Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wii and T.C.

I went up to my folks' house in Oxford and broke crescent roll with my aunt and uncle from Missouri who I hadn't seen for 21 or so years. As it happened, they brought my cousin with them: 17-year old Matt, whom I met for the first time that day. Turns out he'd brought his new Nintendo Wii with him. I had the chance to try the thing out before dinner and here's my verdict:
Not so much.

I know lots of people have already bought Wiis and are already enjoying them -- my experience was little more than cursory: I tried just two of the four sports games that come with the Wii: boxing and bowling. If I'd spent more time playing the Wii, I might have liked it better, but based solely on the half hour or so I spent playing the thing, any interest I had in getting one myself went out the window. Take the boxing game, for example. Using the motion-senstive controller, you can lean from side to side to avoid your opponent's blows, you can jab high and hit the face and you can jab low and hit the stomach. (However, unlike other non-Nintendo boxing titles, you can't hit any lower than that. Which is sad.) And you can bring your gloves up or down to protect your face or your own abdomen respectively. After playing a few rounds, I got the basic gist of how to play. Here's the thing: I could throw a series of quick jabs (albeit in my patented middle-school girl-style), we'll say four punches, and my boxing avatar would only register one of the punches. If this were some other sort of Wii game, say Excite Truck, and I was asking my truck avatar to do something that was impossible under the laws of that game's physics, say fly, then yeah, fie on me for wanting too much, but this is Wii Boxing: I am a human playing another human on TV. If I can throw a flurry of jabs, however weak and ill-advised, I think it should show up on-screen and not be subject to the seemingly arbitrary rules of the game's programming.

Bowling was a little better, but it's difficult to get excited about a bowling game, motion-sensitive or not. I watched my cousin play some of the new Zelda game and I can't remember the last time I've been that bored and that frustrated watching someone else play a game. I don't know if it was his gameplay or if it was the game itself (I suspect a combination of both) but then again, I've never understood the allure of the Zelda titles since the original on the NES. None of them have been good.

I'm not going to write off the Wii altogether -- the technology Nintendo put together for the Wii may one day allow for other game-designers to create an amazing game that will make Wii a must-have system. And Matt did suspect that his particular controller was "twitchy" even though we changed out the controller's AA batteries after what couldn't have been more than a couple hours of gameplay. I just don't think the Wii's quite there yet. But kudos to them for going in a new direction and trying to create an entirely new gaming experience. So many kudos.

A couple other things.

1.) T.C. Boyle seems like a good guy. He's also a good writer. But if you'd like to take a listen to a feted author letting his ego take over and presenting his own pompous, self-important side to the public (via an interview with Ed Champion of the blog,, you can listen here. In this hour-long interview you'll hear Mr. Boyle talk of his typical moviegoing experiences. As T.C. explains, when T.C. laughs in a theater, he is usually the only one laughing because he, unlike the rest of the audience, is laughing not at the film's jokes, but at the transparent ways in which the filmmakers are trying to manipulate the audience into laughing. He laughs at their ham-fisted attempts to manipulate because he sees them quite clearly for what they are. The rest of the audience, you see, dolts that they are, does not see these transparent manipulations and, as a result, laugh precisely when they're told because they are the Great Unwashed, and unread ignoramuses to boot. I imagine that when someone tells T.C. a joke, he doesn't laugh at the punchline like all of those other morons, but rather at the clever way the joke's set-up subverts the listeners expectations so that the punchline can have its intended impact. Oh, T.C.! O, Vaunted One! How blessed we are to live in the same world as one so generously gifted with intellect!

Anyway, Boyle goes on on a variety of subjects in this same sort of I-am-smart-and-everyone-else-is-grotesquely-stupid vein for awhile. Like I said, he seems like a nice guy overall, but I wonder if his particular outlook isn't shared by a lot of venerated writers who've just managed to keep a tighter lid on it. John Irving comes to mind.

2.) And finally, I thought I'd post up a page from the Oscar Mayer job I've been working for the last week or so. (I finally finished it yesterday.) [Ed. note: I've taken down the Oscar Mayer board, as per Heath's sage advice, and am replacing them with a couple boards from a Molson commercial I did a couple years back. Enjoy the hijinks of these beer-loving white men in the rap star's limousine.]

