As often as not, I find "Flash Mob" kind of stuff to be a bit pretentious, and it's pretty frequently, how you say, stupid. But this one is is kind of cool. Check it out:

Hopes Dashed

Well, I was hoping that Daniel Day-Lewis would get up on the stage and say, "Well, I know I'm supposed to talk about what an honor it is to be named from such a distinguished group of actors, but all I can really say is, George, Tommy, Johnny, Viggo...I...drink...your...MILKSHAKE!"

Well, maybe I'll just imagine that's what he actually said.

Surviving the Format Wars

Everybody's been dropping HD DVD like the plague over the last few weeks. So it appears that Blu-ray has won the latest of the format wars. Well, whoop-di-freakin'-do. I guess everybody who's bought an HD DVD player over the last few years is supposed to feel like somebody who bought a Betamax deck in 1980. Of course, I'm of the opinion that anyone who bought a player for either format ought to feel like someone who bought an 8-Track player in 1975.

Don't get me wrong - HD is freakin' awesome. We just got an HDTV set, and we keep marveling at how pretty the picture is. Even with just the standard DVD player connected, the picture is just incredible. And here's the thing - you can get a perfectly lovely DVD player for less than $100. A Blu-ray player is going to set you back probably about $400 at the cheapest. Not to mention that Blu-ray discs cost about twice as much as standard discs.

Now, maybe the higher quality is worth the extra dough. I'm pretty pleased with what we get from the HDTV and the HDMI upconvert on the player, myself. But maybe for the real videophiles out there, there's a real difference and the extra money is worth it.

I figure, though, that by 2015 (at the latest), hard copy of movies is going to be as obsolete as hard copy of music is rapidly becoming. I mean...I bought a couple of CDs at Amoeba Records in Berkeley when we were out there at Christmas, and it occurred to me that it was the first time I'd bought any hard copy music in ages. I honestly can't remember the last CD I bought before I picked up used copies of On My Way by Ben Kweller and Barenaked Ladies Are Men at Christmastime.

As with music, so with movies. "OnDemand" cable and Tivo are becoming ubiquitous. NetFlix is offering more and more movies through its "Watch Instantly" feature. Eventually, rather than a DVD player, Blu-ray or not, you're going to have in the same space a hard drive with an internet connection. And you'll download anything you want from iTunes or something similar, just like we're all doing with music.

So, Blu-ray has won the format war. Congratulations, Sony. You're the king of the dinosaurs. Enjoy it while it lasts.

It Begins: Swift Boat '08

After sixteen years and untold effort spent transforming Hillary Clinton in the minds of their base from intelligent, moderate, reasonable and rational into the Most Evil Liberal of All Time Who is Out to Destroy All That Makes America Great, the Republican blowhards have got to be kicking themselves. As Obama gains more and more momentum, looking like he's got a real chance to be the nominee, they're scrambling to redirect some of that effort that they put into demonizing Hillary towards Obama.

And y'all, they are grasping at straws, big-time. Here's an AP story on what they've got so far. To sum up: a photo exists of him not holding his hand over his heart during the National Anthem whilst Hillary, Republican Enemy #1, is (see above), and he doesn't wear an American flag pin on his lapel. That's it. That's all the "Obama Hates America" dirt they've got.

I know that to the Fox News-watching portion of the electorate, wearing an American flag pin on your lapel is the height of patriotism. There is no greater expression of love for your country than to pin a tiny replica of the Stars and Stripes to your coat, and because Obama has chosen not to do so, it clearly demonstrates that he HATES AMERICA, and is part of that mysterious, eeeeEEEEEeeeevil cabal known and proven to exist by the Republican party known as the "Blame America First Crowd."

Because Obama didn't put his hand over his heart one time during the National Anthem, he's clearly in league with th' Tararists who Hate Us Because We Have Freedom.

Okay, this isn't quite as absurd as the utterly bizarre e-mail that's been circulating over the last year or so which claims that Obama is a "radical Muslim" and took his oath of office on the Qur'an and refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance and yadda yadda yadda, hoping to capture gullible, racist idiots who hate and fear Muslims on general principle.

