Tuesday, February 27, 2007

We still don't know his first name.

Of course I'm talking about the mysterious (though a little less so now) Mr. Bennet from the show HEROES. If you have Monday nights at 9pm open, you may want to check out NBC's engaging and entertaining new drama.

I've posted about HEROES before and I've thought of it as a pleasant surprise with great potential. But, for me, last night's extraordinary episode has unveiled that potential. It was simply an all-around great episode in which a decent amount of backstory was uncovered, while nicely setting up new plotlines. I still think the cast may be a little bit more pretty than skilled, at times, but last night's episode was full of acting prowess, perhaps helped by such sharp writing. The comic book storyline has been smoothly building, sprinkled with great twists and surprise characters. Last night's episode did not disappoint, and, true to form, ended in a juicy cliffhanger that will keep us engaged for the coming episodes.

For those of you who haven't seen an episode this season, it is of course best to wait for the DVDs this summer and catch the whole season in sequence. For those of us following this solid drama, are you also pleasantly surprised at just how good this show is getting?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Short Break

I'll be taking a short break from blogging due to school and some other stuff. But I wanted to thank everyone (the blog buddies/neighbors) for visiting/commenting, and for allowing me to enjoy and share a small part of your lives by reading your wonderful blogs.

I would also like to end this post with four of my favorite films. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)

This is an absolutely touching and heartbreaking masterpiece. I've seen many of Spielberg's films and, in my opinion, this one is head and shoulders above the others (which are pretty good). I think some (if not much) of this had to do with the film being a collaboration with Stanley Kubrick.

Blade Runner (1982)

I guess I kinda like sci-fi. This amazing sci-fi action thriller is still visually engrossing after all these years. However it is much more than a superb action flick, dealing with eternal, in-depth themes like the confrontation and intersection of man and machine.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

A brilliantly absurd satire of the military-political construct. It is still hilarious, as well as sharp. Plus it is a Kubrick film.

Sansho the Bailiff (1954)

A work of pure art that is both beautiful and sad. This is a masterwork of the utmost quality by the Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi. Beware, it will break your heart.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Kiva, ACCION, and DonorsChoose

I talked about Kiva and ACCION back in November. They are both microfinance non-profits. They help the world's poorer folks with microloans they cannot find any place else and at reasonable rates. Check out the November post for more info.

ACCION is a major organization which accepts donations and takes care of the microfinance details on its own. Kiva, a smaller organization, has brought a novel approach to microfinance thanks to the internet. Kiva matches lenders and borrowers. You can visit the website and view several entries of borrowers explaining what they need the money for, what type of business they run, a little about their background, and other wonderful information. Lenders also have similar style entries, if they want (one can always remain anonymous). In any case, lenders (you, me, anyone with $25 bucks) can visit the website and decide which borrower they want to lend to. And technically this isn't charity because the money will be paid back, though with no interest. The lender can then lend the money to another borrower or cash out.

I am lucky to say that I have now learned about DonorsChoose. DonorsChoose is very similar to Kiva accept the it is a charity organization instead of dealing with microfinance. And DonorsChoose specifically helps public school teachers. The gist is the same, teachers post about their need for a digital camcorder or a rug and donors visit the website and decide which teacher/school they will donate too. This is not a loan, so it will not be paid back. For more info on this wonderful charity, check out this great Slate piece on it.

And finally, I'd like to drop a note on Charity Navigator. If you're ever wondering how well your favorite charity is organized, efficient, helpful, etc then check out the Charity Navigator website where they have in depth ratings and information on many, many charities.

And if you're wondering, both ACCION and DonorsChoose have the top rating. Kiva is not listed, perhaps it is too small or too new.

Friday, February 16, 2007

More Slate and THE OFFICE, 30 ROCK, SCRUBS

I just had to post about 2 more Slate articles.