Enjoy the rest of your Wednesdays.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Casino Royale". Reviewed. Now.

Hola everyone! Hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving. I had a whole post written up but, owing to some ongoing technical difficulties (i.e. DSL service to our apartment is temporarily out), I'm unable to access that scintillating post and will have to post it tomorrow ... or whenever our Bell South people manage to fix what's wrong.

Anyway. I saw "Casino Royale" with my dad and my brother this weekend. Good stuff, but not without its flaws. Based with some faithfulness on Ian Fleming's novel, "Casino Royale", this latest installment in the Bond saga is essentially the "Batman Begins" of the James Bond mythos. Apparently, the children of Albert R. Broccoli and current owners of the rights to the Bond character, realized that the franchise was getting stale and terrible with Pierce Brosnan playing Bond (though not through any fault of his), and needed an upgrade. Their hearts were in the right place and though I'd have preferred a more extensive overhaul of the franchise (which would have included hiring exciting filmmakers to direct instead of action-movie journeymen like Martin Campbell), what they managed to do here puts Bond on the right track.

First, Daniel Craig's fantastic as Agent 007. Watching the previous Bond actors, from Connery through Brosnan, I never felt like Bond was a dangerous or unpredictable guy. Watching Craig in the role, however, you get the impression that James Bond is a little bit out of his mind: Bond version 2006 is a dispassionate but eerily competent hitman who just happens to have a way with the ladies and just happens to drink martinis. The womanizing and the shaken-not-stirred thing are just components of a complex character in "Casino Royale", but they are not his defining characteristics as they have been in previous films. Craig's Bond is complex and real, however simple and direct he might be in his professional life. Put another way, it's fascinating to finally see a great actor play Bond -- the others either haven't had the chops to bring Fleming's Bond to life, or were never given the opportunity. Craig's got both here.

Though the casting is pitch perfect, the film itself is somewhat problematic. [Here I'll be getting into some possible SPOILERS, so if you haven't see it but plan to, best not to read on.]

First thing, the movie's front-loaded like all hell. The massive foot chase through a construction site in Madagascar is incredible, easily worth the price of admission, but it happens about 10 minutes into the movie; the remaining 2 hours are interesting, entertaining, all of that, but I was expecting a finale sequence to rival that first one in Madagascar and never got it (though Campbell probably intended the sinking building sequence to be it, but doesn't quite pull off the trick). Another problem with the movie is how it jettisons formula. In most cases, ditching formula would be a good thing, but not so much here: though doing away with the Robert McKee-model of screenwriting doesn't make "Casino Royale" terrible by any stretch, it does give the movie an episodic feel which did detract, I felt, from the movie's overall quality. There's the Carribean island episode, the museum episode, the gasoline truck at the airport episode, the long poker game episode, etc. etc. I enjoyed each of them, but when the credits rolled I felt like they added up to a fairly average action movie. Ditching formula is a two-edged sword: on one hand your audience doesn't know exactly what to expect from moment to moment, but on the other hand jettisoning that basic story structure risks disorienting the audience. For example, thirty minutes from the end of the movie, the ostensible antagonist, banker to the world's vermin Le Chifre (played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), is killed not by James Bond, but by another unnamed but vaguely familiar assassin (turns out we saw him, Mr. White, in the film's first scene after the opening credit sequence). Formula dictates that Bond kills the film's heavy. Yes, it's predictable and formulaic, but there's a certain satisfaction a viewer feels when the long-awaited showdown takes place and our hero ends up on top. When Bond fails in the duty of the archetypal hero -- namely to kill the big baddie -- the movie feels disrupted and disjointed, and not in a good way. For a good ten minutes after the failure of our hero, perhaps longer, "Casino Royale" coasts along as Bond and his true love, Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green, the girl from Bertolucci's"The Dreamers"), live their lives in the aftermath of their most recent brush with death very much like two people on the verge of living happily ever after. A great novelist once said all good fiction is about trouble -- ten minutes of screentime is a long time to go without any "trouble". The action gets going again eventually, but "Casino Royale" never manages to overcome that feeling of disruption before the director's title credit appears. But in the plus column, Eva Green manages to be a Bond girl with some depth, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench all manage to be interesting during their few minutes of screentime, and the poker game (they don't play Texas Hold 'Em in European casinos, do they?) is actually intense and surprising throughout, which is hard to do with a game where all the characters are just sitting there, staring at one another. [End SPOILERS]

