Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Republican Appointees on the Supreme Court Declare An Individual Right to Bear Arms

This is why elections matter. If Al Gore had won in 2000 -- or Kerry in 2004 -- we wouldn't have had Alito and Roberts. We'd likely instead have two appointees of a Democratic president (or, at the worst, O'Connor still and a Democratic appointee). And the "Constitution" would be interpreted differently today, and democratically-passed legislation regulating weapons would still be constitutional.

In dissenting from the recent Supreme Court decision restoring habeas corpus rights to detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Justice Scalia warned ominously that "We can say with confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result" of the court's decision. Well, Justice Scalia, we can say with even more confident horror that more Americans are likely to die as a result of this terrible decision produced by you and your narrow -- purely political -- majority of conservative justices on the court.

At the Supreme Court, as has been abundantly clear for all to see since Bush v. Gore, law is simply politics by other means. The Supreme Court justices are simply politicians with robes on, who get life tenure, and who sometimes have to give written explanations for their decisions.

This is why elections matter. We cannot allow the Republicans to create a conservative supermajority on the court for the next thirty to forty years. Democrats must do whatever it takes to win this year.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nightmares About Long Flights to Foreign Countries

A recurring nightmare I have is that I'm about to get on a very long flight to a very foreign country, very far away, but I'm totally unprepared: I don't have cash, I haven't packed anything, I'm wearing the wrong clothes, I haven't gotten any vaccinations, I haven't made any arrangements, etc. So we're getting on one of these very long flights pretty soon, and I'm starting to freak out a bit about it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The View from the Tank: Encounters at the End of the World (2008).

NEW FEATURE: From time-to-time, the world-famous Chanchow will be joining the OG's Movie Reviews. See her review below mine.

OCTOPUS GRIGORI: First, I did not cry. Werner Herzog's new documentary about the people who find themselves living in Antarctica had many moving, beautiful moments, but none that got me welled me up; apparently, it takes a movie like Kung Fu Panda to really get to me.

And it's not likely that Herzog would've wanted me to cry. His view of the world, on display in this movie, is deeply unsentimental, sometimes in a contemptuous, mocking way -- though the movie did offer many scenes that were clearly meant to move the viewer (often these scenes were accompanied by powerful choral music).

And the viewer cannot help but be moved by the outrageous beauty of what Herzog sees and hears in Antartica: massive icebergs the size of Maryland breaking free of the continental shelf, floating obstinately north, frightfully melting as they go; transparent jellyfish elegantly pulsing through the sea deep under the ice sheets of the Antarctic Ocean; the otherworldly, inorganic electronica-sounding beeps and squeals of seals communicating underwater; a man climbing down a fumarole ice cavern tunnel off the side of an active volcano; primitive single-celled organisms gathering particles from their surroundings to create branching extensions into the world around them. All of these things are beautiful, and any film that captures them cannot help but have a healthy share of magnificent beauty. At times, watching this, I was reminded of the BBC's Planet Earth series; that series continuously broke new ground in its ability to wow the viewer with fantastic shots of natural beauty.

But Herzog is not primarily interested in making a nature documentary. At least, that's what he tries to signal to us, in sharing his wise-ass proposals that he made the National Science Foundation when discussing his idea for the movie. Herzog purportedly told the NSF that he was not interested in the "usual" science questions, and had no interest in filming "puffy penguins". No, he supposedly told them that he was interested in questions such as why some ants enslave smaller insects to harvest sugar water from them, and why chimpanzees don't utilize and dominate inferior animals such as goats [cutting to shot showing an artist's rendition of a chimpanzee atop a goat looking out over a Southwestern American desert landscape]. I like the Herzog movies I've seen, but you get the sense that he is, to some degree, an insufferable know-it-all prick. And I could see how that part of his personality could grow more prominent living in Los Angeles, surrounded by Los Angelenos who find him so Continental and deep.

But I am not hating on him. Herzog's films are often about dreamers, and he tries to put this film into that category as well. He seems most interested in how the people he comes across in Antartica ended up there, and why. I did find his treatment of his interview subjects wildly uneven. He allows several of them to speak at length, maintaining a respectful silence. Other times, he cuts off the speaker mid-sentence with his own wise-ass question (almost inevitably meant to elicit knowing giggles from the audience that is thrilled with itself for being hip to Herzog), or with his own dubbed-in commentary in which he says something about the interviewee going on forever, their stories never ending, etc. All to the delight of the knowing Herzog audience. (We were at the L.A. Film Festival to see this; it was perhaps the most perfect audience in the world for this film, and this film seemed tailor-made for a premiere showing at a Film Festival.) I won't go into the cheapness of a documentary filmmaker making the subjects at his mercy look stupid, but that thought ran through my head.