It seems FOX NEWS has succumbed to the adage: "If you can't beat them, join them." This Sunday the network will debut THE 1/2 HOUR NEWS HOUR. A conservative version of a fake, satiric news cast. Clearly the success of THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT has irked them, or given them another idea to make money. In any case, I (as someone who considers himself a progressive but can be all over the place on a given issue) would actually watch it if it was funny. And that's the problem. Slate's TV critic, Troy Patterson, has a solid piece on the debut as well as a link to a 2min YouTube segment from the show. I've seen the 2min vid, and while Stewart, Colbert, and Weekend Update are funny, this was not. Maybe it's because I don't share the views of FOX NEWS, but I really think that's not the reason. And it is important to note that TDS and TCR poke fun at both sides and often venture outside of politics to skewer the media and other targets. I'm not sure T1/2HNH will do the same.

Slate has a wonderful, but infrequent, column titled "The Good Word" which deals with language. The most recent installment (posted today) has some very interesting thoughts and insight into how new interjections like awwa, meh, feh, and heh have come about thanks to the internet and how they're now being used in conversation. The piece is an excellent read.

Who saw THE OFFICE last night? I must say it was pretty hilarious, and particularly sharply put together. If you missed it, try and find it online or keep an eye out for the rerun. But I was a little disappointed in how the Pam/Roy saga continued. All it took was getting back together and an art show for the writers to turn Roy back into caveman boyfriend. We all know Pam and Jim will get together. What we don't know is how long the writers will try and drag it out.

30 ROCK is easily turning into one of my favorite shows. Each week it is witty and keenly written. I can't remember a recent episode which even slightly disappointed. If you are missing out on this stellar sitcom, you are missing out on something special.

I adored SCRUBS when it debuted. Then due to timeslot problems and other things I stopped watching the program a couple seasons back. But I've seen most of the episodes this season and the show has been really good. Plus I have Comedy Central to thank for viewing a couple reruns as well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Slate Rundown

As you most likely know, I enjoy reading Slate from time to time. Okay, perhaps that is an understatement. In any case, Slate has something engaging and interesting for almost everyone.

Everyone wants to lose fat (well, except those who are already toned). And we do this by burning more calories than we use. One way is to increase our calorie burn by exercising more. And while that works, the more direct way (and, optimally we need to do both) is to cut back on the calories we take in. It depends on the person, but the first step is to cut back to under 2000 calories, and then progress lower until you see the fat loss you desire. Of course, once you have the desired fat loss, you can return to higher calories and simply maintain weight. However, new data says that cutting down to 1500 calories greatly increases life. Not sure how many of us want to live to 120, but Emily Yoffe tried to stay on a 1500 calorie diet in her column and as always, she writes a very entertaining and informative piece.

Slate's lovely film critic, Dana Stevens, has a couple fun reviews on two recent flicks aimed at the ladies. First she asks why Diane "freakin'" Keaton cannot find better roles. Then she waxes lovey-dovey for the pleasant surprise that is the Drew-Hugh rom-com. And check out Slate's Road to the Oscars coverage, especially the Hollywoodland column which always has something interesting to write about.

The world lost a wonderful, funny, witty writer in the passing of Molly Ivins. I know her from reading and hearing some of her biting political thoughts. She was a Texas liberal, so she knew her way around a political scuffle or three. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, another writer I admire, has a moving obit for Ivins. Here's a great line from it: Ivins' bag of comedic tricks included the perfect metaphor: "Being Canadian" was "like living next door to the Simpsons"; being "attacked by Rush Limbaugh on the air" was like "being gummed by a newt. It doesn't actually hurt but it leaves you with slimy stuff on your ankle."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Future is Rama

That's right folks. The quirky, funny animated sitcom FUTURAMA will return next year for at least 13 episodes on Comedy Central.

I think FUTURAMA definitely had its highs and lows but overall was a stellar comedy with a fantastic visual style. Towards the end of the first run of the show I remember some extremely memorable episodes such as one in which Bender became a planet for a civilization, and another in which Fry saved the universe from the Brains and their supercomputer, with a little help from the Nibbler people. So it is good news that the animated series will return. Any other FUTURAMA fans out there?

