Wednesday, September 24, 2014

#769. TV from 9/23/14

I sometimes talk about what I've been watching.  It's been a while.  Let's do a little of that again.  Here's a survey of what was happening last night:

At 8 I gave Arrow another shot.  This is a show I'm supposed to like.  Everyone says so.  But every time I give it a try, I actually kind of hate it.  It's a soap opera.  I realize Smallville was pretty much exactly like this, but it did a much better job at casting and...general execution.  This was a repeat, anyway.  There was an ad promoting the Arrow episodes that served as a prelude for the upcoming Flash, which seems like and hopefully is a show that will do everything right that Arrow does wrong.  These episodes will play the week before Flash premieres.  I might watch them, but I've officially given up on Arrow.

At 9 I caught the second episode of New Girl's new season.  I missed the first one last week.  My track record with the show is terrible, but I'm hopelessly in love with Zooey Deschanel (which can be dangerous), so I try and catch it, and I do like it a lot.  I don't know that I love it, but you can't have everything.  By the time Jess figured out Schmidt's dating advice was terrible (she was really desperate), the episode starting feeling like classic New Girl, while everyone else was participating in the B-story PSA about drugs (which was kind of weird, but at least Winston gets to continue being awesome and hilariously completely isolated from even the new black guy they added last season).

I was flipping to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. every now and then, too.  It was the season premiere.  Adrian Pasdar was in it, but I think he realized at some point that like everyone in New Girl he's made some hilarious miscalculations.  Like Arrow, I've pretty much come to the conclusion that Agents, at least for me, is irredeemably terrible.

There was also the Red Sox playing on NESN (New England Sports Network for those who...don't live in New England).  The first time I checked out what they were up to, they were actually ahead 1-0.  Clay Buchholz was having a pretty good game.  (This has not been a very good season for Clay, or the Red Sox in general.  They've been making their own series of hilarious miscalculations.  Although a month or two back I was seriously depressed about it.)  But then inexplicably, Clay was kept in one inning too long (this has happened at far worse moments for Boston, at least), the Rays scored five runs, the Red Sox lost again, what can you say?

At least the Angels are doing well.  Best team in baseball this season.  Mike Trout's had a third consecutive standout season.  Albert Pujols has generally rebounded after a bad previous season.  And the A's are doing well, although less well since dealing Yoenis Cespedes to the Sox (and taking Jon Lester in return; stupid, stupid Sox, rooting up the whole pitching staff "because we'll definitely fix that in the off-season").  They will probably still make the play-offs.  The Cardinals will be in the play-offs, too, over in the National League.  Overall, with three out of my four teams doing well, a pretty good baseball season this year.

At 10 I gave Forever a shot for about a minute.  I was intrigued.  But it's basically exactly like Elementary.  So I probably won't be watching that again.  Then switched to the season premiere of Person of Interest, another show I don't watch regularly enough.  But I do love this one.  It seems like Finch has gotten over his crisis of faith.  That's good.  The show is even suggesting there's going to be a big reward for following it every season, which places it squarely back in the territory of classic J.J. Abrams, such as Alias, Lost, and Fringe.  (I won't argue the point about Lost, but I know for most fans the series finale alone seems to have completely undone its reputation.  Congratulations on that, people.)  Likely, this season will serve a good portion of that payoff, so it'll be interesting to continue watching it, as long as I can figure out how to catch it regularly again.

Tonight is Survivor's season premiere!  It's another "blood versus water"/"loved ones" season, but unlike the last time with all-new casting.  I don't make too fine a point on it, but I've loved Survivor since it premiered in 2000.  So tonight will be a good night!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

#767. 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was a guest aboard the HMS Tonnant (yes, a British ship) when the bombardment of Fort McHenry began on September 13th, 1814.  The rest is history.  He composed "The Star-Spangled Banner," which became the national anthem in 1931, the next morning.  It's the defining moment of the otherwise forgotten War of 1812, a conflict I've come to study (in a strictly amateur fashion) over the years and admire as one of the defining formative moments of America's past.  It was a deeply unpopular war (although I struggle with finding popular ones) and as such probably did James Madison a lot of harm despite an otherwise stellar legacy (Father of the Constitution).  Key was a man of his time, a lawyer and proponent of slavery (yeah, kind of sucks) and so while building a significant legacy of his own was also part of an ignominious one that was hotly debated in his day and years away from being addressed directly.  They were days that pushed the country toward Civil War.  But for one brief moment, the survival of a flag was cause for immeasurable pride, relief, joy.  Other than the raising of another one during WWII, Old Glory has no more defining moment, one many Americans take for granted today, a song they find hard to appreciate, but it's some of the truest poetry we've ever produced.  To wit, the famous first stanza:

