Monday, July 28, 2014

Binging and Purging

In just a few short years, the concept of binge watching a TV show over the course of a weekend has gone from covert activity to guilty little secret to blatantly-confessed event.  That this trend of watching television has grown more prominent clearly isn’t in doubt – look no further than Netflix’s practice of releasing entire seasons of its programming all on the same day for evidence that this is a pattern that entertainment studios will continue to look toward in the future.  And none of us are alone in this - 61% of Americans binge-watch their television, a sizeable demographic, but also a sizeable shift in the way we watch TV over the past decade.
I feel you, animated person.  I feel you.

But for those of us enjoying the entertainment rather than thinking about the business implications, we sometimes have to balance the desire to sit and binge an entire series against how much time we can realistically spend on the couch in our pajamas.  Thankfully, the good people at Nielsen have got us covered on this one.

Released earlier this year, Nielsen (the same company that tracks viewership for your favorite television shows which also makes it sorta kinda the same advisory body that is responsible for killing your favorite television shows after it has determined that not enough test households are watching) has put together a list of how much time it actually takes to binge watch a variety of shows.

Want to watch the entirety of the BBC’s Sherlock and bask in all its Cumberbatch-ery? That’s going to cost you 14 hours of your time.  Up for the political machinations of Kevin Spacey?  House of Cards will take 22 hours.  The Walking Dead can serve up a full one day, fifteen hours of zombies straight to your living room.  If you want to go to there, 30 Rock will take two days, two hours all together.  Mad Men weighs in at two days, nine hours. How I Met Your Mother takes three days, two hours to get to the damn point already. (That point is that Ted is a terrible person.)  Better pray that you don’t run out of time – 24 takes six days, two hours to watch completely.

And yet, that’s still not even scratching the surface for some shows.  Supernatural can give you six days and one hour’s worth of ridiculously overly attractive people fighting demons.  Law and Order: SVU takes ten days and ten hours to tell stories about horrible people doing horrible things.  Binging on donuts and The Simpsons will last you eight days, ten hours (and going strong).   It will take 12 days, nine hours to catch every episode of Pokemon.  And if you really, really want to have an experience with warping both space and time, it takes more than two full weeks to watch every episode of Doctor Who.

The scary thing? Homer's still only on the Fifth Doctor.

Knowledge is power, my good people.  Don’t go into your binge-watch this weekend without knowing what you’re committing to. 

To see the full list of how long it takes to watch TV’s popular shows, go here.  To see how long your favorite sci-fi shows take, it’s here.  Finally, if you really want to know how much of your lives you’ve lost to cartoons, this is the place

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Strain

My friend, GeekNomad, and I are both fans of Guillermo del Toro's The Strain Trilogy of books (though she liked it better than I did). When I heard that FX was turning the books into a television series, I wasn't sure if it was a good idea. Did we really need another series about vampires? The books explored a different and frankly, darker, outcome of the vampirism-as-virus genre, but I wasn't sure how that would translate to a network television series. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if it worked out that well. Here to fill you in on the good and bad of FX's newest drama series is our new guest poster, GeekNomad!

A caveat before we begin: I loved the book The Strain. It has that kind of slow, sinister creep that makes you turn on all the lights in your house while you’re reading.

Like his more famous work, Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s horror/vampire/we’reallgonnadie trilogy started out with a seemingly straightforward, if depressing premise (plane full of dead people on a JFK tarmac, girl and mother in the clutches of a sadistic fascist) and spun a web to pull you in. Slowly. Carefully.

He let’s you think that everything might turn out ok...and then slowly it unravels. And you learn about the heart. The history. The creeping terror.

The TV version has opted to forego the slow descent into horror for the tried and true approach - gore and noise. And a really daft voiceover on the intro and finale. Rather than let the audience lean forward slowly in their seats as they’re sucked into the story, the director grabs us and tries to force us to pay attention, to care. It doesn’t necessarily work, which is a great disappointment.

From FX:
The Strain is a high concept thriller that tells the story of "Dr. Ephraim Goodweather," the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers, wage war for the fate of humanity itself.
The TV version opens onto the interior of the doomed plane. Following a distracting and hokey voiceover regarding the power of love, we follow a nice, capable flight attendant (she talks to a child and speaks French, naturally) to the back of the plane, where her hysterical colleague tells her there’s something living in the plane (of course there is, you’re in a horror show). Disbelief, followed by loud screaming ensues as something makes its way out from the storage by force. Yelling, screaming, and cut.


