Monday, December 28, 2009

Let the List Avalance Begin (Movies)

In what has become basically the last of my kept blogging traditions, I present my annual round-up of new movies that I watched this year. As always, everything is arbitrarily ranked in numerical order from least to most enjoyed. This year I had to cut down the categories, as I watched way less movies than normal, but also liked waaaay more than I usually do.

Movies that I Hated Beyond All Rational Measure:
24. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (also known as man's greatest crime against art in at least 24 months)

Movies that I Liked:
23. Confessions of a Shopaholic (seriously y'all, one disliked movie. It was a good year)
22. Fired Up
21. Monsters Vs. Aliens
20. Sunshine Cleaning (you'd think all the good acting would have saved this movie from such a low fate, but no)
19. Push
18. 9
17. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (I cannot begin to decide where to put this movie)
16. I Love You, Man

Movies that were Great:
15. Precious (Yes, the acting is phenomenal. It's also the most depressing thing I've ever seen and have no desire to ever revisit it again)
14. Julie & Julia
13. The Informant! (Another movie too hard to rank well. It was hilarious and interesting, but really all I remember is the soundtrack)
12. Watchmen
11. Zombieland
10. Coraline
9. 17 Again (How is this movie ranked so high in my mind? It is a mystery)

Movies that were Excellent:
8. The Hangover (Seriously, maybe one of the funniest straight comedies I've seen in ages)
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
6. Up (Have I mentioned that this movie made me cry 4 times? No, really, 4)
5. District 9
4. Star Trek
3. Adventureland (I can't remember if I wrote this one up, but man I loooved this movie. Kristen Stewart represent!)
2. Paranormal Activity (Scariest damn movie I've seen since The Ring)
1. (500) Days of Summer

So what did we learn from this list? Absolutely nothing, except that it has spurred me to reactivate my Netflix/Blockbuster membership because there were so many movies I wanted to see this year that I missed.

Next up: Booklist!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I miss writing. Not in a serious way, or a compelling one. Just in a "man I used to really like doing that" sort of way. Kinda how I miss playing badminton. It's a vague and ill-defined itch in the back of my mind. Unlike badminton, though, I can do something about it without getting up off the couch. So let's get on with some stories.

Where I've Been (Sappy Life Update)

So I found a new job. I don't know if I mentioned it on here or not, and I'll be damned if I'll actually go back and read things I've written before. Always forward, never back. But, yeah, so I'm gainfully employed again after a 2 month hiatus. In the end, it worked out ideally - I moved out of a bad job situation and into a really great one in the same field, with very little downtime It's a better situation all around, and I'm actually on a real career path instead of just running in place like before. Combine that with the fact that I took some much needed time during the forced sabbatical to get my head on straight and my body back into shape, and everything seems to be in a really positive place. This sounds queer as hell, but I'm incredibly happy with my life right now. I know, shocking, right?

What I've Been Doing (Technology Whore)

So as a reward for finding a new and better paying job, I finally broke down and bought a new laptop. I know it's an extravagance in the extreme... but just wait for the rest of this post. I can defend it a little bit - my desktop computer has become this Frankenstein Monster of various cobbled-parts that don't even fit into its tower. Wires, cables, random boxes, and fans spill out of it like the remnants of an incendiary explosion gone wrong. And even in its make-shift upgraded state, it continues to run slower and slower. The laptop is sleek, pretty, runs twice as fast as the desktop, and I can do things like type on it while lying on the couch watching football and yelling at my roommate to bring me more turkey while he's up. (Not that I'm necessarily doing that right now, no sir).

But yeah, so if you think it's extravagant to go out and get a laptop right after a two month unemployment stint, you'll love this part - last week as a late birthday present to myself, I bought an iPhone. There's no defending that one - owning an iPhone is equivalent to the worst excesses of the Roman empire. I feel so much like Hedonism Bot from Futurama that it's uncanny ("I regret nothing!").

Seriously, though, it's awesome. Instant access to email, facebook, AIM, grouped texts, decent camera, a 32 gig iPod built in, you might as well just hook it to my veins. When you add in the google maps function so I never get lost anymore and the fact that I can play Katamari Damacy anywhere anytime now, I might as well have died and gone to gay-white-nerd heaven.

What I've Been Listening To (Music Snob Section)

November was a good month for concerts. I went to see Regina Spektor at Nokia as my real birthday present to myself and it was life-affirming as usual. I think it's so crazy how big she's gotten lately - I still remember when she was at the Gypsy Tea Room, and now she's filling up huge venues. But it was an awesome show - she played the best stuff off the new album Far, plus an amazing version of Ode to Divorce, a near show-stopping version of Silly Eye-Color Generalizations and ended the show with her country song Love You're a Whore (something that I've been dying to see in person). Basically, she continues to complete me in ways that are utterly undefinable. Or to put it in terms of Roommate Jim "I have never seen you look gayer than when you're smiling at a Regina Spektor concert." Which, while a hate crime, is technically accurate.

