movies overall, though. It occurred to me when I was watching
A Bug's Life and the girl ant swoops in and saves the boy ant but then the boy ant immediately thinks of the plan that will save everyone!, and it's this: Pixar's never done a movie with a female lead. It's not like they don't have strong/admirable female characters, but ten movies and no girl/woman main character? That's fairly weak sauce. I guess it's probably just because fewer than one out of ten people working at Pixar are ladies [just a theory, based on the list of people who've been the lead writers and directors of them], but still. C'mon.)

Of course, there are better Pixar movies and not-as-better ones, so I've decided to rank them. Anyway, here they all are, in order of how good (I think) they are. Saving the best for last:

A Bug's Life
I hadn't seen this one 'til a few weeks ago--I realized it was the only Pixar movie I hadn't seen, and I needed to watch it if I were to make this list complete. And it turned out that that was the only good reason to see it.

I'm not saying it's a bad movie. I am saying that it's thoroughly mediocre. The lead characters are fairly dull; the supporting characters are too numerous, and none of them get more than one note to hit; and the dialogue is completely uninspired. It was just pretty boring. It's the only Pixar movie I can think of that seems more aimed at kids than it is at everybody.

Still, the craftsmanship in the animation is, as always, top notch. I particularly liked the movie's use of water. I know that's a weird compliment, but I really dug it. The bugs are all small enough that they can deal with little blobs of water and just carry them around. (Thanks, surface tension!) And then at the end there's this big rainstorm, which drives everybody into a panic, because raindrops are so big, relatively speaking, that it's like watery bombs dropping from the sky. That was cool and obviously well thought-out.

I was under the impression that
Cars was a big hit until I saw the box office, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes numbers on Wikipedia. Sure, it's still a big hit by normal standards, but it's the lowest rated Pixar movie by far in the MC/RT percentages (Metacritic is made up of ratings given by regular people; Rotten Tomatoes is a compilation of critics' opinions), and lower than any but Pixar's earliest two films in box office gross. This aligns with my personal opinion of it--I think it's only OK/pretty unremarkable--but I was surprised because I get the impression that this was a huge, huge hit with little kids. It seems like everybody on the internets who has a little boy watches Cars every day and buys the boy(s) tons of tie-in merchandise. This is probably why they're making a sequel to this one when only Toy Story had so far rated a second (and soon a third) chapter.

I find this movie unsettling because, unlike other Pixar features, it is set in a world with no logical relation to our own. All the others are fantasy-tied-to-reality: what if bugs/fish/toys/rats had complex societies and inner lives? What if superheroes/monsters were real? What might happen in the future? But
Cars isn't like that. It's more "what if cars had eyes and mouths for some reason and existed indepently of any sort of creators and there were no humans anywhere in sight even though car geography, morality, and language was identical to our own?" It's just weird, is my point.

Also, as a person from a small town, I have some pretty strong opinions about the movie's message that small towns are morally superior and that convenient interstate travel is evil, but I should probably move on.


(I'm not trying to insult
Ratatouille with its eighth ranking. I'm not thinking of it as third-worst, just as the one that there happen to be seven above.)

I never quite know how to feel about this one. If
A Bug's Life seems uniquely unappealing to adults, this is the one that I can't imagine really speaking to children. I could be wrong--I've never watched it with a child, after all. I know there's a fair amount of action-adventure rat peril in it, but my lasting impression of it is as a fairly quiet film about cooking and about how dreams and aspirations are admirable, but don't always come true (at least in the ways you think they will).

My one quibble with
Ratatouille is this: it's apparently a maxim in storytelling (or moviemaking? I keep trying to find the place I recently saw this and can't) that you can get the audience to take one leap with you but not two. This film asks you to take the leap that rats are sentient. OK, not a problem. Then it asks you to also accept that a rat can control a human, marionette-style, by yanking on the human's hair. Maybe this doesn't bother anybody else, but it does me.

Again, I'm not saying this is a bad movie. I've only seen it once, but I'm glad I did. It's a very good movie--just not as good as others like, say,

Finding Nemo

I expect people to disagree with me for putting
Nemo this low. I'm not saying it's not really-super-good. It is. It's sweet, it's action-packed, it's fun to look at. It has the whole package.