But all that is really just my overly wordy explanation of why I think "Casino Royale" failed to be a great movie, and managed only to be a good one. But there ain't nothing wrong with a new James Bond movie that's just good. Hell, any good movie in theaters is cause for celebration these days. And even with its flaws, Daniel Craig's performance raises up the entire enterprise to the must-see category for anyone who's ever enjoyed a James Bond movie. And though it's not saying a whole lot, I'll say it anyway: this one's as good as the best of them.

Anyway, that's my "Casino Royale" review. More Inanities tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is Wii "Wiitarded"? And Some Half-Assed Opinions on "Borat"

Interesting comments on the previous post. After reading these two reviews on Slate, however, one against Nintendo's new Wii, and one ostensibly for the Wii, but also kind of against it anyway, I think the XBox 360 is going to be the one for me. Over the long haul, I need a system that will allow me to commit heinous (though digital) acts of ultra-violence (think "Hitman"), and the Wii will never ever let me do that. Looks like it's going to be me and the fine folks at Microsoft walking hand in hand down Video Game Avenue for the next 5 years or so.


Anyway, "Borat". Peggy and I saw this in a packed theater on Friday night. And I mean packed. I can't remember the last time I was in a theater this full-- maybe not since the last installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Even the front row was fully-stocked. I thought it was a funny movie. I laughed at a pretty regular clip throughout, as did my audience. But the funniest part of the movie for me came out of a scripted scene, a scene not at all dependent on the credulous and overly-polite Americans upon which Cohen preys; I speak of course of the man-on-man naked Kazakh wrestling in the hotel room scene. I laughed very very hard at this. Not Cougar-Scene-in-"Talladega Nights" hard, but tearfully, certainly. What I liked least about the movie was what made up the bulk of "Borat": the scenes involving the dupes. Whether it was the genteel southerners in Alabama who hosted Borat for dinner or the moronic, racist, mysogenistic frat boys he hitched a ride with, that kind of humor just makes me uncomfortable and there's not much that's funny about it. I think Christopher Hitchens was right when he wrote that "Borat" is less a testament to the inate racism and backwardness of rural America than it is evidence of America's surfeit of politeness. (Maybe not so much in New York when Borat was trying to kiss fellow pedestrians, but that's the big city.) Though I guess there's a sort of pleasure in watching small-minded and ignorant sons of bitches hang themselves with their own words, but overall it just seemed like a smart Cambridge graduate from England coming into the American countryside to pick on some hick yokels. Don't they have ignorant hicks in England?

Also, I thought the transitions between the bits were clunky; just throwing up some subtitles while the fat guy talks to Borat in the ice cream truck about which "important interview" they had to prep for next seemed kind of lazy. Overall "Borat" felt like an overlong episode of his HBO show featuring just the one character, but despite the apparent shoestring budget, Cohen manages to pull it off. I didn't love it, but the movie's entertaining and very funny in parts.

(And what's the concensus on the Pam Anderson thing? She had to be in on it, right? Otherwise wouldn't Cohen have had to go to jail for a time.)

Also, Robert Altman, the auteur who directed classics like "Popeye" and "A Prarie Home Companion" and "Dr. T and the Women", died today. Maybe this will inspire me to get up off my ass and see some of the movies he's actually famous for. Anyway, it's sad. Not Kubrick sad, but you know. Sad.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Rare Sunday Post Which All But the Nerdly Few Who Care About Which of the New Video Game Consoles is Worth Picking Up Can Safely Ignore

Hey, back again. Had a good excuse for not updating this week -- I was working! None other than David "All The Real Girls" Green emailed me to do a storyboard gig for a series of commercials he's shooting in the near future. Everything went well and now it's back to writing and blogging.