I also went to see Imogen Heap at the Granada approximately 4 days following the Regina concert and it was similarly awesome. It wasn't exactly polished - there were several extended technical delays and her voice (while always awesome) was obviously suffering from multi back-to-back concert nights. That said, there were some amazing bits - a truly awesome rendition of Bad Body Double, an unbelievably chilling version of The Moment I Said It, and a really unique and fun take on Just For Now. And as far as old school ambiance goes, you really can't beat the Granada. Even though the show was sold out, the crowd was super cool and really into the show. Bravo all around.

Short Stories That Make You Wonder (I'm Too Lazy for Proper Posts)

I got a new roommate. Roommate Frank has run off to greener pastures where there are dogs that he can play with, and floors that don't randomly shift their planes for their own amusement. In his stead we introduce Roommate Jim, who's already been heavily featured in stories around here, just not while co-habitating. It's a pretty sweet setup, in that we are basically the straight/gay versions of each other. It's all video games, sports, and minor drinking adventures all the time nowadays. He keeps me honest and less hermit-like than I would normally be in such times, so it's a good thing.

My birthday was aging, but super fun. I managed to go out three separate times (in true Birthday Week fashion) and never got overly drunk. Good conversation, good venues, and good drinks. Is it possible that I'm growing up and can actually celebrate in moderation? Let's just assume this is an aberration, not a sign of things to come. We'll see how Gingerbread Party goes next month as the real indicator.

Thanksgiving was short (low-man on the totem pole at the new office means working on the day after) but I still managed to partake in enough of my family's delicious meal in the 10 hours I was home that I will probably never be the same shape again. (Also contributing to that shape: the literal 10 pounds of leftovers that my mom gave to me on the way out the door. Seriously, I'm going to be a pear before the new year). I brought Roommate Jim back with me to the homestead, and I'm pretty sure that no parties were permanently scarred from the event, which is all I was hoping for, frankly. To quote a great man: No one got shot, no one got outed. I'll take it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall TV Roll Call

(Heads up note: I am in a cursing mood today. Blog is now officially rated R)

Woo, fall TV is upon us. And shit, son, things have gotten very real very quickly. Such a strong start to the season, with a lot of good new shows. I'm sure some of these will fall off over time, but right now I am stretched to the max. It's exciting! And it's a good thing I'm unemployed. So much TV time.


How I Met Your Mother - Y'all, I missed this show so much. And it came back pretty strong. It's weird how I can love a show and yet hate the characters involved so much. Ted's pretension and Lily's overbearing-ness is completely in character and utterly frustrating, but it's organic and natural. I feel like maybe there could be a break coming for me (when I can't deal with it anymore) but for now, it's like old friends who have annoying tics, but you still love hanging out with them because they're so much fun. Also: NPH was robbed at the Emmys. For real. How good was he doing the hosting? RAGE.

Accidentally on Purpose - Wow, we're going to give it a couple of episodes because it was a pilot and I do like Jenna Elfman, but seriously, not good at all. Cliched in the worst kind of way, and I'm sorry, but there were straight up problems with line delivery and landing punchlines. Very bush-league stuff starting out.

The Big Bang Theory - Most underwhelming return, as I had super high hopes, but still solid. A total waste of Laurie Metcalf (who is usually great), and what I thought was a terrible mis-read of character for Leonard. I mean, yes we know that Sheldon can be handful, but seriously: you sabotage a university grant and make a huge setback to your best friend's career and all you can do is try to get laid? Yes, yes, sitcom, I know. But still - we watch these shows for the characters, not the situations, dammit. Ugh, I'm over-complaining. It was actually pretty funny. Red cowboy hat, woo.

Castle - Trying out the second season. Kinda not-to-bad. We'll see how it goes. Damn, I love me some Nathan Fillion. Mostly forgettable, though. People tell me it grows on you.


Hells Kitchen - I get that it's basically a joke of a show, but it's strangely compelling. Editing is for shit, and they can really step on their own storylines without seeming to give a single damn, but I still tune in regardless. It reminds me of some of those mid-early seasons of Survivor, where nothing really happened episode to episode, but the seasons on the whole were compelling. Also, I'm a sucker for food shows lately.