O say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Friday, September 12, 2014

#766. Mock Squid Soup: Burn After Reading

The second meeting of Mock Squid Soup, which oddly enough originates from a dude named Mock and another dude named Squid, is exploring the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, released in 2008.
via Stand By for Mind Control

The Coen Brothers, otherwise known as Joel and Ethan Coen, have been making some of the quirkiest movies of the past thirty years (beginning with 1984's Blood Simple).  I'm sadly lacking in some of the essentials (Fargo, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona), but I've been a die hard fan since the release of 2000's brilliant O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which conveniently enough for my personal tastes is a pastiche on The Odyssey).  My dad is a big fan of John Wayne, so I saw the original True Grit when I was a kid, but I love the Coen version more.  No Country For Old Men is a movie I actually made a personal holiday out of catching when it was in theaters, and while I appreciate it a great deal, it's one of those movies I really need to see again, because like everyone else my enduring memory of it remains Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh ("Call it, friend-o"), even though it was the culmination of a hot streak for the perennially underrated Josh Brolin I very much appreciated at the time.  And I love Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers.  One of his many classic performances.

But getting back to Burn After Reading, and why I selected an image of J.K. Simmons, I'm actually realizing for the first time in a while (because it's been a while since I saw it), that the image I want is actually probably John Malkovich:
via Cinematic Thoughts
I'm now pretty sure it's Malkovich who repeatedly utters a phrase...I cannot share on a family-friendly blog.  It contains the word "morons," and another word that ends with "king" but certainly does not begin royally.  I remember the phrase if not exactly who utters it (I'm pretty sure Malkovich now!) because I subsequently adopted it as my foul-mouthed oath to the world.  I have issues.  I indeed think a lot of people are "[...]king morons."  

Judge me.  But that's the major reason I love Burn After Reading.  For me, it's about as accurate a movie as I've ever seen about how the world really works, when there really are no competent people around and everyone's flaws are magnified into their dominant personality traits.  (I can be cynical.)

I know, I know, it's terrible.  But c'mon!  Okay, so maybe you don't relate.

I also love it because Brad Pitt is running around in an overtly comedic performance.  This was before Inglourious Basterds, which for me instantly became one of his defining performances.  (Great movie.  Tarantino found his perfect muse at last in Christoph Waltz.)

Speaking of perfect muses, other than Jeff Bridges, do the Coens have a better or more consistent one than George Clooney?  He's in the mix here, too.  I love Clooney, have ever since I saw him in ER.  I don't know why it took so long for everyone to admit the guy has charisma to spare, but at least it finally happened, and he landed in a perfect groove to exploit it.  I make no qualms about saying so.  Clooney exploits his charisma, sometimes for some truly dramatic performances (Syriana, Up in the Air, Three Kings), sometimes just being Old Hollywood goofy.  I think he's less consistently successful with wide audiences, not to mention critics, because he's so sure of his own skills.  It's not that he can't disappear into a part, but his movie career came about only after everyone discovered Clooney could be a star.  It wasn't a role, other than a few seasons on a TV show, that made him.  It was pretty much Clooney himself.  He's what Hollywood stars used to be, but stopped being decades ago.  Which come to think of it probably explains his whole career.

But getting back to Simmons, I love that his career finally became a thing, and it's the major development I take away from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, where Simmons played the blustery J. Jonah Jameson, the one cartoon performance that's been completely owned in a comic book movie to date.  He's been consistently great ever since, and like Clooney all he has to do is do his thing.  Great in Juno (but everyone's great in that one).  Great in those All-State commercials.  Even if he isn't the one to...utter the phrase, he's still a great reason to watch this movie.

Maybe I've already spoiled the movie and perhaps even your opinion of me with some of the things I've said here today (but were they really surprises?), I don't know.  Just watch the movie.  Watch more Coens movies.  Watch more Clooney movies.  Watch movies.  They have weird ways of explaining the world around us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


thirteen years:
perhaps an 
       unlucky number;
but these are
       unlucky times,
although saying so now
makes me wonder
if there are
       lucky times


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