netflix notes

I recently joined the Netflix revolution, having resisted for quite some time due to a) inherent Asian cheapness but more importantly, b) fear of wasting all my time watching movies and never doing anything else, due to my addictive personality. Whatever the case, I’m a member now.

One of the things you can do on Netflix is to “add friends”. Although the signup process is stupidly cumbersome (hello Netflix, have you heard of Web 2.0 and the social network revolution?), once you have added a friend, you then get to see his/her queue and how many stars they gave to a movie (ie, their rating). Basically, it’s an easy way for you to compare with your buddies what you thought about movies.

A feature whose potential I didn’t first realize was the ability to leave “notes” for your friends. In essence, they are 200 character — not word — mini-reviews that you can write. I find the limitation quite refreshing and surprisingly liberating, as it forces you to condense your thoughts about the movie into a quick sound bite.

Here are several that I wrote recently.

I Am Sam

Penn unconvincing as retard. Formulaic, unplausible plot, Useful to screen out weepy, sheeplike friends accustomed to eating the shit crapped out by Hollywood. Get the soundtrack and be done.

Bukowski – Born Into This

Unwatchably slow. Do yourself a favor and just read his books instead.

Grizzly Man

Watch this and feel good about yourself for not being a) stupid and b) emotionally retarded. As a bonus, experience c) satisfaction at the self-chlorination of our gene pool.

21 Grams

Confusing editing does not equal clever editing. It’s like Pulp Fiction, but boring, stupid, and pointless. ffwd to Naomi Watts’ boobs, rub one out, and throw it back in your mailbox. Done.

Yep, I’ve gotten a few stinkers lately (with the exception of Grizzly Man).

Anyhow, if you’re on Netflix, add me to your friend list. The email address I used is netflix /at/ chizang /dot/ net.

summer reading assignment

I’ve read two beautiful books recently that I highly recommend.

The first is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. This is the book that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was based on, and it’s a wonderful read because of the way Dick examines the essence of human consciousness.

The 30 second summary is that Decker is a cop whose job it is to hunt and decommission androids, which are getting more and more lifelike as technology progresses. The only way to suss them out is to give them an empathy test, because manufacturers haven’t figured out how to give robots feelings yet. Similar to a lie detector test, there is a range of acceptable responses, and anything that falls outside that range is considered to be an android, which must then be terminated. From this three sentence summary, you can see the basic framework that Dick has setup, which allows him to explore the question of “what does it really mean to be human?” Beautiful.

The second is not quite as easy to read, but still highly recommended: Jose Saramago’s Blindness. On the superficial level, the extremely long sentences and paragraphs, along with the fact that dialogue is given neither line breaks nor quotation marks, is a bit quirky and may be offputting. You soon get used to it though, and it’s no big deal.

Again, a brief synopsis: people in an unnamed country mysteriously start going blind, among them, an eye doctor. The government decides to quarantine them as pariahs, and the doctor’s wife feigns blindness as well so as to be with her husband. The asylum in which they are quarantined soon bulges with hundreds of blind prisoners, and gradually, all semblences of civility and order disappear, to be replaced with chaos and depravity. Throughout it all, the doctor’s wife is the lone person who can see, and she must figure out the optimal survival strategy.

As a thought experiment, it’s fascinating to imagine what would happen if everyone in the world suddenly became blind. Saramago pulls no punches in describing the utter madness that can occur; there’s a rape scene that made me physically ill. Still, it’s a beautiful book with tons of wry wit, profound insights, and interesting characters. Again, highly recommended.

If you can make it through the Saramago book, you get the bonus feelgood points of having read a Nobel prize winning work. Booyakasha.

united states of wal-mart

I finished reading The United States of Wal-Mart a few days ago, and thought it was a steaming pile of poo.

First off, John Dicker’s writing style irritated me. I’m sure he thought that he was being irreverently hilarious, but the final effect was obnoxious and detracting. A representative quote:

Butler Brothers required Walton, as it required all Ben Franklin operators, to purchase 80 percent of his stock from the company’s warehouses. Walton chafed at this. He started sniffing out other arrangements. Most wholesalers Walton approached were skittish about selling directly to him, fearful of the repercussions from cutting Butler Brothers out of the picture. However, he did persuade an unfortunately named New Yorker, one Harry Weiner, to supply him with satin, elastic-waist panties for two bucks a dozne: 25 percent less than he was paying Butler Brothers.