Biggest Loser - Man, this show sucks me in so quickly. I'm already over the crying and the sob stories, which I am pretty sure will burn me out on the show before we hid mid-season, but the drama of the weight loss is higher than ever (mostly because these are some big folks they've got going this time round). Still - two hours every week? Overkill.


So You Think You Can Dance - That summer season was a delight. So far, all I'm coming away with from the fall is that I absolutely cannot watch the audition episodes of this show. They're a million times worse for me than the American Idol equivalents, and I hate those with a passion. I'll get back to you when they set the field.

Glee - I was on the fence for episode two (contrived, too quickly paced, and I wasn't on board with the music yet), but this last episode has me on the train for a while. I didn't mind the pace rush (it's a style), the jokes were solid, and the music was awesome. I'm not a huge fan of the direction the drama is taking, but I'll give it some space. Also, really impressed with some of the acting bits. Weird, considering I thought that was going to be the weak link, based on the pilot.

Modern Family - I was ready to write it off as good, but not appointment level TV, and then The Lion King bit happened. I laughed so hard that I think I pulled something. Seriously, that hit me out of nowhere and I went on one of those insane laughing jags that I sometimes get. Maybe it was just a one-time thing, but it's getting them a lot of goodwill. Also, setting an appointment to shoot your child: hilarious. "Sorry buddy, it's on the calendar."

Cougar Town - Okay, yes, it sounds terrible. But I really, really, really enjoyed it. Possibly the most out of all the sitcoms this week. I KNOW! Courtney Cox is a little shrill and overplaying a bit, but the supporting cast is so solid, particularly Busy Phillips(!) and the kid who plays her son. I'm definitely looking to see what the show has up its sleeve, and if it can keep up what seems like a weak premise.


Flash Forward - As usual, I don't pick up a lot of new dramas, but this one definitely has me hooked. I like the acting a whole lot, I like the premise, and I love the immediate way they rolled into the real story. None of that "it's impossible" garbage - we are on the track and moving. Of course, it helps that they're doing that whole predestination/knowledge-of-the-future-to-change-it angle, which is something that I eat up with a spoon. I've got high, high hopes. Also, Dominic Monaghan!

Survivor - Wow, I don't think I've had that level of whiplash in a single episode in forever. Such an amazingly promising start (blind leader picking! blind task picking!) that almost immediately devolved into the Russell Show of Terribleness. I'm so over him that I didn't even need to make the hard DVR choice this week - Survivor got cut. I might pick it up occasionally to see how things go, but for now: OUT

Parks and Recreation - Y'all, they are keeping it up! That's three straight great episodes. Finding a real tone for Amy Poehler that isn't just a Michael Scott retread. Actual, hilarious jokes. Bright joining the main cast! That young people relationship explanation! I am so stoked for this show now.

The Office - A great opening episode (maybe the most I've laughed in a single episode since season 3) followed by a near tone-deaf second episode. So strange. Still always on board (I'm not going to doubt them anymore after the last season they worked up) but I'm a little wary. Andy has been the real highlight both episodes thus far though. That's weird.

Community - I've told most people I know: probably my favorite pilot I've seen in about 5 years. Second episode wasn't as great - they're obviously still trying to set a tone for the actress who plays Britta and Joel McHale to work with, but still very solid. I'm loving Thursdays this year. (Also, the kid who plays Abed is rapidly approaching a treasured status for me.)

Project Runway - Ah, my old friend. It's about damn time. Doesn't seem to have suffered much at all with the TV and production company change. And they've got a good cast this year. So far though, it's been kinda rough, because the judging has been all over the map. On occasion I have disagreed with the exact winner and loser, but I've straight up thought that the winning piece should have gone home a couple of times this season. Also, very little Michael Koors and Nina Garcia, which I didn't think I needed until they weren't there. Still great TV, just weird.

(Awards span two weeks this one time)
Best Episode of the Week:
The Office - Gossip
(And Lord help me) Cougar Town - Pilot

Best Line of the Week:
Parks and Recreation - April (explaining her relationship): "Derek is gay but he's straight for me but he's gay for Ben and Ben's really gay for Derek. And I hate Ben. It's not that complicated"

Runner Up:

The Office - Michael: "If somebody doesn't tell me, I'm going to start screaming."

Best Moment of the Week:
Modern Family - The Lion King baby reveal

Most Disappointing:

The Big Bang Theory - Why an asshole, Leonard?

Most Anticipated:
Amazing Race season premiere on Sunday!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall = TV Time, Y'all

That's right! You think it's a coincidence that the blog restart happened right as the Fall TV season started back up? Oh you poor, naive blog reader. I need mindless content, and I need it now.

