Movies Year in Review

My favorite movies I saw in 2006:

  1. Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Funny, touching, original, has Steve Carrell. What more can you ask for? My favorite movie that I saw this year. I don’t want to overhype it too much because you could be let down, but it’s an entertaining movie.
  2. Thank You for Smoking (2006): Tongue-in-cheek movie about a tobacco lobbyist whose knack in life is convincing the world that cigarettes are good. Pretty funny.
  3. United 93 (2006): Best imaginable movie about what happened on 9/11. Very factual and apolitical. Very emotional, but you’ll probably make it through without crying.
  4. The Grizzly Man (2005): If you’ve ever watched the Discovery Channel, you’ve probably seen David Treadwell who lived among the grizzlies and was eventually killed by them. This documentary chronicles his life and death.
  5. Devil Wears Prada (2006): Surprisingly good story about an intern that goes to work for the “boss-from-hell” in the fashion industry. Entertaining, original story that touches on the balance between work and life and the choices we make in this domain.
  6. Inside Man (2006): Just a well-done heist thriller by Spike Lee. Keeps you entertained and guessing what’s happening.
  7. Cars (2006): Pretty good as far as animated movies go.
  8. Serenity (2005): A good sci-fi sequel to the cancelled Firefly TV series.
  9. Being John Malkovich (1999): If you like Charlie Kaufman movies (e.g., Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Adaptation) then you’ll like this. Otherwise, you’ll feel that you just wasted a couple hours of your life.
  10. Red Eye (2005): A well-done thriller involving a daughter taken hostage on a plane in order to get to her father. Not excessively violent; more suspenseful.

My least favorite movies I saw in 2006:

  1. Broken Flowers (2005): One of those movies where you keep saying, “I know it’s not going to end like that” and then it ends like that with no closure whatsoever.
  2. The Whale and the Squid (2005): If you’re just too happy one day and want to experience the emotional trauma of your parents cheating on each other and going through a divorce, then watch this.
  3. Deliverance (1972): If you’re just too happy one day and want a disturbing image of backwood hillbillies attacking some unfortunate dude, then watch this.
  4. The Stand (1994): Based on the Stephen King book that is supposed to be an apocalyptic battle between good and evil after a plague strikes earth. Comes across as boring, long, and contrived in this adaptation.
  5. Ned Kelly (2003): We rented this one because we’d always talk about Ned Kelly when we went to eat at the restaurant in Urbana by the same name. Pretty boring and predictable look at the life of the Australian outlaw.
  6. Proof (2005): Kind of like a Beautiful Mind except not that good.
  7. X-Men 3 (2006): Just not as good as the previous two movies and gets really weird with the whole Jean Grey as the ultimate mutant thing.

My favorite TV shows on DVD that I saw in 2006:

  1. Entourage (Seasons 1 and 2) (2004-05): What would happen if one of your best friends made it big an Hollywood and brought you and several others in his entourage along to enjoy. Great comedy/drama series from HBO. Jeremy Piven as the agent is the most entertaining of all the characters. (Very much R-rated)
  2. Firefly (Season 1) (2002): Probably the best sci-fi series of the decade and was, unfortunately, cancelled by FOX after only one season.
  3. Weeds (Season 1 and 2) (2005-06): Dark comedy from Showtime about a mother who decides to start dealing weed in suburban California to maintain her family’s standard of living when her husband unexpectedly dies. (Very much R-rated)
  4. The 4400 (Seasons 1 and 2) (2004-05): Pretty good sci-fi series from USA about a group of 4400 that we abducted over a 50 year period and then suddenly returned one day without any aging and an eclectic mix of special powers.
  5. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 1-5) (2000-05): Kind of a R-rated version of Seinfeld from HBO. It stars Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, as himself. Pretty entertaining, though it’s rarely laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes gets completely ridiculous.

Other movies that I saw in 2006 (most were pretty decent): 8 Mile (2002), Animal House (1978), Cache (2005), Capote (2005), Casino Royale (2006), The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), The Conversation (1974), Curious George (2006), Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2006), Empire Falls (2005), Fever Pitch (2005), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), I Heart Huckabees (2004), Ice Age (2002), March of the Penguins (2005), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), Murderball (2005), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), Superman Returns (2006), Syriana (2005), Talladega Nights (2006), Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), V is for Vendetta (2006), Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Wedding Crashers (2005), Wordplay (2006).

