Crock Pot



The Criterion Prize (all Blu-Rays): 




hey there. it’s been a while since i’ve randomly given stuff away, and that doesn’t jive well with my philosophy that love and / or readership should be shamelessly bought. so in honor of some arbitrary milestone or whatever the fact that i can’t be near a computer to post anything today, i thought i’d say thanks for reading by giving away 3 signed, sealed, and delivered new Criterion Collection Blu-Rays! (well, they’re sealed and will be delivered… not “signed,” so much, unless you really want my signature. it has lots of squiggly loops!)

World on a Wire is Fassbinder’s brain-bending sci-fi classic, The Four Feathers is… not my favorite, but it sure does look pretty on your shelf, and Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything is Going Fine is a hilariously devastating tribute to the late but emergingly relevant iconoclast Spalding Gray. 

TO ENTER: just “like” and / or Re-blog this post. each note will count as a separate entry, so every fellow Tumblr can therefore submit a maximum total of 2 entries. “liking” the Criterion Corner Facebook page will also earn you another entry, i suppose, but… do people even look at that? i dunno.

giveaway will be closed at 12 A.M. EST on Monday, 7/2/2012. 1 winner will be randomly selected from the notes. so the odds should be okay if not super awesome, but someone’s gonna get something sweet for nothing. also, i’m gonna do this again next week with three other recent Criterion titles, so that’s fun.

good luck, and thanks thanks thanks so much for reading!

Boy, Do I Want an iPad

I’m typing this from the display iPad in the campus Apple Store. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible when approaching this gorgeous little thing, but I’m not sure I was as cool a customer as I meant to be. The staff can smell how badly I want this thing, I’m sure.

There’s a sign outside that says they have iPads in stock, and I am a weak, weak individual. The sign is staring at me, daring me to do it. To buy one of these things that a year ago I was railing against.

But I’ve come around. I get it. The whole thing. The coolness of it, the convenience, and the fact that my laptop weighs something like a thousand pounds.

Shut up, sign.

"Do it," it sneers. I’m sure it can see my knees wobbling. The bullets I’m sweating…

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Hyperbole aside, I’m coming to realize that I can’t hold out much longer with these things. They’re wonderful, top to bottom, little slices of genius, Apple pun totally intended. This keyboard is wonderful, and “intuitive” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Me wantee, in short. I’m being an absolute Child about this, I know.

Uh-oh. The staffers here are giving me sharp looks. I’d better make myself scarce. And I realize that, as much as I want to, I can’t monopolize their display all day. But, man, could I. I’m like a fiend. In the least flattering way.

Anyway, this is me signing off (and taking forever to do so because I want to keep poking at this) from the coolest bit of technology I’ve touched all week. All month. All year, maybe.

Also, one of the guys behind the counter is talking about how much he likes Jimmy Buffet, which I cannot abide. Urg. BUFFET!!

C2E2 (Thoughts)

C2E2 is the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo that occupies McCormick place this weekend. I ventured down there today and soaked in all the comic-y goodness it had to offer. There was fun to be had, but by the end of the day I felt it was kind of a mixed bag.

I liked that the show floor was relatively small. I went to Wizard World a couple of years back and got lost—it was absolutely massive. C2E2’s layout was much easier to handle because you could see from one side to the other and keep your wits while moving about..

I didn’t spend that much time on the floor, however, which is a shame. I would have loved to scour some of the vendor stands for cheap books and maybe a cool figure or two. But the time wasn’t to be had. The panels I wanted to go to were all about an hour apart, which realistically meant that I had about fifteen minutes to look around between them. Throw in lunch and the whole day was hustle and bustle.

Marvel also cut the lines for the superstar signings off short. A friend and I went to line up for a four o’clock signing at three and the line was already filled out. Unlucky, but this is the obsessive fan culture that the medium has bred. I would expect nothing less, really.

And the limited time I spent in Artist Alley whet my appetite and I wish that I’d have had more of a chance to dig into all the amazing talent there, literally spread out in front of me. There was a liveliness at that end of the floor that felt more real than all the posing and cosplaying going around near the vendor booths. This was comics, happening in real time.

The panels were by far the most rewarding thing for me at C2E2. Matt Fraction and Mark Waid discussed writing in the current digital age for an hour and made a damn fine show of it—peeking into their very different processes made for lively, professional discussion. I even took a couple of helpful notes. So. Win-win.