Still, it's ludicrous. The American flag lapel pin his been de rigueur in Washington only since 9/11. And Obama's own statement on the matter was perfectly reasonable and summed up my own feelings on the matter perfectly: "I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great and, hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism." Actions speak louder than words, and words and actions both speak far more loudly than fashion statements.

As for the National Anthem thing...well, that was undoubtedly an odd little gaffe on Obama's part. I'm not sure why it didn't occur to him to put his hand on his heart. I mean, I don't usually put my hand on my heart during the Anthem when I'm at a baseball game, but then, I'm not running for President, am I? Of course, I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegience when I was in 9th grade, too, so I'm clearly horrible, evil, awful, unpatriotic and I must HATE AMERICA. Anyway, it seems odd that neither Obama nor any of his staff said, "Hand on heart during National Anthem as a matter of course," but I don't think it proves anything about his patriotism or lack thereof.

But then, I think that maybe patriotism is something more than who can scream "I LOVE AMERICA!" the loudest.

Like a Broken Record


What does it take? How many times does one have to say "the medium is not the message" before the world at large understands?

Here's the geniuses at CNN on a comics history of the Holocaust produced for German history classrooms by the Anne Frank Center. And of, course, what else could it possibly be but, "How could anyone possibly make something as trivial as a comic book about something as Serious and Important as the Holocaust?"

Gee, I don't know, how could anyone do such a thing?

Hmm, maybe someone could already have done such a thing twenty goddamn years ago. It's called "Maus," and maybe you've heard of it. It won a Pulitzer Fucking Prize in 1992. Millions of junior high and high school students nationwide read it in their classes. Critically acclaimed, widely considered one of the essential pieces of Holocaust literature? Comics about the Holocaust are hardly new, so it seems pretty silly to act like now it's insulting or trivializing.

I'll admit it's a little odd to see it done in HergĂ©-esque clear line style, like it was "Tintin and the Mystery of Auschwitz" or something, but style ≠ medium any more than medium = message.

Look, y'all, I'll go over it again, and as many times as I have to: comics can be about anything. Comics don't have to be just Batman and Tintin and Uncle Scrooge and whatever other "kid stuff" you suppose they must be. I've said it before and I'll say it again: comics are not an insult. Comics are a way of telling a story, no different than any other. I would have thought that enough people have been over this enough times that we wouldn't need to keep saying it.

I guess I'd be wrong about that.

There's Nothing Quite So Exhilarating...

...as the every-other-Friday-morning race to get the recycling bin out before the truck comes. Dashing out to wrestle the bin out the back gate in my T-shirt and kitchen clogs in the 16°F morning air wakes me up on these days better than a double espresso. Of course, it's especially exhilarating when I win. Even got the trash out before the garbage truck came, too, so that's just a cherry on top of the sundae.

Behold in Wonder and Awe!

Man, that looks every bit as awesome as I've been hoping.

It is, of course, worth noting that the trailer for The Phantom Menace looked awesome, too. So there's still plenty of room for letdown here.

Still, the ace in the hole is that, of course, it is Steven Spielberg and not George Lucas in the director's chair. Dude's made two outright stinkers in the last 15 years (both quick, low-effort cash-ins, War of the Worlds and The Lost World). I'm really curious to see what Spielberg as a much older, more mature filmmaker does with the good Dr. Jones.

"This ain't gonna be easy."
"Not as easy as it used to be."

RIP Roy Scheider

"You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Created by a Nerd!

One of the grocery stores we shop at regularly displays packages of Airborne alongside the Emergen-C and Burt's Bees lip balm in the checkout aisles. It always makes me roll my eyes when I see the slogan that appears on many of the packages: "Created by a school teacher!"

Uh, okay, great. Why is that a selling point? I mean, I can kind of see where they're going with it. Children are frequently sick, teachers are exposed to lots of germs...but how, precisely that qualifies a school teacher to create a cold remedy, I'm not sure. It's sort of like if someone were to sell a book called "How to Get Ahead in Business" and the selling point emblazoned on the front cover was, "Written by the guy who empties the trashcan in the boardroom at General Motors!" You can see how there's a vague connection, I mean, there's not many people in that boardroom more often than him, but does that make him someone who ought to be able to tell you how to get ahead in business?