Smug Alert

I saw the South Park episode this week entitled Smug Alert! (Wikipedia episode summary). Hilarious. Basically, one of the characters gets a hybrid car and immediately becomes “smug”. He thinks he’s better than everyone else and starts always talking with his eyes closed. When he decides South Park is too backwards for him, he decides to move to the most smug city ever…San Francisco. There, he meets fellow hybrid owners who also talk with their eyes closed and, every time they fart, immediately start sniffing to get a whiff of their own flatulence.

So, this got me thinking about smugness. So, I decided to make a Top Ten list of Smug Activities in my life. Here it goes (note…this is all in good jest…no offense intended :)):

  1. Use Gmail: Once you get use to the nearly 3GB of storage, tagging, POP3 downloading, advanced filtering options, and robust search, it’s difficult to understand why so many people continue using other webmails as their primary email (e.g., Hotmail, Yahoo!). While the learning curve for Gmail may be a bit steeper, once you’re familiarized with it, you truly feel like you’re using the next generation webmail system while everyone else is stuck in the past. Plus, it allows you to use any of your existing email accounts via Gmail.
  2. Own IKEA Furniture: You just walk into an IKEA and immediately you’ll be immersed in smugness. Most of them even serve it in their cafeteria. I can just feel the smug crawling through my body every time I put my shopping cart on one of their “shopping cart escalators”. If another earthquake strikes San Francisco, I have a feeling that something like 90% of the IKEA furniture in the world will be destroyed.
  3. Don’t Have Cable Television: OK, there’s degrees of smugness here because we do own a TV. The next level of smugness is those people who don’t even own a TV. Somehow they always manage to inject that fact in about every other conversation you have with them. But even not having cable emits its own smugness as if to say, “I have more entertaining things to do then watch five episodes of Sportscenter every day.”
  4. Have a Sam’s Club Membership: Oh, you can definitely smell smug on someone’s breath anytime they say, “Oh, I can go by Sam’s Club to get that.” There are few things in life that cost $35/year that provide as much smug as that little card. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that you have to show your card to even enter the store, that you have the privilege of escorting one lowly non-Sam’s Club member each visit, or the fact that I can buy a pack of 50 bars of soap and save a dime per bar, but something definitely increases my smug quotient by keeping that Sam’s Club card in my wallet.
  5. Use Linux: I don’t know if smug or zealot is the better description for Linux users. I use it at work most of the time and have a dual boot laptop at home, but pretty much exclusively use Windows there (Red Hat/Fedora Core at work and Ubuntu at home). There’s definitely some smugness involved when you know that while other people are merely doubling clicking and icon to install a program, you can wget a file, untar it, make it from source, and then update your environment variables to run it. And those are the easy installs :). This is another bullet point that involves degrees of smugness as Mac users take the cake. Good gosh these people love making you aware of the fact that they’re running OS X and not that inferior Windows XP. Sometimes you just want to take their universal binary and slap them upside the head with it. Again, if San Francisco were destroyed by an earthquake, I’m confident that 90% of the Macs in existence would be gone.
  6. Recycle: And I don’t mean we merely separate our trash into bins for someone to come pick up. Oh no, we actually drive our stuff to the recycle center every week or two and place it in the appropriate bins. How can you not be smug when you’re saving the world for your grandkids while all the non-recyclers would be perfectly content to have future generations live in a post-apocalyptic, Terminator 2-like society? It’s all about the children, people.
  7. Have a Blog: OK, just say the word “blog”. It has to be one of the ten smugest words in existence. You almost naturally close your eyes with smug as the word just emanates out of your mouth If I were a non-blogger, I have know doubt that I’d want to punch someone in the face every time they mentioned blogging about some topic. Never has merely typing on your keyboard been so smug.
  8. Own an iPod: The official color of those headphones that come with iPods is known as “smug white”. You can’t help but get a smug look on your face every time you see someone with a portable CD player. There’s definitely a smugness involved when you’re walking down the street and see all the non-earbud wearing people “basking in their thoughts” while you, on the other hand, can continuously fill your brain with NSYNC from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. Oh, and the smugness extends beyond the mere iPod to accessories. We have two protective shieldings for our iPod. For some reason that can only be a smug-related symptom, all of a sudden protecting the paint job on your iPod becomes more important than the one on your car.
  9. Use Public Transportation: Oh yes, I get to work every day without the use of a car. While others may emit earth-killing carbon dioxide while battling traffic, I can sit back and read leisurely as I enjoy my bus ride into campus (all the while saving the earth). If I’m feeling extra smug, I can even listen to my iPod while I ride public transportation! Again, there’s level of smugness involved here since we do own a car which we use a fair amount on the weekends. To reach the highest level of smug, we’d have to either get rid of the car totally or buy a hybrid.
  10. Don’t Own a Cell Phone: You can’t help but be smug about the fact that you’ve found some way to live without this modern device when it has became a necessity for so many others’ very survival. Next time you hear someone’s cellphone go off at an inopportune time, look around and notice the people with a smug grin on their face. These are the non-cell phone owners (everyone else is probably digging in their pockets and purses to make sure that their’s doesn’t go off next). There’s that smugness in knowing that you don’t waste precious moments of your life finding a witty ringtone for each friend that is entertaining to, oh, about one person on earth…you, the cellphone owner. If anyone else does happen to bask in your ringtone creativity, it will definitely lose all charm when they’ve heard it for the fiftieth time.