The book starts differently, with a horror story told to Setrakian ("Professor Abraham Setrakian is a dedicated (and perhaps fanatical) vampire hunter for over six decades. He is an expert on vampire biology and destruction, and recruits Eph to his cause." --Maggie Cats) by his grandmother, and a snippet of the black box recording. No screams. No loud bangs. Just a quiet, sinister creep. Why the show couldn’t have started there, with the next scene, of the air traffic controllers realizing something is horribly wrong, is beyond me. To borrow from the book, “...she had a fleeting yet palpable sensation of standing in the presence of a dragon-like beast. A sleeping dragon only pretending to be asleep, yet capable, at any moment of opening its eyes and its terrible mouth...And she understood it then, unequivocally: something in there was going to eat her...” Suspense, not violence.

It would have worked.

And then the scene with Setrakian and the thugs, followed by Setrakian and his weak heart. The thugs, yes, and necessary for later. But the heart? Why take all the mystery out of it? Putting that out in the first episode is like laying your cards on the table in Las Vegas. The book waited, before drawing us in to Setrakian’s hidden world behind the storefront. Let him keep a little mystery for goodness’ sake.

Some of the scenes are good - Dr. Goodweather pwning the other acronym agencies and securing first rights onto the plane, Setrakian pwning the thugs... But it just feels a little rushed, like the director wanted to hurry us to the next scene where they spoil things for the rest of the book. Hurry up and get to the power hungry guy with the dialysis machine. Hurry up and get to the ATC guy getting eaten/pounded by the Dementor. No suspense. Shock, not horror.

No seriously, the vampire is THIS big.

But all that said, I’ll keep watching. I feel like I owe it to the books. The story itself is good. The acting is spot on. Corey Stoll does a fantastic job, with hair this time, of the good but flawed guy trying to do his best in a bad situation.

Thankfully, unlike his House of Cards character, you think he might have a chance at it. Sean Astin/Samwise Gamgee, proves to be a bit less trustworthy than his Hobbity past, which is refreshing, though, again, draw it out a little, damnit. I keep expecting Setrakian to carry around a red-eyed cat instead of a cane sword, but that’s hardly his fault. The acting by the lead women has been good, if limited, and I could do without the tropes of the naughty librarian/scientist (glasses on = work, glasses off = let’s talk about our relationship) and the unfeeling/distant wife.

I’m just hoping that the director will drink less coffee, give his audience a bit more credit, and slow the heck down. Give me suspense. Give me horror. Give me nightmares.

The Strain airs Sundays at 10:00PM EST on FX.  The first episode is available for viewing on the FX website.

You'll see a lot of similarities between these vampires and those of del Toro's Blade 2. Mostly that they are really really gross.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Warmed Over Leftovers, Anyone?

This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends.  This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang, but with cryptic mysteries, several cults, and a bunch of dog murders.  Or, at least, that’s how HBO’s new series The Leftovers would have us believe it will go.  Allow me to explain with mild spoilers for just the first episode.

The end of the world will be shadowed dramatically. 

The Leftovers begins with a Rapture-like event on October 14 of some nameless roughly modern year whereby 2% of the world’s population, from babies to old women, suddenly vanish, clothing and all. Three years later, the small town of Mapleton, NY, is planning their “Heroes Day” remembrance parade to commemorate the missing and Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is concerned that a group called the Guilty Remnants, one of the many nascent cults that have sprung up since The Disappearance, will make problems at the event.  Kevin’s teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Quailey) is both despondent about her shattered family and wrestling with her own teenage demons while her brother, Tom (Chris Zylka), is estranged from his family and working for a charismatic cult leader who claims to be able to heal people.

The Guilty Remnants, meanwhile, are indeed planning a silent but antagonistic protest of the parade.  The GRs are notable for wearing all while, never speaking, and being required to always smoke a cigarette.  I know.  Weird.  But, you know.  Cult.  Regardless, despite being led to believe that the Garvey family was shattered by the disappearance of Mrs. Garvey, we learn that she is actually very much appeared but is a key member of the GRs and actively working to recruit a new member in Meg Abbot (Liv Tyler), a woman about to be married but for some reason not terribly excited about that prospect.  The four family members form our core characters and the myriad others radiate from their hub.

Just your average Chief of Police, chief-ing away.

So what we have is a thinly disguised interpersonal drama set against the backdrop of a fantasy story wherein something extremely mysterious has happened and lots of people with interweaving backstories connect.  If you’re thinking that this maybe sounds a lot like something else that you’ve seen recently there’s a reason: the show is the product of Damon Lindelof, the former Executive Producer and head writer of Lost.  And boy oh boy, does it ever show.

