Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I could just keep hitting refresh ad infinitum on this thing. Thanks Craig.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle had the brilliant idea of publishing the strangest phone calls they get to their office as podcasts/mp3s. The first one is under two minutes and is unbelievably funny as the guy, ironically, drones on. It's also ever so slightly NSFW, in its one reference to urination.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The latest foray into my Netflix queue was a Friday viewing of Idiocracy. Like Mike Judge's previous feature Office Space, this movie was dumped by its studio with little fanfare to a tiny contractually obligated release, and will find its audience (if at all) only on DVD. Critical opinion is pretty split--was it dumped because it's lousy, or was it dumped because they can't handle the truth? It barely crossed the Rotten Tomatoes "fresh" threshold, but if you look closely a lot of the good reviews can't be distinguished very much from the bad reviews.

I think this is the one that got it right. The movie is kind of moronic, and not just because it's satirizing moronicness. But a lot of the gags are great, and the concept behind the film was better than the execution. As that review pointed out, a lot of poorly executed movies that didn't even start with a good concept get released, so why not this one? I guess the message is that you can be bad and stupid, or good and cutting, but you can't get away with mediocre and cutting.

Still, I thought there were enough laughs to sustain the movie, especially since it's under an hour and a half. It's not like you're wasting a day or anything.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

In keeping with the recent template change, I finally got around to giving the blogroll a thorough update. I got rid of sites that appeared to be dormant and a few that I just don't read anymore, and added a bunch of new favorites. Given that at least one site I linked to had moved to a new location in 2005, I was due.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I decided to try out a new template. The old one is saved in case I don't like this one, but I'll see how it goes. The biggest problem is that I can't figure out how to import the old comments, which were from backblog and not blogger itself. That bothers me, but I wanted to see what kind of newfangled features blogger is offering with its new templates. No one likes a good fangle like I do.

In other news, the raise news came down today, so I'm back off of the horrible message boards. And it was the maximum--which is to say that for doing nothing, I got a raise today that is on par with the highest income I have ever grossed in a calendar year. Drinks are on me tonight.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

First a quick non-sequitur: My bounceback week, as chronicled on the right sidebar, has left me all the more confused about whether I got a faulty scale reading at some point, and if so, which point. Bottom line is that I trust today's number now that I'm using flat tile floor rather than inconsistent, tilty hardwood. Also, I'm hopefully a week or two away from celebrating breaking through the 300-lb. floor (no "breaking through the floor" fat jokes please) for the first time in 14-15 years. Excellent times.

* * *

What I really wanted to post about is that this is the season for a grubby, sad, and yet exhilarating annual ritual in the big law firm world: the annual salary memo. This week the ritual got kicked off on Monday when one of the big New York firms announced a $15K raise in their salary structure, including starting salary. Once one firm does this, a few things start happening:

  1. Some other firms will immediately match to prove that they are top tier firms
  2. Some other firms will immediately match the New York raise but leave offices in other cities in limbo until someone announces in those cities
  3. Still other firms will wait around for a few days or even a week to make up their minds
  4. Some firms will not raise or will raise less
This will spur the following counter-reactions:
  1. Some law students and associates will be giddy because they just got a huge raise
  2. Some law students will sit around stressing unnecessarily about whether their firm has finally chosen to hold steady, even though it's patently obvious that they're just days (or even hours) slow in their announcement
  3. Certain message boards that are filled with hatred, vitriol and some of the worst people in the world (or, at least, worst on-line personas) get a serious uptick in traffic because they keep the closest track of who's getting (and not getting) what
So as of now, all of us working in non-NYC offices of New York firms are waiting for the 2 critical pieces of info--what is the NYC office doing, and how does it apply to the rest of the firm? Last year ours was one of many such firms that raised salaries in New York and raised the other big cities less. That's fine, I get it, cost-of-living and whatnot. But right now I'm spending a lot of time sitting around wonder if I'm going to get anywhere from a $5-25 K raise without actually doing any work. That would certainly help cut through the Midwest winter gloom. I hope they hurry, though, because I don't know how much more I can take of these stupid message boards.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I had scheduled its Netflix arrival to coincide with Christmas break, but I never got around to watching it then, and so it sat here for a couple of weeks while I looked for a four-hour time bloc. Today I finally got it, so I took the plunge. I watched Heaven's Gate.

A whole lot has been said and written about this movie, and I found it hard to watch without all that baggage. But I tried.