And, here’s a list of stuff that I don’t do but find to be smug:

  1. Eat Organic Foods: Another one that involves levels of smugness. There’s vegetarians and then there’s the ultimate smug-o-nators, vegans. All the health benefits your getting from eating these foods is negated by the build-up of smug that occurs in your body as a result.
  2. Flying First Class: You can’t help but notice the smug look as these people board the plan first and then stare at you as you walk down the aisle as if to say, “Poor schmucks in economy.” I’ve heard in most planes, the emergency masks will drop down if too much smug is coming from the first class section of the plane.
  3. Only Getting Your News from One Source: Whether it’s the New York Times or Fox News, you can’t help but notice the smugness emanating from those who have to name their sole news source every time the tell you a piece of info and make darn sure that you know they’re more enlightened than all the rest of us mere mortals who do not trust one organization for all the news.
  4. Listen to NPR: Speaking of news sources, here’s the government funded smug. Normally, you don’t preface every nugget of knowledge with the citation from which you learned that information. Except for NPR listeners. If they tell you something that was heard on NPR, without fail they’ll cite NPR as the source in the conversation. San Francisco is known for their historically high smug level since so many cars are tuned to NPR during the commute.
  5. Go to Krannert Events: This is the arts center at UIUC that has one of the highest concentrations of smug on campus. You just can’t say you’re going to one of the plays or concerts at Krannert without breathing smug onto all your listeners. Pretty much any “fun” activity that requires you to wear a tie is immediately suspect for high smug potential.

And, my final list is the most smug celebrities and athletes. I’m sure I’m forgetting some obvious ones, but these are the ones that came to me off the top of my head:

  1. George Clooney: Hi, I’m George Clooney. I am so smug that I was featured in the South Park episode on the topic. I would basically like flip a bid middle finger towards Middle America to let them know that Hollywood is in fact better than them. We gave an Academy Award to an African-American, Hattie McDaniel, in 1939. Please disregard the fact that it was for playing a stereotypical slave role in a movie that glorifies the slave owning South. If America was only smart enough to let Hollywood run the country, we would be much better off and have much more smug.
  2. Kobe Bryant: Hi, I’m Kobe Bryant. I’m living proof that one can do no wrong if one has enough money. If someone accuses you of rape, just pay them to settle out of court and buy your wife a five karat ring. Problem solved. My smugness on court is so strong that many times it overwhelms opponents to the point that they can’t stop me. I really wish that they would just let me play one-on-five in the NBA because I don’t need my teammates anyway and a lot of times they just clog up the lane when I could be scoring more points.
  3. Tom Cruise: Hi, I’m Tom Cruise. Not only am I an actor, but my brainwashing by Scientology has made me a health care expert far beyond those “doctors” that spend a decade of their life studying medicine. Though many people may think medication is required to cure smug, really all that is needed is to give more money to the Church of Scientology. Smugness, depression, and any other number of disorders can be cured by this simple approach.
  4. Barry Bonds: Hi, I’m Barry Bonds. Even the people of San Francisco consider me to be smug. Many of the steroids I use are laced with smug to keep me performing at the highest level. Babe Ruth? I “wiped him out”. Media, teammates, coaches? Overrated. Just give me my steroids, a bat, a ball, and a wall to hit it over and I’m set.
  5. Sean Penn: Hi, I’m Sean Penn. Because I starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I am better than you and far more qualified to make political statements. Because of the utmost importance that Fast Times gave my career, I am now qualified to serve as the unofficial US ambassador to Iraq and Iran. And, because of the infinite wisdom afforded to me by virtue of my Fast Times role, I am now not only qualified to criticize anything our government does, but also above any criticism or parody that others may throw my way. This is why it was absolutely vital that I take time to write an inflammatory letter to a pair of comedy writers that parodying me in Team America. Do these jerks not know I starred in Fast Time at Ridgemont High?! I am orders of magnitude better than them (and all of you) because of it.
  6. Bill O’Reilly: Hi, I’m Bill O’Reilly. Amazingly, I’ve never been wrong a single time in my life. In fact, I typically catch my own flatulence in a jar and sell it on eBay for $1000. When I have to crap, nothing but solid 24-karat gold turds come out. If you don’t agree that mankind is lucky to have a specimen like me, then I’ll tell you what you can do with your loofah and falafel. My aura of smug covers the set of the O’Reilly Factor. I particularly like to invite people to be on my show where I have complete control and then make fun of them when they refuse. Would I ever go be on an Air America show? Heck no. That would require me to operate in an environment where I don’t have 100% control. My head might explode or something. My set, my rules. I particularly like the one that I have where all staff members must build a shrine to me and spend at least an hour a day meditating about how lucky they are to get to be near me on a daily basis.

