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February 27, 2008

Still Swamped, But ...

... if you have time to kill, you could read this short story I am working on for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and give with the constructive criticism. You could totally do that. It would be swell.

At 6,500 words its of a print-out-and-read-on-the-bus length, but y'all provided such great feedback last time that I thought I'd return to the well.

Update: Ha! Yeah, okay: the New York Times Sunday paper doesn't have a comics section. You got me there. See, this is why I run things past you guys first.

A big thanks to everyone who provided feedback. Those who missed it--well, with any luck it will be in print someday ...

February 18, 2008


No posts this week.

[ link | dy]

February 15, 2008

The Sopranos

After zealously shielding myself from spoilers for seven straight months, I finally watched the final episode of The Sopranos, knowing absolutely nothing about what would happen or how it would end.

Thoughts in the comments.

AFI 100: Yankee Doodle Dandy

So far in the AFI 100 project, the two films for which I had the lowest expectations--the silent movie and, now, the jingoistic musical--have been my favorites. Having never seen James Cagney in the role of a tough-guy, the skill with which he "played against character" was lost on me, but it hardly proved necessary to enjoy this biography of song-and-dance man George M. Cohan, who, along with the rest of his family, entertained legions around the turn of the (last) century. But the story of the showman's life is really just bookends for the film's second act, which is essentially an hour-long montage of Cohen's greatest hit, including "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Over There," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "Grand Old Flag" (I had no idea one guy wrote all of those). Though there is some wincable acting and a couple of scenes that max out the corn-o-meter (the bit with the teens, 10 minutes from the end, is like a rejected Hee-Haw sketch), the bulk of the movie is so thoroughly delightful that you're willing to forgive a lot. Even the blackface.

And holy smokes, that Cagney can dance.

My rating: 9/10, best so far!

Next up in the AFI 100 Project: The Bridge on the River Kwai and Nashville.

February 14, 2008

Thank You For Being A Friend


GG Valentines

[ link | Humor]

Three Things That Made Me Laugh This Morning
  • A comment in the SongMeaning.com thread concerning Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'":

    That one line..."some will win, some will lose.." That line couldnt be more true. this one time i won, and then this other time, i lost. steve perry really tells it like it is.

  • David Wilhelm's lol'able lack of critical thinking skills.


    Wilhelm: I'm a superdelegate and I'm going for Obama. Others who have come out for Clinton need to keep in mind the proper role of the superdelegate: to reflect the popular vote.

    Interviewer: So if Hillary has the popular vote after Ohio, you'll switch to her?

    Wilhelm: No, why would I?

  • Review for Madonna's new film Filth and Wisdom: "Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now - fiercely aspirational as ever - she has graduated to being a terrible director. She has made a movie so incredibly bad that Berlin festivalgoers were staggering around yesterday in a state of clinical shock, deathly pale and mewing like maltreated kittens. She is also the producer and co-author of the script. If she'd done the location catering as well, they'd have had a Jonestown situation on their hands."

February 12, 2008

How To Be Hated
Mrs Clinton still has the edge among super-delegates, not least because Bill Clinton is calling in all the favours he has done them over the past 16 years ...
Dear Mr. Clinton: please consider the following:
  1. You call in favors, and use your influence as a former President, to convince superdelegates to vote for your wife instead of the man who wins the popular vote;
  2. Said wife loses in the general election;
  3. That roaring you hear is the sound of your legacy being flushed down the crapper.
You think Dems were pissed at Nader for "costing" them the 2000 elections? I cannot even conceive of the vitriol that will be headed your way if the above scenario comes to pass.

Just a thought!

Clip 'n' Save!

The November election is a long ways away. So, here: I made you a little cheatsheet!

Clip 'n' Save


Only after he dropped out of the presidential race, admittedly ...

February 11, 2008

AFI 100: The French Connection

The French Connection wasn't next in the AFI queue, but, earlier today when I heard that Roy Scheider had died, I decided to watch it anyway to honor the man.

