February 28, 2011

February 25, 2011

February 25, 2011

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards

I hope you’ve gathered that it’s Oscar weekend. If not, HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING UNDER A ROCK OR WHAT? At the risk of offending my religious brethren, you know the Academy Awards are my high holy day. How COULD you almost forget? Luckily, your favorite blogger (what do you mean, “who’s that?” it’s me, doofus) figured she should remind you a couple of days early, giving you enough time to buy some finger foods and find a nice clean shirt.

My picks in selected categories are below. Does this mean I will skip the categories not listed here? No way, skippy. I am down for all 127 hours of the ceremony (see what I did there?), including the pre-show red carpet. By the end of an Oscar evening, my skin has started to fuse with whatever I’m sitting on (floor, chair, couch, etc.) Don’t worry; I’ve been doing this since 1998. I’ve survived every year so far.

Actor in a Leading Role
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Animated Feature Film
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“The Illusionist”
“Toy Story 3”

Art Direction
“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”
“The King's Speech”
“True Grit”

“Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
“Inception” Wally Pfister
“The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
“The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
“True Grit” Roger Deakins

“Black Swan” Darren Aronofsky
“The Fighter” David O. Russell
“The King's Speech” Tom Hooper
“The Social Network” David Fincher
“True Grit” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Film Editing
“Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
“The Fighter” Pamela Martin
“The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
“127 Hours” Jon Harris
“The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Music (Original Score)
“How to Train Your Dragon” John Powell
“Inception” Hans Zimmer
“The King's Speech” Alexandre Desplat
“127 Hours” A.R. Rahman
“The Social Network” Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Best Picture
“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“The Kids Are All Right”
“The King's Speech”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Winter's Bone"

Sound Editing
“Inception” Richard King
“Toy Story 3” Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
“Tron: Legacy” Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
“True Grit” Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
“Unstoppable” Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound Mixing
“Inception” Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
“The King's Speech” Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
“Salt” Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
“The Social Network” Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
“True Grit” Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Visual Effects
“Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
“Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell
“Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
“Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
“127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
“The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
“True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
“Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“Another Year” Written by Mike Leigh
“The Fighter” Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
“Inception” Written by Christopher Nolan
“The Kids Are All Right” Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
“The King's Speech” Screenplay by David Seidler

February 24, 2011

February 24, 2011

Duly Noted Recommends: Volume 27

As proud as I’ve been of my state’s time in the sun recently, I’m afraid that the world at large is going to think Wisconsin is filled with nothing but protesting cheeseheads. When you don’t rile us up, we’re actually lovely people (with an overwhelming affinity for dairy, sure). So while I encourage you to follow the news with keen interest, here are some other things I think you should try.

Adding cocoa to your coffee. Now, I use the instant form of both beverages (Mel, I’m sorry—it’s just too easy!) so adding more powder to powder is pretty simple. For those of you that actually brew java (or the fewer still that make homemade hot chocolate), the logistics will be trickier. Still, the combination is a perfect remedy for pre-spring blahs.

The video for "Stuck Like Glue." Please don’t call me a country music fan. Of all the genres, it’s the one I like the least. You may call it the American story; I would point out that I have an education, a working vehicle, and a stable relationship. WHOSE AMERICA, HMM? Anyway, just because I write off a genre at the macro level doesn’t mean an occasional Good Song won’t pop through. The music is catchy, but the music video—in which the lead singer’s behavior escalates from infatuation to full-blown kidnapper—is frankly hilarious.

Using sprouts vice lettuce. It’s a cruel fact of life that many things used by singles are packaged for couples. Hotel rooms. Fudgsicles. Alfalfa sprouts. Though I love alfalfa sprouts like Charlie Sheen and “the crack,” those little containers hold a LOT of the buggers. Even if I ate three salads a day, I would probably fail to use them all. And I hate to waste. So I’ve decided to start substituting sprouts for other vegetables whenever possible. And it was good.

This may not be rocket science, but even astronauts need a suggestion now and then.

February 23, 2011

February 23, 2011

Things I’ve Read: The Queen of Babble Trilogy

As I stated yesterday, my commute allows me a lot of time for reading. A lot. Of time. I try to spend a fair amount of that time on good books. What you might call the classics. Of Swift. Of Austen. Of Dickens. Of Tolstoy. (Well, not yet of Tolstoy, but only because I had to first buy a new workbag to fit any of his giant works.) (It is for this reason I had to immediately return The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 to the library. That sucker could knock the wind out of you, for real.)

However, in the same way that dieters give themselves an occasional splurge meal, I give myself an occasional splurge read. These reads are chosen by (no joke) attractiveness of covers. I wander the library stacks and pick novels featuring bold fonts and whatnot. A Meg Cabot book called Queen of Babble caught my eye recently, so I read it. I continued on with its sequels Queen of Babble in the Big City and Queen of Babble Gets Hitched.

