Monday, March 26, 2012

Hungry Hungry Kiddos

I went to see The Hunger Games last night at our city’s awful multiplex, alongside my wife, who was seeing it a second time this opening weekend. It was a decent crowd but not a full house. I regretted not spending the weekend outside the theater, offering to buy alcohol at a steep upcharge for the throngs of tweens.

I have not (will not) read the books the movie was adapted from, so the following is my uninformed opinion and commentary.

I was expecting the film to be an updated version of The Running Man; in fact, I was so appalled that my wife and her friends had read this trilogy without prior knowledge of The Running Man that I forced them to screen the Netflix-sent Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle several months back. They lost interest a third of the way through and read magazines to pass the time until the credits -- your loss, ladies! Perhaps it lost their attention because it was silly, but it was also simple: In a dystopic American future, the government is corrupt, hands set-up prisoners over to the ratings-obsessed media, and the unwilling participants are forced to fight for their lives. Say what you will about the campiness of The Running Man, but I believe that film made more sense; it was easier to follow the motivations of the heroes and the villains, aside from the sexual orientation of Dynamo.

In The Hunger Games, I could tell that the director struggled to fit an entire novel into one movie. The main problem this created was my general confusion about this dystopic American future. There are 12 districts that are kept poor (and hungry!) and suppressed by a dictator, who lives in the only metropolitan area? A privileged upper class also lives in the only city? And the districts are kept in line through military force, because there was once an uprising, and as a punishment for that uprising there is a lottery every year -- “The Reaping” selects a boy and girl, ages 12-18, from each district to send to a televised deathmatch set inside The Truman Show’s production bubble.

I sort of understand the government, but not the economy. It seems most if not all of the districts are poor, but they all watch the game on television. How did they buy those televisions? Is television a private enterprise, supported by ad revenue? If so, who is buying ad space? Is there capitalism? Because it seems the only significant commerce taking place is within the only city in the nation. If the government controls the media, do they only show propaganda films during the rest of the year that the game is not taking place? Is that why the poor people have TV’s? Because the government wants everyone to watch their stuff? I’m left to guess, and my best guess is there is only one channel, and the evil government runs it.

If that’s the case, I am further confounded by how the game is created and controlled. The chosen children are giving a day or two to learn survival and weapon skills, rated by scouts for some reason, then inserted into an artificial wilderness, controlled by government/network henchmen like Ed Harris in The Truman Show. When one kid moves too far away from the others, they push them towards each other by creating a forest fire. When no one has died for a while, they insert huge attack dogs to hasten deaths.

What’s up with that? What’s the deal with this game? Do the overlords want a long, drawn-out, Survivor-like season of players fighting the elements and each other, or do they want a short, bloody battle? I can’t imagine them wanting to quickly burn off this ratings bonanza so they can get back to showing dystopic episodes of Law & Order or whatever. Plus the size of the area -- it’s no cage match, after all -- leads me to think they want a good, long game. Choosing tiny kids to compete against big kids, placing them all at the same starting point, and then constantly inserting deadly Deus Ex Machina obstacles is counterintuitive.

In addition to the confusion caused by compressing the novel into 2.5 hours of film, the distillation made it difficult to care about the young characters. I know I’m automatically supposed to be concerned when a child is slaughtered, but it turns out I am not. Almost all of the children placed in the game had a tiny amount of screen time, and died well before I could become properly attached to them. It didn’t help that the director edited the battle with shaky-camera, Paul- Greengrass-doing-Bourne-style jump cuts. C’mon, man! Let me get up close and personal with them kids, then watch them die slowly and clearly!

My final complaint is that Lenny Kravitz pops up out of nowhere in this thing, and that surprised me so much I nearly laughed out loud. Overall, I’d say the movie was fine, but could have had better exposition. I don’t know why the producers felt the need to cram so much into one quite long film, rather than divide up what is clearly a cash cow over several installments, a la Kill Bill or the final Harry Potter book/movies.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cube Lube

One fun thing about being near the HIV prevention staff is hearing one of them say, "Oh good, we got more condoms and lube" upon peeking into a nearby cubicle.

And then you have an 8:00 a.m. debate about the sensual lubricant marketers' need to describe their product is "Super long-lasting" -- as if "super" can really describe time.

Great Scots

Thoroughly enjoyed damaging my ears Tuesday night in Westport, courtesy of We Were Promised Jetpacks.