The Leftovers layers on the mysteries.  What was The Disappearance?  We don’t know, but we’re told that it emphatically was probably not actually the Rapture, or else how else to explain how it is that in addition to all the sinless and blameless babies that Disappeared along with them went a fair share of jerks, scumbags, moral miscreants and other general bad people.  (A news program runs a humorous “In Memoriam” segment of the famous who Disappeared including Pope Benedict, Condoleezza Rice, Solomon Rushdie,  Jennifer Lopez, and Gary Busey.)   Why does the religious healer receive visions that tell him “the Grace Period is over”?  Why does Garvey have disturbing dreams about animals embedding themselves into his car?  And what’s up with the pack of dogs that supposedly went feral and now live in the woods and why is a man with a massive speech impediment trying to hunt them all down and shoot them?  “You can’t just shoot our dogs,” Garvey tells the man upon seeing him go after a pack of the dogs that seem to appear out of nowhere.  “They’re not our dogs,” the man mumbles cryptically.  “Not anymore.”

All of this adds up to a show with a fair amount of potential, especially given that this is HBO which is far more willing to let its shows be experimental and intense than national networks are.  And the first episode does a good job establishing the world and teasing out the key questions of the series as well as making us if not care about the main characters, at least have more than a passing interest in seeing what happens to them.  The big problem will always remain Damon Lindelof himself.

"We're going to have to have everything not-explained to us by Allison Janney, aren't we?"

Lindelof really, really wants to write smart, provocative shows that use fantastical and supernatural elements to tell very relatable human stories.  That’s a fine goal, but the problem is that he tends to trip over his own shoes when he attempts to meet it.  He wants us, the viewers, to be more interested in the characters he creates than the mystery that brings them together.  That’s absolutely what should happen, but unfortunately the man has a history of succumbing to a need to add complexity upon complexity for no reason other than to make the story interesting or cool.  Lost collapsed under its own bloated weight for this exact reason.  To put it simply, you can make a show about a big supernatural event and then tell the audience not to care about that event.  Characters and interactions will always trump plot when creating a TV show, but you can’t expect people not to want to know about the thing that was the show’s pitch to begin with.

I’m watching The Leftovers for now, mostly just to see if Lindelof and the other writers have achieved a sense of maturity about how they write fantasy and sci-fi.  If they can avoid the strawman arguments that Lindelof tends to set up in his own writing by having one character argue religion and another argue science as if that were a debate that had never happened before, they’ve got the kernel of a good story here.  If, on the other hand, a smoke monster shows up at any point, I’m out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

All For One

If you like a little swash with your buckle, then BBC America's The Musketeers is the show for you.

No where near as cheesy as BBC's Robin Hood, but still boasting heroes who look more heartthrob than soldiers, The Musketeers is a fun adventure series. It won't tax your brain, but still has enough of a plot to keep your attention.

Cue theme music.

The plot loosely follows Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, and all the basics are there. D'Artagnan is still a naive young man who comes to Paris and falls in with three musketeers, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. Athos is still tortured by his past betrayal by his wife (Milady de Winter), Porthos is the fun-loving one, and Aramis is the lady's man. Cardinal Richelieu is working to control King Louis and consolidate his own power.

Oh, and did I mention the Cardinal is the new Doctor?

You parked the TARDIS, where??

From BBC America's website:
The Musketeers, is set on the streets of seventeenth century Paris, where law and order is an idea more than a reality. In addition to being King Louis XIII’s personal bodyguards, Athos, Aramis and Porthos stand resolutely for social justice, honor, valor, love – and for the thrill of it.
The series bursts with escapism, adventure and romance and is set to thrill audiences with riveting stories every week.
I would agree with the adventure label and there is romance--though so far both of the female romantic interests for the main guys are married which is kind of weird--but I'm not sure it's truly escapist. It's the kind of show you have on while you do something around the house like fold laundry, do the dishes...or say, write a blog post.

The Paris of The Musketeers is also really dark; it's clearly going for a more authentic and gritty vibe, but come on. At its heart, the show is about sword fighting and foiling dastardly plots. Let's not take ourselves too seriously. There has to be a happy medium between the Disney version and showing actual filth in the streets, right?

When it comes to goofy hair, nobody has these musketeers beat.

A final note: I respect the multi-ethnic cast. Porthos is mixed race (and this is actually a salient plot point) and the actor who plays d'Artagnan is Italian and Aramis is South American (you might recognize him from Heroes where he played the artist who could paint the future, Isaac Mendez). For a show set in seventeenth century France, I like that they are at least trying to shake things up and make it not so lily white.

The Musketeers is a 10 part series that airs Sundays at 9:00 EST on BBC America.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ehrmagerhd Sperts Merbers!

Okay, peaches. Now that the U.S. Men's Soccer Team HAVE (PLURAL) lost to Belgium and we, as a nation, HERETOFORE BOYCOTT WAFFLES AS WELL AS POMMES FRITÉS*, let's settle into some Netflix while we await the World Cup final with some sperts merbers.  Who needs carbs? We need to look sick in our soccer gear. 