But I'm mixing it up a little - rather than plan out my whole schedule in advance, I'm watching everything for a week or two, and then I'm gonna present the updated rundown, so as not to even pretend-blog-commit to something terrible and then get stuck with the residual DVR guilt that accompanies an unwatched show.

So instead, let's do a rewind to last season and I'll give Emmy predictions! Because I live for award shows that aren't on MTV.

Hold on to your hats!

Lead Actor (Comedy):
Steve Carell, The Office
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Jemaine Clement, Flight Of The Conchords
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Charlie Sheen, Two And A Half Men

Who should win: Knock-down, drag-out fight between Steve Carell and Alec Baldwin, who consistently vie for funniest person on TV every week. I think in this case I'd give it to Steve Carell, since he made huge stretches of an uneven Office season go from 'bearable' to 'hilarious.'

Who I'd like to win: Jim Parsons, because he's turned one of the worst things ever created as a sitcom into something that is genuinely funny. If everyone were forced to watch the best episode of the season for each actor on the list and vote for the funniest one, I feel pretty confident that he would have a decent chance of winning if they used the Gift Basket episode. Possibly the funniest bit of physical acting I have seen since Alec Baldwin's therapy session last year.

Who will win: Alec Baldwin, because 30 Rock smells like a near-sweep to me.

Lead Actress (Comedy):
Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures Of Old Christine
Toni Collette, United States Of Tara Showtime
Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
Tina Fey, 30 Rock

Who should win: I think I'm biased here, but Tina Fey did have the strongest season here. Although I finally caught up on Weeds, and holy crap, Mary-Louise Parker did some all-caps ACTING this season. I might say you should give it to her for pulling that stuff off.

Who I'd like to win: Surprisingly, I think I like every nominee here. Even Sarah Silverman I could live with, even if she's not my cup of tea. If forced to pick one though, I go nostalgic and say Christina Applegate, since we're not getting any more of her show, and she's really great in it.

Who will win: Again, I feel Tina Fey and 30 Rock like a freight train. But I would not be bowled over by a Parker or Collette win - one for ACTING and one for a movie actress slumming it on pay cable.

Lead Actor (Drama):
Hugh Laurie, House
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Simon Baker, The Mentalist
Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jon Hamm, Mad Men

Who should win/Who I'd like to win: Uh, is this where I admit that I don't watch high profile dramas on TV anymore? Because with the exception of ubiquitous House, I've never seen an episode of any one of these shows. But I'll say Jon Hamm, because he's the prettiest, and was so funny on 30 Rock.

Who will win: Bryan Cranston won last year, right? The Emmy's like consistency, but then again everyone said Jon Hamm got robbed last year. I'll double up my foolish bets and say Hamm.

Lead Actress (Drama):
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Glenn Close, Damages

Who should win: Mariska Hargitay has been chewing scenery for at least 3 seasons, I physically loathe Sedgwick's acting tics on her show, and Sally Field is saddled with some terrible, terrible lines on her show that's gone awry in a serious way. That leaves Holly Hunter (who I love but do not watch her show), Elisabeth Moss (who I do not know), and Glenn Close (who is a cobra and I love). So...Moss? Everyone loves the Mad Men. Why am I doing this if I don't watch TV?

Who I'd like to win: Glenn Close. Watching her in Damages is like riding a roller coaster, where you're not sure if the ride owner is going to stab you in the eye at some point. But in a good way.

Who will win: I think this one is a straight toss up - none of them would surprise me (except maybe Sedgwick, and even then not really). I'll stick with my earlier assertion and say that Moss is going to sneak out a win, since Mad Men has some momentum and there's no one around to split the votes.

Comedy Series:
How I Met Your Mother
Flight Of The Conchords
30 Rock
The Office
Family Guy

Who should win: It's too bad that 30 Rock is so terribly great right now. Because if you dropped them from the list, I would almost have to tear my hair out to pick a single winner. But yeah, it's too easy.

Who I'd like to win: How I Met Your Mother is getting a make-up nomination - in their second season I would have easily given it to them, but now, not so much. Weeds, as previously described has gotten crazy good. The Office was uneven but is on a roll lately. But Flight of the Conchords owns a little piece of my heart, and how awesome would it be if they won? So awesome.

Who will win: 30 Rock. Unstoppable, I think.

Drama Series:
Big Love
Mad Men
Breaking Bad

Who should win: Hell if I know. This is me throwing up my hands.

Who I'd like to win: Lost! Crazy-ass, confusing-as-hell, I-want-to-blow-up-an-island-so-I-can-make-it-with-the-criminal-chick, Lost. So much fun. Also, Damages would be acceptable, even if it wasn't as good as the first season.

Who will win: Mad Men, right? That's the new hotness, yes? Maybe I should go out on a limb, but I don't think so.