Please leave comments if you can think of any other smug activities and/or celebrities/athletes. Or, let me know items on these lists with which you especially agree or disagree.

Reaching the Lost

Mainstream media generally gets criticized (sometimes deserved, sometimes not) for its portrayals of Christianity. Enter Lost. This show, currently in its second season, is consistently one of the top ten most watched shows and just won the Golden Globe for best television drama. In short, it is the show in the eyes of both critics and viewers. And, if you have watched this season, it is undeniable that the show has one of the most positive portrayals of Christianity ever seen in such a popular show.

In large part, this is do to the introduction of Mister Eko this season who is, quite possibly, the coolest preacher ever to grace the small screen.

mister_eko.jpg

Throughout the season, he has dropped a plethora of Biblical allusions. Then, when the show as about his back story a few weeks ago, we learned how he came to be a preacher. Growing up in Africa, him and his little brother took different paths after an incident in their village. Eko became a thug in a drug ring while his brother became a preacher.

Throughout his life in crime, however, Eko tries to justify his actions as helping get the drugs out of his country so that there is less available for his fellow citizens. He strong arms his brother to sign documents allowing the drug cartel to be “missionaries” since this is the only group that can fly out of the country without scrutiny. However, Eko’s brother remains steadfast in his devotion to save his brother’s soul and free him from the drug lifestyle. It culminates with his brother martyring himself so that Eko can escape the drug ring and enter the priesthood.

Then, last week, the show revolved around a mother trying to decide whether or not to have her baby baptized. Mister Eko discusses baptism with her and, at the end, both the mother and child end up being baptized on screen by Eko.

Beyond the Biblical allusions, the show is excellent and deals with themes of sin and redemption nearly every week as you learn more about each character’s past life. If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend checking it out Wednesdays at 9 pm EST on ABC.

Alias: Vaughn…We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Vaughn

ABC really pulled out all the stops for the season premiere of Alias (Note: spoilers galore in this post if you recorded it and haven’t yet watched it). A major character dies, a pregnancy, completely new bad guys, a mysterious new agent…there was enough surprises for about two months worth of episodes.

I had no idea that Vaughn’s death was coming. And what the heck was up with his death scene?! I mean there’s a difference in asking the viewer to suspend reality and completely insulting their intelligence. Taking like 50 shots to the chest at almost point blank range…and then you’re still alive for a surgeon to try to save you? I understand the need to have Vaughn say a few words to Sydney before he dies…but could the writers not come up with a more realistic chain of events. And even if the death was a fake, as I’m sure people will inevitable speculate, Sydney and Jack’s characters would have known that Vaughn couldn’t possibly have lived after the shooting.

Hopefully this is the last season for Alias. I’ve watched every season and it’s had a great run, but trying to extend it beyond five seasons will just dilute the storyline. Look at the X-Files…the first five seasons were great (particularly season three and four), season six started getting a bit of a drop-off with the mythology episodes starting to go in circles and the non-mythology episodes not being nearly as good and/or very similar to earlier episodes. Then after Mulder stopped being a regular, the show dropped off fast in seasons seven through nine. I think it’s difficult to extend a conspiracy-based show beyond five seasons without the quality dropping off significantly.