Herzog captures many different people pursuing different goals in Antarctica (driving bulldozers, researching volcanoes, studying seals, discovering new single-celled species, searching for neutrinos). All of them are presented as dreamers of one type or another. Surprisingly, Herzog does rely on the somewhat predictable theme of wisdom being found in unlikely places: he frames his film with words from a worldly Russian bulldozer driver cum philosopher, who quotes Alan Watts to the effect that we, humans, are the eyes of the universe, and it is through our perception that the universe becomes conscious of itself, and its own beauty.

Herzog of course wants to leave us unsure of whether this is his "theme" -- one would think that someone who pointedly didn't want to film "puffy penguins" would not want to posit such an easily mocked, hippy-dippy Big Sur New Age spa theme, but that's what he gives us. This theme seems to be tied in with several other strands of Doomsdayism: the people in Antarctica are clearly very pessimistic about the future of humanity; many believe "Nature will regulate us." There is much talk about how the end is near [cut to shot of iceberg the size of Delaware chugging north]. And Nature may yet regulate us. Doubtless, the Doomsdayism appeals to Herzog's bleaker side, and he seeks to temper this theme with the Alan Watts blow-your-mindisms. Also, at times, Herzog's fundamental disinterest in the boring details of the research or science his subjects are conducting leads him to move to the easier (for liberal arts majors at the film festival) themes of religion or spirituality. The divers under the Antarctic ice refer to their underwater dives as going into "the Cathedral," the neutrino-seeking scientist is looking for "God particles," etc.

But even though I could feel myself nitpicking at Herzog's roving themes, his seemingly haphazard approach to interviewing everyone he came across and including everything that looked or sounded cool in this movie (which felt slightly long), I couldn't help but like this movie quite a bit. I almost felt as if I liked this movie quite a bit despite Herzog. The fascinating characters Herzog comes across, the setting, the scenery, and the astonishing beauty of the images and sounds captured made this movie impossible not to appreciate. It's definitely a movie you should see -- if simply because you will likely not see another movie like it.

Four tentacles (out of five).

CHANCHOW: If you're into nature, watch Planet Earth instead. (Actually, watch Planet Earth in any case.) If you're into seeing what kinds of people end up working in Antarctica ("PhDs washing dishes," as one linguist says) and also hearing Herzog mock them, then I guess you should see this movie. It wasn't bad. It just wasn't great. I checked my watch wondering when it would end.

Rating: 2-1/2 Chanchows (out of 5).

A Bullet-Point Summary of My Weekend

  • Ate at San Sui (never spectacular, but usually good and fresh, with very nice people, and usually no wait for tables) in Los Feliz. Had the Dynamite Scallops. Spoke some Japanese to the ancient proprietress of the restaurant (possessor of what may be the most distinctive voice in all of Los Angeles), which entertained her, slightly.

  • Watched the ESPN replay of the Turkey-Croatia Euro 2008 quarterfinal match. Had several Pacificos with lemon wedges from the lemon tree in the backyard as I did this.

  • Woke up before 7 for some reason. Read Capital and Bruno Bettelheim for a while. Thought about things I had to do.

  • Watered the plants in the backyard.

  • Watched the beginning of The Odd Couple

  • Picked up my newly-repaired tenor sax. Watched Russia defeat Holland. Played the tenor sax for a while. With the repairs, I discovered that I am now able to hit and sustain a low C and D. Before, I would just make horrible honking sounds. There was apparently a leak. So it wasn't my fault! It was my equipment! Prior to the repairs, I was beginning to lose confidence in my ability to play the tenor. Now I am sure I will be appearing on a stage near you very soon.

  • Read some more. Wrote some correspondence to some friends in cards I had lying around from the MOCA bookstore.

  • Went with Mrs. Octopus to see Encounters at the End of the World (review coming soon -- 4 tentacles) at the L.A. Film Festival, over in Westwood. Waited in line with the other film festival goers. The only movie line I've seen in L.A. where people were reading books while they waited. That might have been because we were right by UCLA -- not sure.

  • Ate soba at Yabu on Pico.

  • Came home and watched the end of The Odd Couple

  • Woke up around 9 and read the paper for a while.

  • Picked up remaining debris around the house from the gutter removal.

  • Talked to my dad on the phone.

  • Watched the mostly boring Spain-Italy quarterfinal.

  • Talked to my brother on the phone.

  • Went to a friend's birthday party. Played Wii tennis for the first time.

  • Played pickup basketball in Eagle Rock. I was working on my mid-range jumper, and it finally began to fall for me. I was also having more success with my drives to the basket -- likely because no one felt much like playing defense on a Sunday evening with the sun setting.

  • Made a spaghetti sauce for dinner from scratch with some found ingredients. Onions, garlic, diced tomatoes, some tomato paste, lots of oregano, some red pepper flakes, salt, garlic salt, and lots of pepper. I thought about throwing in cumin, but thought better of it. It turned out pretty well. We had it with whole wheat pasta. I am going to cook more.