A thoroughly entertaining film, but I'm a bit mystified as to how it wound up with the 1971 "Motion Picture of the Year" Oscar, but less inclusion (albeit just barely) on the AFI 100 list. Apparently it is famous for its "renowned car chase scene" (as the back of the DVD calls it), but it was bound to have at least one given that 50% of this movie involves one person following another. Seriously: there are cops stealthily tailing suspects on foot, cops running full-bore after suspects, cops slowly trolling behind suspects by vehicle, cops barreling after suspects at breakneck speeds, etc. At one point in the film there are two chases going on simultaneously: a security guard saunters after a suspect inside an elevated train, and, at street level, Gene Hackman races after the train in his automobile. It's, like, they had so many chases slated for the film that they had to start scheduling them concurrently.

Anyway, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. I'm a sucker for 70's-era stories set in inner-city America (see also: Rocky), and The French Connection illustrates why: the combination of grainy film-stock, openness about racial tensions, and devotion to method acting make them seem more authentic--even when they are big-budget and largely preposterous thrillers such as this one. 8/10, and RIP Roy Scheider.

February 08, 2008

The Bad Review Revue: The Siege of Paris

Critics are raving over The Hottie and the Nottie!

"Preposterous, disingenuous, remarkably unfunny and genuinely distasteful." -- Maitland McDonagh, TV GUIDE

"Crass, shrill, disingenuous, tawdry, mean-spirited, vulgar, idiotic, boring, slapdash, half-assed, and very, very unfunny." -- Nathan Lee, VILLAGE VOICE

"It's not like Paris Hilton to rise above her material, but The Hottie and the Nottie sinks so low that all she has to do is stand upright." -- Sam Adams, LOS ANGELES TIMES

"'This movie hates women' is written over and over in my notebook, but that's not quite fair. This movie hates unattractive women." -- Suzanne Condie Lambert, ARIZONA REPUBLIC

"Great actors make the craft look easy. In this Paris Hilton comedy, acting looks very, very difficult." -- Kyle Smith, NEW YORK POST

"How bad is this feature from deservedly unknown director Tom Putnam? How's this?: It's a blot on Paris Hilton's dignity." -- Andy Klein, LOS ANGELES CITYBEAT

"Heidi Ferrer's screenplay...succeeds at just one thing: trumpeting one of the most anti-feminist messages in recent film history." -- Jessica Reaves, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"This pea-brained vanity production..." -- Nell Minow, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

"This gross-out-on-camera ... " -- Rex Reed, NEW YORK OBSERVER

"This tasteless train wreck ..." -- Jeannette Catsoulis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"This comedy abomination ..." -- Peter Travers, ROLLING STONE

"Imagine the worst movie you've ever seen. Got it? Now try to think of something worse. That something is this movie." -- Connie Ogle, MIAMI HERALD

Current Rotten Tomatoes composite score: 7%.

February 07, 2008

The Third-Inning Blooper Reel ...

... in The Morning News today.

February 06, 2008

Games: Friendship-Enders

During the holidays I use my Good Gateway Games lists to promote family games; that is, games that bring people together for a fun and relaxing time, and strengthen the bonds of comradery between the participants.

Of course, now that the holidays are over ...


I'm sure you get asked this a lot, but I'm looking for a board game that is like I'm The Boss--something in which the human interaction really changes the course of the game. Nothing is better then screwing over a good friend ... and having that awkward talk later when you can tell he's seething with anger because you purposely made him lose the game.

If you have any ideas I'd really appreciate it.


Ah, yes. The friendship-enders.

I'd recommend a good negotiation game, but you already own one of my favorites. In I'm The Boss, each player is an investor, willing to throw their support behind a variety of projects in the hopes of reaping a windfall. On a turn a player either draws Influence cards, or becomes The Boss and tries to cobble together a deal. Each deal requires the involvement of two or more of the players and pays out a specified amount of money; to complete the deal, The Boss will therefore need to entice the other players to join him, by offering them a share of the profits. Sometimes a deal needs a specific investor, but other times it will permit The Boss to select from a subset of players, allowing him to play them off one another in an effort to keep as much money as possible for himself.

All this could get real nasty were it not for the Influence Cards, which inject a healthy does of chaos into the game. Wielded at the right time, a well-played Influence Card could send a key Investor on vacation and scupper a deal, allow someone to become The Boss of a deal previously managed by someone else, and even steal an Investor from another player entirely. All this--plus a rapid-fire pace, short playing time (60 minutes), and element of randomness (no one knows when the game will end, for instance)--make it hard to get too worked-up over I'm The Boss, even when the others actively conspire against you. And they will ... of yes, they will.

