Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Favorite Scene In Breaking Bad

I am reminded of a scene in Breaking Bad that always recurs in my mind. Hal and an old friend are thinking back to their youthful days of vigor and ambition, wondering how they could have been so happy and eager despite having no money or accomplishments. 

"You know what we had?" he says, "Momentum."

That's what leads to fulfillment in life - the direction you're headed. It's all momentum. And it doesn't have to be restricted to dumb 20-year-olds. Identifying and chasing passions are what bring lasting engagement. Happiness is fleeting and nonexistent.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Jane EyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Starts slowly and drags hard in the middle but builds up into some intense psychological drama in the last couple acts. The ending is ridiculous but pretty well close to earned.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Willy Wonka And Religion

The movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a religious parable. Hear me out. Arthur Slugworth (the stand-in for the devil), the black-suited, seemingly malevelent creepo, approaches each Golden Ticket-winning child and offers them each a bargain -- betray Willy Wonka (God) by swiping the Everlasting Gobstopper (the apple) and he will shower him with riches.

At the end of the film, Slugworth is found to be simply a lowly employee of Wonka posing as a rival. Wonka, though, being all powerful, cannot possibly have a true rival. He has simply used Slugworth to do what he loves most, which is mess with people and test their purity of heart with cruel temptations.

Slugworth represents quick-fix temptation over the long-term good. To Wonka's feigned dismay and barely restrained amusement, each child proves unworthy of inheriting the kingdom of Wonka's factory. Most agree to succumb to Slugworth's influence to spite Wonka, whose ways they don't comprehend. And each is summarily cast out.

Only by taking all of Wonka's crap without protest does Charlie prove worthy of remaining in Wonka's presence. He receives eternal riches, is lifted from poverty to wealth, and not only is accepted into Wonka's kingdom, but is deemed Wonka's successor.

Not sure what the Oompa Loompas represent. Maybe the disciples?

Monday, June 17, 2013


Do not ever go to a restaurant and insist on only using your limited Spanish, if you happen to be a native English speaker whose knowledge of Spanish stopped in eighth grade. Sure, you could conceivably say things such as "ensalada por favor," "pollo de chipotle," "arroz," "donde esta el bano" and, my favorite, "yo trabajo en un banco." Maybe you could even fool a few people. But not yourself. 

Do not refuse to speak in English, or act offended if someone tries to speak English to you. And by no means should you fill in your lack of knowledge of your adopted language by making up whatever words you didn't know.

If you disobey my instructions until the restaurant brought in a genuine Spanish speaker to communicate with you, you should most definitely not act offended and indignant that the Spanish speaker does not recognize your made-up words.

Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel packs enough ambition and imaginative touches to do its hero proud. It's a hero, by the way, that it never does name, and I will pay tribute to that restraint by playing along with that ultra-cool pretentiousness and refuse to name him here as well.

Here is a movie that dispenses with all the ample cheese that comes with the hero and his too-many decades of baggage. Gone are the red underwear and gaudy red boots worn on the outside of his tights. Instead is a navy blue catsuit that looks like it was designed by Under Armor or Nike. The cape is still there, but it sort of has to be. I like that the suit only makes an appearance when it absolutely has to, and that much of the film is about Clark Kent, rather than his alter ego. And I like even more that Kent is a scruffy-haired drifter. There is also some cool stuff about his time as a crazy and terrifying kid.

However, Batman Begins this is not. Instead of having the guts to focus on the development of the hero, it goes nutso by bringing in an alien invasion, the Phantom Zone, General Zod and all sorts of other crazy that should have long since been written out of DC continuity. Worse, the hero is very much a reckless idiot when it comes to the set-piece battles, thinking noting of toppling skyscrapers and slaughtering thousands of innocents as he chases down the bad guy.

I love this movie as much as I hate it, and I feel both emotions pretty equally. For every human moment that lends authenticity to such an otherworldly and ridiculous character, there's an equal measure of nonsensical bombast that plague just about every cinematic superhero yarn.

What I'm left with more than anything are questions. Why couldn't the hero have just rescued people, stopped crimes and asserted himself as a force for good and hope for us groundlings? Why did he have to slaughter so many of us and kill the rest of us? Why did we need to see the hero hang out in the Fortress of fricking Solitude talking with a computer program of his dead dad?

There are so many moments in the movie that absolutely work, though. Which is why this is such a tough film to digest and decide whether to hate or love. It ends on a perfect note that matches the finale of Batman Begins. The character stuff, except for an unnecessarily falsely heroic moment with Costner as Pa Kent, all hits hard, and gives the movie a fighting shot at developing into a bonafide franchise rather than another aborted reboot.