  • Read some more in The Uses of Enchantment, and went to bed. I'm sure the creators of Shrek read this book.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The View from the Tank: Liveblogging the Replay of Croatia-Turkey Euro 2008 Quarterfinals

I know the result of this game, but I'm going to watch the whole thing nonetheless. I caught the first half during lunch sitting alone at the bar at a Chinese restaurant. The waiters at the restaurant all appeared to be rooting for Turkey. The red and white checker pattern on the Croatian jerseys always makes me think of Ralston-Purina.

The sneaky people at ESPN apparently cut out a good fifteen minutes from the beginning of the second half in tonight's replay. Mrs. Octopus and I watched the whole first half, and then were settling in for the second half after the halftime break, when Mrs. Octopus noticed that the clock somehow had gone to 60 minutes. ESPN just cut out minutes 45 to 60, deciding that that time was expendable because no goals were scored. Also, ESPN probably had to shorten the match -- which went through extra time to penalty kicks -- to fit into their nighttime schedule. Right now we're at the break before the second fifteen-minute period of extra time. Turkey is starting to turn up the heat on offense and have produced a number of excellent chances in extra time. The Turkish goalie, Rustu, seems like the hero of the match so far, with a few superb saves to keep the Turks in the game. The winner here meets the frighteningly strong, powerful, and efficient German side that dominated Portugal yesterday. (Croatia surprised Germany during group play earlier in the tournament.)

Another Turkish player picks up a yellow, making it a total of three Turkish players who will miss the next match. The Turks are pretty physical and sometimes rough, but they also have surprising speed and creativity on the ball. It's an interesting mix, rough around the edges, and not always smooth, but effective so far this tournament: they're Euro 2008's Paul Pierce.

All of this is making me want to play soccer, but I probably won't have the chance this weekend. I will be watching the spectacular Dutch side take on Russia tomorrow morning. The Orange Crush, after destroying both Italy and France, looks to be the strong favorite to win it all, but I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Spain will win the tournament. Just my gut.

Update: I just saw the final two minutes of the extra time. Semih's goal, in the last few seconds of injury time tacked onto the extra time was an unreal electric shock. I knew it was going to happen, having read about it, but it was still shocking and impossible to believe as I saw it. It came as the commentators were eulogizing Turkey, noting that they had had a good run, but their tournament was over. No one saw it coming. Amazing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I'm having some withdrawal pangs now that the NBA Finals are over. Who knew I would get so sucked in? I was genuinely happy that the better, more likable team won. Sometimes, justice prevails.

Anyhow, I'm in a rut. I'm exhausted with Campaign 2008 after the grueling, debilitatingly long primaries, my soccer teams are on their early summer hiatus, my tenor saxophone is being repaired, my Japanese classes are over for the summer, I have film in my camera that needs to be developed, our gutters have been taken down while we wait for the painters to come by next week, and I'm 33 for just a few months more.

I was excited about the fruit trees we recently planted in the backyard, but it'll take years for those to bear fruit. It's nice to go out and water them twice a week. It makes me feel quiet and contemplative, like a man with modest needs that are easily fulfilled. Not that that's necessarily true, but that's how I feel, temporarily, as I'm standing there watering the trees.

Last night, Mrs. Octopus had dinner with friends and came home a bit later than usual. I got home earlier than I normally do. I went out to the Eagle Rock Recreation Center and played a couple games of pick-up basketball. I was pretty awful in the first game: my game is limited to ungainly, reckless drives to the basket (think of a novice trying to end a chess game against his computer very quickly), but I was getting stripped and/or running into two or three big guys before I could get my shot off. A major problem for me is that I don't like to call fouls in pick-up, so even though I am often getting hammered, there's nothing I can do about it. The thing in pick-up is to be able to hold onto the ball and score even as your opponents are trying to put you into a headlock. You don't want to be the jerk who's calling fouls everytime he misses a shot. I mean you could, and the universal code of pick-up would require that the other side respect your call, but you would be racking up serious bad pick-up basketball karma.

Anyway, in a later game, I was playing five-on-five and one of my teammates was this kid who must've been like thirteen or fourteen, but he was a baller. He was throwing Chris Paul-type passes, exposing the defense, creating ridiculous opportunities for his teammates -- all of this eliciting vocal appreciation from the lanky high school kids checking their text messages and smoking cigarettes on the sidelines while they waited for the next game. The kid also had an outside shot, which opened up the defense a bit for me, and allowed me to do my crazy head-down, charging at the basket to better results.

It was about eight o'clock or so during my last game. The sun had set, and it was getting dark, and we were still out there on the outdoor Eagle Rock court, pre-teens, older dudes who were like fifty, and one guy staring at oncoming middle-age, all working on our games. Walking back to my car alone in the gathering dark after the game, I was filled with a sense of listlessness and emptiness.