During a rare silent moment between songs, a crowd member to my right shouted, "What happened in the attic?", a reference to the oft-repeated lyric "Something happened in the attic" from their song "This is My House, This is My Home". The lead singer didn't look up and immediately shouted "Shut the fuck up!" before launching into the next song. Well played, you glorious Scotsmen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Liveblog Madness 23

iPhone Siri commercial just aired for the four billionth time. You know, the one where the couple drive from New York City (get a rope) to California? And they ask Siri so many things, including, "What does Orion look like?"

ORION? The constellation that EVERYONE knows? I would argue it is even easier to find than the other constellation even children can pinpoint, the Big Dipper.

I switched away from Iowa State/UConn to see why Colorado was leading UNLV, and now I see UConn is only down 6 with 7 minutes left. Hubris, Cyclones! You should have watched Moby Dick or Jaws last night to get in the right mindset instead of Rudy or Chariots of Fire or whatever.

Sometimes I look at Colorado and think, "Hey, it's that hippie college from the Big XII North that's pretty harmless! Go those guys!" before remembering they are in another conference now, still suck, and still pick fights with cops.

Liveblog Madness 22

There are some reeeeeeeeeeeaal stinkers on right now. Kudos to the NCAA for scheduling this junk late, so there's no chance I'll be too excited to sleep.

Ohio State is playing Loyola Maryland, and they showed Jared Sullinger's major earlier. It's "Exploration". I assume this is a fancy and proper way of saying he is currently undecided on his major and exploring all subjects as options, but I prefer to think he is taking 700 level courses about Amerigo Vespucci, Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, and River Phoenix.

Iowa State jumped out to a huge lead on UConn, and they are currently up 12 early in the 2nd half and waaaaay too overconfident.

Indiana is in control against something called New Mexico State.

Liveblog Madness 21

Bing bong, WSU loses. I have no idea what was going on in the second half. WSU made a run to get within 8 or so, so VCU stopped pressing entirely, and switched to man-to-man although I think they were playing zone in the first half. So they essentially stopped doing the things that led to their large lead, allowing WSU to come all the way back. The Shockers failed to make a few tough shots -- Murry missed three close floaters in a row, I think -- and Stutz really Stutz'd a gimme at the rim. Make one or two of those and the wide open corner 3 that put VCU ahead for good doesn't sting so much. Oh well. At least Wichita still has Boeing. Er, I mean Cabela's?

ROYCE WHITE OPENS THE GAME WITH A FULL COURT DASH AND SLAMMA JAMMA. You have to love a 6-8 forward handling it full court. UConn's Jeremy Lamb has the longest arms ever on human - he looks like a baby sloth.

Jackrabbits making a run against Baylor. I guess I'll focus on that for the moment. That and this coconut cream pie.

If you're wondering how long it took me to memorize the TruTV broadcast channel, the answer is 9.5 hours.

Liveblog Madness 20

Remember Sammy Sosa? That Chicago Cub could really his some home runs. Cub games were always on, because what else is WGN going to show, so I saw him a lot, but he would NEVER club a four-banger while I was watching. All of his dingers came during games I didn't see.

Garrett Stutz of WSU is my new Sammy Sosa. I have never seen a game where he's anywhere but the bench, in foul trouble, and yet statistics tell me he plays 25 minutes and gets 13 and 8 per game.

Liveblog Madness 19

Peeled some potatoes and mashed them and ate them. Sweets only from here forward, folks.

VCU is the opposite of Wisconsin; they're so chaotic it's hard to tell who their good players are, or if their coach is a genius or just out of more traditional options. Hopefully Wichita State can hit some threes and get the pace more to their advantage. They are down 9 at halftime.

I picked Kevin Jones for my fantasy team, and picked Cinci to lose in the first round of my bracket. I failed to remember that the reason Cinci always drops out early is because Bob Huggins USED to coach them, and he now coaches West Virginia (and Jones), and I am a big idiot because Gonzaga is beating WV by 18. I could have 3 of my 8 fantasy players gone before the first full day of the tourney is over. Brutal.

Baylor's neon lime uniforms continue to assault the world. It's like my TV is trying to approximate their color and failing. I assume this is what it's like when you are wearing night vision goggles when someone flips the lights on.