I don't think it would be nearly as good without Dory, though. Dory really sets this movie apart. She's so fun!


I like
WALL-E, but not nearly as much as everybody else does. The prevailing opinion seems to be that it was super innovative and creative that they sustained interest in those wordless scenes at the beginning. But I was raised on old-school Looney Tunes (and the lesser cartoons like Tom and Jerry), and I've seen dozens, if not hundreds, of wordless cartoons. WALL-E's wordlessness was well done, to be sure, but it's not like it had never been done before.

WALL-E and his pet cockroach are adorable, EVE is ok, the fat helpless humans are pretty entertaining, the Fred Willard cameo is great, and the outer space stuff was really fun to watch, but I just didn't find any of it

This is what it boils down to: one of my measures of whether a movie is great is if, when I leave the theatre, I keep thinking about and want to keep talking about the move I just saw. (For instance, you could
not get me to shut up about Star Trek a few weeks ago.) A great movie should be the subject of conversation for the whole dinner afterward and/or the whole car ride home. When I saw WALL-E, I basically thought, "Oh, that was nice," and I was done.

Toy Story

I will fully admit that my placement of this one so high is probably influenced at least in part by nostalgia. This is the only Pixar movie that came out when I could be classified as a kid (I was twelve, and "tweens" hadn't been invented yet) and, you know, it was the first of its kind.

I haven't seen it for awhile, but I'm reasonable sure it would still hold up. It's very funny (what with the tiny green aliens and the neurotic dinosaur and all). But it's not quite as good as--

#4: Toy Story 2

Is it some sort of heresy to think that Toy Story 2 is better than the original? I don't care if it is. Toy Story 2 is, as the kids (that is, the kids ten or fifteen years ago) say, "da bomb." Four things that make me prefer it to the first one: 1) it's more epic. It covers more space and more time (I'm thinking of the very old "Woody's Roundup" TV show and the flashback to let's say the 7os when Jessie was owned by a little girl) than the first. 2) it's more touching. It's a good thing that this one didn't come out when I was a kid, because I was worried enough about the feelings of my toys. That's why the whole melancholy theme of children growing up and abandoning their anthropomorphic playthings really gets to me. 3) Woody's not a jerk. I prefer rooting for characters that are likeable, and Woody is fairly unlikeable in the first one. Yes, I know he's dealing with a lot of stress what with Buzz upstaging him and all, but he could have calmed down a little. Finally 4) Riders in the Sky music. Always good times on its own merits and, as far as I'm concerned, far preferable to Randy Newman. Randy Newman is kind of my enemy, guys.

#3: Monsters, Inc.
I love this movie. It's just so cute. It's the cutest movie ever. Fuzzy monsters? Adorable toddler? SO CUTE.

Its one flaw (by my count) is the ending. Spoiler alert here, I guess. I can't help feeling like the very very end, where it turns out that Mike rebuilt Boo's door for Sully, so he could go back and see her after all, is tacked on/a cop out. I know it was supposed to be mean that Sully wasn't allowed to see her anymore, but it also made sense. It is better if human kids don't end up in the monster world (what with their causing of blackouts just by a fit of laughter), and the human world isn't ready for monsters. Also, what kind of relationship does Sully expect to have with this kid? They can't really hang out, because that would involve Sully just hanging around in her room (with a high probability of her parents coming in at some point and freaking out), or Boo being missing from her room for long stretches of time (which, by the way, means that Boo's parents knew she was kidnapped while she was in Monsteropolis, and there had to have been police looking for her, candle light vigils, who knows what. No way her parents are going to be lax keeping an eye on a kid that got mysteriously kidnapped for a day or two). Also, shouldn't Sully get married to some monster lady and have his own kids? He obviously has a large capacity for fatherly love, and he should use it on somebody who lives in his own dimension.

Similarly, I hope they don't make a
Monsters, Inc 2. Partly because the whole Boo part of the story would be weird, but mostly because I doubt they could improve on the original. The nature of story (with the big paradigm change in how monsters relate to human children) wouldn't be conducive to a sequel.
#2: Up

Great! I'll try not to give anything away since it's new. Let's just say it's funny and also very sad. It's lovable and visually lovely. Five stars.