But maybe you're in the market for something that will wreak complete and irreparable damage to your hard-won friendships. If so, might I suggest one of the following?

  • Intrigue: Quite possibly the nastiest game ever invented. Your palace has four job opening, and the applicants belong to your opponents. Before you decide whom to hire, though, each candidate must give you a cash bribe in any amount they choose. After all have done so, you install one person into the position, banish the rest from the game, and keep all the money you received in bribes, regardless of who it was from. And what do you do when it's not your turn? Why, send your minions off to the palaces of others, where they too will vie for employment. This game is so vicious that I gave my copy away, so I would never be temped to play it again. I'm not kidding.
  • Lifeboats: To call this Survivor: The Boardgame wouldn't be too much of a stretch ... except that Survivor is a group hug compared to this. When an ocean liner sinks, all the passengers cram onto lifeboats and sail for shore. Every round one of the boats springs a leak, as determined by popular vote; then, someone in the afflicted vessel gets thrown overboard, and again it's majority rule. Get a few games of this under your belt and you'll quickly realize that your friends--and democracy itself--cannot be trusted.
  • Citadels: Much less aggressive than the others on this list, but Citadels still affords opportunity for backstabbing. Every round the players secretly adopt roles as they attempt to build up their city. One role is the Assassin, who forces an opponent to lose his turn; another is the Thief, who steals another's savings. But as these knaves target a role rather than a specific player--and no one knows for sure what role the other players have taken--there's an element of guesswork that defuses tensions a bit. This is one of my all-time favorite games, and can be played by up to 7 players.
  • Junta: The bad news is that this game really only works for exactly seven people, and requires four or more hours to complete; the good news is that if you can assemble a group of willing players ... oh, man. The seven ruling families of a small Banana Republic must decide how to divvy up the foreign assistance they receive from an unnamed, no-questions-asked superpower each year. One player is the President, and has the largest say in how the cash is split; but if the other players don't like the budget, they can always foment a coup and have El Presidenteshot at dawn. I have some great memories of playing this game, and some others I have worked hard to suppress.

  • Sticheln: This is my favorite trick-tacking game--and I like trick taking games a lot. Each player has a "Misery Suit"--while most cards he takes are worth one point, cards in his Misery Suit are worth negative points equal to the value of the card. Sure the game is enjoyable for its elegance and exceptional design, but the real fun comes from watching your opponent's face as you cheerfully hand over a -12 point card.
  • Illuminati: At one point this was my Favorite Game Ever. Maybe it still is, but I wouldn't know because I haven't played it in a decade, after hurling the dice across the room when a roll didn't go my way. The game of global conspiracies, Illuminati put players in charge of secret societies--The UFOs, The Network, The Cult of Cthulhu, etc.--and attempting to control organizations ranging from OPEC to the Boy Scouts. And if someone nabs a group before you do, why, you just attack him personally and wrest away control.
  • Nuclear war: This is not a good game. That said, played with the right group it can be a barrel of fun. Let fly with your nuclear arsenal, and attempt to be the last man standing in an irradiated world. It is what we gamers dismissive refer to as a "Take That Game"--meaning that, in lieu of strategy of tactics, all it really offers you is the opportunity to initiate or perpetuate grudges with your opponents--but if you don't take it seriously, and do imbibe non-trivial amounts of alcohol, you can still have a blast with it. Update: Someone asked for my opinion on Killer Bunnies. To my mind, it's just Nuclear War in fur: a mediocre game that can nonetheless provide for an entertaining evening if everyone is in the mood for tit-for-tatism and can overlook the game's randomness.

Of course, if you want to play a negotiation game you really can't beat the great-grandpappy of the genre: Diplomacy. Imagine Risk if, instead of winning battles by dice rolls, you had to do it by convincing the other players to gang up on your target. Diplomacy will be re-released by Avalon Hill early this year; if you can't wait, or like your wheeling-and-dealing with a bit more theme, check out Game of Thrones, a similar game set in George R. R. Martin's fantasy world.

February 05, 2008

Tuesday Afternoon Scratchpad

Building A Bridge to the Late 20th Century

An excerpt from Hillary Clinton's Super Tuesday speech, delivered a moment ago:

I hope all of you will join our campaign at double-you double-you double-you dot hillaryclinton dot com. Because you know that politics isn't a game. It's not about who's up or who's down. It's about your lives, your families, your futures.
Seriously, though: anyone who still includes the www when mentioning a URL is unfit for office.