I got home, and Mrs. Octopus still wasn't back. I walked around the house. I turned the TV on, watched some baseball highlights, and then turned the TV off. I drank some water. I checked my email. I read a chapter in a book about the history of India. I thought about playing my alto saxophone. I thought about doing some Vietnamese homework. I tried to think if there was anyone I could call -- but I had nothing to say. I felt, mostly, fine, but a little bored with myself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The View from the Tank: Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals

It's pretty simple. Tonight made it clear for all to see. The Celtics were, as I've been telling everyone I can since the beginning of this series, by far the more exciting, more compelling, more lovable, and better team. The Lakers were over-hyped, unlikable, callow, cocky, heartless, graceless, and soulless.

Who doesn't feel good for KG? Who doesn't appreciate the Herculean accomplishments of Paul Pierce this season and postseason? Who doesn't appreciate the pure beauty of Ray Allen's game?

Rajon Rondo > Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, and/or Jordan Farmar

Paul Pierce > Kobe Bryant

Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett > Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom

Celtics Bench (Poe, House, Posey, Cassell, Brown) > Supposedly Great and Deep Lakers Bench (Walton, Vujacic, Ariza, Turiaf, Farmar, Mimh)

Doc Rivers > Phil Jackson

Boston Garden fans > Staples Center fans

Celtics > Lakers

KG's heart > the Lakers' collective heart

And, yeah, that interview got me teared up. KG is fucking real. When was the last time, in this era of carefully managed, corporate-friendly sports personalities, that you saw any athlete bear bare his or her soul like that? Yeah, I know KG sells Gatorade and other shit -- but this guy cares deeply about what he's just accomplished, and you can tell this is coming from his heart. And he's got love for everyone who's been with him on the way.

This was the best series I've seen since the 80's. The better team won. Justice was done. Long live KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, Eddie House, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, and James Posey. This is why I still watch sports.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals: Pre-game thoughts and jitters

I'm feeling, for some reason, great anticipation for tonight's Game 6 of the NBA Finals. There's been a lot of drama surrounding the Celtics in the past day and a half since Game 5 in L.A. Ray Allen had to leave Game 5 right away, and stay behind in L.A. until today due to an undisclosed medical issue with his youngest son. The Celtics' chartered plane out of L.A. was delayed out of LAX. Kendrick Perkins has apparently decided to play tonight. KG proclaimed that Game 6 would be like "coming into the Amazon, into the jungle . . . ." (Perhaps KG was identifying with those recently discovered uncontacted tribes deep within the Amazon?) And in an early morning massacre today, the Mets fired Willie Randolph and two other top coaches.

Okay, so that last part didn't have anything to do with Game 6. Some thoughts going into tonight's game:

Can Rajon Rondo make the Lakers pay for not playing defense on him? Kobe's been leaving Rondo to go rove around and play help-defense, and the Lakers are daring Rondo to try to score on them. Rondo is not coming through. His ankle injury from Game 3 may be partly to blame, but it also seems like Rondo's nerves and anxiety have gotten the better of him.

Will Kendrick Perkins be able to bring the aggressiveness and physicality that the Celtics so dearly missed in Game 5, despite his shoulder injury?

Will Leon Powe revert to his super-sub role now that the series is back at the (new) Garden? He's been pretty invisible since his Game 2 heroics.

Can Paul Pierce continue to amaze and confound the Lakers with his unorthodox, drunken master style of play? Will those shambolic drives to the hole continue to result in points? Will his sprained knee hold up?

Will Kevin Garnett fight back all the haters and doubters and his own internal dialogue and come through in the clutch? Will he finally explode for a huge game to take the series? Perhaps he comes out with his entire body painted red like those Amazonian tribesmen?

I am a bit worried for the Celtics -- it's never a good idea to give Kobe yet another opportunity to beat you, the Cs appear to be breaking down physically, and the quick turnaround will not help -- but I'm going to stick with my prediction: Celtics win in 6. Tonight will be a thriller.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The View from the Tank: Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Finals

First, congratulations to the Lakers. It's good not to have the opponent pop champagne in your building.

Second, any reasonable person not in the tank for the Lakers will admit to you that Kobe's "steal" was a foul. Did he even touch the ball? Mostly, he looks like an angered bear taking a swipe at the midsection of an unfortunate camper. Who knows, maybe Stern and the NBA will issue a press release two days from now saying "our bad." But, whatever, no big deal. The series returns to Boston.

Phil Jackson has lost his mind, I think. Chris Mimh played some serious minutes in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. What's up with that? Luke Walton again went out there armed with his unfailingly mentioned "high basketball IQ", fell down, had more fouls than points. Also, at points during this game, the Los Angeles Lakers looked -- from a safe distance -- like Vanderbilt, Upenn, or Princeton on the TV screen. I'll leave that at that.

