28 July 2010

Stuck: So here are some movies

I'm stuck on my intro. It's all a'jumble.

Priming the pump (but my pump primes backward. Come on, SK fans. Give that some love.) with some blogginess.

We signed up for Blockbuster's unlimited $30/month movie rental. It's pretty rad. You can get two movies out at a time, but only from the same store. That's a drag, but we've watched scores of movies in the last three weeks. I usually have no attention span for films, but they're growing on me.

So here's a slice of what we've been watching. First, the thumbs-down films.

Very Bad Films

Hot-Tub Time Machine: This film came recommended by people who I consider to be very discriminating. First, context: I hated Knocked Up, 40-Year Old Virgin, and The Hangover. When a film is described as "[one lame film] Meets [another lame film]!" I always worry. In this case, The Hangover Meets Back to the Future provided predictable 12-year-old-boy humor. Despite my love for John Cusack--and I even love the new bloated John--I hated HTTM. I like comedy, for sure, but I like my comedy less obvious. The back of the case said, "Wildly inappropriate!" To me, events don't have to be about pooping, sex, or uncomfortable social situations to be funny. I found it boring in its mass appeal. (First clothes go 80s, now film?) This opinion may make me sound horribly stodgy or prudish, but that's the way I roll.

Worth a Look

BBC's Life Series: I love documentaries. I love nature. But this series (narrated on DVD by Oprah Winfrey) tends to drag. It's fine for a go-through while on the treadmill or grading or doing something else, but the narrative isn't enough to keep it super interesting. I had high standards for Life, since Blue Planet was riveting, but Life often recycles footage, making for a pretty lackluster experience. For example, the same 15-minute vignette about the Ibex's stunning agility in the Mammals section shows up in the Predators section and later in the Biosphere/Life section. I get that providing this much quality footage costs a lot of time and energy--and the footage is stunning--but I also grew bored. I never get bored with documentaries. For what it's worth, the section on fish was really amazing. Watch Life once for the rich visuals, and then call it a day.

The Damned United: I like sports movies, as long as they aren't solely sports movies and as long as they don't play on reduced and/or trite ideologies. (I really hated Varsity Blues and Remember the Titans for their simplified plots.) The Damned United tells the true story of Brian Clough, who coached Leeds United (soccer) for 44 days in 1974. If you were into the World Cup, or any part of soccer history, you'll like the intricacies of this film. It does require a fair amount of knowledge about soccer to fully appreciate, but the acting alone makes up for the price of admission. Clough presents a coach who's easily to dislike but who also brings a sense of ethics to a club short on it. The narrative is complicated by the political imperative for these small English villages to present public images of themselves and, as such, becomes a story much larger than one man's desire to coach a particular team.

Knowing: I was on the fence about watching this film. Sci-fi can go horribly, horribly wrong so quickly, and Nick Cage tends to make films go horribly, horribly wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Knowing offered a plot line less predictable than most sci-fi out there, with characters more developed than most. (I'm looking at you, Moon.) On the surface, it offered a pretty enjoyable story about numerology, foretelling, and the destruction of the human race. Underneath, Knowing, at the title suggests, threw into question exactly what we can know and the effects of action on this knowing. Cage's lack of animation actually supported his role as an astrophysicist, so kudos for that choice. (Much like Keanu's lack of inflection in The Matrix, this inability to act didn't detract from the character as it might in other roles.) Though I didn't like the trite, everyone-embrace-the-end-of-the-world-so-we-can-go-to-Heaven ending, I do like that no deus ex machina showed up to save the day. (I'm looking at you, 2012.)

Quite Good, Actually

Whip It:
Any film described as "brimming with girl power" usually gets put back on the shelf; however, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is really, really good. It doesn't pander, and it doesn't cast women as 1) helpless waifs; 2) man-hating bitches; or 3) waifs-turned-man-hating-bitches. While Roller Derby, as a sport, interests me somewhat (a colleague used to be a Roller Derby Girl and assures me that I should definitely do it), its overwhelming popularity and embrace by the hipster community has pretty much turned me against most major iterations. As much as I disliked Ellen Page in Juno--and I think I am one of four people who hated that film--I found her to be captivating in Whip It. With a cast that includes Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon, the relationships between the Roller Girls (the "Hurl Scouts"), Bliss (Page), Pash (the best friend), and Bliss's parents becomes a tableau for examining self-knowledge in a very visceral way. Rent it NOW. You'll laugh, and, if it's possible, feel a little nostalgic for high school.