I agree with what Craig said on Facebook--3D wasn't worth the extra money. I wanted to see the 3D version because I'd never seen a 3D movie before. And the format was well-suited to the film, what with all the height and depth. However, I had a headache going in and the 3D did not help. Terrible call to see a 3D movie with a headache, that's my helpful tip.

#1: The Incredibles
This isn't just one of the best animated movies ever; it's one of the greatest movies ever. It's smart, it's funny, it's action-packed, it's thoughtful . . . it's amazing.

The thing about it that has always struck me (and most of you who read this blog have probably heard me say this before, but oh well) is the dynamics of the family. I first saw
The Incredibles right after I took a class on "the sociology of marriage," and the writers of the film may well have read some of my textbooks. The way that Bob and Helen relate to each other, speak to each other, divide up their responsibilities; and the way that the kids and parents interact with each other . . . it's incredibly nuanced, sensitive, and true to life. It's the most accurate representation of a typical American family I've ever seen on film.

The voice acting is also just spot on. I mean, who knew that Craig T. Nelson was such a good voice actor (or such a good actor, full stop)? I didn't. Holly Hunter and Jason Lee are also particularly awesome. And then professional history nerd Sarah Vowell is good, largely because her funny little grown-woman voice is well-suited to playing an awkward teenage girl.

And that's just the nerdy stuff. All the regular stuff--the action, the jokes, the characters, how good it looks--that's all top-notch too.

Man, I have definitely got to watch
The Incredibles again.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Irritating Headline of the Day

From the New York Times college sports blog: "A Missed Opportunity for Texas A&M"

It's a blurb, really, about how T. Boone Pickens (owner and proprietor of Oklahoma State University) briefly came to Texas A&M, with a snide quote from T. Boone about how A&M cut him from the basketball team: "That could have been a big mistake by Texas A&M, saving that $25 scholarship."

I'm just as glad that Pickens doesn't own my athletic department, thanks.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

I Return!


Sorry about the unannounced hiatus--I wanted to focus more on finishing The Ninja Report (which is what I like to call my thesis to make it sound more exciting--I stole the idea from How I Met Your Mother) than on the ol' blog, but having a Real Job stole my focus from The Ninja Report, leaving the blog a sad and distant third.

By the way, the word "report" just lost all meaning to me. Report report report. It's all just silly sounds now.

Anyway, in my blogging absence, I have been brewing up ideas, and I have an exciting (?) slate planned. In the meantime, I present you with:

Things I've Learned at the Library

1. Books are filthy

You never notice this when you only check out one or two or even ten library books. But when you handle hundreds and hundreds of them in a day, it becomes all too clear. Library books are disgusting. I wash a thin film of dirt off my hands every time I come home from work (even though I wash them several times at work [which not to mention all the hand sanitizer I go through]). I would advise that you think of a library book like you would abut money: after you touch it, it's not like you need to scrub your hands violently before you touch anything else, but don't touch food right afterward either.

2. Putting CDs in an overnight bookdrop is a terrible idea

Although if you have to do it, putting a rubber band around the CD case (or rubber-banding a few together) is a good idea.

3. Actually, putting anything in an overnight bookdrop is a terrible idea

Sure, it has to be done, but . . . oh the carnage. It's just horrifying to see, if you are horrified by covers bent at unseemly angles, pages smashed and creased, and DVD and CD cases hanging open, their discs alone and unprotected who knows where. And what right thinking person wouldn't be?

4. Children are usually very shy

But those that aren't are insufferable. There are, with very few exceptions, only two types of under-twelve library patrons: those that won't say anything, and those that, when you remind them of their due dates (as you do for everyone) rudely respond "I know!" Luckily, the former make up the vast majority.

5. Most people who come to the library are very nice.

Which is a good thing. Although there was this one lady who was complaining (to a co-worker, not to me) that her overdue fines were outrageous and that we shouldn't charge so much because after all, she already pays to support the library with her tax dollars. It's a good thing I wasn't the one she was talking to, because the temptation to point out that she could have just turned her books in on time would have been unbearable.

But like I said, most people aren't like that.

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