This from a guy named John Dicker. Nice one, Dickboy. Way to include a passive-aggressive “I hate you meaniehead!” backlash at the bullies who made you cry when you were in grade school (or perhaps college) in your book.

In any case, Dicker clearly has an anti-Wal-Mart bias in his book, and the planks of his platform are described in two chapters. The first chides Wal-Mart for not providing adequate health-care to its employees; the other takes Wal-Mart to task for being fiercly anti-union.

As regards healthcare, I’ll not be too apologetic for Wal-Mart’s actions, although I am of a mixed mind. The fact that Wal-Mart doesn’t provide cheap healthcare to its employees and encourages them to sign up for government subsidies directly affects my wallet, as my tax dollars fund those government safety net programs. This, of course, irks me. On the other hand, one could argue that the healthcare situation in America is screwed up to begin with. It helps to remember that employers weren’t always the main providers of health insurance. Rather, it became a popular perk back during World War II, when the government forbade companies to offer competitive wages (ie, wage and price controls), and so the companies started offering benefits packages to help retain talent. (Further reading on US health insurance history.)

The point is that it is incorrect to argue on moral grounds that Wal-Mart should provide better benefits to its employees. Health benefits are a business decision, and Wal-Mart is simply playing by the established rules. Now you may claim that the current rules suck and should be changed, and you won’t get much argument out of me. However, from a business point of view, I don’t see Wal-Mart as doing anything wrong.

As for the anti-unionism, well, that argument has absolutely no traction with me. Unions were useful once, but as far as I’m concerned, in today’s world, they’re about as relevant as using the French language for business communications. Arguing for unions (and tangentially related, more manufacturing jobs) is evidence of being trapped in a 19th century mindset. Dicker spends a lot of time talking about how Wal-Mart squeezes its suppliers and “forces” them to use cheap, off-shore, non-union labor in order to continually offer lower-priced products. In his mind, this is obviously a bad thing, since it means Americans are losing cushy jobs to Singaporeans, Mexicans, Indonesians, and the like.

From my point of view, this is a GOOD thing. It’s GOOD that we’re losing manufacturing jobs, no matter how well they pay. Why? Because it will force our country to look to the future for employment, not the past. The sooner we move away from the mindset that a manufacturing job is desirable and should be protected, and come to grips with the fact that the your best chances for earning a decent wage comes from higher education and becoming a “knowledge worker”, the better off our entire country is. Let Bangladesh and Turkmenistan fight for our manufacturing jobs. We don’t want them!

The world is in a transition phase right now. For most of human history, our species has been focused on “stuff”, whether it be the making or acquiring thereof. Only in the past, let’s say, 30 years (coinciding nicely with the advent of modern computing) has it become possible for a significant percentage of our species to earn a living based on knowledge, rather than stuff. This breakthrough was only possible with the rapid advancement in technology. At the risk of sounding too Kurzweilian here, technology is only going to get better, faster, and soon, being tied down to “stuff” will be obsolete. Clinging to the old paradigm is about as effective as the dinosaurs hoping that those pesky little mammals would stop eating their eggs.

But enough pontificating here. Dicker’s annoying style, plus his antiquated outlook of our society’s goals translates into my dislike of his book. About the only useful purpose it serves is to be exposed to how a large portion of America thinks, which makes you feel better about yourself that you’re not like them.

suckways

I watched Sideways the other night, and was left wondering, “why the hell did so many people recommend this movie to me?”

Snotty pretentious ninny bitch loser guy whose method of dealing with bad news is to pound a gallon of wine hangs out with dumbass prodigal son that can’t keep his dick in his pants.

My theory on why people liked it is because the plot revolves loosely around wine, which for most people is an intimidating subject. Having some basic concepts explained in the first thirty minutes (before we start hating the characters) makes them predisposed towards liking a guy who is perceived as knowledgable about the subject and they start rooting for him, rather than being annoyed with how much of a wanker he is and wishing he would choke on his own vomit.

the shins

Yes, I suck because I haven’t been blogging much recently. In a desparate attempt to write something (anything), I am forced to pull up a week-old email and post it here while I try and get my writing brain back in order.

So last week, I went to go see The Shins, who were rocketed to fame after the movie Garden State came out. We drove down to the Fillmore in Denver which is a pretty cool venue.

I was scared at first that it was going to be a high school scream fest after seeing the kind of crowd developing outside, but it turns out that the older (read: over 21) crowd really showed up after the opener.