Back to Boston we go, and the Cs should be able to put this one away in Game 6 -- and, not to boast, but I have successfully predicted the precise sequence of results since Game 2 -- but there are some potentially serious problems for the Celts. First, Kendrick Perkins is questionable, with the continuing shoulder problem. Second, the point guard position continues to be a problem, with Rajon Rondo seriously underperforming. Doc Rivers has to fill that position with a combination of Cassell and House -- neither of whom is spectacular. Cassell in particular is infuriating, as he seems to believe, in his old age, that anytime he is on the floor he is the Celtics' number one option.

I still don't understand why Vladimir Radmanovic is in the Lakers starting five. Can anyone explain that to me? Nor can I understand the hype about Sasha Vujacic, who mostly seems like a rabid spaz. He had his moment of glory in Game 3, but it seems like he may have shot his load in this series with that performance.

Let's take a moment to appreciate Paul Pierce. His methods may be less polished or slick than Kobe or Jordan, and his game has been described as slovenly by some, perhaps fairly, but you can't really say much bad about his performance last night (38 points), and during this Finals series. His drives to the basket look messy, and ball often bounces around haphazardly around the backboard and rim after he releases, but more often than not, the ball goes in as Pierce is lying in a heap next to a cameraman, with the referee signalling continuation on the foul. Perhaps its Pierce's own drunken monkey style.

KG will wake up in Boston, as will the rest of the Celtics. Game 6 will be close, but I'm predicting that the Celtics will win by four.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Das EFX - They Want EFX

One of my favorite hip hop tracks of all time.

They Call Me D-Nice

I've been looking for this song for fucking years. This song is the motherfucking bomb.

Danger Doom featuring Ghostface Killah

Also, MF Doom is a Mets fan. There is justice in the world.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The View from the Tank: Game 4 of the Lakers-Celtics Finals

This was the greatest NBA Finals game I've ever seen. You've no doubt heard that the Celtics comeback from being down 24 points was the greatest in NBA Finals history. To me, it just came down to mature professionals winning out over immature, soft, overhyped punks.

The one play that distills this series to its essence? The smooth and composed Ray Allen, a paragon of basketball grace, waving off Kevin Garnett's screen as the clock ran down to just seconds left in the game, setting up a one-on-one situation with Sasha Vujacic, and then putting on a quick shake and blowing by a bewildered and foolish-looking Vujacic with a quick first step, smoothly and calmly finishing with a left-handed lay-up. Celtics up by 5. Vujacic returned to the bench to pout and throw a temper tantrum. Game over.
In a play that typified the Celtics' comeback, he was beaten one-on-one to the basket by aging Ray Allen.

The play occurred with 16 seconds remaining and the Celtics leading by three.

Allen simply ran past Vujacic and, untouched, laid the ball in the basket to clinch the victory.

While Vujacic sat on the bench during the ensuing timeout, a Lakers employee attempted to comfort him, but Vujacic angrily knocked the employee's hand off his shoulder.

Then he buried his head into a towel and looked -- like many Staples Center fans looked -- as if he wanted to cry.

Who's been the better coach in this series, Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers? Who decided to give serious minutes to Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, and Vladimir Radmanovic in this game down the stretch while not calling on Odom and Finals veteran Fisher? And who got tremendous production out of Posey and House, and managed Garnett and Pierce perfectly? Who brought his team back -- all the way back -- from 24 points down, keeping them motivated and positive and full of fire, to pull off the greatest comeback in Finals history?

Pau Gasol is soft. Vladimir Radmanovic is soft like Play-Doh. Luke Walton is useless. Sasha Vujacic is a streaky liability.

This series has done the service of revealing the deep idiocy of basketball's punditry. They've been exposed as the reflexive, herdlike cult-of-Jackson-triangle-adulators and squealing Kobe-worshippers that they are.

Speaking of the Chosen One, let's note that Kobe left the floor with time still on the clock. You know, because he's the MVP.
They gave the game away, but not before one of them walked away.

You know how Los Angeles fans are famously criticized for leaving games early.

Add Kobe Bryant to their list.

He walked off the court with three seconds remaining as the Lakers were bringing up the ball for a final shot.

It was a most egregious act for a most valuable player.

I'm not trying to gloat or be a jerk, really, but as I've said about these current, ersatz Lakers: don't believe the hype.

Also, they're a bunch of punks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The View from the Tank: Kung Fu Panda (2008)

I am not embarrassed to admit that I loved this movie.

I didn't really want to see this. Mrs. Octopus wanted to see it, so I went with her.