In case you didn't know, Heaven's Gate is a Western from 1980. It was Michael Cimino's first movie after he was annointed the next big thing when The Deer Hunter swept through the 1978 Oscars. United Artists gave Cimino a lot of leeway in developing his next project, and the production hemorraged money. Then he turned in a first draft to the studio that came in at five hours long. It was cut to 220 minutes for the New York critics' screening, where it was met with stunned silence and a slew of horrific reviews. The studio recut the movie to below three hours and ultimately to a 90-minute version, both of which were incomprehensible. The movie only grossed a couple million dollars, and bankrupted United Artists in the process. (UA continued only as a brand owned by other companies.)

The version I watched was the New York critics screening cut, which has been continuously available on video and now DVD for a while. Looking across the Internet reviews from 1980 and from more recently, the original set is abysmal while the newer ones tend to say that it wasn't nearly as bad those reviews suggested, and some even suggest that critics were out to get the prima donna-ish Cimino. (It worked; his subsequent career is slim pickin's.)

I'm hear to tell you that the newer critics are right that the 1980 critics were too harsh, but they weren't too harsh by very much. That is to say, there are a few things to like about this movie. The underlying story (not the way it's told, mind you) is compelling. The cinematography can be kinda cool at times, with differing levels of sepia-tone and other color effects. It's fun to see Christopher Walken in an understated role, and to repeatedly see Isabelle Huppert naked. There's one belly laugh at about the two-hour mark.

And that's about it. The movie plods. Every scene is a minute too long, some are 5 minutes too long, and some are just pointless. I don't know whether to blame the editing, the cinematography, the directing or the script, but you often can't tell who you're looking at. The dialogue is poorly rendered, often difficult to hear, and often in untranslated Eastern Europe languages that I don't speak. The epilogue is even more pointless than the famously pointless prologue. The climactic battle scene is in two acts, and while the second act is well done, the first is just hopeless chaos. And for some reason people go around calling each other "citizen," and no one ever explains why.

The Heaven's Gate debacle was so bad that it made people re-examine The Deer Hunter and question whether it was really that good in the first place. I've never been a huge fan of that movie to begin with, and I should have anticipated all of the problems in the later movie, because I'd already recognized them in the earlier one. If the debate over Cimino has three positions (1. Unrecognized genius screwed by critics; 2. Mixed bag--Deer Hunter really was that good and Heaven's Gate really was that bad; or 3. He was never that good to begin with), I'd have to lean toward the third choice.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I went down to the Detroit auto show today. It's not something I would have enjoyed at most points in my life, but now that I can actually picture myself in nice cars in the not-too-distant duture, it's a lot more fun. Also, I didn't realize you can actually sit in the cars, which certainly helps the imagination.

My single favorite by far was a concept car, the Lincoln MKR. I loved the features, there's a real conservation ethic behind the interior components, and it's just a sweet-looking car to boot. Unfortuantely, the spokesdude suggested that it will probably never be built and sold as-is, but was simply designed to show off a bunch of different features that will be used across the Lincoln product line. I hope he's wrong.

Also enjoyable: the concept of spokesmodels in general. At the Jaguar display, in particular, most people were not focused on the car per se.

The wackiest display came from Changfeng Motors, which became the first Chinese company to have a full-fledged display at a major American car show. Most of their cars looked fairly normal, but the Rhombus stood out for its angular front end and it's unique wheel position--one in front, one in back, and two in the middle. Coming in a close second was the Smart Fortwo, which looks like it could actually be eaten by even a midsized SUV.

As for me, I still have 9-12 months before I replace the Civic, but the auto show certainly gave me some useful information. I still like the Saabs, and I'll consider a wide variety of cars at the "entry-level luxury" level. There's a new contender, though, because I was pleasantly surprised to fit very nicely in the Mini Cooper. It's not like I fell head over heels in love with it, but it definitely showed me something.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My Christmas miracle turned out to be a fraud. The floor in our house is very uneven (classic student ghetto housing issue), and I've noticed that if I put the scale down in the wrong place I can get a crazy reading. So I've decided to move all future weigh-ins to the bathroom, which has a hard-tile floor and thus is a bit less prone to wackiness than the hardwood. I think last week's reading is the bad one and that this week actually went fine. Still, grrrr.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Over the last two days we've had something here in Ann Arbor that apparently goes by the name "wintry mix." I always thought that wintry mix was, like, broccoli and cauliflower with maybe some pieces of some sort of gourd. But no. Wintry mix actually means that water is falling from the sky in all sorts of different ways--sleet, snow, ice, rain, possibly even some ice-nine--and then freezing on impact. This makes certain things suck; among them are walking around outside, driving, having left anything under anything else that can normally support itself but when covered with ice not so much, and living in Ann Arbor.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I know this is a philistine thing to say, but I've been saying it for a long time and I stand by it: I hate reading movies. Some people just don't like subtitles because they're work; while that can be true especially if you're tired, that's not my main objection. My main objection is that most non-English movies that become one of the foreign films that you're supposed to see become that way not due to their plot or characters, but because of their visuals. But instead of watching the cool-ass visuals, you have to spend half the film reading the bottom of the screen instead of looking at the cool stuff.