Speaking of which, The Brunettes opened, and they were really fun. Interesting sound, good stage presence with lots of silly goofing around, and having two hot girls in the band surely didn’t hurt. I actually ended up buying one of their cds, which is perhaps the first physical piece of music recording that I’ve purchased in about 3 years. You should buy it too (Mars Loves Venus).

The Shins were solid. Energetic, polished, and tight. You could tell that they’d been around the block a few times compared to the Brunettes (which is to be expected, natch). Still, I actually had more fun during the Brunettes.

Overall a great time, and the fact that I was home by midnight for bed was a bonus. (yes I’m getting old)

kung fu hustle

Another fine flick by Stephen Chow. If you liked Shaolin Soccer, you’ll love Kung Fu Hustle. It’s another highly stylized kung fu movie from Hong Kong, which is a fancy way of saying that there are tons of over the top fx and overacting for the sake of mass (Chinese) appeal.

Although it moved a bit slow in some parts, the sheer enjoyment factor was way high due to the number of one-liners and visual gags, not to mention the variety of creative concepts about kung fu genius.

Much recommended and definitely worth the $6.50.

about a boy

This was an excellent book written by Nick Hornby (who also wrote High Fidelity) revolving around two main characters: Marcus, a weirdo 12 year old who doesn’t fit in anywhere; and Will, who is basically a dilettante.

The story flips back and forth between Marcus and Will, and eventually the two plot lines wend their ways toward each other. The story is decent, but as with any good book, the real reason it’s a good read is because of the richness of Marcus’ and Will’s characters. We get to see the world (or perhaps just London) through their eyes, and boy howdy, their respective perspectives sure are amusing.

Will’s character amused me more, mostly because of his perpetually bemused and cynical attitude on life and his personal philosophy of the path of least resistance. A characteristic passage in the book comes early, when Will is dating a single mom (only because she looks vaguely like the model Julie Christie) and she’s trying to break up with him:

This, he couldn’t help feeling, was kind of ironic. If she but knew it, he was exactly right; if there was a man better equipped for the meaningless fling, he wouldn’t like to meet him. I’ve been putting this on! he wanted to tell her. I’m horrible! I’m much shallower than this, honest! But it was too late.

[…]

She was starting to get a little tearful, and he loved her for it. He had never before watched a woman cry without feeling responsible, and he was rather enjoying the experience.

And so forth. Marcus gets some priceless scenes as well, but it was really Will who made me crack up with laughter.

About a Boy — highly recommended.

sin city

Fantastic movie. I’ve heard others complain a bit about the stilted dialogue, but I didn’t mind it. The story is a series of small morality plays in a gritty dirty setting, between archetypeal good and bad characters. With that sort of simple backdrop, you expect the characters to speak in terse sentences and menacing undertones. The visuals and fx were fantastic — some really interesting camera work — and I’m a sucker for b&w.

All the artsy stuff aside, it’s just plain entertaining from an over-the-top violence point of view (a la Kill Bill), along with plenty of flesh-flavoured eye-candy.

Go see it.

full frontal

This movie, directed by Steven Soderbergh, sucked.

I guess that people in the Hollywood orbit might think this movie is hilarious and offers clever commentary on their scene and was innovative because it brought together lots of huge stars but imposed ascetic rules upon them. For normal people, it sucks mightily. The plot plods along, and the characters are uninteresting. If that’s not a sure way to kill a movie, I don’t know what is.

A few of the reviews I’ve read online talk about how confusing the plot is because of the layers of self-referentiality. Personally, I didn’t think it was confusing at all — just boring.

There are a few good scenes, like David Duchovny’s monster hard-on, but as Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s partner) said at a Berkshire Hathaway stockholder meeting, “when you mix raisins and shit, you’ve still got shit.” Kudos to Nicky Katt who was one of the raisins. His Hitler-in-modern-times performance was hilarious.

Overall though, a complete waste of time (and not in the Monty Python sense, but in the if I could kill myself by shoving a crayon through my eye sockets and gouging out my brain I would so do it sense).

between a rock and a hard place

So one of the things I do in my spare time (besides getting drunk) is performing editorial duties for tradgirl.com. It’s a funny name for a wildly popular climbing site (if you want to know more, read the about tradgirl page).

Remember the guy who chopped off his own arm? Well, his name is Aron Ralston, and he wrote a book. As editor of tradgirl (ie, a high-traffic climbing web site), I recently had the opportunity to read his book in exchange for writing a subsequent review of same, which is why my blog has sucked recently.

Well, stop complaining. For your reading pleasure today, go read my review of Aron Ralston’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”.