The Price of Gold

You guys, you guys, you guys. Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. You know you love this shit. We were treated to a recap of the Nancy and Tonya saga during this past Olympics in Sochi. NBC produced an original docu that aired, weirdly enough, before the ladies' singles figure skating finals. For the NBC production, Mary Carillo was able to gain access to Harding and Kerrigan for sit-down interviews. The Price of Gold was produced as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series, and features mostly interviews with Harding, Harding's childhood friends, and former coaches. Kerrigan only makes an appearance in figure skating and news footage. 

 The subject of many a late-night joke, the Nancy and Tonya story was one of those media events that took on a life of its own, garnering hours of media coverage and pages of newsprint devotion. The event and the spectacle that followed has not yet been forgotten by the public consciousness. It elevated the popularity of the sport, and apparently Tonya's side of the story has been turned into a musical. (The part of my brain that loves trashy media is super stoked about the latter.)

The story was simple enough. Tonya Harding was the 1991 Skate America champion, U.S. figure skating champion and a second-place finisher at Worlds. Not too bad for a girl who grew up in a poverty-stricken and dysfunctional family and who famously took skating lessons at the local mall because she couldn't afford to study privately. She was blue-eyshadowed and a little trashy, and definitely didn't fit the mold of the Disney princess-esque pseudo pageant queen that some figure skating fans have come to expect and demand. Contrast that to Nancy Kerrigan, who grew up in a working-class but loving and stable family and who fit the stereotype of the beautiful and balletic skating champion. In spite of Tonya's seeming disadvantages, it was she who won the U.S. National title in 1991, with Kerrigan coming in second.

In spite of their differences, both ladies seemed poised to take home a medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Then things all kind of went to shite. On the morning of January 6, 1994, just weeks before the start of the Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee as she came out of practice at Cobo Arena in Detroit. At first, the attack seemed to have come out of the proverbial ether, but suspicion soon fell on Tonya Harding after it was revealed that Kerrigan's assailant, Shawn Eckhart, was associated with Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Harding was accused of masterminding the plot against Kerrigan. The motive? Jealousy. Money. The usual suspects.

We skate to the death!

You see, although Harding had the titles, Kerrigan had all the corporate sponsorships, and thus, all the money. (Kerrigan was famously gifted with Olympic skating outfits by fashion designer Vera Wang.) Harding was struggling financially (she became famous for her "homemade" costumes) and felt unsupported financially by her skating federation, and was angry that no corporations had approached her, whereas Kerrigan had lined up sponsors ranging from Campbell's Soup to Evian Water. Remember, Harding was the champion, not Kerrigan.

The theory is that Harding felt Kerrigan was her biggest competition for the gold medal. The federation, and the corporate sponsors, clearly adored Kerrigan.  Nothing was ever proven against Harding, but the suspicion was that Harding thought if she could knock Kerrigan out of contention for the gold medal in Lillehammer, then she would almost certainly win. The incentive for winning the gold was motivation enough. The gold medal comes with not only all the media exposure, but a cash prize, and is generally accompanied by the aforementioned corporate sponsorships. 

Harding's feelings, according to the 30 for 30 interview, are that there is a lot of corruption in the figure skating world, and that the Olympic champion is "pre-selected" from among a list of acceptable candidates. Harding's current feeling is that her skating federation thought she was fine as the U.S. champion, but she wasn't acceptable as a World or Olympic champion, regardless of what she'd done at the 1994 Winter Games. Her homemade costumes, her athletic style, and her mouthy attitude were not marketable. (Every time I picture figure skating authorities, I picture Barry Fife from Strictly Ballroom. See below.)

To date, Tonya Harding retains her innocence. She was stripped of one of her U.S. National Champion titles and due to her famous "skate lace malfunction," did not medal at the 1994 Olympics. Nancy Kerrigan did not win gold that year, either. That honor went to Ukrainian upstart, Oksana Baiul. 

Nancy Kerrigan retired from amateur figure skating competition after Lillehammer.

Harding was banned from figure skating for life and never skated professionally again.

The sad part of it all was that Harding was a very talented, if troubled, skater. She went down in history as the first woman to land the difficult triple axel in competition.

Why, why, why?

Schooled: The Price of College Sports

You want to get schooled? 

Gather round children and hear the tale of the NCAA. This documentary is about a sports scandal, but it makes the Harding/Kerrigan fiasco look like amateur hour. I am a big supporter of college sports and of my alma mater (WE ARE SPATANSSS!!!), so this documentary made me several kinds of angrysad.

Schooled is an expose of the shocking level of greed and corruption that has taken over the NCAA. It focuses on college players, "student athletes," who are being taken for a ride at the hands of a supposedly beneficent system.

Let's pretend you are a high school athlete who has been recruited by a major football university to play gridiron football for that school, and in the process, you will be earning the school major buck$$$ as well as potentially helping the team to a national title. If all goes well and you are not injured in play, you can then be recruited by the pros. In exchange, these 17 and 18-year-olds receive tuition, room and board, and a college education that, in other circumstances, they may not be able to attain. 