I bring this up because I saw a couple of foreign films when I was in L.A. I saw the apparent flavor of the moment, Pans Labyrinth, and there's no question it's a pretty film. The actors are good and it's undoubtedly beautifully filmed. I liked it OK, but I didn't love it. Part of it was the distraction of the reading. The other part was my annoyance at the general idea--it's a hyper-violent, R-rated film about war and revolution, but it's also a fairy tale. So it's a fairy tale for adults. Ridiculous concept that bothers me to no end.

The other one I saw, on DVD, was City of God. This one doesn't fit my standard objection--even though it is a visually impressive film, it's also heavily plot and character-driven and the sound and music is excellent as well. I can't add much beyond what Peter Travers said here. Along with Chungking Express, it's one of my two favorite non-English language movies, and I couldn't think of a third that's close.

What you see in the right-hand sidebar under today's date must be one of a small number of things: testament to the power of kickstarting your metabolism, walking an unbelievable amount during the wedding and L.A. portions of my vacation, or Christmas miracle. I don't question it, I just thank the metabolism gods and promise to carry the positive momentum into the year. Good times.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Wright men: Adam the groom, Joe the best man, Joe the father, Ray the uncle/wedding photographer. But this is from my camera, not his.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Unlike the fight club, the first rule of steaming vegetables is to avoid forgetting that you're steaming vegetables and sit in the living room watching TV oblivious to the fact that you're slowly creating thoroughly charred peas and a thoroughly charred pot, until the smoke alarm goes off at about 200 decibels. It's probably not a bad second rule either.

But it's not as bad as what happened to this guy.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I got back in Ann Arbor a couple of hours ago after 10 days at home, 5 days in L.A., and another day at home. At least emotionally, it was the most turbulent 2.5 weeks of my life. I don't know how I could summarize it in any comprehensive way, so I'll just present the following lists:

Things I've Done Since 12/20/06 That I Wish Everyone Could Do:

  1. Spend a glorious New Year's Day in Pasadena tailgating and watching one or more (I'd actually recommend exactly one) football teams you care about play in the Rose Bowl.
  2. End said glorious day eating the best Korean barbeque in the Western Hemisphere with good friends, and for dessert crane your neck to watch one of the craziest finishes to a college football game you'll ever see.
  3. Stand up for your brother as he marries exactly the right person for him.
  4. Walk around a neighborhood you never dreamed you could live in looking for an apartment that you actually will live in sooner rather than later.
  5. Spend Christmas with your father after fully expecting that last year's Christmas had been his last.
  6. Make a really good best man's speech that everyone else at the reception seems to enjoy just as much as you enjoyed writing and delivering.
  7. See a movie as good as Letters From Iwo Jima at a theater as good as the Arclight.
  8. Fall in love with your favorite city all over again.

Things I've Done Since 12/20/06 That I Wouldn't Wish Upon Anyone:
  1. Have to leave the place you want to live, knowing you're probably over half a year away from returning at all.
  2. Take a cross-country red-eye flight that lands at 6:15 a.m. and have to drive an hour home.
  3. Spend said flight fretting over whether the parking lot takes credit cards (it does), because you don't think you have enough cash on you to pay, nor any in your bank account to extract thanks to bad information from the financial aid office.
  4. Be the best man at a Catholic wedding, where the set-up requires you to kneel during the parts where the rest of the guests get to sit.
  5. Spend the wedding of someone 5 years younger than you wondering whether you'll ever find the right person who wants to spend a weekend with you, let alone the rest of your lives.
  6. Have to pull your father's underwear down so he can take a dump, because he can't do it for himself.
  7. Cut your trip home short because you just recharged your batteries with a glorious vacation, and every moment at home is draining it again at a rate you cannot fathom.
  8. Know that each time you say goodbye to your father it could be the last time, and for the first time see in his eyes that he knows it too.

1 Thing I Have Done Since 12/20/06 That I Both Wish Everyone Could Do And Also Don't Recommend To Anyone:
  1. Eat a lifetime supply of cookies in 17 days.