Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)**
A great cast which does a generally fine job, but it all seems forced, artificial and clichéd. I have no idea why it was nominated for a best picture Oscar.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Spot in brain may control smoking urge - Yahoo! News:
"'What this study shows unequivocally is the insula is a key structure in the brain for perceiving the urges to take the drug,' urges that are 'the backbone of the addiction,' Volkow added. Why? The insula appears to be where the brain turns physical reactions into feelings, such as feeling anxious when your heart speeds up. When those reactions are caused by a particular substance, the insula may act like sort of a headquarters for cravings."

I wonder if the patient had any other addictions that he just "forgot about"?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

FSI Language Courses
Fantastic resource! Complete language courses originally prepared by the US Foreign Service back in the 1960's. Text and audio. (via The Best Media in Life Is Free)
Field Music - Tones Of Town (2007)****
Even better than their debut. Quirky almost to the point of annoying on first listen, the hooks reveal themselves on subsequent spins. The first track brought to mind "Close to the Edge"-era Yes with the off-kilter beat and Jon Anderson-like harmonies. Fine power pop.
The Shins - Wincing the Night Away (2007)****
Another gem from The Shins. The lyrics seem a bit more inscrutable ("the necessary balloon lies a corpse on the floor"?) but the hooks and melodies are still there. Good pop tunes that stick with you.
The Queen (2006)****
Ridiculously exceptional acting performance by Helen Mirren. Most of the time, she is called upon to look thoughtful. But somehow she manages to convey a surprising depth and meaning to this thoughtfulness. Some of that is direction, some of that is what she is meant to react to, some of that is what we bring to the film. But most of it is Dame Helen herself. Subtle, thought-provoking film.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Birds (1963) ****:
I've seen this film many times and each time I appreciate and enjoy it more. There are many scenes where the principal action happens in the background or off to the side. Several sequences take their time to develop with very long takes. The writing is for the most part, crisp and smart yet realistic and believable. I love the fact that there is practically no music in the soundtrack, just bird noises (or rather noises used to mimic bird noises). An all star cast of Jessica Tandy, Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren (her debut), Veronica Cartwright and a fat-faced Suzanne Pleshette looking all the world like Shirley MacLaine from The Trouble With Harry. And the ending is extraordinary.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Recipe: Twice-Cooked Pork Tenderloin - NYTimes (reg. req.):
I like to cook, and over the years I have tried numerous methods of cooking one of my favorite cuts of meat, pork tenderloin, with limited success. Nearly every time I've tried it, whether grilled, sauteed, roasted, whatever, it always came out drier and blander than I would have liked.

No more!

The wonderful Mark Bittman offered this recipe for "twice-cooked" pork tenderloin a few weeks ago and it looked simple (a requirement for me) and tasty so I gave it a go. And if I do say so myself, and I do, it was superb. Easily the best pork tenderloin I have ever cooked and quite possibly the best I have ever EATEN. Really, really good. I did make one major change in the recipe though. Mr. Bittman calls for 1 tenderloin, about 1 lb., but at my nearest market they are usually sold 2 to a package so I used both. About the same portions of all the other ingredients and it came out splendidly. I also used mustard in the glaze which was perfect.

Bon appétit!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Iraqi Official Seeks Release of Iranians | Guardian Unlimited:
"``You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries,'' he [Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari] said. ``So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighborly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation.''"

This will be an interesting test of the Iraqi government's credibility with the US. Do they know who is a threat to them or don't they? Now I'm no expert on the Middle East, but as I understand it, Iran is a Shia Islamic nation and now, thanks to us, so is Iraq. Why would Iran want to destabilize the Iraqi government? The current government is PRO-Iran! The insurgency is complex, but mainly Sunni-based. That's the same branch of Islam as our "good friends" the Saudis. It seems to me the Bush administration is once again ignoring all the facts and just barreling ahead, pedal to the metal, gung ho for more and more war. Culture of life. Right.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NY Times(reg. req.): Computers Join Actors in Hybrids On Screen:
"The film, with a budget of about $200 million, is an original science fiction story that will be shown in 3D even in conventional theaters. The plot pits a human army against an alien army on a distant planet, bringing live actors and digital technology together to make a large cast of virtual creatures who convey emotion as authentically as humans."

Given Cameron's track record, I don't expect this flick to be much more than comic book level (not a good thing). The most worrisome thing is, as the rest of the article makes clear, it's the ability to play with the technology that drives the making of this picture not the need to tell a particular story. And that rarely makes for a decent film. And another huge amount of cash that could have been used to make half a dozen Children of Men will instead be sucked up to make yet another piece of schlock.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Children of Men (2006)****
I'm still haunted by several sequences from this thrilling, gut-wrenching, fantastic picture. Not a film for those wanting escapism or comic book heroes or the Hollywood treatment. This is a gritty, taut, tough, unflinching mirror to today. Exceptional.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sic Semper Tyrannis: Casting for the play:
"It makes very little sense that a person with this background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially "ground" wars are being fought unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character."

Holy shit. I sure hope Col. Lang is wrong this time. If hope is even possible anymore...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yahoo News: Police Reunion rumors reaching fever pitch:
"The more rational approach would have been, 'OK, Sting, go make a solo record, and let's get back together in two or three years,"' he [Andy Summers] said. "I'm certain we could have done that. Of course we could have. We were definitely not in a creative dry space. We could have easily carried on, and we could probably still be there. That wasn't to be our fate. It went in another way. I regret we never paid it off with a last tour."

I really hope this doesn't come to pass but it appears very likely. If creativity and "art" are the real reasons for getting back together, why not create a new band?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Longs Drug Stores Photo Center
Not exactly a breaking news item, but to me the ability to upload digital photographs and have them printed on high quality photo printers at my local drug store WITHIN AN HOUR for 15 cents a print is just, well, amazing. Awesome. Terrific.
A note on self-realization:

Most times I need to be hit over the head with an observation about myself repeatedly and over a long period of time before it becomes apparent to me. And sometimes, with a little luck and a lot of awareness training, you get an insight that cuts through all the crap and hits you right in the mouth. It is at those times that I need to make sure I am paying attention and not try to rationalize it away. Forgiving yourself is important, but accepting reality when it is right there in front of you is more important. Because it won't be there long. Remember, your brain is designed for movement and deception and it is very, very good at both of those things.

The point is: you're a liar.