Marvel’s panels were less rollicking despite the incredible talent they brought along. Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis were highlights because they could turn even the weakest, most pandering audience question into something clever or worthwhile. And thank goodness for that, because by and large the questions these masterminds received were worthless.

And that brings me to what I really want to discuss (though I won’t belabor it): Comic fan culture. I can’t tell you how many questions were fielded that were utter garbage. What it all basically came down to was two things—the fact that ardent comic fans hate change and their obsession with in-universe “continuity.”

One panel was literally closed out with a discussion of Iron Fist’s new costume and how it didn’t look as good as the old one. Bless Bendis for trying to answer the question amiably, but any way you slice it, nothing productive comes from that. Honestly? Who cares? 

Continuity is a debacle in itself, but it amounts to this: everything that happens in every Marvel book happens in a shared, cohesive universe and all fits neatly into a timeline. So yes—all seven hundred Spider-Man comics are part of a world and timeline shared with the thousand X-Men issues, the seven hundred Fantastic Four issues, all four Avengers titles…etc. Fitting all this together could drive a person crazy. And it clearly has. These are meaningless questions because we don’t learn anything from the answers. I think it actually hinders the storytelling.

I can dig the idea that the X-Men and Avengers and Iron-Man and Daredevil all live in a shared universe, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of it all—count me out. It’s a nice idea that’s been taken way too literally by some of the fan-base. These are stories, in the end. I don’t mean to diminish the importance or artistry, because I respect the hell out of that, but…there is a breaking point, one that I witnessed this afternoon. 

An earnest, well meaning fan asked where the four separate stories in the videogame Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions fit in with the character’s comics continuity. Not to put the guy down, but…what good does that sort of compulsive narrative reconciliation do us? The expression “Can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind, but inverted—Can’t see the trees for the forest. Sometimes things need to be enjoyed on their own, whether or not they fit into some larger tapestry.

Despite the crappy questions, there was some good to be had. The favorite thing of mine was the announcement of the new Daredevil and Punisher creative teams.

Daredevil will be written by Mark Waid with art by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. This is perhaps one of the greatest creative teams mainstream comics has to assemble. Waid is an old pro, and his idea of making Daredevil stories not horribly depressing seems interesting, especially coming out of the disgusting Shadowland. The thing that has me really excited, though, is the art. Marcos Martin is one of the best artists in the business, and Paolo Rivera is no slouch, either, as well as being a nice stylistic match. Come July that book will be at the top of my pull list.

Punisher is set up to be great as well, with Greg Rucka writing and Marco Checchetto handling the art. Rucka is the perfect writer to add some grittiness to a character that doesn’t seem to fit all that well within the Marvel U. It takes guys who are willing to think outside the box and tell creative, original stories. Rucka has that in spades. I’m not all that familiar with Checchetto, but the preview art that went along with the announcement was moody and seemed to set an appropriate tone for the book. These two announcements, as well as (another) new Bendis book, kept my interest afloat.

Ultimately, though, the thing that I appreciated most was the feeling of appreciation that hung in the air. Appreciation for fans from creators, and fans for creators. Of fans to fans. Of the people in attendance the medium itself. Whereas comic shops serve as geek enclaves every Wednesday, it’s good to know that there is an even larger stage for everybody to engage and appreciate, even if it only comes once a year.

If there’s one thing that I really dig about Inception (other than it being thoroughly awesome), it’s the wave of creative retelling that it has inspired. This is one of the better ones I’ve seen. 

Sort of like a pared down version of On Writing. So read this, then read that.

Ten for ‘10, Part Two

It’s time to put this list to bed for another year.

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#5) Four Lions - Caught it at the campus theater and it still has me chuckling. It plays like a spiritual successor to last year’s marvelous In the Loop, but from a very different vantage point. The film centers around an inept terrorist cell and plays like a very dark Three Stooges short. There’s as much slapstick as there is satire, balanced all the more by exquisite performances like Nigel Lindsay’s portrayal of the ultra-militant Barry. Four Lions could have been tasteless and unfunny, but because the material is so carefully crafted it can’t be considered anything but art.

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#4) The Town – Relationships, mostly dysfunctional, drive the film—it’s a riff on whether or not someone can escape life as a criminal. While not as epic as, say, Heat, The Town has a lot to offer crime fans like me. It’s hard not to like the movie, sporting Ben Affleck’s best performance in years and another nice turn as director. Some of the storytelling beats are familiar, but tension stays high thanks to visceral robbery sequences and a satisfying conclusion

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#3) Exit Through the Gift ShopThe enigmatic street artist Banksy combines three narrative threads to create an impressive documentary about a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it art form. He weaves, impeccably, his own antics as a street artist, the history of the medium itself, and one very peculiar man into a thing of strange beauty. Is it the portrait of a man becoming an artist? Is that man even an artist to begin with? Is it a film designed to preserve an impermanent artistic medium? Is it utter fiction? It doesn’t matter in the end. It just needs to be seen.