Lizzie Cabot is the titular queen, so nicknamed because she can’t keep her mouth shut. I’m sure Cabot meant to gain affinity with her readers here. (I’m assuming the typical chick lit reader finds herself opening mouth and inserting foot quite often.) I’ve always been rather reticent, though. Lizzie’s other endearing trait is affinity for fashion. She loves clothing, both form and function. So much so that she majored in it, and ends up working in it.

(Avast, ye spoilers.)

In book 1, Lizzie spends a summer in England. She meets a prince (it happens, at least in chick lit) and falls in love. Friends, family, and other characters walk in and out of the plot. Lizzie worries about finishing the dissertation required before she can actually graduate.

In book 2, Lizzie moves to New York City and moves in with the prince. Friends, employers, and other characters walk in and out of the plot. Lizzie worries about finding a paying job. The book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger when the prince proposes.

In book 3, Lizzie prepares for her wedding. Friends, family, employers, and other characters walk in and out of the plot. Lizzie worries about whether she’s making the right decision. She ends up marrying NOT the prince, but a friend who’s been around since book 1 and secretly in love with her since forever. AWW.

This is not the literature that humanity will be remembered for after the robots take over. But it is a wonderful palate cleanser between Brian Greene’s string theory and Anna Karenina.

February 22, 2011

February 22, 2011

Periodical Table

Occupational hazard of living in the DC area: too much time to read. Unusually for me, I have quantifiable evidence on this. A list of my current periodical subscriptions, solely commute reading:

Entertainment Weekly
Real Simple

Not to add the daily commuter paper (The Express) and the book I always have on hand.

Not good, right? I mean, I’m sure George Washington spent his commute reading the Bible. (Kidding. He actually had a slave read it to him.) Whereas I’m looking at the latest Kardashian hijinks. In my defense, I have not yet acquired an e-reader. Even though such a thing as Hello Kitty e-reader skins exist.

I mean, how adorable is that? Honestly, it’ll go much easier for our eventual robot overlords if they come in the guise of HK.

Am I the only person keeping the print industry afloat, or do you have subscriptions, too?

February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011

Abraham's Surprise

Since I live in the DC area now, I've lost all perspective when it comes to federal holidays. They're pretty much equivalent to a regular holiday here. When I lived in Milwaukee, they were odder. Banks and post offices were closed; everything else was open.

I'm going to spend the day watching ads for "holiday sales" and wondering what holiday they're referring to, whether they just recycled their Christmas commercials, and how displeased Lincoln would have been that his surname features prominently in a movie starring Matthew McConaughey.*


* I got the spelling right on the first try. That is either really impressive or really sad.

February 17, 2011

February 17, 2011

New Coke

So now they’re saying that drinking diet soda leads to strokes. To be fair, many other good things (sorry, Martha) can also lead to strokes: running in marathons, watching TV, and stalking Andrew Garfield among them.


Where was I? Oh, yes. Diet soda and strokes. To quote:

“The study, which followed more than 2,500 New Yorkers for nine or more years, found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events, including stroke and heart attack, than those who completely eschewed the diet drinks.”

First: “Eschewed”? Really? Has Oscar Wilde started writing for MSNBC?

Second: 61 percent isn’t that bad, right? I’m no math person, but it seems to me that 61 percent is nowhere near the “MUST STOP NOW” event horizon. If you could definitively prove that my daily Diet Coke(s) made my heart twice as likely to explode, well then you’d have something. Science fail.

Third: Vascular Events would make a great band, trivia team, or party planning business name.

The article tempers its wildly unsatisfying premise by noting that it might not be the soda. It might be the fact that Americans tend to order a triple Whopper with that Diet Coke. Plausible, I suppose, in the way that your boyfriend’s claim to be allergic to your mom’s dogs is plausible. (Hint: he is actually allergic to your mom. Sorry.)

My one hope is the article’s suggestion that it could be the caramel coloring that’s doing it. The way I see it, we have a solution to that already: Crystal Pepsi. Clear colas solve two huge problems for me: vascular events (apparently) and stains from spills (very very definitely).


February 16, 2011

February 16, 2011

Today, Marvin Gardens. Tomorrow, the world.

Okay, look. It’s been hard enough watching a freaking machine trounce my beloved KenJen on Jeopardy! this week. While all the stupid IBM engineers applaud their monstrous masterwork. Sad face, you guys. Sad face.


To quote, “In the center [of the gameboard], instead of dice and Chance and Community Chest cards, an infrared tower with a speaker issues instructions, keeps track of money and makes sure players adhere to the rules. The all-knowing tower even watches over advancing the proper number of spaces.”