Anyway, I just got back from Best Buy where I got a chance to try out the new Playstation 3. They had two games available for demo: a basketball game and an off-road racing game. I watched someone else play the basketball game and wasn't too impressed. Other than some terrifying close-ups of the basketball players complete with unsmiling expressions and the lifeless eyes of animated corpses, it looked like most basketball games I've ever played: boring. Good graphics but boring.

The offroad racing game was a different story. Amazing graphics. Sharp imagery, no visible pixelation, no slowdown when there was a lot going on on-screen. When you crash your car while engaging the Turbo, there's a visceral, cinematic view of the destruction in slow-motion; when the car impacts say, a boulder on the race-course, the part of the car that does the hitting shatters into a hundred distinct pieces each with its own unique trajectory; sometimes the entire body of the vehicle breaks up against the unyielding impediment with stunning realism -- as of right now, the PS3's graphics appear to be a little more robust than than the XBox360's graphics. The question is are the manlier graphics on Sony's new console worth $200 more? As of this writing, without having had a chance to try out PS3's other games, I'd say no. The truth is it's hard to get a real sense of how much you're going to like a particular console when the entirety of your exposure to it consists of 3 or 4 5-minute game-playing sessions at Best Buy. Am I going to plunk down $600 on a PS3 on the strength of one cool racing game? I need more. I need to sit with the system, take it apart, stare at it, feel the way the ultra-fast processors feel in my hand while I roll them around like dice. I need to PLAY that thing, know what I mean? Besides, Microsoft and Sony have obviously upped the ante with their consoles, but what about upping the ante on their games? Where's the next-gen game?

Which brings us to the Wii, (Hinesy's early favorite). Nintendo's Wii came out today in the States and if anyone's raising the stakes for new and exciting ways to play video games, it's Nintendo. Wii's winning raves from the most jaded gaming types for it's intuitive motion-sensitive gameplay. You swing the controller and you're either swinging a tennis racquet, slicing with a samurai sword, fishing, racing, or whatever else you can think of. AND it's $50 cheaper than the 360's core system, so does that make the Wii the best bet for just having a good time playing video games? Neither Target nor Best Buy had a playable display of it today -- just a screen with an infomercial playing on top of the console set behind a plexiglass case -- but just from watching the informercial Wii looks like a helluva lot of fun, even if the graphics aren't state-of-the-art. As always, the most important question is which console's going to have the best games over the next few years -- right now nobody seems to stand out on that score. Anyway, before I geek out too hard, I'll just say they all look pretty cool, but I'm leaning towards the 360. "Halo 3" will be coming out for the 360 next year, and that's going to be something to behold.

Anyway, later this week I'll tell you what I thought about "Borat" which I saw Friday night. And I'm out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Stranger Than Fiction" and "Cars"

Thought I'd take a break from writin' and get in a little blog action.

Saw "Stranger Than Fiction" over the weekend. I liked it better than I thought I would. The trailer made the movie look like an uninteresting one-joke movie (not to mention a seriously and determinedly drab-looking one-joke movie), but turns out there's more to it than Emma Thompson's voice booming inside Will Farrell's head while narrating his life. Remarkably, sreenwriter Zach Helm and director Marc Forster (of "Finding Neverland" fame) find a way to make a real and poignant story out of this high-concept premise. The love story between Will Farrell's and Maggie Gyllenhaal's characters works surprisingly well and helps ground the film in an identifiable reality, which, as a general rule, the film usually runs from. There were a few inconsistencies in plot and some in character, like the way Harold Crick (Will Farrell) acts as he walks to the bus stop at the end of the film, and the fact that Dustin Hoffman, who plays a literature professor, is reading a Sue Grafton mystery and has George Dawes Green's "The Juror" on his office bookshelves, and one of the film's messages, that great art is worth more than a single human life, seems extraordinarily wrong-headed to me, but overall, this one's not bad. Worth renting.