I like this movie in spite of itself, I guess. At the very least I have to hand it to the film that it's not as awful as its 2006 predecessor. I will look, up in the sky, with hope the next time a film in the series comes around. Rather than dread.

Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner. Written by David S. Goyer, based on a character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG-13. 143 minutes. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Before Midnight

Any romance with a happy ending is false. Bliss between lovers is only a prelude to inevitable clashes, distrust and apathy that will eventually erode the affair to nothingness. That's true even for the most breathless of fictional love stories, concocted in the masterful Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004).

Before Midnight, which is hopefully only a middle chapter in a series that will continue to check in as a time capsule every nine years, is fearless for the way it ruthlessly devours the sweetness and sentiment in the films that came before. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, whose characters met for a sweet yet fleeting one-night stand in the first movie, then a complicated -- but just as precious -- rendezvous in the follow-up, now sacrifice their adorable love to the unforgiving altar of time and changing personalities.

Once again the movie is just about all dialogue, mostly with Hawke and Delpy talking. The trend of darkening, more severe subject matter that started in the second film continues here. The romance that remains is less about attempts at stoking blossoming flames of love than it is about feeding whithering embers of burned-out passion.

The relationship, stunted because it covered so much ground in its two days separated by nearly a decade, has now run its course and is left wheezing and hunched over. Instead of tantalizing each other by swapping thoughts and emotions that draw them closer together the more they learn about one another, they sling barbs harvested from knowing each other all too well. Each ups the stakes with threats that are either implied or direct, upping the passive-aggressive ante to higher, more punishing levels.

Hawke and Delpy are almost too convincing in their performances, seething with contempt. They jump on each others' thoughts, hammer on insecurities and prey on festering wounds. Watching the movie, you almost feel like children watching your parents argue. You long for a truce because you can't fathom the pain of them separating. After all, if these crazy kids-turned-middle-agers can't make it, who can?

What keeps the movie from being a depressing fireball of angst is that despite all the hurt, and the raw, unnerving dread of the clashes, hope still flowers. Director Richard Linklater could have forced the sentiment by inserting flashbacks of the previous movies, but he instead makes the flashbacks all verbal -- letting the actors paint their memories with expressions and descriptions. Those who haven't seen the earlier films will not be lost, but won't get nearly as much out of the nuances and shades as those who know and love those movies.

Before Sunset remains my favorite of the trilogy, but there's a heft and strength to Before Midnight that outweighs the first two films combined. It's a brutal parade of heartbreak and mind-rake that leaves you curled up and wound up in a ball, covering your eyes but peeking through parted fingers.

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Written by Hawke, Delpy and Richard Linklater, based on characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan. Directed by Linklater. 109 minutes. Rated R.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons The Xbox One Will Suck (But I Will Still Buy One Like An Idiot)

5. No backward compatibility. You know those thousands of dollars you've spent on games the last 8 years? Go ahead and get rid of all of them because they won't work with the new system. But at least all those downloads you crammed into your 320gb hard drive will move right on over, yeah? Um, no. Those are dead to the Xbox One as well.

4. It pretty much always has to be connected to the internet. You know what's not always connected to the internet? The internet! Especially if you have Comcast, which goes down as often as records go right round. So now when I lose online access for two days in a row for no reason I'll no longer get to play any Xbox One games.

3. It makes it a pain in the rear to lend or give games to others. It lets you transfer ownership of games, but only after jumping through hoops. The paranoia to the design of this demented DRM restriction is of the Michael Douglas Falling Down variety. Sickening.

2. It costs $500 frikkin dollars. Seriously. Seriously? Seriously. For that price it should also distill its own vodka and pour me White Russians.

1. Seriously, it costs $500 dollars even though it's screwing you over in so many ways. Sure, it may be the lazy way out to use this reason twice, but I am really, really pissed about the price. But not pissed enough not to hand over the money.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The 5 Most Disgusting Vegetables

5. Green olives from Walmart with pimento stuck inside them. There are reasons factory machines see fit to impale these abominations with spicy enemas. It's not only to add some semblance of flavor to the wretched vacuums that abhor taste buds, but to punish the fruit-family rejects for their obstinance.

4. Iceberg lettuce. Lettuce leaves in general are big, stupid and unwieldy, and exists just to take up space and disappoint. Iceberg is the most disgusting of its ilk. Every bit as flavorful and easy to skewer with a fork as its namesake. This is the lettuce that sunk the Titanic.