Sounds like a great deal, right? Well, it's more complicated than that. As recent debates have indicated, college players are agitating for more compensation, unionization, and pay-to-play. Why have they got such a problem? The deal the athletes make with the NCAA is not as great as it seems on the surface. 

College sports in the United States is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Colleges and universities make serious bank off tickets, concessions, and merch. So, the players get a cut of that, of course. Ehhh, not so much. Profits from football and basketball games go to the NCAA and the schools.  Players are actually banned by NCAA rules from making any money off their likeness. For example, if you are a star quarterback for University of State U., the school may manufacture as many jerseys with your starting number on it, but they will not pay you any of the proceeds. If the school decides to make your team the subject of a video game created by EA sports, they can manufacture a computer generated image of you, call it you, stick your jersey number on it, sell the game, make a profit, and they do not cut you a check. They can also make multi-million-dollar deals with television networks to air games in which your team will play. Again, no dohlars for you.

But, but, but, Arsenic Pie, they get a free education! That's enough, right?

Ehh, yeah. About that "education." This is not to say that there isn't such a thing as an outstanding student and athlete at the college level. However, many athletes who are recruited by universities are not academically prepared for the rigors of a college education. Athletes are often admitted on a special status -- that means they often have lower grades and SAT scores than regular students. For example, Stanford University, with a big football program, is famously highly selective of its undergraduate students. I am not being a snob here, but higher grades and test scores are often the result of better pre-college academic preparation (they are often also a function of class privilege and wealth, but that's for another day), and better pre-college preparation often, but not always, results in higher levels of success in college. (Author's note:  I slacked off in high school but graduated college with a 3.7 #humblebrag.) Regular students at University of State U. are expected to attend a certain number of class hours and keep themselves out of academic probation. Student athletes are expected to remain academically eligible to play, in addition to the 40 to 50 hours a week they are expected to be in training and practice. There is really not a whole time for the athletes to attend class or study. This has given rise to "special classes" for athletes, in which they are required to write a paper or read a book, or some other essentially symbolic classwork that they actually have time to do. This has led to "outrage" over student athletes taking "fake" classes. Whether the classes are "fake" or not, what's true is that the athletes are not getting the same quality of education that the normally matriculated students are getting. It may be free for many of the athletes but, I get what you pay for. (???) Since student athletes have to stay academically eligible to play, and since many of them are academically unprepared, and since many athletes do not have time to keep up with a regular course load on top of their training schedule, is it really any wonder that universities have resorted to giving athletes special classes so they can stay eligible? Because the schools are deliberately recruiting athletes that they willingly know are woefully academically unprepared in order to have a better team so they can win more games. Winning more games = more potential for a championship title. Winning a championship title = more money. So, the argument that they're getting a free education in exchange for their play doesn't hold much water with me. If it's not of the same quality as the other degree-holders from the same university, then it is separate and it is unequal. Athletes often do not finish their degrees, and leave for paid play in the pro leagues. Who can blame them? They either don't have time to get a part-time job or they're not allowed to, so if their families can't support them financially, how do they live? Student athletes have complained about their inability to buy food. With coaches and administrators pocketing million-dollar paychecks, and with the NCAA making billions, this is an outrage. 

If the student athlete is injured and can no longer play, they lose their athletic scholarship. If they cannot afford to continue with their education, they must either leave school or take out loans. Then they would be expected to finish their education taking normal classes, which they may or may not be ready for.

So, the athletes can just choose not to sign a contract with the NCAA, right?

Nope. All NCAA accredited schools (read: the big sports schools) require student athletes to sign a contact in order to play.

So, if they don't want to play by the NCAA's rules, they can just choose not to play, right?

Right, and they can miss out on the potential for a lucrative career in the pros. For talented athletes, that may be their only avenue out of poverty.

Oh, and the NCAA is a non-profit organization. So all of that profit that they make off the efforts of young players is tax-free.

The lesson for student athletes is, if you want to have a chance to make it to the pros, you had better be prepared to make a deal with the devil.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Onward to more controversy! I'm feeling British today, so you must read that as conTRAHvahsy.

So...steroids. I am from the generation that was brought up to be scared poopless of using steroids. I was warned if I ever put anything that resembled an anabolic steroid in my booty to enhance athletic performance (not that 13-year-old me wanted to excel athletically), I would immediately turn into a cyborg.

I was warned that if I used steroids, my boobs would shrink and my period would dry up. I was on board with all that and was about to shoot up until they mentioned the lady facial hair part. I was obedient enough to ingest the information in my "good life choices" classes presented by sexually repressed adults so that I have more or less avoided all of the "risky" behavior that they warned us against.