Alias started out great in season one, though it was a much different show. Remember how the show was pitched as Sydney being a grad student and secret agent? That whole grad student angle was basically gone by season two (which I think was a good thing). You had Sydney’s non-secret agent life playing a significant role…remember her roommate Francie and the journalist Will? I think they should have kept Will’s character on the show. Remember how Sydney and Jack used to be completely antagonistic towards each other and Sloane used to be undoubtedly evil?

Season two was the high-water mark for the show in my opinion. This had all the great parts of season one plus Sydney’s mom in nearly episode, which was the best addition the show made. Season three dropped off pretty bad with the whole Sydney losing two years of her memory plot. You knew pretty much from the first episode of the season that Vaughn’s new wife was going to turn out to be bad. Sydney’s mom was gone the entire season. The low-water mark for the show. Season four wasn’t as good as two, but definitely helped redeem the show. I’m kind of indifferent towards Nadia’s character…I don’t think she adds much, but she’s not terribly annoying either.

It would be nice if season five ended it all. Get Sloane out of prison and let us know clearly whether he’s good or bad. Bring Sydney’s mom back in a major role. Have Sark play a major role as the bad guy. Don’t bring Vaughn back by using some convoluted explanation. Focus on Sloane and Sydney…not Sloane and Nadia. Tell us what the Rembaldi stuff is all about and how it relates to Sydney, her baby, and her mom…go out on a high note.

Climbing Down the Hatch

So, unless you’ve been stranded on a tropical island recently, you’ve probably heard about Lost, the winner of the Emmy for the best drama. Last night was the season premiere for season two and it didn’t disappoint. Within the first five minutes, you already learn what’s down the hatch yet there’s still about a hundred mysteries remaining. You should definitely check it out because, without a doubt, it is the best drama on network TV (best comedy, of course, easily goes to Arrested Development. What were those Emmy voters thinking choosing Everybody Loves Raymond?!).

If you don’t believe me, you should check out Orson Scott Card’s op-ed, which appeared in the LA Times a few months ago (the Jewish World Review is the only place I could find that still has a free link up):

Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have created “Lost,” the finest television science fiction series of all time … so far.

Which, if you don’t know who Card is, that probably doesn’t mean much…but he wrote one of the best, if not the best, sci-fi novels in the past couple decades. Also, as someone who never found Star Trek all that exciting, it’s good to hear someone else feels the same.

What’s So Great About America

From Arrested Development, George Michael tells it like it is:

Say what you want about America – thirteen bucks can still get you a heck of a lot of mice!

In what has to be one of the funniest random lines I can remember!

Thank you Benjamin Franklin…

Or whomever invented the concept of libraries that allow me to watch the entire first season of Arrested Development on DVD free of charge. This show is the funniest sitcom on TV by like two orders of magnitude. Dare I say it’s the only one of which I’m aware that actually makes me laugh out loud.

If Seinfeld was the first sitcom to refine the concept of having all the main characters be superficial and rather unlikable, then Arrested Development takes it to a whole new level. Since people seem to love lists, I present the ten reasons why this show is hilarious (and the best sitcom since Seinfeld):

  1. Tobias has to wear cut-offs all the time since he suffers from a rare disease (that afflicts two members of the German parliament!) making him a never nude.
  2. Gob (pronounced like Job in the Bible), the aspiring magician doing all his magic shows with The Final Countdown blaring in the background.
  3. Gob riding everywhere on a Segway. Segways are just funny.
  4. Tobias, while suffering depression from his failing acting career, accidentally joins the Blue Man Group while looking for a support group.
  5. Henry Winkler (a.k.a. the Fonz), the most incompetent lawyer known to man doesn’t want to read the plea bargain because it’s “too thick”.
  6. Ben Stiller as the great magician, Tony Wonder, who randomly coughs stuff up as part of his show and created the Use Your Allusion DVDs since Guns and Roses already had rights to Use Your Illusion
  7. George Michael reviving the Jerky Boys phone gags.
  8. Lindsay and Tobias deciding to have an open marriage and then neither is able to get a date.
  9. The family has to use a stair car for airplanes to get around town.
  10. Gob failing in his magic trick to escape from prison because he can’t find a private bathroom to pass the key he swallowed.

Admittedly, the show is an acquired taste because it’s so different that the I Love Raymond mold of sitcoms. But, watch about three episodes and you’ll love it. And, lucky for you, the third season starts September 19th on Fox and the second season is out on DVD on October 11. Of course, you can always check your local library for the season one DVDs 🙂