Reality Series:
Top Chef
Project Runway
The Amazing Race
Dancing With The Stars
American Idol

Who should win: Oh, shit, now we get down to it. Project Runway probably had the best season overall, I think. But Amazing Race had some downright amazing episodes, if not the best finale. American Idol was interesting, but it's a trifle compared with the rest. Yeah, I think I have to go with Project Runway.

Who I'd like to win: Project Runway is probably my favorite of the bunch as well. Although I wouldn't mind continuing domination by The Amazing Race. Shit is solid. Also had the cheese rolling down the hill challenge. Man, I'm torn.

Who will win: I would usually say that you don't mess with streaks, but I'm thinking this is the end of the line, what with all the press that Project Runway got switching networks. Project Runway with the upset.

Supporting Actor (Comedy):
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Jon Cryer, Two And A Half Men
Rainn Wilson, The Office
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock
Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock

Who should win/Who I'd like to win/Who will win: For the love of all things good, holy, and homosexual, please let NPH finally win this award like he should have the last three years running.

Not that I don't love me some Tracy Morgan, but seriously. Just do it.

Supporting Actor (Drama):
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Michael Emerson, Lost
William Hurt, Damages
Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
John Slattery, Mad Men

Who should win: Again, I still don't watch a lot of drama, but of the ones I watch, William Hurt was actually a pretty weak link in Damages, and Michael Emerson was the best part of Lost. So I'll go with him, attaching a huge old caveat to the determination.

Who I'd like to win: Emerson, or Shatner, because really, I can't hate the Shat, even if he's been a dick lately. Remember when he made that awesome album with Ben Folds? God, I love that album.

Who will win: Because it's usually the one I least expect in this category, I'm going with Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad, because I've never heard of him before.

Supporting Actress (Comedy):
Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live

Who should win: Talk about a stacked category - I literally love every single performance nominated here. Chenoweth is probably the best, but was the least seen. Krakowski did the most with the least. Williams is the least appreciated for what she does. Perkins might actually be the best thing in a show full of a lot of great things. It's so hard to decide. I guess Chenoweth is who I'm going with here, based just on merit.

Who I'd like to win: I'm crazy biased again, but Jenna is my favorite character on 30 Rock, and I love Jane Krakowski in a very deep and personal way. "I would have gone, but the boat I was educated on sank." There is no way I'm not rooting for her.

Who will win: Your guess is as good as mine. I'd like to invoke the 30 Rock train again, but I'm not feeling it in the supporting categories. I'm going out on a limb and give it to Vanessa Williams in a crazy, vote-splitting upset.

Supporting Actress (Drama):
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Rose Byrne, Damages
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy
Dianne Wiest, In Treatment
Hope Davis, In Treatment
Cherry Jones, 24

Who should win: First of all, 24 is still on the air? What? Also, what on earth is In Treatment? This category is eating my soul. I'm just going to say Sandra Oh, because odds are that if she's involved in it, she deserves the award for being the best at it.

Who I'd like to win: I have a spot right here in my heart for Rose Byrne, and while she is regularly steam rolled by the juggernaut that is Glenn Close, she almost holds her own on occasion. I'd love to see her pick this up.

Who will win: I don't know why, but I'm really feeling Dianne Wiest here. She's ostensibly the most famous one on the list, right? And I did love her for those 5 minutes she was on Law & Order.

Other Random Notes:
  • What the hell is up with those writing categories? 4 nominees in both comedy and drama from the same show? That's a mess. (And in 30 Rock's case, two of the four are pretty bad episodes)
  • How excited am I that Wizards of Waverly Place won Best Kids Program? Very excited. I love that show unashamedly.
  • I really hope Phil Keoghan wins Best Reality Show Host. He's my favorite, even though he does those ridiculous fake-out team placement announcements all the time. His eyebrows are the best thing on CBS.
Aaaand lord that was a long list. Tune in next week when I go over the new Fall schedule and try to write something that isn't utterly, utterly boring.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Somewhere the Truck of Malfunction is Laughing Bitterly

Okay, so my trials with the Truck of Malfunction (TOM) are extensively documented. And while I loved the little guy like a bastard son, I wasn't exactly torn to bits by replacing him with the new hotness that was my Jaguar a couple of years back. Even though I knew that Jaguars were notorious for having excessive mechanical issues, I thought that maybe the 10 years of good-will karma I built up from owning a vehicle that averaged a new broken thing once every 2 weeks for an entire decade would offset brand superstitions.