Romney, meanwhile, did best among "self-described conservatives." This despite the fact that, until recently, Romney was pro-choice, in favor of stem cell research, a proponent of gay rights ("All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preferences."), and busy instituting Universal (or, at least, Massachusettsal) Healthcare. This guy is so phony it's as if someone Photoshopped him into reality. Apparently "self-described conservative" is pretty much synonymous with "least likely to do the research."


If McDonald's "Happy Meals" are named after the emotional state children are in while consuming them, shouldn't the adult versions be called "Self-Loathing Meals"?

Private to the Guy I Just Finished Playing Racquetball With

I may have lost to you 2-15, but at least I didn't bellyache like an affluent toddler every time I missed a shot. So, between your admittedly superior athletic prowess, and my ability to stoically endure misfortune, I think we both proved our masculinity today. Except for you, ya fucking craybaby.

Waxy's Links

I started my linkblog (did you know I had one? It's over there ------>) about a year ago because, at the time, my favorite linkblog--that run by Andy Baio of Waxy.org--was only updated sporadically, leaving me to search out more time-killers on my own. Well, now Mr. Baio is blogging full time, and his linkblog typically features so many great links a day that I am spending less and less time on my own (not that I ever devoted more than 40 seconds a week on it ...). So if you like the stuff that I post, you owe it to yourself to check out Waxy's Links or subscribe to Andy's XML feed.



AFI 100: Sophie's Choice

Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday, so Pa Baldwin and I spent the afternoon as so many fathers and sons do around the nation: gathered in front of the big screen TV, drinking beer, and thrilling to the emotional rollercoaster that is Sophie's Choice.

All I really knew about the motion picture ahead of time was The Scene; from that I extrapolated that the whole film was set during the Holocaust. I was therefore confused when the film opened in 1947, with the eponymous Sophie safe and childless. Okay, thought I, it's a framing device: we'll get 10 minutes of this, an hour and a half of the main narrative, and then a brief epilogue. Wrong again, chief. The bulk of the film is a John Irvingesque relationship drama with genuinely funny moments, thanks to the comic styling of Kevin Kline (in his first movie!) and an extended sequence involving a reformed prude that can only be described as hilarious (an adjective I was pretty sure would not appear in this review). All this was good but not great. Without The Scene, I'm confident that Sophie's Choice would have long since been forgotten.

And, I must admit, the punch-in-the-gut impact of The Scene was somewhat muted by my (a) foreknowledge of the event it depicts, (b) familiarity with Streep's acting prowess, and (c) having previously endured Schindler's List, The Pianist, Into the Arms of Strangers, and probably a few more, the memories of which I have suppressed. Not enough to keep me from tearing up, but I didn't end the evening rocking in the corner, either. Definitely a haunter, though: The Scene has popped into my head half a dozen times since last night, and I keep watching the clip on Youtube*, seemingly against my will.

I'm finding it hard to assign a rating to Sophie's Choice, mostly because it was so unlike what I had expected. I think I'd need to watch it again to really form an opinion--maybe Pa Baldwin and I will do that on Father's Day. For now, 7.5/10.

Next up in the AFI 100 Project: Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Bridge on the River Kwai.

* A warning to those who have never seen Sophie's Choise: watching this will not "ruin" the move, but, as I have said, will undoubtedly lessens its impact to some degree. If you ever expect to watch the film in its entirely, I'd strongly recommend foregoing the clip.

February 01, 2008

The Bad Review Revue

Meet the Spartans: "Hey, guys, when you repurpose a disco hit to poke fun at gay men, not only do you look like assholes, you look like assholes who rip their jokes off of YouTube." -- Kimberley Jones, AUSTIN CHRONICLE

Hitman: "Like watching someone stupid play a bad video game." -- Shawn Levy, PORTLAND OREGONIAN

Strange Wilderness: "The funniest part of Strange Wilderness is the trailer for Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay that's running before it." -- Ty Burr, BOSTON GLOBE

One Missed Call: "If your cell phone vibrates while you're watching One Missed Call, go ahead and answer, because even a wrong number will be more exciting than what's happening onscreen." -- Chuck Wilson, LA WEEKLY

Over Her Dead Body: "Is to romantic comedy what Spam is to meat." -- Wesley Morris, BOSTON GLOBE