Also saw "Cars" on DVD Saturday night. Sadly, I called this one correctly back when I saw the first teaser back in 2003 (you remember -- the one featuring Larry the Cable Guy saying "Dadgum!" as if it was hilarious). Well, it's 2006 and the finished movie never rose above the level of that teaser. Needless to say, I didn't like it. I'd say "Cars" is the weakest of the Pixar films by quite a bit. Lasseter and the gang have had much more success anthropomorphizing toys and insects and fish than they have here trying to give human qualities to frickin' automobiles. At certain points in "Cars" it's crystal clear how difficult it was for the animators to turn cars and trucks into characters an audience can care about. At times they make it work, but just as often you could see the movie creak with the effort, particularly during the scenes where Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) are falling in love. How is that romance going to work exactly? Or any car romance for that matter? Not that I need to see what happens when a racecar mounts a Porsche, but the movie never even hints at the logic behind what's supposed to be a self-sustaining world even though all of their other films do.

All but one of the Pixar movies prior to "Cars" has set about depicting an alternate reality that exists in close relation to our own. The toys in the "Toy Story" movies had adventures while we humans weren't looking. "A Bug's Life" and "Finding Nemo" operate on the same principle: the secret life of certain kinds of animals. "Monsters Inc." presents a completely alternate universe, but one that has a recognizable relationship with our own: their inhabitants step through portals into our closets in order to scare our children. ("The Incredibles" deals exclusively with humans, so it doesn't really come into play here). But for the first time in Pixar's filmography, "Cars" presents a world completely devoid of and ignorant of humans, populated with human creations. As Moe Szyslak would say, "Whaaaaa?" The world of "Cars" is an entirely alternate reality without any tangible relationship to our own. (The film closest to "Cars" in this way that I remember was the abyssmal "Robots".) So if John Lasseter and the Pixar crew can't be troubled to answer questions like "Where do they get their fuel?" and "How are they able to do anything at all without opposable thumbs, like, for example, what does Doc do in his workshop exactly? Does he get up on his hind wheels to do woodworking?" and "What happens when they die?" and "How in hell do they procreate?" then they're asking their audience (their adult audience anyway) to suspend disbelief a little more strenuously than usual, which takes an effort that might detract from a viewer's involvement in the story. I'm not asking for cinema verite in my anthropomorphizing animated movies, I just think that when filmmakers introduce audiences to a completely new world, they should go out of their way to show all the ways that world works; "Cars" did a poor job in that respect.

(Also, any movie that features a character voiced by Larry the Cable Guy as the film's comic relief is probably not aimed at the likes of me, so there's that. Man, was he not funny.)

Anyway, I could dismiss the whole thing and say that "Cars" was more of a kid's movie than Pixar's others have been, but Pixar's in the business of making the best animated movies in Hollywood and they've always done that by making big-tent films that appeal to everyone in a family. "Cars" wasn't it. Oh well. I hope they step up their game with "Ratatouille" next summer -- after this one, I'm sort of worried Pixar might be on some sort of downward skid.

Anyway, enough of me criticizing the work of immensely talented (and working) people. Back to writing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Couple Trailers and a Clip of Rumsfeld Doing Crazy Things During Press Conferences

A few links, two of them funny and one of them pretty damn cool but slightly worrisome. First, the funny ones.

1.) This is the trailer for the new CGI-animated movie Meet the Robinsons. The reason I'm linking to this trailer is because of a brief scene right at the end involving a Tyrannasuarus Rex. It made me laugh out loud. It manages to be pitiful and hilarious at the same time. Check it out.

2.) I was not aware that the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was in the business of doing actual comedy, but clearly they are. Their writers have come up with a damn funny bit involving the secretary of defense that you can view here. It's silly but very well-done.

Okay, the cool but slightly worrisome link.

3.) This is the trailer for "Spider Man 3". Like I said, looks pretty cool. I'll let you watch it if you haven't already. I'll meet you below the picture of Spidey to tell you what I think of it.

All right, coolness aside, doesn't this movie look crowded as hell? Sandman, Green Goblin 2, and Venom? And then the love traingle aspect between Parker, MJ and Gwen Stacy which isn't even alluded to in the trailer? This is way too much, I think. If anyone can pull it off, it's Sam Raimi, but I worry this thing could lapse into "Batman Forever" territory pretty easily.

Yeah, just a bunch of links today. Enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

America Wises Up Two Years Too Late

The news is coming fast and furious these past two days.