This might be beyond even the most Orwellian of humanity’s nightmares. Next thing you know, we’re going to get rid of boards and pieces all together and only use our bodies.

What’s that you say? The Kinect?? IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING???

Hasbro is apparently trying to appeal to younger kids who are more prone to video games than board games. You know how we solve that problem? By leaving the kids to their bleeping video games while the rest of us roll our Yahtzee dice, push our chess pieces, and flip our Scrabble tiles.

The article also cites an all-knowing computer as an enforcer of even the obscure rules. Yes, because what humanity needs is artificial intelligence keeping us in line.


You gotta know when to hold ‘em? Know when to fold ‘em? Know when to walk away? Know when to flee the omnipresent robot rulers?

February 15, 2011

February 15, 2011

Two Roads Diverged

In this economy, those of us with jobs are grateful, and those of us without jobs would give much to join the former group. Maybe money can’t buy happiness, but it can make your misery a lot more comfortable. I believe Marie Antoinette lived on pastry and diet soda until she was beheaded, right?

However, a recent WSJ (we’re like *this*, so I abbreviate) article claims that the five best jobs, based on “based on income, working environment, stress, physical demands and job outlook” are:

1. Software Engineer
2. Mathematician
3. Actuary
4. Statistician
5. Computer Systems Analyst

(In case you’re wondering, the bottom five are taxi driver, roofer, lumberjack, ironworker, and roustabout. Tempting, I know!)

You’re smart, so you’ve already noticed that the best jobs have a definite left-brain theme. Math. Computers. Math. The message to the right-brained is clear: you are not the future. And, okay, we get that. Art and literature aren’t going to beat China. We’re not going to sing them to death. (Once the robots take over, I imagine the arts will be completely disregarded as we hail our new metallic overlords. S’okay; creativity had a good run.)

For those of us either employed by or practicians of the arts, fret not. The need for a servant caste will always exist. I’m thinking the dancers will do best, since their muscles are already developed. One day of hard farm labor would totally going to kill me; this is why I will pledge allegiance to the robots early.

Unfortunately for young people, the difference between studying what you love to do (e.g. music) and what will actually get you work (e.g. accounting) has never been greater. If Robert Frost were writing now, I wonder if he would still take the path less traveled by?

February 14, 2011

February 10, 2011

February 10, 2011

My Waxy Valentine

I know I’ve said this before, and I know I’ll say it again (several thousand more times before my trip to London in October), but let me repeat that British People Are Cooler Than Americans. The most recent evidence? A London gallery now allows one to pose with a wax version of Prince William. There’s even a replica of the engagement ring. It’s only on display until a few weeks before the wedding (I know I don’t need to remind you of the date), so you’d best hurry to get your photo with Wills.

Sure, it doesn’t look much like him. But there’s always the chance that he’ll happen to see your Facebook profile (IT COULD HAPPEN) and realize that you look just as good on his arm as That Woman. I’m told that alcohol will also be served (perhaps at the exhibit opening?), so those of you who imbibe can try getting the prince’s attention by drunkenly attempting to remove his statue from the premises. (To be fair, you’re more likely to appeal to Harry than William with that sort of behaviour.) (YES, I CAN SPELL LIKE THEM IF I WANT TO.)

You may be the type of person who finds wax figurines eerie and disturbing, in that uncanny valley with androids and Kardashian sisters. Normally, I would be with you. But this is the monarchy. You could carve the Queen out of butter and it would be classy.

(Related: Have you people seen this Telegraph.co.uk? It’s like the Washington Post, BUT BRITISH. Like, the editorials and articles and cartoons are done by British people. Zomg.)

(Related to Related: The Telegraph appears to have taken a page from The New Yorker. Specifically, the page featuring cartoons that are not funny.)

February 9, 2011

February 9, 2011

The Virtue of the Golden Leaf

Several weeks ago, I spent a long weekend visiting friend-of-blog Amanda in the Raleigh/Durham area. Though not my first visit to The South, I definitely saw a few things that made me raise my eyebrows even more judgmentally than usual.

Like the Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum. An historic site so unabashedly pro-tobacco, one must respect its dedication to the proposition that all men are created equally prone to enjoy tobacco if they would just try it already, and also if the stupid health lobbies would just shutup.

The orientation film (title: “The Virtue of the Golden Leaf”) opens with quotes from stodgy Englishmen on the “evils” of tobacco. But since they’re British, they are obvious wrong, right?

Visitors then walk through a small museum where they learn the methods for growing, harvesting, and selling tobacco.

If you elect to go on the guided tour, you get to see the building where Washington Duke’s empire started.