3. Peas. The Exorcist ruined whatever goodwill this pathetic, puny, Martian alien-skin-colored attrocity ever wielded. The movie scene provded once and for all that peas were the preferred food of the eternally damned. They lurk behind carrots, hiding their mediocrity like pudgy little Hardys around so many Laurels.

2. Radishes. I've never eaten Old Spice deoderant, but I imagine it tastes very much like radish. Blending the texture of an apple with the taste of, well, Old Spice deoderant, the radish's raison d'etre is to disappoint and punish.

1. Every type of squash (tie). Why anyone would ever intentionally eat any type of squash baffles me. Not only do its different varieties taste like urine from various species of rodents when eaten raw, they taste even more sickenly disgusting when cooked. Only with cheese slathered all over them are squash slices somewhat tolerable.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Top 5 Reasons The Spurs Are A Stupid And Boring Team

5. Manu Ginobli is a flopper who could draw a fake charge by acting as though he were run over by a Mack truck if a butterfly dropped a microscopic fraction of butterfly poop a mile away from him.

4. There is nothing other to do in San Antonio, sportswise, than worship the stupid, boring Spurs, so everyone in the town takes pride in the team's constant success and thus behaves as entitled jerks who don't know what it's like to give away all your good players for no reason and suck for years, as the Suns do.

3. Their colors, black and silver, are derived from pencil coloring. The black is from hard pencil writing and the silver is from light. Both are sorely in need of a good erasing.

2. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are good players, but have no flash or style. They play basketball like accountants crunch numbers. They take as much joy in winning as a middle school bus driver does in dropping off the day's last batch of ingrateful tweens so she can go spend half her day's pay at IHOP in a meal she will regret as soon as she exits the restaurant.

1. They walk the ball up the court every time, have no flow or rhythm to their offense, yet bore the opposition into letting them score every other possession or so. San Antonio wins solely because teams cannot stand to be on the court with them so they just roll their eyes and check their texts until the clock expiers.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Da Vinci Cold

Someone needs to write novel about a conspiracy regarding the day Leonardo Da Vinci called in sick from work during a day he was supposed to be painting the Mon Lisa. 

Some outspoken historians swear that the so-called Da Vinci Cold was in actualiy simply a cover story that the great artist used to dupe his commissioning supervisors into believing that he was sick in bed while he was actually totally faking it. No doubt he borrowed, wrecked and restored his friends' dad's car, caught a Cubs' game and marched in a parade -- all while a clueless school adinistrator haplessly tried to track his whereabouts and his parents were none the wiser.

Friday, June 07, 2013

My Theory About Deja Vu

With all due and overdue respect to The Matrix for its position that deja vu is a glitch in the computer simulation we are tricked into believing in life, I hold that it's nothing of the sort. 

I see it as just like a checkpoint in video games. It shows you that you have done the right thing and gotten it to autosave. When you experience deja vu, you have just beaten one of life's missions. Or failed it and are now set down a branching path to the bad ending. Either or. It would be nice if this could be confirmed by an "achievement unlocked" bling sound. And even better if you could go back and re-experience it via Lego-style free play.


Back in high school biology I sat next to a kid named Kip, who had about eight strikes against him heading into the world. He was slow but nice. We talked basketball a bit, and got to the point where we needed to prove who was better at the game.

I remember one time challenging him to a game of one-on-one after school. He beat me, but I convinced him to play again with the stakes of if I won, the first game never happened and if he beat me, I'd say he beat me four times. He went for it and, as fate would have it, the historical record now shows Kip never beat me at basketball.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Jared Has It Right

I am a Subway man, through and through. It's what I consumer for 90 percent of my workweek lunches. I always get a $5 footlong. and I always save the second half for the next day. It's usually a Cold Cut Combo unless the BMT or Spicy Italian are on sale.

The Subway diet I am on works effectively at keeping me from going overweight. It's relatively healthy, as far as fast food goes, and certainly better for me than the processed, tasteless $1 Banquet meals I used to shove down my may every day.

The key to making the diet work is restraint. I used to devour footlongs within seconds, then I discovered that if I stopped with one half I was no longer hungry. Stopping at six inches saves half the hassle, money and calories. Also, I never get a drink or chips. But I do redeem the free cookie coupon on the receipt every time.

It's a great system. I get an amazing lunch every day, I never get sick of it and do not get fat.