America's Game

Tonight, we went to see professional lacrosse for the second time. Friends, let me tell you, whether you like sports or like watching guys hit each other with sticks just like guys in shorts with muscular legs, you gotta go to a game. Maybe there's a team near you.

The Colorado Mammoth defeated the Portland Lumberjax (yeah, I know), 15-12 to improve to 5-0 for the season.

As with my previous experience at an NLL game, I came away absolutely flabbergasted that this sport hasn't caught on huge in America. It's fucking awesome, I tell you. You know how people say they'd get more into hockey or soccer if there was more scoring? Well, I give you lacrosse. It's got a lot of the same rules and gameplay as hockey - except that cross-checking and other general whacking of opponents with your stick are considered perfectly legal and often a good idea. But instead of scores of 3-1 or 2-0, teams tend to score in the range of 10 to 15 goals a game. It's fast-paced, high scoring, and quite exciting. And, of course, more than baseball, more than football, more than anything, it's a truly American sport, invented in days of yore by the Iroquois.

There are some weird things about NLL games - they play music on the PA during gameplay, which is very odd. Occasionally, they do an on-floor interview with a player during a break in the action, which is also very odd. The halftime entertainment was, for some reason, a dodgeball game involving members of the local roller derby concern, the Denver RollerDolls. And the less said about "The Wild Bunch," the official Colorado Mammoth cheerleaders, the better.

Still, even with the weirdness, we had a great time. We shall return, for sure.

Even a Blind Squirrel...

So we did get home from the movie just in time to see the Patriots' final drive and the Giants' improbable answer. So I got to see a great movie and the exciting part of the Super Bowl. And really, had I missed seeing The Pass, I would have kicked myself later on.

I don't know what they're going to call it in the years to come, but if you saw it, you know what I mean when I say The Pass. And they will give that play a name. Actually, I think "The Pass" might stick, as it's one of the few football terms that hasn't already been capitalized, and the moment is iconic enough to deserve it. The Catch is taken - Joe Montana to Dwight Clark to clinch the 1982 NFC Championship game. The Play will forever be Cal's improbable last-second victory over Stanford, also in 1982 ("The band is on the field! He's gonna go into the end zone!"). The Drive is John Elway leading the Denver Broncos 98 yards in the final minutes to send the 1987 AFC Championship to overtime. And Immaculate Reception is also taken, of course, but it could work here, too. I could also see it being called the "Oh My God, Eli Manning Didn't Fuck Up in the Clutch," or the "Wait, Are You Sure That Was Eli Manning?"

Anyway, whatever you decide to call it, it was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in a football game. And it was bigger and better than The Catch or The Drive or the Immaculate Reception, because it was in the Super Bowl. If you saw The Pass in a sports movie, you would scoff because it seems so cliché: the improbable underdog making their last-ditch effort to come back against the undefeated, seemingly unbeatable opponents (around whom accusations of cheating are swirling, just to make them extra-villainous), they're playing for all the marbles, it's 3rd down on their own 43-yard-line, do or die, the QB drops back, he's sacked for sure, but no, he squirms away from the defenders, heaves a no-hope pass downfield to a receiver who's got a safety draped on him like a blanket, there's no chance, it's going to be intercepted for sure, but somehow, against all odds, the receiver comes down with the ball! Amazing! The underdog's hopes are still alive! If you saw that in a sports movie, you'd roll your eyes and think, "That never happens in real life!" But it did. Here, take a look:

I'm still not going to claim to be wildly thrilled about the New York Giants winning the Super Bowl. But I won't deny a bit of schadenfreude, either. I'm still smarting about the World Series, and there's something really satisfying about seeing the smug asshole Boston sports fans of the world taken down a peg (which is not to say that all Boston sports fans are smug assholes, but those that are have become as bad or worse than the smug asshole New York fans).

The only other part of the Super Bowl I wish I'd seen is the Iron Man trailer.

