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"Before you know it as the years go by, you're just like other people you have seen, with all those peculiar human ailments. Just another vehicle for temper and vanity and rashness and all the rest. Who wants it? Who needs it? These things occupy the place where a man's soul should be." -- Henderson the Rain King

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wordplay

Yesterday we saw Wordplay, our third SIFF movie of the year.

Wordplay is a documentary about crossword puzzles and the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT. It's a fun movie that follows hard core competitors along with great cameos by more casual puzzlers such as the always hilarious Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton (remember when we had an intelligent President...yeah that was great), Mike Mussina, Ken Burns, The Indigo Girls, and Bob Dole.

Wordplay is very entertaining and was definitely a big crowd pleaser. Based on the audience reaction at the end of the film I wouldn't be surprised if it takes home one of this year's coveted Golden Space Needle awards.

My only complaint about the film is that it follows the same "1) explain esoteric intellecutal pursuit 2) introduce eccentric contestants 3) follow contestants through annual competition to surprising crescendo" formula that Spellbound pioneered a few years ago (and which has since been repeated ad-infinitum in such movies as WordWars, Pucker Up, Mad Hot Ballroom, etc.). It's clearly a good formula, but not exactly one that's breaking any new ground at this point.

Monday, May 29, 2006

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Film #2 of our 2006 SIFF experience was Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about the MPAA ratings board.

TFINYR follows Dick as he examines why Jack Valenti has kept the MPAA's ratings board cloaked in secrecy. Convinced that the board needs more transperancy in order to be accountable to the public and to the film-makers who submit their movies, Dick hires a private investigator and then spends most of the movie trying to identify and out the current board members.

The film alludes to some really interesting thoughts on censorship and how the MPAA influences what movies get distibution (South Park's Matt Stone is particularly interesting), but all of the focus on stalking the current members detracts from learning more about the underlying issues at hand. For instance, the film focuses almost entirely on the distinctions between R and NC-17 movies. It would've been interesting to see some coverage of the difference between G and PG-13 since the ratings are in theory targeted at parents anyways, but Dick doesn't seem interested in exploring this area at all.

In a lot of ways, it seemed like Dick just had an ax to grind with the MPAA. We never get to hear any intelligent argument from the MPAA's point of view, only choice archived clips that support Dick's position. There's even a scene with Creative Common's guru Lawrence Lessig talking about the MPAA's crack-down on piracy, which while interesting (it could be a whole movie unto itself) seems to only be in the film to support the position that the MPAA is some kind of evil empire (which they probably are but still in a documentary I'd like to at least see both sides).

For all my complaints, the film still has some merit. I was unaware of the MPAA's current system and the film definitely raises some compelling arguments that the current system is flawed. For instance, I was shocked to find that the appeals board contains members of the clergy who are present when films are discussed. Similarly shocking was the fact that the appeals board is made up almost entirely of industry big wigs who represent the large studios in what surely has to be some kind of conflict of interest.

All in all not a great film, but still an interesting way to spend an evening.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ski Jumping Pairs

Ah SIFF, how I've missed thee.

Today we saw Ski Jumping Pairs: Road to Torino 2006, a Japanese mockumentary about a new sport in which two contestants team up to jump together on one pair of skis (as if ski jumping wasn't already crazy enough). The core of the film centers around some amazing computer animation clips created by director Riichiro Mashima (who was on hand for a fun Q&A after the film). The clips of ski-jumpers trying out various new 'styles' have been sold on a popular series of 3 DVDs in Japan (it's even spawned a PlayStation video game). Here the clips are interlaced with a spot-on documentary style narrative that details the history of the sport starting with it's controversial beginnings as a mad professor's Rendevous theory.