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#2) The Fighter - The squabbling in the Wards’ kitchen feels as real as the punches flying in the ring. Christian Bale’s performance as Dick Eklund is an amazing piece of work, too. He tries to steal the movie from Wahlberg before finally relenting and settling into his supporting role— the upstaging, though, is character-appropriate. I’ve seen The Fighter three times. I’ve paid to see it three times. And the subsequent viewings have been as rewarding as the first. It’s an exciting movie, one that is inspirational without being cartoonish. 

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#1) The Social Network - I think Fincher, Sorkin, and company have pulled off something pretty spectacular here. There’s not a weak link in the whole cavalcade of young performers and they spit Sorkin’s razor-sharp dialogue like seasoned professionals. The pacing is also impeccable for a film told in most part via courtroom depositions. Everything is fittingly dramatic, and the theme of intellectual ownership allows the film to transcend the biopic it seems to be at the beginning. Consistently well-made.

Most importantly, though, The Social Network a movie of the moment. It’s relevant beyond the fact that it centers around Facebook. The digital juggernaut is a metaphor meant to draw into focus the heavier thematic concerns. It’s a movie about creation, friendship, betrayal—all of those loftier things that great cinema is made of.

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So, there we go. 

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Oh, also, the worst movie I saw this year was Tim Burton’s abysmal take on Alice in Wonderland. Miserable on almost every level—“waste of time” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I want to know why anyone liked this movie, because not a single thing here worked for me. Burton’s too wrapped up in his paper-thin “artistry” to make anything worth watching nowadays, it seems. Ridiculous.

Daybreakers was almost crappy enough to take the cake, but at least a little bit of the movie worked.

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The End.

Ten for ‘10, Part One

(I like lists.)

Of the movies released in 2010, I saw forty-five of them. I’ve been futzing with it the last few days, but there’s no sense in worrying it at this point. 2010 isn’t going to get any more over.

This list is subjective, etc, etc.

Honorable Mention

 The American/True Grit - Both films are slow-burns; exercises in tone. Grit is the a rare Coen foray into the mainstream, but their fingerprints are all over the screen—an unmistakable whorl the shape of a surly Jeff Bridges. While the Dude is more nuanced than the revered Duke, but Hailee Steinfeld’s work as Mattie Ross is what makes the flick special.

Clooney’s dead-quiet portrayal of a professional at work is fascinating. The American was advertised as an action film, but the antithetical reality of it is what draws me to it. The film takes its time to unfold. It’s a movie of set brows and steely glares, but it plays well as the film lurches toward its unavoidable conclusion.

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#10) Shutter Island - The first time through you watch DiCaprio, the second time you watch everybody else. Snoots thumb their noses at genre film making like it’s unworthy, but credit where credit is due. Familiar framework lets Scorsese play with thriller conventions and draw pointed performances out of his actors, even (and especially) the bit parts. The off-kilter tone of the film is well managed and accentuated by sharp visual flourishes. Winter release blew the film’s shot at award season recognition…but I don’t think this Scorsese kid’ll be out of a job.

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#9) Animal Kingdom - I’m not sure where to start with this movie. It’s an Aussie crime drama with an evocative title; a study of predators and prey—the cops-and-robbers food chain. J, the protagonist, has to survive amongst his family, criminals all, as a police hit squad hunts them down. The riveting twists and turns build to an exclamation point of an ending, which I won’t dare spoil here. Great performances give the film dramatic weight, especially Ben Mendelsohn’s turn as the explosive Pope and Jacki Weaver’s terrifying Janine. 

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#8) Toy Story 3 - Pixar preserves their impressive track record. Surprise, surprise. The nods to the original film in the opening sequence set an infectious, playful tone that riffs on the audience’s collective nostalgia while confidently setting a fresh story into motion. My favorite moments include flamenco Buzz, Michael Keaton’s zany Ken, the elaborate Sunnyside escape sequence, and that strange monkey. It’s a film of nice touches, genuine humor, and powerful catharsis. I’ve spent my entire life watching this story unfold and couldn’t be happier with the results.