Given that, I was really surprised that I ended up enjoying Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side Effects of Being American.

I wouldn't say it is pro-steroid in any way, but it does ask some interesting questions about the mixed messages we send about body image (to men as well as women, but this is one of those rare documentaries that focus on male body image) and about durgs. I mean drugs. I mean. OYU UDN'TSLHO UES DURGS. Why is our society accepting of the use of certain drugs, and we have deemed other drugs to be "bad"? After all, caffeine is a drug that enhances performance (increase in energy) and I've had three cups of butter coffee and a Diet Coke already today and it's not even noon. Butter coffee, you guys.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster focuses on Christopher Bell and his two brothers, Smelly and Mad Dog. Both of Bell's brothers are steroid users, and Mad Dog suffered from drug addictions that eventually took his life in late 2008. The documentary examines the use of anabolic steroids and its relationship to the American Dream. 

I liked this documentary because it pointed out the hypocritical way in which Americans view drugs. On the one hand, Americans decry steroid use, but they spend millions on the rather shady supplement industry. Similarly, some drugs are labeled as steroids and athletes are banned from using them, but they are able to take cortisone shots (Spoiler alert: cortisone is also a steroid.)  I think we've all seen the outrage that accompanied the revelation that Lance Armstrong was juicing. 
I find the last bit especially pertinent today with the Dr. Oz controversy. People who are desperate to lose weight line up in droves to buy a chemically suspect product off an internet retailer that sprung up overnight after an airing of The Dr. Oz Show, but everyone knows that steroids are Satan's own brew.
(That's the second time I've mentioned the devil in this blog post. No known association available at publication date.)
I'm not saying I'm in favor of people going out and shooting themselves in the bum with a steroid to enhance their performance, but I do feel people ought to take a look at what sorts of drugs make someone a "cheater" and what is only an "enhancement."
Also, it features this cow:


Shaolin Soccer

So, onto less heavy subject matter. Shaolin Soccer is a 2001 comedy from Hong Kong about a shaolin monk, Sing, who wants to promote kung fu through soccer. Very apropos, is it not? Sing dresses like Bruce Lee and recruits his fellow monks to create an unbeatable soccer team.

Team Shaolin enters a competition and they play against Team Evil, a team that's been injected with an American drug that has made them superhuman (I'm guessing the secret ingredient is Red Bull; I hear it gives one wings). Team Shaolin beats Team people all over the world practice kung fu in their daily lives. The plot is a bit weak, but it's a fun movie with a soccer theme. It's a Hong Kong kung fu movie, so it pays a lot of homage to Bruce Lee, which I of course appreciate. It's very promotional of kung fu, which the Chinese gubbmint seems to have no qualms with promoting. Just as long as it isn't Falun Dafa Soccer, I suppose. Didn't hear anything about that from Bob Costas in 2008, now did we?

The hypocrisy is strong with this one.

One Night in Turin

I've been watching Endeavour again, chickens. On a recent episode, England won the 1966 World Cup.

Footy, footy, footy. ENGLAND ENGLAND.

One Night in Turin is a 2010 documentary that focuses on the 1990 English soccer team. According to the archive footage and the narrator (Gary F*cking Oldman), by 1990, England's soccer glory days were long behind them.

The Scottish Football and Highland Dance Team of 1966.

The film provides a lot of context for the underdog 1990 English team's improbable journey to the World Cup in Turin, Italy. At that point in time, English fans were infamous for being HOOLIGANS and rioting during soccer matches, and the English team wasn't  weren't doing so hot. England itself was suffering from a poor economy due to Thatcher-era policies. The success of the English team galvanized the nation, and brought the English a sense of national pride that they had lost. 

The England team defied everyone's expectations, and not only qualified for the World Cup, they made it into the Group of 16, then the quarter finals, and then the semi-finals, where they faced West Germany, a team whose captain was a 26-year-old Jürgen Klinsmann.

Strictly Ballroom

Were you unjustly robbed of your title as Pan-Pacific Amateur Five-Dance Latin Final Champion? At the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix? Well, guess who else had that happen to him? Scott Hastings, that's who!


I don't care how much you love Moulin Rouge. This is Baz Luhrmann's best movie. The first movie in Luhrmann's Red Curtain trilogy, Strictly Ballroom makes me happy and full of twenty kinds of joy. If you ever watch it with me, I WILL quote it and I WILL totally spoil it for you 

The plot is pretty simple. It's about Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio), a rising star in the world of Australian dancesport. Scott is tired of dancing the old steps taught by his dancing instructor and his mother, a former amateur dancer herself (who now teaches dance and sells cosmetics on the side).