The film is really silly but in a good way if you're a fan of absurdist humor. The animated ski jump scenes are hilarious and there are enough funny parts in the live footage to tie things together. My only complaint would be that the film probably could've been 10 minutes or so shorter, but overall I thought it was well done and really enjoyable to watch. Now if I can just figure out if those DVDs will play on a US DVD player...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

March of the Pengiuns

Just saw March of the Penguins on the DVD. Some of my random observations:

  • The only thing cuter than a penguin is a baby penguin
  • Penguins apparently die all the time
  • No matter how you slice it regurgiation is gross.
  • Favorite line (said in regards to a starving penguin that isn't going to make it) '...some will close their eyes and disappear." Really? Is it some kind of magic penguin? I mean I know it's a family film but c'mon.
  • The dialogue is fairly annoying. I don't think Morgan Freeman could be any (pause for effect) more dramatic
  • I was waiting for a polar bear to drop by the whole time cause you know polar bears rule and stuff...then at the very end I remembered that penguins live at the south pole and polar bears live at the north pole. Phooey. Still that would've been pretty cool. Guess they just didn't have the budget to pull it off.
  • No surprise that the religious right latched on to the film as an example of traditional family values, conveniently overlooking the fact that penguins are monagamous for a year, and then choose a new mate each mating season....you know kinda like Bill Clinton (zip-zing!)?
  • This is a movie made for a 21-story IMAX, not for my 21-inch Sylvania
  • As a movie I didn't think M.O.P. was as compelling as I'd been lead to believe. Sure it'd be a great show to watch on the Discovery Channel, but it's not exactly a great documentary. At least it's only 80 minutes long though, that was pretty sweet.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thank You For Smoking/The 40-Year Old Virgin

Yesterday I saw Thank You For Smoking and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, both of which have been billed as comedies that transcend the typical "main-stream Hollywood" mold.

Having heard much praise for both movies (some have even gone so far as to argue that The 40-Year-Old Virgin should have received an Oscar nod) I went in to each with high hopes. Turns out those hopes were justified in one case and not in the other.

Let's start with the bad news. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was amusing at times but on the whole I found it to be much weaker than what it's been made out to be. Some of the jokes are funny, but most of the humor is the same sophomoric stuff you'd expect to see in an American Pie-type film (for instance the whole 'You know how I know you're gay' scene). To top it off it clocks in at over two hours with a basic formulaic plot that does nothing to pass the time. Perhaps I just don't get the genius of Steve Carrell (Produce Pete is still the lamest thing the Daily Show's ever done and I still think the BBC version of The Office is funnier), but I give this one a big fat meh.

Thank You For Smoking on the other hand I found to be quite enjoyable. Aaron Eckhart is hilarious in the role of Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. The film is an excellent absurdist satire that is hilarious in parts and dryly comic throughout. It borders on getting overly moralistic at the end, but manages to steer through those potentially dangerous waters to escape unscathed. Although it's by no means a classic, Thank You For Smoking is one of the funnier movies I've seen in awhile and definitely one I'd recommend seeing.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

SIFF 2006

The Seattle International Film Festival kicks into full gear this week. It should be another great festival this year. Here are the six films we've picked up tickets for so far (and their blurbs from the SIFF site):

loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies - Documenting their triumphant return to the stage after more than ten years apart, loudQUIETloud proves that influential Boston band The Pixies are still amazing performers, but remain unable to communicate with each other offstage. An exhilarating concert film and a fascinating portrait of the inner workings of a great but troubled band.

Ski Jumping Pairs - Road to Torino 2006 - Aimed square at the tradition of films about triumph in the face of adversity, this entertaining mockumentary follows the life-long quest of the Japanese Professor Harada to get his invention-the unlikely sport of pairs ski-jumping, as pioneered by his twin sons-accepted as an official Olympic sport.

This Film is Not Yet Rated - Oscar-nominated director Kirby Dick (TWIST OF FAITH) investigates the mysterious ratings board of the Motion Picture Association of America, asking why they feel the need to operate in secret, why big studios receive preferential treatment, why violence is judged less harshly than sex, and what exactly triggers an NC-17 rating

Who Killed the Electric Car? - Launched in 1997, the EV-1 was one of the most efficient cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no emissions and required little maintenance. Six years later the line was scrapped. What happened? This film chronicles the short life and mysterious death of the first perfect vehicle of the modern age.

Wordplay - THE NEW YORK TIMES' crossword puzzle has become an American institution and a ritual for millions. WORDPLAY celebrates the phenomenon, going behind the scenes with crossword editor Will Shortz and his collaborators, talking with celebrity solvers (including Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart) and taking us to Shortz's annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

A Prairie Home Companion - Facing what could be the final curtain, a small town radio variety show decides to go out in its own uniquely loopy style. Director Robert Altman and writer Garrison Keillor, America's two preeminent shaggy-dog storytellers, combine forces for this sparkling, all-star musical comedy.