First, hallelujah like all hell that the Democrats took the House and, in about 1 and a half hours or so when George Allen of Virginia concedes the race to Jim "Dirty Writin'" Webb, will officially take control of the Senate. Strangely, I'm not really excited about it. I'm mostly just relieved. This Congress and this President have done terrible things to our country for six years and I've actually gotten accustomed to hearing news reports night after night about how the Republicans are sending the country down the crapper. It's been a really bad time for reasonable people in this country and I don't know if I'll be able to handle positive political news again. My minimal expectation for this new Congress is that this rush of awful policy decisions (taking us into Iraq, botching the occupation of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, legalizing torture, ending our right to habeas corpus as we know it, mishandling the Katrina response, making it more difficult for people to declare bankruptcy, passing steep tax cuts for the wealthy and for big corporations like Exxon, shooting old men in the face with birdshot, etc., etc.), will end. On this, the second day after the election, both sides are talking about bipartisanship and compromise and getting things done. That's sweet and all, but if history is any indicator, I expect we'll see little in the way of compromise from this President. I believe something will happen with immigration reform because Bush's views on the issue are more in line with the Democrat's views than with his fellow Republicans. Maybe even a slight raise in the minimum wage. But other than that, I see deadlock in the future. I see each party putting up ideas that will appeal to their bases so that they can protest loudly when the other side knocks it down. If Bush was smart, if Bush wanted to save his abysmal Presidency from Worst in History status, he'd co-opt the Democratic agenda in his last two years and start getting real legislation passed through a shell-shocked Congress. Like Clinton did. In any event, I expect an obstructionist Congress and after these 6 years, that's a beautiful thing. I also expect the subpoenas to fly fast and furious, and that's an even beautiful-er thing.

I enjoyed Bush's press conference yesterday. He seemed almost contrite. And a little like he'd just been kicked hard in the crotch. Firing Donald Rumsfeld was a great (and shocking) move, the only sane thing Bush has done in as long as I can remember, but it would have been an even greater move three years ago when things started to go to hell after the initial invasion. Or two years ago after Abu Ghraib. Or even one year ago when Iraq was descending into civil war. It's as if Bush never gave any credence to his critics (who've all been clamoring for Rumsfeld's ouster for years and years), until the voters put those critics in power. Oh, now they might have a point. What a bunch of arrogant bastards. How's this for arrogance? For your reading pleasure, an excerpt from an interview Karl Rove did with NPR's Robert Siegel a couple of days before the election:
SIEGEL: We're in the home stretch, though, and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about -
ROVE: Not that you would be exhibiting a bias ...
SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you're looking at every day.
ROVE: No, you're not. No, you're not.
SIEGEL: No, I'm not.
ROVE: No, you're not. You're not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally but that do not impact the outcome of -
SIEGEL: I'm looking at main races between - certainly Senate races.
ROVE: Well, like the poll today showing that Corker's ahead in Tennessee, or the poll showing that Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.
SIEGEL: Leading Webb in Virginia, yeah.
Mr. ROVE: Exactly.
SIEGEL: But you've seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race - I don't want to have you call races.
ROVE: Yeah, I'm looking at all these, Robert, and adding them up, and I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math, I'm entitled to THE math.
SIEGEL: Well, I don't know if we're entitled to our different math, but you're certainly -
ROVE: I said THE math. I said you're entitled to yours.
Unbelievable. Everyone else is wrong, but Rove, the "architect" is right. Everyone else is just too dumb to see what he sees. Which was why seeing Bush smack Rove a little in front of the press corps yesterday was particularly gratifying. A reporter asked Bush about a reading contest the President and Rove were having. Bush said, "He's winning. I guess I was working harder on the campaign than he was." I laughed and laughed. Sure it was a dick thing to say to the guy who put your incompetent ass in the White House not once but twice, but it's Rove, so who's complaining? No one deserves a public spanking more than Turd Blossom.

Anyway. The rubber doesn't hit the road, as they say, until everyone gets sworn in in January. I think the two months leading up to the matriculation of the new Congress will be mercifully politics-free, and I am pleased with that. And when they do, I hope Speaker-Designate Pelosi stays true to what she said in an interview with Brian Williams the other night. She said she would preside over the most "open and honest" government in history. How refreshing is that? I'm looking forward to watching what happens next year with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. (I enjoyed writing that last sentence quite a bit.)