On the whole, I think I've been pretty fortunate on that front, thus far. I know there was that terrible battery replacement issue and the resulting demonic possession incident. And there was that thing about a year ago when I had to replace the entire water pump system when it started spewing anti-freeze like that kid in The Exorcist. And then there were the two times this year that the car was hit while parked somewhere... Okay, so maybe not fortunate. But compared to the TOM, I was in a good place, mentally.

Then, about 2 months ago, the cruise control in my car stopped working. Every time I hit the start button, the cruise control would light up for 0.5 seconds, and then immediately cancel out. This was an intense blow to my car love, as the cruise control was probably the one thing that most improved my driving lifestyle from the TOM, excepting air conditioning in the summer. But at the same time, I was pretty poor and it's something of an extravagance. So it wasn't like I could justify going to the (crazy expensive) Jag mechanic just to have the luxury of not holding the gas pedal down all the time.

So I adapted, and only complained bitterly for 2 weeks about the strain that was having to constantly utilize my foot to drive.

Fast-forward to last week, when our dear friend from the north, Jim, was down visiting. At one point we decided to go somewhere but took two cars, as some of us were splitting off in different directions afterward. I, being the one who lived in Dallas full-time and ostensibly knew where we were going, did the leading. Upon arrival, the people from the following car asked "Did you know that your brake lights are on? Like, ALL the time?"

And suddenly the broken cruise control made a lot more sense. Since that's how you turn off the CC, by hitting the brakes. If the brakes always think they're on, the cruise control is never going to engage. That was a nice revelation for about 30 seconds, until I realized that I'd been driving for over 2 months with my brake lights on at all times, without ever noticing.

Combining the facts that I am now unemployed (and thus definitely don't have the money on hand to be fixing cars) and that I had gone this long without any serious problems, I decided that fixing the problem was going to be a relatively low priority on my list of Things That Gots To Be Done. Only now every time I got in the car it was all I could think about. I started realizing the huge margin of error that cars around me were always giving me. And every time I approached a red light, I immediately braced for rear impact. Within 5 days, I was reaching for the antacids at the same time that I went for my keys.

I decided that this would not stand, and I vowed to fix the problem myself, or at least I would poke around and see if I could identify where the problem originated. Per my dad, the problem was in the brake pedal sensor, which should be somewhere near the pedal itself, and would probably be in plain view. I was all about that, and right after hanging up the phone I was jazzed to get home and start doing mechanical type things.

I was so excited, in fact, that at the next stoplight, I tried feeling around below the steering wheel to see if I could trace the path of the brake pedal to its natural end. Within 5 seconds of exploring, I found a wire hanging loose down there, which led to a small plastic box just dangling out in space. Carefully feeling all over it, I determined that I had no idea what it was, but it did have a little plunger button on the side.

"Maybe it's a bomb," I thought.

Then I pushed the button.

"Wait, why did I push the button if I thought it was a bomb?" I immediately questioned myself. But it was far too late for recriminations.

The result was not a fiery explosion, only a vague *thump* from somewhere within the bowels of the car. But nothing visible happened. I decided that my not getting exploded was tempting fate enough, and waited until I got home to do any more experimentation.

At home, I wedged myself into the space below the steering wheel and started applying my (naturally giant) brain to the problem at hand - namely, what the hell was that thing and where should it go? Also, did it have anything to do with the brake problem?

The second part was easier to determine - it totally did, as pushing down that little button made the brake lights go off. I had made real progress, and the feeling of mechanical accomplishment was a heady thing indeed.

Next, where did it go? Following the brake line, I found a little hole on the mounting that was very similar in shape to the button casing. I was practically giddy at that point, but still managed to insert the little box without anything catching on fire or getting any part of my body electrocuted. I even figured out how to turn it to lock it in place.

At that point I was ready to anoint myself God of Mechanical Repairs. But then when I tested out the brakes, they always still stayed on. Unless I physically lifted the pedal myself from its normal resting place to engage the little button. No manner of changes I made could get it working. I was devastated enough that I wanted to cry.

But I was God of Mechanical Repairs, dammit! I would overcome.

So I went into the house for supplies. I returned shortly, holding two things: a nickle, and a roll of Scotch tape. By attaching a nickle to the brake pedal arm right where the button was supposed to touch, the circuit was made without having to even use a screwdriver.

All following tests were complete successes.

So maybe I'm just the Low-Rent God of Mechanical Repairs using Non-Traditional Household Items.

I can live with that, as long as I have my cruise control back.

God bless the nickel. Best use of five cents ever.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Reboot of Sorts

So I lost my job.