Who Killed the Electric Car?: I've been waiting two years to see this film, and I'm glad our Blockbuster carries it. It documents the story of the EV1, an electric car produced by GM in the 1990s in response to California's strict no-emissions laws. The EV1 was fully electric, could be fitted with a battery to get 300 miles before it needed charged, and could outperform many gasoline cars in terms of speed and handling. So where is it? GM recalled the EV1--which you could only lease--and crushed them all. The only ones out there live in automobile museums, and those have been deconstructed so they don't run. The film cites a number of major players in the revocation of the electric car (which, had the technology continued to advance, would have likely given us wide-consumer access to fully electric vehicles by now). Culprits include the government (a $100,000 tax credit for SUVS, or a $4,000 tax credit for electric cars), big oil (GM's general manager in cahoots with Saudi Arabia? Okay!), state governmental bodies (California dropped the ball and the rest of the country pays), and consumers (who feel "uncomfortable" with an electric car but safe in a Hummer). An interesting historical tid-bit: With the move away from the electric car in the 1990s, we saw the rise of these idiotic giant vehicles like the Hummer and International's version of a consumer "SUV" that can haul 6 tons. That's right: 6 tons. If you're interested in alternative energy, and why we haven't yet gotten there, you should pick up Who Killed the Electric Car.

23 July 2010

On Inaction

I'm happiest when I make quantifiable progress: So many pages written, so many miles covered (by foot or by bike), so many cats herded. That's why I think this reading phase bogs me down. I feel. so. inactive.

For my diss writing process, I started in the middle and spiraled out, writing the six core case study chapters before much of the intro or implications sections. I did this in part because I find the case study chapters to be more fun and in part because I knew I could knock them out and gain momentum. And I did. I'm something like 170 pages in. Good for me. That was hard work.

Because I've had a few classes in qualitative methods and read a slew of case studies, I felt comfortable writing those case study chapters with my four major domains in place (pedagogies, articulations of class, being of use, and connection to the land; they've since been absorbed into two major categories, but that's not important here). I have around 20ish pages of an intro and rough lit review and a couple, literally two, pages of implications (which are pretty sketch and are throwaway, I think).

So now that I feel the core of my diss is written, I'm compelled to review my literature (that I've been reading pretty steadily since January, by the way) and start note-taking to knock out that full intro and lit review, before moving on to the "implications" section where I talk about similarities between cases, meaningful differences, the application to the field, and blah blah blah. What that review of the lit review is forcing me to do is slowly read, slowly note, slowly absorb a LOT of different ideas. I'm wired for movement. This week has felt frustrating and wasted, though I know it can't be. I have 88 pages of notes. I didn't just sit around. I did something. But I have a hard time convincing myself that I've done anything that counts, since none of this prep work gets me quantifiably closer to my goal.

I know, it's faulty thinking and thinking that might rush me through a very important part of my project, which is why I'm writing about it. I hear about scholars who could dwell forever in the research phase, only to put off the writing phase. I'm the opposite. Give me 50 pages to write over 50 pages to read any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I enjoy reading, but I get impatient. I am proud to say that I am working on skills and patience necessary for the future, so this sitting still and just reading is good practice.

19 July 2010

Gnoshing in K-town: Good and Very Bad

Or more truthfully, where not to gnosh.

I didn't intend to become one of those people who hates to eat out. It just happened after the husband and I had one miserable experience after the next. The waiting. The subpar food. The ridiculous prices. Eating out stops being a treat when it's stressful from beginning to end: even deciding where to go had started to wear me out. And I do have this quirk about waiting for more than 10 minutes to be seated. In short, I won't do it. It's never, ever worth it.

Here, I'll detail some of the best and worst places to eat in Knoxville, in my very humble opinion. Keep in mind, also, that I hold impossibly high standards for both food quality and service, so some of the places may be fine if you can overlook poor service or a terrible atmosphere or average food. When I eat out, I want it to be a supreme experience, which is maybe unfair in our current climate of if-it-looks-like-food-I'll-eat-it cuisine.

I'll start with the goodies and end with the baddies.