Scott wants to dance NEW STEPS with his partner, Liz Holt, but Liz definitely does not want to dance NEW STEPS. Liz drops Scott after an argument, and she partners instead with That Drunk Ken Railings. Scott needs a new partner fast, and he is approached by the awkward, acne-ridden Fran (Tara Morice).

Fran is willing to dance NEW STEPS, so Scott gives her a chance. He meets her Spanish-speaking family, and Fran's father teaches them the steps to the pasodoble. The pasodoble is not new per se, but it is new to the stuffy world of Australian amateur five-dance Latin final. (The pasodoble literally means "double-step" in English, and it was originally a French dance that is danced in Spain and other Spanish-speaking communities.)

¿Tu bailas pasodoble?

Fran transforms herself from a wallflower beginner to an accomplished dancer and hottie. Scott and Fran fall in the lovez, in spite of the opposition from Federation President Barry Fife, Mrs. Hastings, Liz, and well, everyone, except Fran's family. I first watched this in a college Spanish class and I wrote una 
composición en español about how awesome it is. 

I believe that we will win!

*Am no way ever boycotting waffles and pommes frites. 

Edited to add: I just discovered this afternoon that The Netflixes has a whole selection of soccer-themed 30 for 30 docus available for streaming RIGHT NOW Check out the collection 30 for 30: Soccer Stories. I prithee get thee to yon Netflix posthaste! 

Friday, July 04, 2014

As American as shopping on a national holiday.

It's the Fourth of July! To me, this usually means stuffing myself at a family BBQ and then going to bed early after flipping between A Capitol Fourth and the Boston Pops Fireworks show on tv. What I'm trying to say is, I don't usually go out for the holiday since it's just too much of a hassle. Especially in the DC area.

But this year I am not in DC for the Fourth--I'm in Los Angeles! So while I still over-ate at a family BBQ (well, really a block party), I also hit the beach for a fireworks display. But none of this means that I have forgotten my blogging duties. Oh, no. I haven't forgotten my wonderful minions, I mean readers. I've got new content for you even on the most American of holidays.

Instead of my usual "you should totally watch 1776 and Gettysburg on the Fourth of July" type of post, I figured I would cover something outside my usual oeuvre and talk about...


Yes, you read that right. I am going to talk about sports. The person who has never attended a professional sporting event, usually skips the Super Bowl, and only follows the performance of DC teams so I can impress dudes I meet at bars (true story), is going to write about the World Cup. But as usual, it's not so much about the sports as it is about my favorite topic. I am of course referring to me. And how the World Cup affects me.

Despite my unimpressive sporting resume, I found myself coming down with World Cup Fever this year. After all, it only comes around every four years (like the Olympics!) and the rest of the world is pretty much obsessed with it. Add to that some friends who also futball-obsessed (shout out to Tito and Matt!), and I figured I should find out what all the fuss is about. I watched three matches and each one was its own unique viewing experience.

Game 1: US vs. Ghana.

As is in my nature, I didn't want to go into a World Cup viewing experience a complete noob. So I did my homework. I read some online newspaper articles prior to viewing and learned a bit about the history between the US and Ghana in the World Cup. I also perused the wikipedia article on soccer so I would have some basic understanding of the rules. The first game was airing while I would be working, so I DVRed it and then watched it later in the evening (avoiding spoilers).

Perhaps watching my first game in my living room by myself wasn't the best way to get introduced, but I was able to follow what was going on. I was also pretty invested--especially since we scored right off the bat in the first two minutes! Sure, things didn't get really exciting until nearer the end of the game after that (...and I might have spent about an hour of game play wandering around my condo doing chores), but I got the gist. And I definitely appreciated the lack of commercial breaks and the non-stop clock. Why can't American football be played like that??

Game 2: Spain vs. Chile

For this game, I took to the bar! Unfortunately, it was a 3:00PM game so the bar was basically empty, but I had the benefit of my friend Tito's vast World Cup knowledge to answer my questions. Now like I said, I'm not a soccer expert, but even I knew that Spain was playing pretty poorly. They basically imploded, which was all the more surprising considering their past performance and the expectations on the team coming into this World Cup.

See, I told you I did my homework.

Watching the game with others was definitely more enjoyable, but since the bar wasn't that full and I hadn't hung out with the people I was watching the game with in a while, I spent more time chatting and catching up than actually watching. It was nice having someone around to answer all my questions though.

Game 3: US vs. Belgium

And for my last game (so far), I did everything the way you are supposed to. I watched the game in a packed bar surrounded by strangers who were really into it. I didn't know anyone around me (my friends were all running late), but the energy of the crowd was infectious. I found myself gasping, shouting, and reacting to every movement of the ball almost in spite of myself. The tension was palpable....until the overtime play when of course Belgium scored two goals and knocked us out. There was disappointment sure, but there was also pleasure in a game well played and pride for our team. Especially for Tim Howard, "the human wall."