A Whole Lotta Corn

Today was International Gator Day, so I met up with my fellow Seattle Gator Club members to volunteer some time at the Northwest Harvest warehouse. Together we packaged over 7,700 pounds of frozen corn! I'm here to tell ya that's a whole lotta corn. Anyways, if you ever have some free time and want to volunteer somewhere, I'd highly recommend it. The whole thing was very well ran and all of your efforts go to a great cause...and now I can rest in comfort knowing that if my current job doesn't pan out I can always fall back on my mad corn scooping skillz.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Varekai

Tonight we saw Cirque du Soleil's Varekai at Marymoor Park. As with all Cirque shows I've seen it was very good. I've said before that Cirque is about as good a live show as you'll ever see and I'd stick by that. The costumes are fantastic, the performers are amazing and the music is even half-way decent. I don't have a clue as to what the story actually is about (Icarus or something?), but it doesn't really matter cause it's just fun to sit back and watch.

Highlights: The Russian Swings, the contortionist, and the clowns
Lowlights: Child labor, parking, and spending an evening on the (l)eastside.

You can read the Seattle Times review of the show here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Black Hole

"Black hole sun won't you come and wash away the rain..."

Book #24 on my list was Charles Burns' comic novel Black Hole.

Black Hole reads like a classic teen horror flick. Set in 1970's Seattle it follows several high school age kids, many of whom are deformed by a rampant STD that causes mutations...and then the murders start. I haven't read many comic novels, but I think Burns uses the medium well as his startling drawings really tell the dream-like story in a way that could never be done with words alone. It's creepy and mesmerizing and tough to put down. The book has already been reviewed eight ways to Sunday all over the internets, so I'll spare you any more of my ramblings. For more details I'd recommend checking out any of the following:

Salon Review
Baltimore City Paper article
Washington Post Review
Fantagraphics Charles Burns site
The Believer (Burns does most of the drawings)

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Technorati Enabled

I finally got around to adding a Technorati link to the right hand side of my page. You can use the Technorati search box to search my past posts or click on the 'Blogs that link here' link to see the depressingly low number of outside links to my blog. I know it's pretty exciting stuff, please try to control yourself.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Back From Portland

We just got back from a wonderful weekend trip to Portland.

I extolled the virtues of Plainfield's Mayur last time we went, and after going back again this time I'm now fully convinced that it is indeed seriously amazing. Good, good stuff.

In addition to the good eats at Plainfield's, the excellent coffee at Stumptown, and a few quality hours in Powell's, we also really enjoyed the stay at the Hotel Vintage which had about as nice a staff as any place I've ever stayed.

All in all another great trip, proving yet again that Portland has a well deserved place on my 'cities I'd consider living in' list. I've uploaded a few photos from the trip to Flickr.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Me, You, and Everyone We Know

Last night I finally got around to watching Miranda July's Me, You, and Everyone We Know. It's a quintessentially indie film, quirky, riveting, and delightfully different. I definitely recommend it if your a fan of offbeat films (Ghost World, I Heart Huckabees, American Beauty, etc.). Only caveat is that it's not for the squimish, so you may want to read a few reviews first so you know what you're getting into.

Miranda July's Official Site
Interview with The Believer

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

McSweeneys #5

Book #23 of my '06 list was McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #5.

I was pleased to find this one used for a mere $30 in the Harvard Bookstore while we were visiting Boston a couple of weeks ago. I'm actually not sure if $30 is a good deal or not, but considering I've never seen a used issue below #10, I was pretty excited to find it. I'm thinking about collecting them all as I now have #9-#19 in addition to this one. I guess its pretty esoteric to collect them given that The Better of McSweeney's, Vol. 1 - Issues 1-10 was released recently, but if there's one thing I need it's something else to collect.