Bloody Good

Nelson Muntz once left a screening of The Naked Lunch and proclaimed, "I can think of two things wrong with that title!" Director Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood has no such flaw. It's not a blood-soaked Tarantino-esque "exploration of violence" or somesuch where someone is getting shot every two minutes, but the title promises blood, and the movie delivers.

The real story here is Daniel Day-Lewis, who by this point simply must be included on any list of the all-time great screen actors. He's picked up a bucketload of awards so far for his performance here, and a lot of people figure he's the favorite to take home a second Oscar for it, too. After he was outright robbed of the Oscar for his mesmerizing turn as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, it's only fitting that he should win for There Will Be Blood, as he's pulling off a bit of the same trick.

Not that the performance is the same by any means, mind you. But the effect the performance achieved is. Look at it this way: it's much easier to create a compelling screen presence as an actor when you're playing the plucky, lovable underdog with a heart of gold. To wit, back in 1976, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of Rocky that the then-unknown Sylvester Stallone reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. And look how that turned out. It is much harder to create a character who is morally reprehensible, completely unsympathetic, and still be magnetic and appealing to an audience. Day-Lewis did it brilliantly as Bill the Butcher and does it again here. His performance alone makes the movie worth watching.

Of course, the movie has a lot more going for it, too. Paul Dano, best known as Little Miss Sunshine's older brother, plays a creepy revivalist preacher who butts heads with Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview, and more than holds his own. Together, the two actors turn the movie into a fascinating exploration of the intertwining forces of capitalism and religion that helped to shape the 20th Century (and beyond) in America.

The movie is beautifully shot, as well. A burning oil well which is the centerpiece of one of the film's pivotal sequences is simply staggering, terrifying and beautiful at once. The long, often dialogue-free, sequences of men at work in the oilfields are terrific, as well, showcasing the machinery of the derrick, the men's role as mere cogs in that machine, and the harsh, brutal landscape in which they work. There is an amusing irony in the location; where for years Hollywood has used the desert of Southern California to stand in for any number of landscapes, here Anderson is using the desert of central Texas to stand in for Southern California.

And then there's the ending. It made me think back to the winter of 2000, when I saw Anderson's previous film, Magnolia, with its famously bizarre conclusion. Leaving the theater, I said, "Well, I don't know if that was the worst ending to a movie I've ever seen or the best, but it has the merit of being something I've never seen before." The same could be said here - some say the ending is terrible, some say it's great, but you're not likely to forget it for a long, long time once you've seen it. It's take me a while to process it, but I'm definitely coming down on the "great" side. It is a final confrontation between Day-Lewis and Dano, and it contains virtuoso work from both actors. Day-Lewis especially hits all the right notes. One of his lines from this scene is rapidly becoming a catchphrase, and perfectly eviscerates Dano's character in four seemingly nonsensical words. Another is destined to go down as one of the all-time great closing lines in cinematic history, a grand-slam home run to end the movie on, up there with Scarlett O'Hara's "Tomorrow is another day" and Some Like it Hot's "Well, nobody's perfect."

The Big Game

I'm always amused to see who ponied up the dough to be an Official Super Bowl sponsor - and thus, is allowed to use the term - and who has to make do with implying "Super Bowl" rather than actually saying it. Like the Planters banner ad on this page: "Watch our commercial during the football game on Feb. 3rd!" (The Super Bowl ad bingo is pretty funny, by the way.) There's always tons of ads from department stores and big-box electronics stores during the off-week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl proclaiming it's time to get a new HDTV "for the Big Game!"

Apparently the NFL - never one to ignore a potential revenue stream - recently tried and failed to trademark the phrase "Big Game," because sports bars were making money off of cover charges for Super Bowl parties - but used "Big Game" because they didn't have permission to use "Super Bowl." Had they succeeded, I would have been quite fascinated to see what even more generic phrase Circuit City would have used in their ads. "Great deals on new HDTVs in time for the Important Professional Sports Contest! Hurry in today!"