The movie knocked me out right out of the gate with its strikingly original, funny, and visually spectacular opening dream sequence. This opening is hand drawn in a woodblock-type style that's vaguely 60's retro. The sequence immediately signals that the movie, though committed to the standard children's animation formula of the outsider that needs to believe in himself, will be a treat for anyone with a fond memory of the kung fu classics that played on independent stations like Channel 5 out of New York City on the weekends back in the 80's and 70's (i.e., people born before the advent of MTV). The Fabulous Furious Five Kung Fu masters that the main character, Po (Jack Black, in a wonderful, measured performance) idolizes are embodiments of the classic styles of (movie) kung fu: tiger (Angelina Jolie), mantis (Seth Rogen), snake (Lucy Liu), crane (David Cross), and monkey (Jackie Chan). It's details like this, and the perfect music, choreography of the kung fu, and even the kung fu shouts and facial expressions on the characters, that make clear that this film is a labor of love from some serious kung fu aficionados.

After the fantastic start, I was totally on board. The story that followed was predictable, sure, but I simply did not care. I was too busy being totally blown away by truly amazing, incredibly beautiful scenes that the filmmakers casually weaved into the film: the elderly kung fu master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) slowly performing tai chi on a cliff under a peach tree with a night sky teeming with stars behind him, petals slowly and intermittenly fluttering down from the tree, the bad guy, Tai Lung (Ian McShane (Swearengen from Deadwood)), leapfrogging up through the air, from stone to falling stone, and an instant classic, and in the scene that best captures the spirit of the film, Po sparring with his master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman doing some actual acting here, in a moving, yes, I said it, moving performance) with chopsticks over one last dumpling.

The movie also impressed me with its ability to balance its mostly antic charms with a respect for the traditions of kung fu films, and, somehow, China. The film could have easily toppled into cheap jokes about Chinese culture, but it didn't. I don't know how to explain it, exactly, but I felt like people who saw this film in China would come away with a greater appreciation for the ability of Americans to appreciate and celebrate the grand tradition of Chinese kung fu -- and that they would like us better for it. This was dumb, I know, but I did sort of feel like this movie would be a good thing for U.S.-China relations as we Americans start to get used to not being the only 800-pound gorilla around. This film is like an extended, beautiful love letter to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and all the other heroes of those kung fu classics from back in the day, and I do think it'll be much appreciated back in the home of kung fu.

And though exceedingly simple, the story managed to move me. To my great disbelief, I found myself tearing up at certain points, especially as Master Oogway urged his former student, Master Shifu, to abandon his cynicism and believe in his own ability to teach Po to become the Dragon Warrior, and as Shifu confronts his former pupil, Tai Lung, who turned away from him and lost his way. I realized that this was ridiculous as it was happening -- but it happened. What can I say?

In any event, I don't want to get too carried away in my raving and blow what little credibility I have left after my enthusiastic review of Crystal Skull: taking a step back, I will concede that this was a basically formulaic summer movie aimed at kids that just happened to have a bunch of fabulous scenes, wonderful animation, and a decent story. It could have done much much more with the Fabulous Furious Five. And the final fight scene is just okay. The movie's not quite a classic, but it's achingly close. It's definitely the best movie I've seen so far this year (beating out Ironman), and I would see it again.

4 tentacles (out of 5).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Live Blogging Game 3 from the Coffee Table Lounge in Eagle Rock

I am blogging live from Eagle Rock at the new Coffee Table Lounge. I'm in the belly of the beast as far as Laker fans: plenty of dudes and gals here in old and new Kobe jerseys. This is a pretty sweet place to watch a game: there's two big flat screens and a big prokection screen.

The crowd here is a little hard to take: they were laughing and jeering when Pierce chased a ball into the stands.

The Celtics are taking a bit to warm up, and Kobe has taken like 10 free throws. We'll see how it goes.

I'll note that while Boston fans chant "Beat LA", LA fans chant "Boston sucks.". I'll let you draw your own conclusions on that.

UPDATED 9:59 pm: Damn it. Something terrible happened and the updates I put up during the game got lost. Devastating. Here are the reconstructed highlights:

I had the ahi tuna salad, which was okay; the salad was good, but the tuna was not tasty.

The crowd was pretty despicable. They booed when Powe checked in. They cheered when Rondo twisted his ankle, and again when the TV guys announced that Rondo had twisted his ankle.

The table next to me was full of eight or nine guys and their girlfriends all in Kobe jerseys -- no Magic jerseys, no Kareem, jerseys, not even the knowing odd Van Exel jersey -- just Kobe jerseys. Home, away, 8, and 24 -- Kobe. That's what this team and its fans are all about.

I thought the Lakers' poor foul shooting would do them in, but in the end, it didn't matter.

At some point, I mentioned that I fucking loved Kung Fu Panda. Best movie of the year -- even better than Ironman. Review coming soon.

Why is Luke Walton on the floor in the NBA Finals?