It's sort of funny (in a completely unfunny way) how utterly floored I was by the announcement. Because really I'd been expecting it on and off for at least the last 12 months. One would have to live under a rock to not at least consider it, and the rock would have to not get CNN or Fox News either, which just isn't going to happen. Everyone knows that the mortgage market is a mess. Up and down, back and forth, a million times a month. The first half of the year was great, like a boomtown really. I felt like I should be out on a river panning for gold, the number of files I was working and the job offers I was getting. But the changes kept coming, the rates kept swaying wildly, and the property values kept dropping. Plus, every month I would do the accounting for the office and see the huge drain on the profit margin that was my salary. I could see the river running low, nothing but rocks and pyrite, and the tumbleweeds blowing through the empty streets.

What my terrible metaphor is trying to say is that it shouldn't have been a shock.

But the hammer never fell, and I started taking a hard look at all the responsibilities I'd been steadily assuming in the office and I began to sincerely believe that things weren't as dire as I was thinking. Maybe this was the trade-off my boss was willing to make - a smaller profit for the reduced workload. By the time we hit July, I was straight up confident that I was actually secure in my job. I mean, at that point with the amount of work that I did there was no way I was dispensable (short of closing the office up entirely).

Now I read that last little parenthetical and absolutely cringe. How exactly did I get that myopic? There's missing the forest for the trees, and then there's taking a nap in your house while it's on fire because you're confident that you're the only one who knows where the fire extinguisher is.

Plus, my boss would have said something, right? RIGHT?


A few fun facts on the closing of my office (I'm not bitter):
  • Effective time/date of closing: The end of business on Monday
  • The time/date I was notified of this fact: Monday at 4:53pm
  • The resulting effective amount of notice I was given: 37 minutes
  • Amount of severance I was going to get: $0 (zero dollars
  • Amount of time I had worked there: 5 years, 2 months
  • Total number of vacation days I had taken in all 5 years and 2 months: 7
  • Number of jobs I had passed up in just the last 8 months: 6

    (Definitely not bitter. But just for fun, let's keep going)

  • Most heartening thing I was told by my boss during the announcement: "I'm sure you'll be eligible for Unemployment. I mean, I used to hate the idea of the government giving people money for not doing anything, but I think you need to do what you need to do."
  • Number of phone calls I received the following day from my boss with questions on how to work things in the office: 11
  • Number of those phone calls where the answer to the question was "Did you turn the computer on?": 1
  • The thing that pushed me closer to a psychotic break than I ever thought possible: "Oh, no. How do you turn on the computer?"

The job search has begun in earnest. Luckily, even though it hit me like a sucker punch, I still had a good chunk of the money I'd be obsessively hoarding over the year in case something like this happened, so it's not like I'm out on the street. And guess what? Totally qualify for unemployment. Which does not mean I get government cheese like I though it did, and to which I was totally looking forward to. But I might get some money at some point. Woo, government.


The point of this whole story: I've got some time on my hands, since I can only manage a maximum of 5 hours of job hunting and resume sending per day before my brain tries to forcibly escape my skull. So I'm going to try to re-open the blog.

We'll see.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Harry Potter And The Teenage Angst Monster

(Long and SPOILER filled, for both the 6th movie and the 7th book so watch the heck out)

It's a tricky thing, adapting a book into a movie. Particularly one that's been read, analyzed, dissected, fought over, and devoured millions of times over. You keep it too tightly to the book and it would no doubt be long and dry. Go too far off base and you hear the unending outcry of an angry horde of rabid fans from across the globe. It's basically a no-win situation, if you discount the huge piles of money that you're being paid.

I think that overall, though, I'm in the camp that likes it when things are switched up. My favorite of the Harry Potter movies is Alfonso CuarĂ³n's take on Prisoner of Azkaban, and I think it's mostly because the movie doesn't try to copy over the book word for word (like it seemed the first two tried to) and it didn't just try to get all the set pieces of the story in (like the 4th seemed to). There was a story that was told, and even though the denouement exposition scene was probably too much, it felt like a standalone decent film.

David Yates is obviously taking a long-term approach with parts 5 through 7A & 7B that doesn't really fit any classification. He's taking a sort of half-and-half approach to adaptation that you can only try when you know you're going to have the continuity of the films in place. Because just like 5, 6 really doesn't stand on it's own as a great film. Don't get me wrong, it's almost endlessly entertaining. For a movie that runs over two and half hours, keeping my attention that high and engrossed throughout is a great triumph. But he's obviously taking the long view on the series as a whole, and is okay with making the 6th installment fun, but ultimately incomplete. And if the currently leaked plans for the first movie of the seventh book are accurate, this will continue to the end.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing (cohesion rarely is), but it's not what I would have done. We'll get into that later, but let's for now have a small discussion on how much I enjoyed this one.