In unrelated news, Ed Bradley died from leukemia today. He was only 65. Terrible. Aside from that silly earring he started wearing back in the nineties, he was a great television reporter.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Night

It's nights like this that it really sucks not having cable. I'm trying to keep up with the midterm elections by watching the big-time coverage on the big 3 networks, but my local affiliates have pre-empted all of that excellent political analysis so they can all cover all these amazing and totally consequential Georgia elections. I know I for one am much less interested in hearing Russert's and Stephanopolous's knowledgeable insights about control of the Congress than I am about hearing some slow-talking poly-sci graduate from Georgia State University drawl on and on about what an interesting race the winning candidate for Agriculture Commissioner ran. How's this for bucking the national trend. All over the country, Dems are taking House seats from Republicans. In Georgia, Republicans are taking seats from Dems. Not a backward state at all.

Are Georgians really that much more interested in these bullshit local elections than in the elections that have national implications? Really? Anyway. I'm breathing again. Nightline's on now, so I'm spared the local coverage for at least another hour or so.

We've taken the House and we await word on 3 races in the Senate. The Allen/Webb race in Virginia, the Ford/Corker race in Tennessee and the McCaskill/Talent race in Missouri. Those will be the deciding races. And it's not looking good for any of the Dem candidates.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Charity Quilt Auction Does Big Business, and Why "Lost" Is Sucking It Right Now

Been cleaning up the place today. Dragging the vacuum around the apartment and running loads of laundry and whatever else. Just as exciting a Monday as you could want. On Saturday Peggy and I went up to Newton County for my mom's Quilt Guild charity auction. My mom and her friend, Helen, ran this year's auction and made a few changes from the way it's been run in previous years. Like hiring a professional auctioneer for one, and airing a television commercial for another. Last year the auction grossed a little under $10,000. This past Saturday the auction grossed a little over $14,000. Not too shabby. So congratulations, mom. Good job.

Hmm, what else? Watched a couple episodes of "Lost" yesterday on videotape. (Thanks again, Pat!)

I'm slightly less down on the show than I was a week or two ago on account of the writers dribbling a few teasing glimpses of what's really going on over the last couple episodes, but only a little. I think part of the reason the show's suffering right now is that three of the big players, Jack, Sawyer, and Kate, are currently moldering in primate cages away from their fellow survivors. In terms of narrative momentum, this is akin to weighing anchor. The writers must recognize the effect this is having because every now and again the writers have the "Others" take the principals out of their cages (and Jack's cell) to show them something (a funeral or an illuminating vista) or do something to them (hard labor, unnecessary surgeries) or have them do something for them (necessary surgery), but none of our heroes has a real say in what they're doing. By nature of their position as prisoners, they're only reactive instead of proactive. It doesn't take long for reactive characters to get boring.

The show isn't doing much better on the other side of the island. Even with characters unconstrained by literal cages, they can't figure out what they ought to do with themselves. So until they figure it out, the characters (including a few new ones) trudge off to old sets and have run-ins with monsters of seasons past but shed no new light on the nature of these monsters. Revelations saved, no doubt, for season 8, if they get that far. The uncertainty the writers obviously feel about what to do next with their show is reflected in the actions of the crash survivors' new leader, Locke. After the hatch "implosion" (does anyone else wonder how exactly a person can be blown clear of an implosion?), a mute and befuddled Locke ups and constructs a sweat lodge so that he can have a vision of how he should be spending his time for the next few episodes. I don't know how much farther into a novel I'd read if, somewhere in the middle of it, the hero decided out of nowhere to take some mescaline and then use the hallucination he just had to inform his course of action, but that's exactly what JJ Abrams is asking his viewers to do. "Keep watching," JJ's telling us. "It gets better." Not sure if I'm going to be able to go along for his seat-of-the-pants, make-it-up-as-I-go-along joyride for much longer. Four million other viewers have already given up this season. There's only one more episode (or is it two?) and the show goes on 13-week hiatus and starts up again next year. I wonder how many fewer viewers "Lost" will have after they return from their long hiatus.

