Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reading Rainbow & A Comedy Show

August is almost upon us, and what that means is a month of my NFL Preview articles. I love doing it. I think it's fun to be right and funny how wrong I can be sometimes. So since that is on the horizon, I just wanted to pass along a couple of reviews for a limited assortment of items.


Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

One of the joys of my college experience was learning that I didn't have to take a math requirement. As a result I picked up a class titled Contemporary American Short Story. That class, ended up being one of my favorite during my time at college, and one of its lasting impressions was my introduction to David Foster Wallace. DFW has become one of my favorite authors and has the literary work to back it up.

His latest installment, Consider the Lobster, finds the always enlightening and entertaining DFW tackling everything from porn awards to John McCain on the campaign trail. He can write as intellectually and dramatically whether he is discussing double penetration shots or the lull of redundant speeches. The manner in which he, almost easily, transitions from a place of pure absurdity to the heights of intellectual prose is as impressive as it is depressing.

While the lyrical gymnastics DFW goes through makes you love to read his essays, at the same time, any one with any hope of ever publishing anything has to leave disheartened as DFW is certainly the foremost stylistic writer out there. You think he is just writing stream of thought through the way he presents himself, but when you take in the essays as a whole you realize that each piece of writing is incredibly intricate and imaginative that no human could spout out such words in such a format.

For people that aren't familiar with DFW, I probably wouldn't recommend starting with this book, but if you do, you'll know from the first story (the one about the porn awards) whether you're on board or not. The constant footnotes and long digressions could frustrate one that is not ready to commit fully to such a reading, and the reading only gets more difficult as the book progresses.

This book ranks up there with DFW finest works. If you are willing to commit to the reading and want to enjoy great essays on a wide variety of subjects, then give this book a go around.

For the ratings system I wanted to do something different than simple numbers. I want a symbol, like "Two Thumbs Up" like that. So I decided to flip the script. I'm using a symbol, but not a positive symbol. As a result of using a negative symbol instead of a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best, one is the best because more of a negative thing would be bad. Follow?

So, what's something bad, related to books that I can rate these things with? Papercuts. Done.

1.5/5 Papercuts

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

I followed up Consider the Lobster with Klosterman's book of essays. Now, initially this was a mistake. Klosterman's style is different than DFW in that it is much more straight forward and, for lack of a better term 'simple.' Now, while no one would or should expect a bunch of DFWs running around, but Klosterman's essence is in his ability to universalize seemingly obscure Gen X topics. His seeming irreverence serves as an opening to topics and ideas that do ring true to all kinds of people.

He touches on Billy Joel, Saved By The Bell, and lots of other topics that only invite the reader to take Klosterman's deranged trip along with him. Even though some of the topics were a little before my time, I was able to enjoy myself much more after I moved past this whole, he's not DFW thing.

Klosterman is an interesting read, and his ability to use random facts (a personal favorite thing of mine) and to relate personal experiences of his to a more universal appeal that comments on society in general is a great thing to behold. This is the first Klosterman book I have read, and I will be sure to follow up with his work in the near future.

1/5 Papercuts


Ricky Gervais

Ever more famous actor/writer/director/comedian, Ricky Gervais, creator of "The Office" and "Extras" took some time out of his now busy movie schedule to do some shows in America for an HBO special.

I saw the opportunity to jump on these tickets months ago, and since Ricky is one of my favorite, I guess entertainers is the word, I couldn't miss one of his few New York City shows. I have seen some of Ricky's comedy before on Youtube, and what is unique about him is that he is not a comedian by trade. His background is more in writing and acting.

This lack of polish is evident as Ricky takes the stage. Granted he is in a crown and cape as his name lights up right behind him, so confidence is not the issue. He transfers from story to improvised rant back to material in a semi-awkward way, but charming and enjoyable the whole time. For every politically incorrect shot he takes, he is sure to deflect any feelings of ill will by mocking himself, and his new found celebrity.

It was great to see him live and in person, and while the worst thing I could do was try to recreate some of his jokes, I will say some of his funniest moments include a pamphlet and Humpty Dumpty. Sadly, I feel like people that tune into HBO to see Ricky's special as a means to "see what he is about," they may be disappointed as his stand up does not nearly equate to the hilarity on The Office and Extras. For a Ricky fan like myself it was a blast, and I hope he comes around again soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight made $155 million this weekend. That means a lot of people saw it. So, I'm not really censoring myself spoiler wise. I'm not going to blow the whole movie, point for point, but there are some things I want to touch on that might ruin certain surprises to the movie that those who have not. So I'm warning you now. Read ahead, or go see the flick then check this out.

Considered by most to be the most anticipated movie of the summer, The Dark Knight opened under a ton of fan excitement and critical buzz. Pushed to a new level of fandom via a hardcore viral campaign. People became so enthralled with the idea of this movie that many were ready to proclaim it a masterpiece based on the trailers alone. While I was excited about Christopher Nolan's follow up to Batman Begins, I held any judgments until I actually saw the flick.

Needless to say, the writer/director did not disappoint. After all is said and done about this film, the one thing that left me the most pleased and surprised was the script Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan put together. The story encompassed everything from Batman lure and suspenseful action along with references to Star Wars, The Godfather, politics, religion, philosophy, and probably some more modicums of intellectual grandeur I'm not smart or fortunate enough to know about. Seriously, some of the story points and visuals Nolan uses in this film is the kind of stuff people write books about. You can interpret the entire scope of the film by these categories and probably make a pretty interesting argument.