Congrats to the Lakers. 2-1. Game 4 should be good.

The View from the Tank: Lakers-Celtics - Game 3 in Los Angeles

The greatest Lakers team ever. My favorite basketball team of all time.

These current Lakers are a shadow of that former team. They're a bunch of preeners and posers wearing Laker jerseys -- but they're not Lakers of the same quality as Worthy, Kareem, Coop, Rambis, Magic, and Scott. These current Lakers are selfish, whining, and soft, and haven't shown that they deserve to win.

I have to admit to enjoying a healthy dose of Schadenfreude in watching all the Kobe-worshipping, Luke Walton-appreciating Laker fans and the purported Basketball Experts who were so confidently and unequivocally predicting a Laker rout in the Finals having to come to grips with two convincing victories by Boston so far. The whining and complaining of the Lakers and their fans has been less than stoic: they mocked Pierce's injury in Game 1 and called it a "WWE moment"; they whined about the referees in Game 2.

The Lakers and their fans need to accept that they have no one to blame but themselves. The Lakers, faced with the league's best defense, which has effectively closed down the lane, have turned into a team of jump-shooters. They're settling for the outside, and not working the ball into the paint. Doc Rivers is the more effective and smarter coach so far; he has out-thought much lauded subgenius Phil Jackson in this series (by the way, is Jackson really a great coach, or does he just happen to coach the greatest players to play the game?), figuring out how to limit and contain Kobe while taking the rest of the Lakers out of their revered system. They've outmuscled and outhustled Odom, Gasol, and Radmanovic. The Lakers big men look scared and confused. Where are the creaky Spurs? Where is the butter-soft interior of the Nuggets?

The Celtics' subs have been more effective and more intelligently deployed than the Lakers' celebrated subs (e.g., Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic). L.A.'s bench, which was so frequently touted as one of the key factors informing the consensus (read Groupthink) view that the Celtics were going to be hopelessly outclassed, has been a bust.

Phil Jackson doesn't appear to have complete control of his team. See, e.g., Vujacic's ill-advised and selfish decision to take a bad, tightly-contested (and ultimately blocked) shot as time ran out in Game 2. (As I was noting to a friend, you know that the constant soundtrack in Vujacic's head is rave music. When he shot that shot at the end of Game 2, he must have had his internal soundtrack (some kind of trance-house remix he was remembering from dancing with glo-sticks in Ibiza) up to 20.)

Kobe has reverted to his solipsistic ways of 2005 and 2006 at times during this series: when frustrated, Kobe turns inward into the black hole of himself; he holds onto the ball and tries to do everything himself. His disgust and dismay at his teammates -- whom he has always viewed as background scenery to his one-man show, rather than brothers-in-arms or equals -- was pretty transparent in Game 2. We'll see if he gets beyond that tonight.

The common wisdom, that the West is a better conference than the East, is simply wrong. The East is a tougher, grittier division. The West is a bunch of pretty boys scoring lots of paint without playing defense. And the East now has better, younger, and more explosive players. Shaq and Jason Kidd and Kobe are in the West. Arenas, James, Rondo, Stuckey, et al., are in the East.

Ultimately, the Lakers will live by Kobe or die by Kobe. They have chosen to place all their stock in the Greatest Player on the Planet. As any casual NBA fan knows, Jordan couldn't have won without Pippen (or Rodman, or Kerr, or the rest). Has Kobe found his Pippen yet? It doesn't look like it.

Meanwhile, Lakers fans found themselves in the position of rooting for Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic while rooting against Leon Powe. Ask yourselves, current Lakers fans: who is on the right side of history?

Only three teams have ever come back from 2-0 down. So far this year, L.A. is 0-4 against Boston. I predict the Lakers will win tonight, lose Game 4, win Game 5, and Boston will clinch the series in Game 6 in Boston.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An Open Letter to Sen. Hillary Clinton from a Fellow Democrat

Dear Senator Clinton,

You have run a historic and hard-fought campaign. Your commitment and tenacity have earned the respect of millions.

However, Barack Obama has now officially won the Democratic nomination.

The question is now pretty simple: are you a Democrat, or not? Because, as a Democrat, now is not the time to make demands, or attempt to open negotiations. Our role, as Democrats, is to unite behind our nominee -- who won the Democratic nomination in Democratic elections under Democratic Party rules -- and to win back the White House and put this country back on the right path after the eight disastrous and ruinous years of Bush and Cheney we've all lived through.

We cannot afford to lose this election. We cannot afford to continue to send American men and women to die in a war that should never have been started. We cannot afford to lose control of the Supreme Court to the far right for the next forty years. We cannot afford to continue the Bush-Cheney strategy of preemptive, endless war. We cannot afford to watch our nation's economy crumble into ruins. We cannot afford to do nothing about the nearly 50 million Americans living in fear because they have no health insurance.