Good: defined here as places in Knoxville I will bother to patronize. I don't mean to say that these eateries are "good" on any national foodie critic scale. I'm just a picky eater with a low tolerance for BS.

Calhoun's: Oh, I know. You're shaking your head. How cliche. But as steak houses go, Calhoun's offers the taste of Ye Olde Steakhouse without the weird hours, pain-in-the-ass parking, or the assumed-from-the-outside pretension (which isn't accurate, by the way). We were at Calhoun's on the River just over a week ago, and though they put butter on my potato when I distinctly asked for it without (a point I'll always ding a restaurant for, since they don't know if I'm just picky or have an allergy), my BBQ steak was good--a superb medium well--and my basic salad and potato fit the bill without tasting bland. One thing I like about Calhoun's is that their "loaded" baked potato isn't super heavy. There's a sprinkling of cheese and maybe a tablespoon of bacon. I also recommend the Ale Steak. The bar area is always seat yourself, and we have yet to wait for a table. Pricing is typical, around $12 for a steak entree with a $3 salad substitution. (I don't like how they push carb-y sides but make you pay for something veggie oriented, though I supposed I could have gotten steamed broccoli.)

Pete's: This downtown cafe reminds us of Petie's, a family-owned cafe in Euclid, Ohio, one of the few bright points of our time in Cleveland. Pete's is very much a cafe, with cramped seating, a long bar section, and a visible cook area. The hashbrowns are real potatoes parboiled and crisped on a griddle with--wait for it--NO OIL. Though, be forewarned, if you order oatmeal, you will get Quaker Instant. To the server's credit, though, she did let me know this point beforehand. Diner food without a super-heavy greasy feel, unless you order anything biscuit oriented. Unfortunately, the coffee always tastes burned, so I avoid that part of the experience. The wait staff is quick and friendly, and though they're always packed when we stop in on Saturday mornings, we like sitting at the bar, so we always get a seat. Pete's offers a nice experience before heading over to the Market Square Farmer's Market. Low, low diner-like prices make Pete's a nice weekend treat. (We usually get out of there for under $12 for the two of us.)

Taste of Thai: I love Thai food. Thai food, though, has a better-than-average chance of being bad. Taste of Thai's entrees are fairly good, but their yellow curry is excellent. The taste is close to Indian Korma (i.e., rich), so a small portion is satisfying. If you go for lunch, the service is quick, and you're more likely to get a seat. Taste of Thai closes between 2 and 5, and dinner hours are usually far busier. Last weekend, we placed a to-go order to enjoy while in the middle of our Miyazaki marathon. I do have two complaints here: we were told our to-go order would be ready in 15 to 20 minutes, and we waited a full 40 minutes. Lesson learned. We'll call it in next time, rather than placing the order and expecting to wander around Dick's Sporting Goods for 20 minutes. Also, the spring rolls are usually unacceptably greasy tasting. Still, Taste of Thai is one of the only places I'll venture into far-west Knoxville for.

The baddies: defined as the places were we've experienced consistently bad service and/or food. Like the goodies, these critiques aren't informed by anything other than my own standards.

Deadend BBQ: I don't understand how this nasty place keeps getting on "Places to Eat" lists. The couple of times we've eaten there, the food has been not only overpriced but also NOT BBQ. My "BBQ" chicken was actually rotisserie chicken someone had shredded and covered in sauce (and cheap, sour-tasting sauce at that). My jalapeno cornbread had nary a trace of jalapeno and, to boot, was bricklike. And my mac and cheese, that southern staple, either came out of a can or had been sitting for a few days. The husband's brisket was pot roast (not the same, and you'd think someone at a BBQ place would know the difference), and his waffle fries were obviously frozen bagged fries that had been deep fried. Add to this mess a $30+ tab and waiting for 25 minutes just to have our drink orders taken, and you have one bad experience. Deadend's BBQ was, indeed, deadend in a number of different ways.