Just for example, from my own education, is a theme of the philosophical theory of utilitarianism. Without referencing my college notes, utilitarianism is the theory that one should act in the manner that is in the greater good of everyone, and not for personal gain. Therefore, the outcome of an action is judged by the affect it has on the greater good. In short, the ends justify the means. There are numerous nods to this concept in this movie, and as I mentioned, this is only a small part of the overall interpretation. The Nolans really deserve a lot of credit for creating such a deep and complex script out of a comic book movie of all things. Also, Christopher Nolan shot about 20 minutes of the movie on IMAX film for a grander scope. It worked out incredibly, and if you have an IMAX theater in proximity to you, you must go see it in this format. It isn't even close compared to regular projection.

The acting was stellar as usual. Most importantly, the Rachael Dawes character was recast from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. While maintaining the weird faced attractiveness of Holmes, Jake's sister definitely added an acting punch. The other notable addition not named Heath Ledger (more on him later), Aaron Eckhart picked up the role of Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent, who of course eventually becomes Two-Face. Eckhart really portrays Gotham's white knight wonderfully. The Two-Face makeup didn't exactly do him any favors, seeing as it was quite cartoonish, but he is able to show Dent's darker side before the eventual Two-Face transformation takes place.

The returning actors benefitted from expanded roles since the audience was now familiar with their characters. Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman all enjoyed a greater impact in TDK over BB. The one person that sort of lost a step was actually Christian Bale. He spends most of this movie as Batman, not Bruce Wayne, which left him in a one dimensional phase, but when Bale was allowed to be Batsuit free, he is able to hold his own as an emotionally devoid and lonely billionaire attempting desperately to find his normal life.

Of course a lot of the hype behind this film came from the late Heath Ledger's performance. Tasteful or not, the studio execs really made Ledger's Joker the focus of the film. His performance is certainly something special, and will surely take the stage as one of the best villains ever put to film. Everything you hear about his performance is an understatement until you see it for yourself. Foregoing any sort of back story, The Dark Knight introduces this new version of The Joker as a pure menace. A personification of fear and panic, The Joker is all together a criminal mastermind, funny, scary, unpredictable, charismatic, likable, intimidating, and strange. All of these aspects highlight Ledger's performance and there truly isn't enough screen time spent with The Joker. For the Oscar talk, Ledger definitely deserves a nomination, but in the Best Supporting Actor Category. He carries the same presence as last year's winner, Javier Bardem, did in No Country for Old Men. He won't win Best Actor, but he will definitely be a front runner for Best Supporting. Who would have guessed the guy from 10 Things I Hate About You had the potential to be a great actor? Guess you never know.

Sadly, it was pretty clear by the end of the movie that The Joker was due for at least one more go around with Batman, but that will only happen with another actor taking on the role.

With all those good things to be said, there were some negatives. There was a main story arch that carried the movie up until about the 1hr 45min mark, then the last half hour or so felt disjointed and dragged a bit. The situations seemed out of nowhere in relation to the beginning of the film, and dare I say, some of the film felt a bit Batman Foreverish...not Batman & Robinish, but Batman Foreverish.

Also the way the film handled the transformation of Harvey Dent to Two-Face seemed rushed and rather simple as The Joker manipulated Dent to go from a symbol of good to a symbol of evil. Without giving away too much, Two-Face is motivated by his love for Rachael Dawes, and well, things don't really work out for them. For this to be a believable motivation for Two-Face, there has to be more longing and time between when things fall apart for Dent/Dawes, and when Two-Face goes around killing people. I mean longing makes the heart grow fonder, plus let's face it, even in the fictional city of Gotham, these two were probably due for a divorce anyway. He's the DA for one of the most crime-riddled cities in the world. He has to work long hours and deal with the scum of the Earth, under unbelievable amounts of stress. Then Rachael is either working with him, which is never good when married people work together, or at home taking care of their kid while Harvey is out giving his all to the city. You don't think she'll feel neglected, or he'll grow tired of the hassle of being married? Their marriage would have been doomed from the get go.

That last segment of the movie could have been edited to be the first half or even the entire third movie, with an easy ending added to The Dark Knight instead. This would have solved some of The Joker issues, and allowed Two-Face to take the necessary amount of time to make his character progress as need be. Now the third movie is really in limbo. Any multitude of things could take place, and it could go really good or really bad.

That is several years away, so no need to think too much about that at this point. Just enjoy this truly intense and surprisingly dark film that will have you engaged from the opening heist to the final scene.

Acting: 9.5/10
Plot: 9.0/10
Re-Watchability: 10.0/10
DVD Purchase: 10.0/10

Overall: 9.3/10

Monday, July 7, 2008


With the upcoming Presidential elections in November there is still a lot to be decided when a voter on the fence must choose between Barack Obama or John McCain. Thankfully, Major League Baseball has made thing easy for baseball fans by placing a clear favorite up for election in this year's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Pat Burrell is a vote-in candidate for the final spot in the All-Star game. Despite his NL Outfield leading 21 HR's Burrell did not collect enough votes to garner a much deserved position. Now, Burrell hasn't always been a fan favorite in Philly and perhaps cities like Chicago blindly back their team in All-Star balloting (see. Kosuke Fukudome), but he does deserve to make his first All-Star team in his 9 year career.

In actuality, Burrell will probably be selected to the team either by the vote in or due to injuries, but I want to give him the added privilege of being voted in by the fans. It's really down to him and David Wright, and I can't allow for a Met to win. So go to the title link and give your vote. Supposedly you can vote up to 25 times, but I've been voting constantly and don't know if there is in fact a limit.

So, if you missed Bachman of (B.T.O. aka the "Taking Care of Business" "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" guy) at Cooper River this past July 4th, do your patriotic duty and vote for Pat the Bat!