This year, we, as Democrats, will win together. The stakes are higher than any one individual's personal ambition. Bush, Cheney, and the Republicans have taken our country to a historical nadir, recklessly flouted our Constitution, stood by as our economy self-destructed, and made the world a more dangerous place. This must stop. We need you to help us. Fight with us, Senator Clinton. We need to win this year, and with your strength, experience, and tenacity on our side, we are going to win. We will change the course we're on, and we will save our country.

Please, Senator Clinton, concede the race, and endorse Senator Obama. Together, we Democrats cannot be stopped this year. Our nation, and history, are waiting for your to do the right thing.

Octopus Grigori
(D)-Los Angeles

[Updated 6/4/08 at 5:30 p.m.: Well, guess this post got overtaken by developing events.]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

We're Going to Make It


Barack Obama for President.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The View from the Tank: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

I came into this movie with the lowest of expectations. When I first heard they were bringing back Harrison Ford to do one more Indiana Jones, I was immediately dubious. Why would they do this now, nineteen years after the Last Crusade (1989), with a guy that is now into his Social Security golden years? It's not like bringing back Star Wars, where you do a prequel with a totally new cast of young actors. How would this action movie work with a lead preparing to turn 70 in a few years?

The previews did not help. They looked like a mess of CGI, graphics people off the chain with too much money and too little restraint. Throw in Shia LaBeouf, as Indy's spunky sidekick (paging Short Round, Scrappy Doo) and things were looking pretty bleak.

The movie won me over with its opening sequences. Cate Blanchett was delicious (every review describes her this way -- and when, if ever, is she not the best thing in a movie?) hamming it up as the Russian baddie, Dr. Irina Spalko. The fantastic scene in the fake town set up at an atomic testing site, featuring a nuclear family of mannequins watching Howdy Doody in a model American home of the fifties, was one of the best and most provocative Spielberg scenes I've seen in years.

Much of the stuff that comes later is formulaic and familiar, sure. Weirdo natives with blow darts? Check. Cryptic dead languages only Indy can read? Check. Jokes about archaeologists needing to get out of the library? Check. European-accented baddies in uniforms lusting after the weird powers of the paranormal? Check. That's why we're at the Indiana Jones sequel after all, right?

Age has taken its toll, and that's undeniable. As other reviews have noted, Ford appears to have lost much of his range. He's aged into a somewhat rigid, frozen version of his prior swaggering, wisecracking self; he now delivers his lines in a clipped and terse, often overloud manner that makes him seem like a bastardized hybrid of Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston. Gone is the wide and rich range of facial expression, the twinkling eyes, the impish humor, of his salad days in the early 80's (see, e.g., Bladerunner, Star Wars, Raiders, etc.).

Still, he is pretty spry for 65, and his action sequences and fight scenes, to his credit and Spielberg's, are not laughable. LeBouef somehow defies my reflexive best efforts to dislike him. Perhaps the most courageous casting decision, and the one that ultimately won me over to this movie, was the decision to bring back Karyn Allen as Indy's old flame, Marion Ravenwood. She is not botoxed up or pancaked in make-up: she looks her age, and looks fantastic at that. She is a real joy in this film. Sean Connery does a decent job showing up in a photograph as Indy's late father.

The chase scenes were expertly done, as one would expect. They are cheesy -- but lest we forget, that's what this series is supposed to be: it's a homage to the cheesy popcorn flicks of the thirties. It's supposed to be a bit cornball, a bit over the top. The Russians and Nazis are supposed to be scary and weird, and the lost ruins and legends are supposed to be creepy and bizarre.

In the end, I couldn't find much to fault here. I found that the two hours went by quickly and I was entertained pretty much throughout. Sure, the CGI gets a little out of control near the end, but so what? I think many have forgotten that though Raiders was fantastic, one of the greatest films of the last thirty years, the sequels, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade, were nowhere near as good. In fact, those sequels were pretty embarrassing at times. The movie could've slowed down here or there, between action sequences, to let us take in the characters a bit more -- there is a bit of a rushed, theme park ride feeling to this at times -- but given Ford's diminished range, that's probably okay.

So I don't agree with the raft of critics that have panned this movie. Crystal Skull is as good, if not better than the previous Indy sequels. I would have to say it's even better, considering how long it's been since the last installment. In the end, though, I did have a lingering feeling of lost opportunity: if only these guys had gotten it together and made this film ten years ago. We can't get the Harrison Ford of old back again. As Indiana's friend Oxley notes at the closing of the film -- perhaps in the filmmakers' mea culpa that they had waited too long to make this film -- "How much of human life is lost in the waiting." Indeed.

3 1/2 tentacles

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Blast from the Past: Tecmo Bowl

Don't pretend you never did this.