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#7) Winter’s Bone - Creeping unease is important here. It’s noir with a rural twist; “black” is a good word for it, tonally speaking, but maybe “murky” is more appropriate. The unique setting and chilled cinematography crawl under the skin paralyze until the credits roll. It’s a film about things not said, about things below the surface. Winter’s Bone is quiet—the dialogue ranges from whispered to gravelly. And when the volume comes up…well…you’ve just gotta see it to believe it.

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#6) Black Swan/Inception - Aronofsky asks us to question, Nolan wants us to go with it. Swanis the more effective head-scratcher because it’s so purposeful. It makes you second guess everything you see, to parse real from the perceived. Clever shooting and cutting foreground the unease—things that we want to see more of are fleeting while things we want not to see stay on camera too long. Swan enjoyment comes from its precision.

Inception isn’t as perfect, but Nolan’s world (or dream, or dimension, or whatever) is astonishing. Nolan’s Kubrickian comparisons aren’t unwarranted, but I think that reading focuses too much on the shaky philosophical underpinnings of the film. The real beauty of Inception comes from the brilliantly staged action sequences. Rarely are blockbusters so inventive. It’s an action movie in the shape of a snowflake—in a word, dazzling.

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Well, that’s it for part one. Join us in the near future for #5-#1.


A top ten movies list is forthcoming, but it’s proving difficult to get down the way I want it.

"I just can’t find the time to write my mind the way I want it to read," etc.

But it’ll be here soon.

Star Wars Sabbatical

As a child, instead of being seventy-five percent water I was seventy-five percent Star Wars. My parents could have committed me; I was intent on becoming the littlest Han Solo.

However, once I realized that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are the respective Godfather Parts I & II of the saga and the rest of it an endless Part III, it was time to let go.

Also important was realizing that George Lucas is a horrible filmmaker. He’s a gremlin. It’s like watching a painter driven insane by “perfecting” his work. The more I watched it, the more it wasn’t what I revered.

I don’t care anymore what computerized doodads Lucas can superimpose next to Harrison Ford, how many bay windows he can add to Cloud City, or those extra scenes with the damned Wampa. Stop it already.

The worst of it, though, is that Star Wars branding is everywhere, like some kind of commercial black hole. You know that guy in Return of the Jedi that wrangles the rancor? He has an action figure. A fat, slovenly chunk of plastic. It’s absurd. Games, books, comics, toys, tv shows…all mostly terrible. 

It’s as simple as that. Star Wars is mostly terrible. 

In fact, I think the maddeningly poor prequels are what made me start going bald. Though that’s not a hundred percent confirmed.

Yeah, this is crotchety. (Can’t you picture me yelling this at you from a dilapidated porch?) But I need to put distance between myself and Star Wars right now. So I don’t feel like my childhood is in peril. 

Star Wars and I are on a break. It’s amicable. Kind of.

So I Went to the Public Library…

The Iowa City Public Library is wonderful. Most of the time.

I went there to pick up some young adult fiction for a course I’m taking and walked out frustrated because too many of YA books featured vampires. It took way too long to find something set in a monster-less universe.

I’m sure there’s some fantastic vampire fiction, but to me the whole thing smacks of exploitation. Obviously, publishers put it out because people will buy it. I get that—that’s business. It’s why we all have three iPods. But that doesn’t make it right.

There has to be a way to get some variety in there. These blood-sucking books are so abstracted from reality that when a book that actually deals with YA issues comes along it runs the risk of being “inappropriate” or “too graphic.”

My YA Lit class, for example, had a drawn-out and unproductive discussion about some sexual(ish) content in John Green’s Looking for Alaska. It was time wasted over nothing, really, while the important issues of the book went untouched.

We need to get away from vampires. As a society, at this point.

But, hey, maybe the market isn’t to blame. (It is.) Maybe it’s the library’s problem for stocking so much of it. Doesn’t matter; this narrow selection is distances readers looking for something other than “fangst.” I had to scour the shelves for the book I chose, Paranoid Park. The library is a great resource and it’s being wasted.

One would imagine that with YA Lit as stigmatized as it is publishers would want to avoid this kind of cookie-cutter plotting.

And yet, the “Paranormal Romance” section of Barnes & Noble is a real thing.

So come on, people. Let’s write hard. Let’s write well. Let’s read widely and widely recommend. There’s good stuff out there, but it’s not going to find itself.

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Here are some links to the books I mentioned in the post:

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Paranoid Park by Blake Nelson