Liveblog Madness 18

Long Beach falls short against New Mexico in a good game. Ol' gimpy knee played significant minutes, but hardly scored - you have to wonder what the outcome would have been if he was healthy. NM is solid, though.

Just read the Star/Eagle's "Cover it Live" tweets and whatnot on the KSU game. Read it over and tell me if it gives you ANY INSIGHT AT ALL on what was happening. My posts were more informative, and I take no joy in saying that. How can one man paying attention to mulitple games can be more insightful than 5 journalists covering the game? Pretty sad. I think newspapers might be in trouble, you guys.

Liveblog Madness 17

Long Beach falls behind, switches to a 1-3-1 zone! Everybody's favorite zone, right! LOVE THAT ZONE!!! It's working so far - they've cut the lead to 2 with 10:00 left.

And yes, I drafted Casper Ware from Long Beach so I am really pulling for them.

Liveblog Madness 16

You ever see the original ending of Dodgeball? If so, you saw the end of the Syracuse/Asheville game.

There were a few questionable calls toward the end, but really the underdog just lost to a more complete team.

Getting toward the end of this session of games. The worst part of working through today would be coming home at 5:30, rushing to turn on the TV and watch some action, and then having to wait 50 minutes for the next game to start. 

Streaming on the NCAA site has this cool feature this year where they won't let you switch and watch another game if there a commercial is airing in your browser window. Maybe this is only a feature enabled for those of us who used a free code to avoid the $4 charge, but probably not. Just a very good organization that everyone loves with a very cool logo that we all get to enjoy at every midcourt of every game site.

Liveblog Madness 15

Asheville leads by 1 with 10 minutes left. Syracuse is an abysmal 3-22 from three. And I'm just one man here, high as fuck on steroids and jonesing for more food, but Syracuse's problem might be their stubbornness staying in their zone defense. You lost your shotblocker, and the other team is hot on their jump shots - maybe mix it up a little? Against a team where you're bigger and longer at every position?

Pretty warm in here. I am no longer wearing pants.

Long Beach / New Mexico has settled into a good game, even though it feels like there's been 10 traveling calls. Tied with 2 minutes before halftime. NM is drawing a lot of fouls, and could be in good shape to pull away next half. That's just the way it iiiis. God, Bruce Hornsby! "Your dad is the guy who wrote the piano part that Tupac sampled for that one song that my much older brother loved?" --Keith Hornsby's teammates.

5:41 left, Syracuse up 4.

Liveblog Madness 14

Asheville is leading Syracuse at the half, and I'm told it's the 6th time a 16 has ever led a 1 seed at halftime. I should be excited but I have to assume it won't last. It's almost like I feel bad, because they have so much hope now, but they'll probably lose anyway?

I'm also not very excited about that summer sausage. I've tried a few brands and still haven't found a great one. Oh well. At least I've consumed 200% of my daily sodium requirement by 3:30.

Keith Hornsby plays for Asheville, and his famous dad Bruce is watching in the stands. No sign of The Range. I'm pretty sure Keith has more tattoos than Bruce.

Long Beach vs New Mexico is starting. Larry Anderson, a key Long Beach player, is going to start despite a bum knee. The coach was interviewed and said it's because if he didn't try to play, he'd regret it. Translation: Larry Anderson will probably have his leg amputated before the night is over. Lobos have to be huge favorites now.

Liveblog Madness 13

BYU has long abandoned its zone, because Marquette's coach is smart enough to dismantle it.

I went outside and picked up some of the trash that has blown in the past week. I also cut down the tallgrass clumps and the really drought-tolerant perennial thingies that flower in the later summer? Those thingies?

Louisville, Wisconsin, Marquette should all win easy. Syracuse / UNC Asheville is close early. But they're all close early.

Still hungry. Summer sausage? Yes. Yes I will.

Liveblog Madness 12

Nice win for KSU. Found some new ways to score in the final 7 minutes, and Southern Miss failed to hit their last 7 threes or so. Hopefully the support staff will settle in and shoot better in the next round. JHR was 9-10 from the line - if he shoots his average we'd have been in rough shape.

BYU is looking like they did at the start of the Iona game, which was a total fucking travesty. I'd say the Iona coach should kill himself, but that's mean, plus it would spoil the chance for his players to murder him themselves for failing to teach a zone offense. What a loser. My city rec league team had a better offense, and we never practiced, and we NEVER EVEN DISCUSSED HOW TO RUN IT. That's how easy it should be to get jump shots against a 2-3 zone, not even taking into account the 25-point lead they had to work with. DIE ALREADY. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing Marquette play for the first time this season.