Chandler's: Like Deadend, I do not understand how this icky hole-in-the-wall continues to get good ratings online. We've eaten there three times, and every time, the food was old, bland, and expensive. I understand that Chandler's is supposed to specialize in soul food, and I'm not afraid to delve into some uber-southern cuisine. (My grandmother would make lots of game meat, I'm not a stranger to pig's feet, and we'd routinely eat weeds from the yard in big salads. We also drive to Memphis pretty regularly to get real soul food, but that's another post for another day.) My fried chicken--which is what everyone says to get at Chandler's--came out with the fat congealed on top of it. It wasn't even warm enough to melt the fat on it, is what I mean. The cornbread was dry and tasteless, and the gravy lacked about two hours from becoming a solid. My husband ordered some kind of pork, and he became nauseated immediately after eating. His side dishes had seen better days, probably around the Tuesday before. The bill was impossibly high for the quality of food, something over $20, and we waited for about 20 minutes for a side of baked beans. I really wanted to like this place, since everyone seems to, but the low-quality food, dirty eating area, and lackadaisical service (along with the ridiculous pricetag for such mistreatment) totally prevents me from supporting it, which is a shame, because I like to enjoy locally owned restaurants whenever possible.

Soho: Never has fusion been so uninteresting. Soho is hip and trendy and in near-west Knoxville, so you know the coolest-of-the-cool go there. What a case of superficiality. The interior is beautiful, and the menu offers a pretty nice selection of Chinese/Pan-Asian fare, but your tastebuds have two options: over-seasoned or bland. From the sesame chicken--candy-sweet--to the General Tso's--way over-spiced--the only good thing I can say about Soho is that the steamed broccoli was crispy. Add in a $15/entree bill and hit-or-miss service, and Soho becomes yet another Knoxville restaurant I'll never recommend, though the customers are always impossibly-beautiful-yet-sloppily coiffed and super-hip.

The disclaimer here is that I am not any kind of expert. I'm just a picky eater who's careful about where she spends her disposable income. I'm always wary of places "everyone" loves, and I'm particularly wary of any eatery that keeps ending up on Top 10 lists. While my requirements are fairly simple--no waiting, good prices, good food, decent service--they're also fairly stringent. Sadly, the state of the food business is going more the way of Man vs. Food, prizing quantity over quality, leaving people like me to cook at home, which is a venture that I'm usually satisfied with.

16 July 2010

Scrubbing Speed

Slowing down, in other words.

I just realized that the title of this post might sound vaguely drug oriented or, at best, very Cinderella-esque. Here's what I mean: when you descend quickly on a bike, you sometimes have scrub off some speed before you go into a tight turn, particularly when there's no berm to keep you moving forward. Scrubbing isn't exactly braking. It's a way of slowing down the bike without applying direct braking alone. I guess we can think about scrubbing as indirect braking: dragging a rear tire sideways, for example, while also lightly braking to thus slow down just enough to get into that turn in front of you. I think. At least, that's how I understand it.

Technical details aside, I've realized that I blog when I need to scrub off some speed: throw off some energy to get through to the next climb and descent. And although I'm no fan of blogging two days in a row, I looked forward all day to making a little post with no predetermined topic and essentially no point other than to bring me happiness. Blogs are inherently self-serving. They don't have to be, I guess, but mine is, for now at least.

I finished chapter 6 today. It was--by FAR--the toughest yet, not in scope or content, but in the sheer perceived effort it took me to sit down and write it. The first few fell like rain. This one? More like a dentist appointment. I should expect this drag and be grateful that it showed up this late in the game. I've also considered this week as scrubbing off some speed for the next turn: two intro/reflexivity chapters and two implications/wrap-up chapters. I have a feeling these four will be the toughest not only because my writing time will share space with fall-class-planning time but because I'm also tired. I'm obviously not tired of writing, since I keep up with this blog fairly well, but I am tired of the push push push to reach the page limit. Wait wait wait What?

Here's an unsolicited peek inside my writing process: I'm a wreck until I meet the page requirement. After that, some kind of loosening happens, and I relax. Dumb, huh? But it's true. By getting the bulk of the work in front of me, I'm better able to work consistently, finish strongly, and feel good about my work. So I'm about, I'd say, 30 pages short of that goal. Next week will get me closer, though I'll be reading as much as I'm writing. I anticipate having a full draft due by mid-to-late August. Then, revisions. And since I'm a crap first-drafter, the revisions will take awhile. I'm still shooting for a late September/early October finish draft date, though.

You can send care packages directly to my little house.

15 July 2010

Maybe Meta

This post is about training.

I like to train for events. I like making up my plan, defaulting on it here and there, and learning what to do better for next time. I had been training for an off-road 10K at a tough course here in Knoxville (Hastie Natural Area), but the last month has thrown me off my game, and it's a race put on by Kevin Mahan, so if I'm last, they'll call my name. Whee.