My primary joy in this movie was the strength of acting, which is the highest it's been in an HP movie thus far. Particularly Emma Watson and Tom Felton, who brought up the level of their games significantly from Part 5. I could spend a few hours gushing over Watson, but mostly because I was terrified that after that Order of the Phoenix disaster, that she would drag this movie straight down, as Hermione has such an arc to get through in Half Blood Prince. But she pulls it off with room to spare. Felton adds some umph to Draco's story, and the decision to reveal a lot more about the vanishing cabinet directly was a very smart decision.

Plus, Michael Gambon as Dumbledore finally puts it all together for this movie, and just in time as he could have easily been the make or break piece of the puzzle. (This was sidestepped by the directing decisions, but we'll get to that). I wasn't on board with his acting style for part 4 at all, but by 5 I could come around to it, and in 6 he has real pathos - he obviously cares for Harry, and is doing a delicate balancing act that is nicely highlighted in some of the more subtle bits of his acting.

I also greatly enjoyed the little liberties that were taken with the book - I loved getting rid of the tedium of the Dursleys and instead getting the off-beat diner scene instead. That's the exact kind of thing I'm looking for in a movie adaptation - reverence to the spirit of the book, but not slavish devotion to the recreation of the text. I was less pleased with the added attack on the Weasleys' house, but that's more the plot nerd coming out in me than an actual complaint. The scene itself is incredibly well-done, it just raises so many canon questions that my brain starts flailing internally.

And just like for the last movie, lets stop and take a paragraph to revel in the glory that is Luna Lovegood. It's such a perfect bit of casting, and she's played so delightfully, I want an entire movie just about her and Harry having little adventures together. I loved the way she was integrated into the movie even better than in the book - her finding Harry on the train was economical and well thought-out, and she gets some great lines floating in and out of her various scenes. I can't say enough good things.

My last bit of gushing comes for the Horcrux reveal scene - which seems crazy, as it's something that I kind of hated in the book. Textually, when Harry gets the Slughorn memory, all it does is confirm Dumbledore's expectation of what is going on (basically the sum reveal is that he's expecting 7 horcruxes). This is similar to the movie, but Gambon is able to ham it up a little, and give it some gravitas. And then the bit that I didn't expect - the really nice foreshadowing for Book 7 - Dumbledore's explanation of how the dark magic leaves its traces, only to have Harry himself get hit with a bolt Voldemort when he touches the ring. Because he's got the dark traces inside himself, right? Since he's a horcrux too. And while they're a little overdone, I love the ambiguity of Dumbledore's lines that follow, about how he can't destroy the horcrux himself, and again he's going to have to ask too much of Harry. Because he doesn't really say which horcrux he's talking about, does he? Whatever, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but let me have my delusions, I think it's amazingly well done.


But back to the idea of adaptation. I understand what the director is doing here - he's going for the larger picture. The fifth movie sets the adult portion of the Harry Potter arc in motion - introduces the main characters and themes, but doesn't resolve much of anything. The sixth movie carries that through, raising the stakes by staying so close to the character-study side of things, rather than getting bogged into the deepening past plot. The opposite sides weighing in - the normal teenage life beset on all sides by the darkness - it makes sense when you're building to the overall conflict that will be Harry, Ron, and Hermione cutting ties to complete their mission in the next movie, and then the eventual grand conclusion where everything comes back together in the final one.

So taking this into account, I can see why the cuts were made where they were, and why the additions were necessary. It's a four movie payoff, nothing too immediate. See: Mrs. Weasley's long tear-stained reaction shot to Bellatrix burning down The Burrow. Can't even imagine what that might be leading up to a few movies down the road, no?

Or the cutting of all the other Voldemort memories: While it's all great backstory, it ultimately has little to do with the matters at hand in the story they're telling. How they'll nail down the horcruxes in the next parts is irrelevant to the set up the Half-Blood Prince is setting up. And for that matter, keeping the fight for Hogwarts at the end of HBP would introduce and remove the threat too quickly and too hollowly for the theme to continue (unless they re-added Bill and Fleur, which would be just too much.)

The only part I don't necessarily understand is the removal of the funeral, and the astronomy tower discussion put in its place. The new scene fits the theme well, but then so would the funeral. And had they carried the funeral to the expected conclusion, having Harry do his little homage to Spider-Man and dumping Ginny at the end would complete the natural arc of story nicely, and provides the ramp into the next movie. Instead we get a sort of soft fade out on the reflections of how the kids have grown up.

These are all things I can rail against, but don't see the need. It's a great entry into the series, and as a whole I think they'll acquit themselves nicely, particularly when viewed in the series as a whole.