Now seems like a good time to point out that it's 72 degrees and I have yet to go outside. I did open the window about an hour ago, though, when I was eating my meatball sandwiches. Props to the wife for some fine meatballs.

Liveblog Madness 11

If you have to pick up your 3rd and 4th foul on your center controlling the defensive paint, you may as well do it like this - the Southern Miss player he fouled each time missed all 4 free throws.

A lot being made of S Miss's rebounding advantage in this game, but they haven't really out-toughed KSU for them. They've shot a lot of bricks and got most of those long rebounds.

KSU was looking great when the under 4 timeout should have occurred, but no stoppages resulted in 3 straight quick scores for Southern Miss. 2:25 left, KSU up only 3.

Liveblog Madness 10

Southern Miss finally missed a few shots in a row - those that JHR didn't block, anyway, and KSU found some unlikely offense by isolating Angel Rodriguez on the right side for drives to the basket. McGruder hit another 3 to take a 51-47 lead.

Colorado State lost. I am 1/1 in writing off teams.

Wisconsin/Montana just started. I am trying to avoid it entirely. The Badgers are brutal to watch; good, sure, but really gross. I respect Bo Ryan's strategy of boring the other team to death, but fuck if I'm going to watch it.

Tied at 51 at the under 8 timeout. Very concerned about KSU's continued strategy of isolating Angel, but since Samuels and Spradling have combined for 2 points, I don't see a better option.

Liveblog Madness 9

Samuels picks up his 3rd one minute into the second half, so nevermind. K-State is all McGruder right now - he has 8 baskets, more than the rest of the team combined. KSU really needs a second option - they're 1-10 from three. Southern Miss has got hot, and now leads 39-35.

Liveblog Madness 8

Halftime. KSU may have caught a break when Southern Miss' big guy turned his ankle on Shane Southwell's foot. Probably Shane's best play of the season; to his credit, though, he has only attempted one shot today, and yes it failed to hit the rim but the point is he isn't trying to do too much. Angel Rodriguez seems a little off - both his lobs to JHR have been slightly off. I like our chances in the second half with Samuels back on the court. His second foul was a questionable nudge while KSU was pressing, so I'm hopeful he can stay out of trouble.

Colorado State is now down 8. They missed some gimmes toward the end of the first half, and seem to be cooling off from 3 and getting turned over more in the 2nd half. Murray State should win; still, they remind me of a rec league team with a ton of talent that cross themselves up when trying to do too many fancy things. If anybody should know about guys with more talent foolishly screwing up plays for the sake of style, it's the guy who often played against guys from K-State's black student union Saturday mornings at the rec.

Davidson/Louisville just started. I suppose I will write off the Rams and pay attention to Louisville's terrible new unis instead.

Liveblog Madness 7

Back-to-back illegal screens by Thomas Gibson allow Southern Miss to get back within a point. He and Jamar Samuels each have 2 fouls. Still 5 minutes left this half.

Lost somewhere in the discussion of alcoholism's effects is Larry Eustachy's face.

Liveblog Madness 6

KSU had an early lead with good defense, but have lost it due to bad passes, mostly on tries to force it inside to take advantage of their size.

Really poor shooting so far on both ends. Focus after the under 12 timeout seems to be finding shots for McGruder - he's hit a 3 and been found in the post twice.

I am really hungry on these steroids, folks.

Liveblog Madness 5

A rare look inside the KSU locker room before their tipoff against Southern Miss, where we see the unflattering gut of Coach Martin that is usually well hidden by his suit coat.

First possession predictably results in a foul. McGruder hits both, and then the color man calls him McGruber in what is hopefully the first of many such mistakes today.

Liveblog Madness 4

Four already? Seems like a good time to say that I took 30 mg of prednisone this morning.

Bill Raftery just made an observation about Colorado State's use of the pump fake, and I didn't yell at him and call him a racist, so I guess that's just a Bob Knight thing.

CO State's got a white forward that's already got 7 rebounds. He'll need to keep this up if they are going to win - I don't think the team will continue to shoot such a high percentage. They are 45% from the field and still only up 5.