Will I keep watching now that the US is out of the tournament? I'm not sure--probably the later games when the stakes get really high. And if I am around people who have the game on. I'm not sure you could call me a true soccer fan, but I definitely have a new found appreciation for the game and the athletes. And I think that's a step in the right direction!

Bonus pictures: some of the things that Tim Howard could save...

 The dinosaurs.


Luke's arm

 Ned Stark...actually nevermind. I don't think even Tim Howard could save Sean Bean from dying at the end of a show. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Under The Dome

Chickens! Cows! And my other farm animal friends! Peanut EmandEm is back for another guest post, this time about Under the Dome. Take it away, Em!

I hate to admit this, but I broke my own cardinal rule when it comes to Under the Dome.  You know the one I’m talking about, “ALWAYS read the book BEFORE you see the TV show or movie based on the book”.  Honestly, I’ve been pretty good lately.  I finished The Hunger Games series before I saw the first movie and I finished The Leftovers just in time for its HBO premier on Sunday, but for some reason I always drop the ball when it comes to Stephen King.  It’s not that I don’t like his books, because I do, but I can count on one hand the number that I’ve read before seeing them produced.  I guess it stems from my childhood.  After seeing The Shining, how could you not devour every other Stephen King story made into a movie?  And to be totally honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid.  So now you know where I’m coming from as I sit awaiting the start of the second season of Under the Dome.  Yes, yes. I’ve had a year. So, I hang my head as I type this…I still haven’t read the book.

My favorite part of season one was that the producers blew the mass majority of their special effects budget on that ridiculous cow.  At least I hope they did since they showed it EVERY episode.  As the dome is dropped over Chester’s Mill, families were separated, strangers are trapped homeless in a unknown community, a truck crashes into an invisible barrier killing the passengers and a cow is cleaved in twain:

Mooove over writer’s room, I got this.  Who needs plot enhancing dialogue?

No seriously, I was getting a bit teary for the loved ones who have lost and then bam; a computer generated cow is grotesquely sliced in half in all its bloody glory.  Then, as if that weren't enough, they showed it every week during the “last week on Under the Dome” sequence.  They were going to get their CG money’s worth, by God. 

      Hey, you can even buy the t-shirt!

Vindication!  It’s only the credits and already my self-worth is through the roof.  Stephen King wrote the premier episode of season two.  Although I haven’t read the book, at least I have seen an episode written by the author.  That’s got to count for something…right?

AP Edit: Totes.

Season 2 opens exactly where we left off, with Barbie about to be hanged from the gallows in the center of town.  Big Jim is urging Junior to pull the level which he finally refuses to do.  We’ll see how long this lasts.  Junior’s major storyline last year was his inner turmoil about whether or not he had to do what his father told him to.  Most often, he bent to his father’s whim.  I can only hope that this season we will see him finally stand up to Big Jim.


Just as Barbie is about to be hanged, the dome begins emitting a high pitched sound and attracts all metallic objects near the proximity of the dome.  I actually like the idea of the dome disarming the people of Chester’s Mill.  Big Jim’s gun is whisked away first.  How will he ever control everyone now? 

Soon after, we learn from our newest character (Rebecca, the local high school science teacher), that the dome is pulsing “like a pregnant woman’s contractions”.  Wow, thanks for the visual, CBS.  That’s the best analogy we could come up with?

I’m pulsing like a large, city sized dome!

Unfortunately our dear friend -- and only cool headed law enforcement officer in Chester’s Mill -- is presumably killed while trying to free Barbie, who is trapped by his handcuffs to the magnetic dome.  I say presumably because after we see the truck (with Linda in its path) slam into the dome, no one bothers to check on her.  Maybe she jumped out of the way in the nick of time or maybe she slid under the truck Indiana Jones style.  OK, she probably didn’t, but we’ll never know because Big Jim, Junior, and Barbie all barely react to her death. Instead, they take off to continue their fight for control of Chester’s Mill.

                   Wow, the dome is starting to look like my collection of refrigerator magnets.                   \
Barbie and Julia are finally reunited.  At the end of the first season Julia learns that it was Barbie that killed her husband.  She must not have been very into that dude because she forgives Barbie the instant they see each other and we are treated to their first kiss of the season.  Even Barbie agrees with us, “I didn’t think it would be that easy.”  Ouch. ,Sorry Julia, you may be the monarch, but he sure has your number.

Will no one mourn my death?

 Ah, Under the Dome, welcome back. I have missed you in all of your cheesy glory!  I can only imagine what next week has in store for us Domers!  Thank you Stephen King for writing something that I can appreciate as it was meant to be…on the screen!

Oh Julia, you’re so easy.  Wait, what did you say?

Under the Dome airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on CBS.  Full episodes available for download at the Apple app store and on Google play. 

'Nother cow.