October 31, 2013

October 30, 2013

October 30, 2013

Love It More Than Sharks Love Blood

House of Cards, I’m confident to report, is the best thing I’ve seen on television this year.

That’s right: on television. Despite its release on Netflix, and thus possible categorization as some sort of online production, its style and its substance absolutely rank it with the very best “traditional” TV has to offer.

For goodness’ sake, watch it now. Or read the little bit I’m going to say about it, and then watch it. (Spoiler alerts, because I suspect a number of events from the British version will play out in seasons 2 and following of the US version.)

The series is based on a British production. Three four-hour miniseries from the 1990s. I watched them before the US version came out, partially to prepare but also because I love British politics even more than almost as much as even more than I love American ones. Obviously, some things had to be adapted for the US market, due to our not having a Parliament and all.

(But oh if ONLY…)

I’m not going to waste your time by talking plot; you likely have some idea of what the show’s about already. (Or have even seen it yourself; I’m quite late to the party, I know.) Rather, I’m going to do a bit of a compare/contrast analysis, because now that I’m no longer a student my opportunities for such criticism are sadly lacking.

What I Liked

Claire Underwood. The British version had four hours to cover the events in HoC; the US version had thirteen. Understandable, then, that certain events and roles were either created or elongated to fill the time. The best example is this character. The wife in the British version was seen little and heard even less. But here, Robin Wright Penn gets a job and a personality and is pretty much the thinking woman’s dreamgirl.

The down and dirty dealmaking. As much as we all like to pretend that politics is full of idealists, it’s actually full of pragmatists that owe each other. The job of the whip—and thus the focus of HoC—is making deals. We got to see a lot more of that here than in the British version, or perhaps it’s that the deals make more sense to me when they’re American (e.g. getting the CoS’s kid into Stanford) rather than British (pretty much every constituent issue raised on any given Prime Minister’s Questions).

Stamper. In the British version, Tim Stamper was scary. In the US version, Doug Stamper scared the living shit out of me. Exactly as he should.

What I Didn’t Like

The Sentinel. Here, the dark side of having more hours to fill. I didn’t mind SC peach/butt kerfufflegate, because we mustn’t forget that even the House leadership has to deal with silly home state issues. But the entire hour spent at Underwood’s alma mater, drunken revelry and possible homosexuality included, advanced the plot how, exactly?

WARNING, MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Zoey Barnes is still alive. At the end of the British HoC miniseries (again, that’s the first four hours of twelve), Francis Urquhardt pushes Mattie Storin off the roof of the Houses of Parliament. She dies, people. And she’s become quite meddlesome by that point, so we FoUs (Friends of Urquhardt) kind of enjoy it. Now, I realize that Kate Mara is a big name and everything, but Zoey has become just as meddlesome as Mattie was. TheBoy and I spent the first twelve hours listing buildings we thought she would get pushed off of. Disappointing.

(For those of you who really want to know, here’s a bit of a tease: The DVD lists four names: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll. By the end of the British version, three of those characters are dead. Dun dun DUN!)
                                                                                              
THE SPOILER ALERTS ARE OVER. PLEASE RETURN YOUR SEATS TO THEIR UPRIGHT AND LOCKED POSITIONS.

The sexting. I’m a leetle doubtful that someone of Francis’s position and age would be such a skilled texter. (At least it was a BlackBerry, though.) And don’t give me the Anthony Weiner argument; Francis has a good decade plus on Underwood. I know men of Underwood’s generation. I work with men of Underwood’s generation. I’m related to men of Underwood’s generation. They don’t text. Related: When Francis calls Zoey, he pops up on her caller ID as “Francis Underwood.” REALLY?

Where do we go from here? I have a few ideas, but I don’t want to spoil more than I already have. Because the ending of the British version is a doozy. I will say that I don’t think this ends with the Vice Presidency, anyway.

October 28, 2013

October 28, 2013

What Happened in Vegas, Part 1

Though I’d planned for years to spend my 30th birthday in and around Las Vegas, it wasn’t until recently that I picked specifics. I knew that I wanted to visit the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. I knew that I wanted to see a magic show. I knew that I wanted to rob the Mirage, the Bellagio, and the MGM Grand on a fight night. And I knew that I wanted to eat half my body weight in shrimp.