Liveblog Madness 3

First commercial break. Colorado State looking good so far - up a few points. CBS has elected to put the giant scoreboard on top of the screen showing the scores of games that have not yet occurred - very cool.

Domino's commercial just ran about parmesan bread bites. "We have test kitchens at corporate headquarters, but some store owner in Ohio was the one who came up with this!" A true genius. Easy to see how cheese sticks cut into smaller pieces was beyond even the genius chefs in Domino's main kitchen.

Colorado State hits a 3 to go up 10-3.

Liveblog Madness 2

Murray State vs Colorado State about to tip off! CBS has a little montage they show as they're heading into game coverage that shows 3 plays from tournament past: Laettner's turnaround to win against Kentucky, Chalmers' three to force overtime against Memphis, and the 3/4 court heave by Butler's Heyward to... fail to win the national championship against Duke? One shining moment, indeed.

Liveblog Madness 1

The first time I planned to take the day off to watch March Madness, we invaded Iraq. Our plan to watch the games on Jeff's TV had to be abandoned, since CBS news felt obligated to show pictures of Baghdad through night-vision cameras. So we went to a bar in St. Paul and spent our hard(?)-earned money there on beer and a cheese platter and god knows what else, as the bar had whatever cable channel the NCAA feed was switched over to. Every now and then during a break in a game, we'd look over to the war TV and were always disappointed. It was bad enough we were starting a war - we couldn't get some cool shots of tanks blowing up shit?

Since 2007, I've been taking the opening round's Thursday and Friday off to watch hoops all day. I couldn't take sitting in my cube during previous tournaments, refreshing a box score, angry. I've experienced it both ways, folks, and let me tell you - it is much more fun to take the days off and watch TV all day.

My friends and I have created our own March Madness fantasy league, where 8 of us draft 8 players. Your total score is calculated like this:
  • Players from teams seeded 1-7 earn 1 point for each point, rebound, steal, assist, and block. 1 point is deducted for each turnover.
  • Players from teams seeded 8-16 earn 1.5 points for each point, rebound, steal, assist, and block. 1 point is deducted for each turnover.
It's really fun and I obsess over it. Our draft is done through an internet chat room and that's always a blast. This happened this year:

Chris: Mike Scott, I guess
Dan: Dred Scott?
Gav: Mason Plumlee
shawn: he's 2/3 a player
Defending Champ Jim: bernard james
Dan: when you are picking players from higher seeds, please state their school
Defending Champ Jim: florida state
Gav: My bad.
Gav: I'll do better Dan.
Peter: Kim English
Chris: hahahahaha
Peter: Jeffrey Taylor, vandy
Dan: I just got shawn's joke
Defending Champ Jim: michael snaer, go seminoles!
Defending Champ Jim: putting my eggs in that basket
Gav: Doug McDermott, Creighton
shawn: fuck!
Dan: whitey!
Gav: I really don't even like the guy, but he carries that team and gets 1.5x
Peter: whithey?
Dan: i like it
Chris: withey
Chris: come on
Dan: no, just sayin' Doug is white
Dan: a cracker, if you will
Chris: ha
Dan: Chris is up
Dan: and obviously just picked Withey
Chris: Drew Gordon, New Mexico
Dan: so moving on
Dan: you know he's not drew gooden, right?
Peter: Did somebody pick withey, or not?
Chris: close enough
shawn: no
Chris: I though Dan picked Withey
Chris: thought
Dan: no one chose Jeff
Chris: oh come on
Chris: I thought you were choosing him
Chris: I'd rather have him than shitty Gordon
Chris: Withey
Chris: I'm with Withey
Dan: everybody un-cross Drew Gordon from the bottom of your rankings

See? Fun!

The usual crew I watch with - who also like to take these days off - had other commitments this year, so I'll be solo on my couch, complaining about terrible zone offenses to the cat. The plasma will show the major game of interest, the laptop will stream a game of lesser interest, and I guess I'll use my phone or the other laptop in the house to liveblog. Fun?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Read What I Read

All that work for nothing. And if we happened to cast back, in search of edification, to days past and jobs completed --- oh, what a bad idea, for what had all that amounted to? And anticipating future work just made the present moment even more miserable. There was so much unpleasantness in the workaday world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us.
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End

I've read THREE books so far this year, which already makes me a better person than last year, when I read two. Right?