Back when I was delivering pizzas, I used to listen to football on the radio a lot on Sunday afternoons, and I recall one company that was running a promotional contest of some sort that they described in their radio ads as, "a chance to win tickets to the biggest football game of the year...in Hawaii!" Which, of course, means that they were giving away tickets to the Pro Bowl without being an official sponsor. It also means that some copywriter out there has a severe misunderstanding of what can reasonably be called "the biggest football game of the year," in Hawaii or otherwise.

As for today's actual "Big Game," this is the least interested I've been in the Big Game in fifteen years. I'm trying to muster the proper moral outrage about the latest allegations of cheating by the New England Patriots, but I just can't do it. Actively hating the Patriots right now would force me to root for the New York Giants, and I just can't do it. This is reminiscent of the 2003 New York Yankees/Florida Marlins World Series in which I just wished that both teams could lose.

The last time I had this little interest in the Big Game was in the Early '90s when the always-loathsome Dallas Cowboys were beating up on the sad-sack, lucky-to-be-there Buffalo Bills. I spent those years going to the movies during the Big Game. One year, I went to see Highlander III, which is one of the three or four worst movies I've ever paid money to see, and it was still a better option than watching the Cowboys win it all.

My only interest in the game in those years was the same as what it is this year: the vague hope that the game would be so lopsided as to erase the 49ers' humiliating 55-10 drubbing of the Denver Broncos from the record books as the most lopsided Big Game in history. And if it's going to happen, this could well be the year, as the latest cheating allegations will have the Patties right back in "Fuck the World" mode and they'll probably be trying to score on every possession mo matter how one-sided the game becomes, and the sad-sack Giants can thank the delightful ineptitude of Wade Phillips and a dumb mistake by Brett Favre for even being in the Big Game.

I'm going to predict Patriots 62, Giants 6.

And I'll read about it in the paper tomorrow to find out if I'm right, as I think we're going to see There Will be Blood this afternoon.


I haven't blogged much about the impending nuptials. But I would like to discuss something wedding-related if I may. And, well, it's my damn blog, so of course I may, and you're going to like it.

When we first started discussing the details of this event, I had what seemed like kind of a cool idea: do the invitation as a comic book. I was excited - I figured I could do it like a digest-sized minicomic (that is, made from 8.5"x11" pages folded in half to make a 5.5"x8.5" booklet). They'd be inexpensive and unique. Em was a little dubious about the idea. She was worried that it would look like a zine - that is, trashy and cheap. I assured her that it wouldn't be like that. It would look really cool, I assured her, and be something that people would really dig when they got it in the mail.

She didn't take all that much convincing, and I think ultimately decided that if the invitations were entirely on my shoulders, it would be one less thing she'd have to do. So during my Thanksgiving break, I started working on them. Once the semester ended in December, I was able to devote a whole lot more time to them. My original intent was to have them finished and ready to be mailed before we left for our month-long California/Italy trip, so we could just drop them in the mailbox when we got home.

It turned out to be a lot more work than that, though. The original artwork was finished and scanned before we left, but I still had to letter it and color it. An opportunity to print them in full color at low cost had presented itself and so (in part to avoid the whole "looks like a cheap photocopied zine" issue) I had to color every page. The problem with this is that I've developed my drawing style with an eye towards black-and-white presentation over the years - which makes coloring the art more time-consuming than it otherwise would be. It became clear very quickly that the project wasn't going to be done before we left for our trip. The new goal became to have them ready to print before we left for Italy. Coloring went slowly - though the pace picked up considerably after I received a brand-new Wacom Bamboo tablet input for Xmas. Still, mightily as I tried, it became clear that the work just wasn't going to be done before New Year's Day, which was the day we flew to Rome.

So I picked it back up when we got back from Italy, and spent the next week coloring and lettering like mad. I got it all finished shortly after our return home, during a long weekend spent at my parents' house. We were finally able to print, fold and staple them on the afternoon of MLK Day. We spent a couple of days addressing envelopes, and then into the mail they went.

Over the last week or so, I've been quite gratified to hear people say that they're "brilliant" and "the best wedding invitations I've ever seen" and suchlike. That's really not what I set out to do. But I do think they came out pretty damn good. Some of you out there have, of course, received one of these in your mailbox. If you're not one of these people, but would like to see 'em, you can take a look here.