What's most interesting to me is not the event, though, because that's over in a single morning. I like the training, and I really like the learning-how-to-train-better parts. Recently, I've realized that as soon as training feels like work to me, I check out. Distance run? Meh. Intervals? I'd rather not. I've had to be more creative with my exercise while still maintaining the intensity. For the last month or so, I've committed at least one workout a week to sightseeing, by foot or by bike. I realized one day when taking a walk break that I've missed so much of what makes Hastie beautiful by running right past it. When I'm so caught up in my time or my form, I forget what I'm surrounded by. So two Mondays ago, we ran Hastie (in an almost PR time, which was strange), but we also explored the pond there, some of the course building that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club has been doing, some of the flowers in bloom. We also saw a mother deer and her baby, who followed behind her bleating like a sheep.

Okay, pastoral blah blah, but here's the point: To train properly, the most important part is the consistency. To be consistent, it needs--for me--to not be miserable or boring or overly stressful. These excursions help with the training while also helping me focus on what's most important: does it matter if I cut my mile times down by 30 seconds? Only to me.

Segue: The dissertation process is exactly the same as race training. Make a plan, deviate here and there, be consistent, be intense sometimes. No one thinks the dissertation really illustrates your very best thoughts, only your very best thoughts up to that point and under duress. (A lot of duress, in some cases.) In the same fashion, training runs are never the same as race-day ones because there's something different when it's real, when it counts. So the dissertation is practice, though the result is more tangible than, say, a faster mile or better endurance. By writing the diss, I'm training for what life might be like as a junior faculty member while also producing an artifact that shows what I'm capable of creating (under duress, blah blah). Thinking about the diss in this way--as training for the event--has freed me up mentally to write it. I keep hearing that the "only good dissertation is a done dissertation." Now that I'm around 160 pages in, the book is starting to take shape *as* a book, and I can see how the daily attention (like cross training, keeping my food in check) accumulates in a product (like improvement on the trail, better times, comfort).

Just like race day. A measurable product.

12 July 2010

Second Wind and Other Goodness

The oppressive sense of doom I've had for the last 2-3 weeks has finally passed. I didn't realize the toll it was taking on my life to meet every day with a sense of dread. Even fun things--watching movies, making cheeseburgers on the grill, riding my bike--had started to feel like chores. You can imagine how the work parts of life felt.

But whatever chemical cocktail started this mess seems to have left my body. (Cue the big band music.) I think the Yogi Detox tea helped. (I don't know how to insert links, but you can Google it. It's tasty, if you like your tea a little chai, a little spicy, not very sweet.) I also think trying to be patient helped.

So today, I'm starting on chapter 6 of the diss. I like my schedule, but I've noticed that I have a LOT of down time that I could better utilize. This week, I hope to do just that so we can, fingers crossed, go camping this weekend. We've been trying for weeks to go, but between crowds and hot, hot heat, it's just not sounded like fun. This past weekend, we painted the kitchen and hit up some MTB trails. All good stuff.

In the spirit of my most favorite recent blog post, I give you my Unsolicited-and-Very-Much-Novice Movie Reviews of the Best and Worst Films I've Seen in Recent History. But first, a disclaimer: There are some meh movies on here that are neither best nor worst.

Goliath: I really really wanted to like this quirky indie film from the Zellner brothers. I tend to enjoy deadpan comedy, especially over the slapstick-too-obvious tripe out there now passing for "comedy" (like Knocked Up, a film whose merits I will NEVER appreciate). But Goliath dragged, even for a film of its genre, a genre known for long, uncomfortable camera shots and seemingly unrelated side stories. And the minuta became just too minute to be interesting. There's also a scene with a dead cat, a very realistic dead cat, that I didn't like at all. The interactions between the everyman lead character and his boss, his ex-wife, and pretty much anyone he encounters are all too awkward to be really funny. Instead, I just felt uncomfortable for him, and not in a cathartic way.