My favorite stories were Rodney Rothman's "My Glorious Publishing Empire", Paul Collins' superb "The Strange and Epic and Tragic Trajectory of Solresol, The Universal Musical Language and of its Creator, Monsieur Sudre" (I guess Jill is right to be so effusive about his writing), Chad Willenborg's "Soot", Sarah Vowell's interview with Ted Koppel and Dave Eggers' letters to CEOs in the voice of Steven the dog. Overall I'd say the quality of the content was a bit lower than what you find in more recent editions, but there are a few superb pieces which still make it worth reading.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Klosterman on the Draft

Here's a fun ESPN Page 2 article by Chuck Klosterman on the fallacy of the Texans' decision to draft Mario Williams ahead of super phenom Reggie Bush. I totally agree with him. 10 years from now Mario Williams is the new Sam Bowie.
"REGGIE BUSH IS IMPOSSIBLE TO TACKLE. HE IS WAY, WAY BETTER THAN ALL OF THE OTHER DUDES WHO ARE ELIGIBLE TO BE DRAFTED. WHEN REGGIE BUSH IS RUNNING WITH THE FOOTBALL, THOSE ATTEMPTING TO KNOCK HIM TO THE GROUND CANNOT SEEM TO DO SO. THIS QUALITY IS ADVANTAGEOUS WITHIN THE GAME OF FOOTBALL, AS THAT IS PRETTY MUCH THE TOTALITY OF THE SPORT. " -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, May 08, 2006

Cathedral

Raymond Carver's Cathedral was book #22 on my list this year.

So, um yeah you may have noticed that I've been reading a lot of short stories lately. Tis true. What can I say, they make the perfect literary snack for the internet generation. One thing that's become abundently clear as I've delved deeper and deeper into the genre is that Raymond Carver was truly an amazing talent. He's the Michael Jordan of contemperary authors, effortlessly achieving what others can only aspire to. Cathedral is but another highlight in his storied career.

In Cathedral Carver gives us a dozen dazzling stories that make up one masterpiece of a collection. My favorites were "Feathers", "The Compartment", "A Small Good Thing", "Fever", "The Bridle" and "Cathedral". Highly recommended.

"This old station wagon with Minnesota plates pulls into a parking space in front of the window. There's a man and woman in the front seat, two boys in the back. It's July, temperature's one hundred plus. These people look whipped. There are clothes hanging inside; suitcases, boxes, and such piled in back. From what Harley and I put together later, that's all they had left after the bank in Minnesota took their house, their pickup, their tractor, the farm implements, and a few cows." -- opening paragraph of "The Bridle"

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From Bauhaus To Our House

Book #21 on list this year was Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus To Our House.

The book is a relatively short, fairly technical history of Bauhaus architecture. I don't have a lot to say about it, so in place of the typical review here's a review haiku instead:

Wolfe deems Bauhaus drab;
then explains why our designs
still suffer today

Excerpts and reviews are available on Wolfe's official site.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

2006 Windermere Cup

We went down to the 2006 Windermere Cup and Boat Parade at the Montlake Cut here in Seattle today. The parade kicks off the official start of boating season and is always one of the first signs that Summer is on its way.

We had a blast watching all of the boats go by and got some good photos with our fancy schmancy new digital camera. I uploaded a few of the better ones to Flickr which you can view here.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

2006 Reading List - Books #1-20

The first twenty books from my 2006 reading list:
  1. The Dirt - Motley Crue
  2. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders
  3. A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Chance - Amir Aczel
  5. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #18 - Various
  6. Science Friction - Michael Shermer
  7. Oh the Glory of it All - Sean Wilsey
  8. Yes Man - Danny Wallace
  9. Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut
  10. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 - Various
  11. All The President's Pets - Mo Rocca
  12. Survivor - Chuck Palahniuk
  13. Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis
  14. Vox - Nicholson Baker
  15. Summer of '49 - David Halberstam
  16. Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut
  17. Don't Get Too Comfortable - David Rakoff
  18. Fantasyland - Sam Walker
  19. Airships - Barry Hannah
  20. Typical - Padgett Powell

Previously: My 2005 reading list

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Typical

Book #20 on my reading list this year was Padgett Powell's Typical.

I've been on a role lately, as Typical is yet another in a series of excellent short story collections I've been reading. Powell's work is terrific here, often on par with the Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, and Barry Hannah types of the world. My favorites were the outstanding titular piece, the George Saunders-esque "Mr. Irony", "Wayne's Fate", and the excellent closing piece "The Winnowing of Mrs. Schuping".