It wasn’t much to begin with, but he managed to make enough to endow a pretty awesome university in perpetuity (Go Blue Devils!) and also, the entire RDU area.

So despite my enjoyment of clean cancer-free air, I thought this place was, well, a hoot. Your personal feelings about tobacco aside, you can’t deny its importance as a cash crop.

February 8, 2011

February 7, 2011

February 3, 2011

February 3, 2011

Things I’ve Read: The Importance of Being Kennedy / Gone with the Windsors

You and I could be living history right now. Like, every day. Even though we are not currently famous, and may never be. (Let’s be realistic: If I were going to be a published author, it would probably have happened already. Where’s your jet pack, Zuckerberg?) See, we may know someone who, someday, is going to blow the world of science, technology, and/or the arts right out of the water. It is at that point that you—or I—can gain moderate notoriety by giving interviews about how we once were so-and-so’s co-worker/babysitter/neighbor/dogwalker.

Everyone wants their 15 minutes. Not a new phenomenon; people have been frantically brushing up against the rich and famous since approximately the beginning of time. (See: Seth, the original also-ran.) Two books I read recently, both by Laurie Graham, examine the famous families through the fictional prism of someone in their inner circle.

The Importance of Being Kennedy is narrated by Nora Brennan, in the form of a diary. Nora was the nursemaid to the Kennedy clan, from Joe Jr. to Teddy. Since Joe Sr. was busy, y’know, trying to rule the world and all, Nora was the one who really got to know the kids. She saw firsthand how they were groomed for public life, drilled to perfection, and taught to overlook their parents’ indiscretions.

Though the facts will be nothing new to anyone familiar with the family, the characterizations (especially of Rosie) are a bit more intimate than you’d get from Wikipedia or History’s now-defunct miniseries. Mrs. Kennedy enjoyed raising children even less than she enjoyed having them. The only bonus for her were the rewards she got for each kid: vacations, vehicles, and the like. Kathleen’s liasons dangereux are all the more tragic when you know that they’ll be the literal end of her. And Rose. Poor Rose. Few of us would argue the tragedy of Rose Kennedy—fewer still would deny how it underscores her father’s complete compulsion to Perfect Children. But while we are most familiar with Rosie post-procedure, the personality presented in these pages brings a fullness to her life that makes what happened even more tragic.

The book ends well before JFK’s assassination, Chappaquiddick, or any of the latter-day Kennedy clan moments. But it shows a bit of the string-pulling that brought those scenes to be.

Gone With the Windsors, on the other hand, is the story of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson as recounted by Simpson’s friend Maybell Brumby. They leave for England little realizing that war and the very throne will soon come their way. Despite being the hardcore fan of British class structure that I am, I found the “We went to ___’s dinner; they served ___; ___ and ___ were there” passages a bit tedious. I would’ve preferred something from Simpson’s point of view, or perhaps her lady’s maid. Someone who was a bit more “in the room,” if you will, when the great decision of abdication was being made. It’s one thing to give up a job for love. It is another thing entirely when that job has been in your blood for like a thousand years.

Fans of the monarchy will find plenty to like. Just not as much as they could have if the grand tradition of below-stairs gossip had played a larger role.

February 1, 2011

February 1, 2011

Rise of the Machines

February means different things to different people. If you’re a romantic, it’s time for Valentine’s Day celebration. If you’re Canadian, it’s time to bust out the flags. If you’re visiting New Zealand, it’s time to figure out what a Waitangi is and whether you can eat it.

If you’re me, it’s time to start combating the machines. Join me, won’t you?

It all started when I read an article about how robots are taking over one of my most beloved game shows. It’s not that I like watching Jeopardy! because it is a game of skill rather than chance. (My favorite game on The Price is Right? Plinko.) What I really like about Jeopardy! Is Alex Trebek that it rewards people with a freakish knowledge of trivia. And it rewards them not with dining room sets or cars they’ll never drive. It rewards them with cold hard cash.

As a child, my desire to be a Jeopardy! contestant was second only to my jonesing to appear on Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, a PBS game show whose brief existence illuminated my summer vacations. As I’ve grown older, my dreams involving capturing Carmen have decreased, but those involving a bank of TV monitors and answering in the form of a question have not.

So when I got a little email kindly informing me that the online tests were opening, did I sign up? YOU BET I DID. I don’t want to jinx myself by saying too much more, but you know me well enough to realize that I’ve been freaking out ever since.

Do I need to study?

Would studying even help?

Should I search for tips from past test takers?

If I do well on the test, will they even audition in the DC area?

Would they be wiling to put me on television, even though I am likely to spill something on myself before the taping and/or accidentally punch Alex instead of shaking his hand?

I’ll be watching the robot episodes with a keen eye, to be sure. Who knows—that droid could well be my competition.