The Pacific: I had high hopes for this first installment of the HBO miniseries, since it's from the same team as Band of Brothers. I know it's passe to like Band of Brothers. Everyone likes Band of Brothers. But I do find it to be a miniseries with a rare set of attributes: pretty good acting (especially from Ron Livingston and Damian Lewis), rich history, and a lot of heart. But The Pacific, which covers the Pacific theater of war during WWII (to complement the European scope covered in BoB) lacks decent source material and a solid storyline. While Ambrose's book is anything but well written, at least his chronicles of Easy Company follow a cadre of men from training through the end of the war. Though I'm only 50 minutes in to The Pacific, it already feels overacted, forced, and a little haphazard. Still, I'm excited to see what's next.

Green Zone: I think this Matt Damon film marks the last Iraq/Afghanistan Hollywood blockbuster I'll bother to see. The film was typical Damon, very secret ops and running around with guns, even though the political message was foregrounded more clearly. It's set in 2003-4 and contends with the bad intelligence gathered to justify invading Iraq in the first place. (Considering the current political climate on the war, it's interesting that Damon, who's never made his politics a secret, chose now to move forward on it.) The ethical slant of the film considers the Iraqi people with far more respect and care than previous films, and issues like torture, false confessions, and war-mongering-during-election-time all rise to the surface. A good film, if not a bit heavy handed, but still a Matt-Damon-as-Hunky-Hero film, which I expected from another collaboration with Paul Greengrass (director of the Bourne films). I'm just not into a Hollywoodized version of a fictionalized but all-too-important topic made palatable to the American public. Maybe I'm a cynic, though.

Good (and Still Deciding)
The White Ribbon: I think I liked this German film set just prior to WWI. It has a very creepy Children of the Damned feel to it, highlighted by the black-and-white cinematography. (It was, I'll note, nominated or won an academy award for its cinematography, and I do think the way it was filmed added a great deal to the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that pervades the film, as well as making the starkness of the clothing and landscape stand out as characters in their own right.) It's not an optimistic film by any means, as the residents (here, I mean mostly women and children) of the German village deal with sexual abuse, physical abuse, and oppressive gender roles while working to scrape out a living as tenant farmers in service to the Baron. This poverty undergrids the tension of the film and, as I'll hint at without spoilers, leads to a number of baffling and cruel events. Short on positive male characters and long on suffering, The White Ribbon is a war film focusing on a different kind of struggle. A subtle film that felt about 20 minutes too long, yet still a good investment.

07 July 2010


I'm slowly getting back into my running and biking after about a week and a half off for those nasty antibiotics. What I didn't know is that Biaxin can mess with your heart and breathing. That interaction explains the awful, terrible, no-good, very-bad interval runs I had the first week I was on the meds. I am thankful that I escaped the two weeks without any damage, and now I'm slowly moving forward. I stepped back on the intensity, and this week I'm working on consistency and frequency (and comfort). Sunday, we hit a few trails at Eastern State and Georgia Marble, and Monday, we did a slow 5K at Hastie Park. (South Knox is a brilliant place to live if you like off-roading it, which I do.) Yesterday, I did a morning interval session at a one setting lower than I'm used to doing, and last night, we did a 15-mile bike tour of Knoxville. The road just doesn't call to me in the same way as the trail does, but there are some strange and wondrous artifacts in this Scruffy Little City. Safety City, for example, is a mini-replica of the entire city of Knoxville, complete with Sunsphere. It's used to train kids how to navigate the city in a "safe" manner. And the War Dog memorial in front of the Ag Campus is one of my favorite random memorials. I do believe that by-bike is one of the best ways to experience Knoxville, as long as you stay off the narrow, heavily trafficked roads.

With the drop in activity I felt a drop in my mood and interest in my dissertation. Another side effect of Biaxin, I found out, is depression and anxiety, so I'm not shocked that I'm feeling this way, but I am disheartened. I started writing June 1, and a short month in and I feel tired. Not tired of the material or the process, just tired. But I have to approach the writing with the same forgiveness as the fitness. While I recognize that I need to hold to my plan, I also recognize that the worst thing I can do is stop. While "taking a break" might work for some people--maybe most people--for me, taking a break usually leads to quitting or losing complete interest or getting sidetracked. I'm the queen of half-finished projects. Today, for the first time this summer, it was a true struggle to round up my materials and go in to the office. But I came in and I set a reasonable goal: 5 pages. Even if those 5 pages are rough--and they will be--and painful to write--and they might be--at least they'll be something I can come back to later when I'm in a better frame of mind. My goals for my writing echo my goals for my body: consistency and frequency. Those two aspects trump intensity any day.