I don't know. Even the best of these sequential shows lose their way if they're allowed to go on too long. Look at "The Sopranos". The fall-off in quality on that show hasn't been calamitous, but it's certainly been noticeable. A few do manage to keep it up: "West Wing" was good right up until the end after a season or two in the doldrums, each season of "The Wire" has been consistently amazing even into its fourth season, but few storylines can sustain such a long arc, and shouldn't be expected to. I'm really starting to think the Brits do it right. A couple seasons, maybe just one, and then they brush off their hands and walk away to think of the next one.

Anyway. That's my "Lost" rant. I gots to go finish the laundry, so I'll just say good night, er'rybody.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What I've Been Up To. (Also DeLillo's "Libra")

What up, folks. Happy Friday.

I've been going pretty good on my book this week, which was why I've been lax on el bloggo (I know, last week it was the GRE and now it's this. Always something.) What I've been doing for the last few months has been totally re-writing the final third of my novel. From September 27th to yesterday, November 2nd, was write, longhand, chapters 19 and 20: the final two chapters of my book. Last night, I finished chapter 20. Both chapters, all told: 100 pages. But it's very much incomplete. My plan now is to revise (and whittle down) the handwritten pages as I type them on my trusty electric typewriter, then make a final set of revisions on those typewritten pages, and then enter all of that onto the actual Word document, at which point I would begin the final polish of the entire book -- tightening, straightening, reworking. I have a notecard "To Do" list specifically for the book. It's not too long. (Here's one: "Sharpen description of the clubhouse's first floor.") All of that may seem like overdoing it a little, all of that revising, but this new ending I've written is so raw (read: bad) that it needs to be processed a lot to line up with the rest of the book's quality. But even knowing I have all that work ahead, writing out 'The End" a little after 8PM last night was very nice. Nearly there.

In other news, I finished Don DeLillo's excellent "Libra" on Tuesday. What it amounts to is DeLillo's all-encompassing theory about who killed John F. Kennedy told in the form of a novel. Having done a modicum of research on the subject ever since I saw "JFK" in 1991, I have to say that DeLillo's theory is eerily plausible. He deftly combines aspects of the wilder conspiracy theories with the Lone Gunman theory to create something that feels like the God's honest truth. To me, this read like an official account of what actually happened that day.

DeLillo's book predates "JFK" by three years and, happily, covers some of the same ground; much of it takes place in New Orleans. mean-drunk Guy Banister's in there, Dave Ferrie and his crazy glued-on eyebrows are in it quite a lot, and Claw Shaw makes a cameo, but sadly no Jim Garrison. The main characters in the novel are Lee Oswald, Jack Ruby, the CIA guys Everett, Parmenter and Mackey, and Oswald's mother. For another writer, synthesizing the dry facts of a now 40-year old assassination into a compelling narrative would be tough work. But DeLillo's good. Real good. One of those writers that can demoralize fledgling novelists with his easy command of the English language. He jumps from character to character throughout, managing to make the third-person limited voice he uses for each one convincing and authentic. He makes Dave Ferrie's obvious insanity comprehensible, Oswald's Russian emigre wife heartbreakingly sympathetic, and he limns the dark corridors of the CIA's creepy sub-culture so well you kind of understand why the out-of-favor CIA men who initiate the plot are incapable of pondering the moral implications of what they've set in motion, and also why they believe the CIA will welcome them back as heroes if it works out. Though some of the text is a little on the self-indulgent side (DeLillo went a little overboard with Oswald's mother -- a page of her stream-of-consciousness goes a long way), and because DeLillo's voice is fairly bloodless, a feeling of detachment settles over the events in the story; it's difficult to break through the icy perfection of his sentences to absorb the story on an emotional level. But that aside, "Libra"'s an excellent book. I liked it better than his novel "White Noise", the National Book Award winner he made his name on.

I started King's "Lisey's Story" a couple days ago. So far so good. Little annoyed with the substitution of "smucking" for "fucking" every page or so (Lisey and her writer-husband Scott have a lot of little words exlcusive to their marriage), but I'm sure King will set my mind to rest about it.

Also, wish my mom luck with her Quilt Guild's quilt auction tomorrow afternoon. Me and the wife will be there, if not bidding, then watching others bid. Anyway, have a good weekend. If anyone goes to see it, let me know how "Borat" is.