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I really don't know what to make of LEGALLY BLONDE (2001). This comedic chick flick (is it okay to call it that ladies?) starring the aptly cast Reese Witherspoon came on cable the other day and, let's keep this between us, I watched it. One of the reasons I sat through it was because of this semi-rave from Lisa Alspector (a former film critic at the Chicago Reader). I've mentioned the Chicago Reader's film section a few times and that's because I'm a big fan of their main critic (Jonathan Rosenbaum). But I also like their other critics though Alspector was a bit quirky, or tough to decipher. I remember, at first, disliking her capsule reviews because while they were packed with great detail and info, it was a bit ambiguous whether or not she panned or recommended the film. But then I began to respect her capsule reviews and conclude that she most likely felt the reader could determine if the film was for them or not. And she was a bit more emphatic in her raves.

One of which is LEGALLY BLONDE (I think, lol). I must say I enjoyed the movie and found parts of it quite hilarious. On the other hand, the story and (mainly) the plot were at times down right, for lack of a better term, incredibly dumb. The defense case Witherspoon's character works on in the final act is not only strangely dumbed down, but also a bit glib. And I would say the same about the ultra happy ending. But I can see how this movie is a crowd pleaser and while I may not be as emphatic about it as Alspector, I'd recommend it to people who were already interested in it (yes, a truly robust recommendation). The movie's messages of Rocky-like persistance and triumph, and of not judging a book by its cover no matter how shiny, are great morals and fun to watch. That Witherspoon's Elle Woods chooses what is important to her over the paternalistic stereotype of holding on to a selfish Ken doll is also fun to watch. And while this is only pop feminism (or simply a semblance of it) it will definitely give you a good chuckle or three; it's not a bad way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Friday, February 02, 2007

I'm ready for the Super Bowl

So the big game is in two days and I'm ready to see a good game. I'm rooting for both teams though leaning towards the Colts because of Manning, Harrison, Dungy, Saturday, Sanders, Freeney and simply the remarkable transformation of the defense in the postseason. There's also my crude football brain which says the AFC should crush the NFC, and that the Bears don't have enough consistent offense to win. But it seems that everyone feels the Colts will win and by a touchdown or two (or three). This overlooking of the Bears may turn into Chicago's advantage. And I definitely think, as someone who is a bit suspicious of popular (mob) opinion, that this means the Bears will give the Colts somewhat of a fight with their tough defense. But in the end I don't see the Bears offense scoring enough points. So here's my prediction: Colts over Bears, 24 to 20.

Since it is Super Sunday, there's the yearly onslaught of Super Bowl commercials. I'm not sure if those of you in Canada (Mishy and Ffleur) witness the hype that surrounds these commercials but it is almost as instense as the hype for the game. And this is something I really do not understand. Well, I can understand it. We, the US, are an unabashedly, perhaps problematically commercial and material culture. Let's face it, we buy things ... and then we buy some more stuff. But this is also why many of us are in debt. Though I understand coporate power and our politicians have had a large hand in keeping wages down (or stagnant), increasing income/wealth inequality, and destroying labor rights ... all of which results in lower purchase power which leads to amassing debt. Now I also realize that many of these commercials are funny and entertaining. But for us, as a society, to build up such a frenzy over commercials, 60 second videos trying to sell unhealthy food or an inflated corporate image, is a bit absurd. I mean I have no other way to say it but "hey, people!?!? it's just commercials!??!?" Now, I understand non-football fans might say something similar about getting into a trance or frenzy over a football game. But I must mention that the football players this Sunday are not trying to sell you anything. They're playing a game of physical prowess, mental acumen, and clashing wills at the highest level. And even if no one was watching, most of these players would still be playing this game. And yes, in the end it is just a game. But I guess in the end the Nutcracker is just a dance, and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 is just a song. Here's to a good game.