01 July 2010

Well, Damn.

I'm behind.

I hate those two words so big.

But I know that with a project like a dissertation--especially a qualitative diss--I have to expect to have my plans upset now and then. I'm not talking about upset-like-having-the-first-project-implode upset, but off kilter. This week has been odd. I've not felt up to par, and I've not produced as much as I'd like. I still hold out hope for Friday being a banner writing day. *Fingers Crossed*

In the meantime, I wish to list for you the five worst films I've seen in recent history:

1. Shutter Island: 2 hours and 20 minutes of stilted dialog and terrible acting. I had high hopes for Scorsese, but he buried us in unnecessary details and side plots. Even Leo couldn't save this film, and I happen to find him to be pretty persuasive. Gangs of New York = Brilliant. The Scorsese/Leo one/two punch has worked before, but it didn't work this time.

2. Pretty Bird: Paul Giamatti ruins pretty much everything he's in. He was a passable John Adams (in the HBO miniseries), but all of his sex scenes--and he always has one--make me nervous. Pretty Bird featured a frustrating, awkward, way-too-long sex scene that was totally superfluous. It's like he wants to be typecast as inadequate. Overacted, pointless, unfunny. Save your dollar.

3. Zak and Miri Make a Porno: I know. The title should have let me know it was for 12-year-old boys, but I gave it a shot. Now I own it. What a waste of potential.

4. Zombieland: I know this choice is unpopular. Lots of people LOVED Zombieland. I found it too self-referential and scatalogical to be even remotely entertaining. Woody's one of my favorites, so I felt particularly hurt that he made such a lame, lowest-common-denominator film.

5. The Road: Hate mail me all you want. The kid was obnoxious. The death scene lost all of its dignity and gravity. And a dog? I can't believe Cormac signed off on this melodramatic mess of a film.

6. From Paris With Love: This film was so bad, I broke my five-film rule. I heard it was like Pulp Fiction, but set in Paris. Lies. I made it 30 minutes in before folding laundry became a more attractive option. Terrible acting upstaged only by Travolta's total commitment to that terrible acting.

And now, just for balance, five decent films I've seen in the recent past. Note: I do not say "great." I fear that filmmakers have lost whatever it is that makes greatness. (Or maybe it just doesn't sell JuJu Beads very well.)

1. Defendor: Okay, remember that I love Woody Harrelson. This film was one part superhero drama, one part dark comedy, one part mental health tale. Surprisingly human. Surprisingly funny.

2. The Messenger: It's the year of Woody, I guess. Besides the somewhat-coopting timeliness of the fim--Harrelson is an "Angel of Death" officer charged with serving families the notice that their loved ones have been killed in war--it comes together as a pretty effective buddy film. And maybe it's coming of age, too, for the younger solider Harrelson mentors. Though I do have to say that it hit a little too close to The Hurt Locker for me. I didn't like The Hurt Locker. But at least The Messenger had times of genuine warmth and comedy, and, unlike The Hurt Locker, the characters in The Messenger were developed enough for you to care about them.

3. The Men Who Stare At Goats: I was prepared to hate this film, but I didn't. Clooney, predictably, steals it here, but Ewan McGregor is no slouch himself. Jeff Bridges as the hippie-dippie soldier behind the scenes made me smile. I do worry that two of my favorite films in recent history deal with the war in Iraq.

4. The Lord of the Rings (1978 Cartoon Version): Okay, not a NEW film, and I've seen it before. A long time ago. Before I read the books. I didn't realize 1) how accurate the cartoon was, in terms of following the source text or 2) how much Peter Jackson's films OWE this badly drawn cartoon. A number of the scenes in the new live-action version follow, point by point, blocking and everything, the cartoon version. It's really long, though. I had to watch it in installments.

5. Alice in Wonderland: I was skeptical. Burton/Depp usually fumble the ball. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was SO bad and tried SO HARD to be modern that it just looked cheap. And it was boring. (Replacing geese who lay golden eggs with squirrels? Really?) But sometimes they hit the mark, like with Edward Scissorhands. Alice is no Edward, but neither is it Charlie. (I am also amused at Burton's insistence on working with films with name titles: James and the Giant Peach, Sweeny Todd, Ed Wood.)