"Now is a scary item if ever there was one. I have, I suspect, never not miffed the now. Now is too fast for me. Now leads to drinking. Drinking undoes now handsomely. Dismantles the whole onslaught. And in that refuge, respite of straight time, you can be afraid to come back, very very afraid. Very. Very." -- from "Fear and Infinitude"

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Big Pimpin'

Jay To Tha Z and Bill To Tha G. Now that's a combo you won't see too often.

Airships

"Duality of the Southern Thang"

Numero Nineteen on the ole 2006 reading list was Barry Hannah's modern classic Airships.

Airships is a solid collection of twenty short stories that show off Hannah's shockingly wide range as a writer. There are humorous stories, sad stories, stories about war, stories about love, you name it...all told from a distinctively Southern, distinctively Hannah voice. My favorite works from the book were the excellent collection of war stories plus "Our Secret Home", "Testimony of Pilot", "Eating Wife and Friends" and "Mother Rooney Unscrolls the Hurt".

"She had a certain smile that would have bought her the world had the avenue of regard been wide enough for her. They loved it at the Bargain Barn. But the town was one where beauty walked the walks as a matter of course, and her smile was soon forgotten by clerk and hurried lecher on the oily parking lot" -- opening lines from "Deaf and Dumb"

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fantasyland

Book #18 on my reading list was Wall Street Journal sport columnist Sam Walker's Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball's Lunatic Fringe.

Fantasyland follows Walker as he creates and manages his first fantasy baseball team. Never one to shy away from a challenge and thinking he can leverage his connections and access to big league clubhouses, Walker enters his team in Tout Wars, a premier fantasy baseball league composed of many of the nation's most respected fantasy experts.

The book is well written, funny, and an absolute joy to read. I'd rate it up there with Moneyball and Ball Four as one of my favorite baseball books of all time. For more info on the book I'd recommend checking out the official website or reading this excerpt.
”The most entertaining book ever written about pretend sports.” — Chuck Klosterman

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't Get Too Comfortable

I just flew in from Boston, boy are my eyes tired. Lots of flying time = mega-book marathon for Jamie. I managed to knock out 6 books on the trip, so I guess my blog-agenda is pretty set for the next week or so.

Let's kick off the reviews with book #17 of my aught-six reading list, David Rakoff's fine collection of aptly-titled: Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.

The book consists of 15 humorous essays spanning a diverse array of intriguing topics. Here's a quick summary:

  1. "Love It Or Leave It" - Hands down the gem of the book. This is a hilarious and moving tale of Rakoff's decision to become an American citizen and the ensuing naturalization process.
  2. "What Is The Sound of One Hand Shopping?" - An examination of our infatuation with delicacy in which the author contemplates "Just how fucking good can olive oil get?"
  3. "Sesion Privada" - In which our gay male author goes on set in San Pedro for the shooting of a Latin American Playboy TV show.
  4. "Wildman" - On scaveging edible plants with 'Wildman' Steve Brill in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
  5. "As It Is In Heaven" - Flying on Hooters Air (R.I.P)
  6. "J.D.V. M.I.A" - A night of Midnight Madness (similar to The Game or MIT's Mystery Hunt
  7. "Privates on Parade" - The indignity that is Puppetry of the Penis.
  8. "Beach Bummer" - A day in the life of a Miami Beach pool boy
  9. "Morning In America" - Standing outside the Today Show. Includes an excellent Upright Citizens Brigade reference!
  10. "Martha, My Dear" - On Martha Stewart and the perils of giving away one's art
  11. "I Can't Get It For You Wholesale" - Fashion week in Paris
  12. "Beat Me, Daddy" - The paradox that is the Log Cabin Republican
  13. "Whatsizface" - Contemplating plastic surgery
  14. "Faster" - In which our author fasts for 20 days
  15. "Off We're Gonna Shuffle" - Cryogenics and attending the Alcor's Extreme Life Extension Conference. This was probably my second favorite essay in the book.

Rakoff's writing is described in a blurb on the book jacket as 'snarky without sacrificing emotional generosity'. I think that's a darned fine way to sum it up (nicely done Boston Phoenix). If you're the kind of person that gets a good chuckle out of Go Fug Yourself but are also looking for a bit of substance to offset the humor Rakoff will be right up your alley.

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