Government shutdown notwithstanding, I accomplished almost all of these aims.

The first day of the trip, October 8, was my actual birthday. Because I flew west, the magic of time zones meant that my birthday actually lasted for 27 hours. It also meant that by the time I landed, I was starving like a mofo. Thankfully, that was quickly rectified.

Let’s pretend this is all I ate.

I’d heard good things about the Fremont Street Experience, which turned out to be a sort of covered arcade lined with older casinos and shops.


But also with the Heart Attack Grill, which I for some reason always assumed was in the South.

If only I hadn’t already eaten lunch.

Since I was downtown (rather than on the Strip), I decided to also check out Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, of Pawn Stars fame. I progressed from “I’ll just ride past it on the bus” to “I’ll just take pictures of the outside” to “I’ll just pop in for a bit if the line isn’t too long.” Don’t worry; this story doesn’t end with my buying an antique sword or anything.

It was much smaller than it looks on TV. That’s what she said.

The rest of day one was spent wandering the Strip, marveling at the size of the casinos and the lack of open container laws. My favorite bit was the Bellagio fountain, which uses so much water it blocked out the freaking sun.


In part 2: The Grand Canyon, dysentery, and my grateful thanks to the Hualapai Nation.

October 25, 2013

October 25, 2013

FY 2013 Book of the Year: The Contenders

I read a lot of books. A lot. Combine long commutes with a love of books and you realize you consistently get through two or three tomes a week. It adds up. It also means there are simply too many for me to write in detail about, deserving as they may be. I try to mention the best of the best, but as I recently compiled a shortlist to buy for friend-of-blog P’s upcoming birthday, I realize that there was more to be said.

These are some of the best books I read in the 12 months since friend-of-blog P’s last birthday, the dates of which roughly coincide with the federal government’s fiscal year. Without further ado, the also-rans for my Book of the Year:


NON-FICTION

America, You Sexy Bitch
In which Meghan McCain (daughter of John) and comedian Michael Ian Black take a roadtrip across this crazy country of ours. They stop in states both red and blue, and meet folks of her conservative ilk and his liberal one. Funny and unexpectedly touching.

Self-Inflicted Wounds
It’s possible to have a crazy upbringing and still turn out leggy and hilarious. Aisha Tyler did it, and she doesn’t shy from the punches. Chapters have titles like “The Time I Accidentally Set Myself on Fire.” Loved it.

Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture
Short (and I mean short) essays on the philosophy of different quotes from books, film, TV. “Wax on, wax off” isn’t just a catchy saying. It’s a way of life.


FICTION

The Engagements
Which traces the lifetime of one diamond ring through a number of owners. “Diamonds are forever” was coined to sell more diamonds around the Mad Men era. But in a technical sense, it’s true; diamonds are tough little mofos, and pretty hard to destroy. This book is like a neat nesting-doll set of stories. Barely missed the shortlist.

Seating Arrangements
A novel of manners similar to The Engagements, but set over the weekend of a wedding. Unlike HIMYM’s current season, though, it’s enjoyable.

Before I Go to Sleep
Think Memento, but not told backwards. Each day, the main character wakes up with no memory of what happened since she had a major traumatic car accident (spoiler: or was it?). At some point, she started journaling her days, and this journal becomes her lifeline as she pieces together wtf really happened to her. This year’s Gone Girl. Chilling in a completely-absorbing way.

Lexicon
In which certain people can use magic/superpowers/whatever-you-wanna-call-it to control and even injure other people. It’s a sort of messed-up sci-fi love story, and I loved it.

Amped
If you liked Robopocalypse, you’ll like this. Same author, more robots. Specifically, humans with robotic enhancements. Imagine, if you will, that a small chip implanted in the brain, could cure a number of neurological diseases: Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and the like. Amazing, right? Nobel award-winning stuff, right? Now imagine that that same chip, implanted in a “normal” brain, creates superintelligence. Which some (specifically, those who can’t afford it) would call an unfair advantage.

Actually, hang on. I need to write a fuller review of this one. Stay tuned.

These aren't the three very best books I read; I'll tell you about those later. And there are many others that I read and didn't care for, or at least didn't care for as much as I liked all of these. Start here, and stay tuned for my top three.