Archive for May, 2003

Me vs IMDB

Okay, this one’s cute, but it’s a little

The idea in a nutshell: Print out an up-to-date copy of IMDB’s top 250 films by user rating. For the sake of brevity, chop it down to 100. Then note which ones you’ve seen. Discuss.

1 The Godfather (1972)
2 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
3 The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
5 Schindler’s List (1993)
6 Citizen Kane (1941)
7 Casablanca (1942)
8 Seven Samurai (1954)
9 Star Wars (1977)
10 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
11 Memento (2000)
12 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
13 Rear Window (1954)
14 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
15 Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
16 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
17 The Usual Suspects (1995)

18 Amelie (2001)
19 Pulp Fiction (1994)
20 North by Northwest (1959)

21 Psycho (1960)
22 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
23 12 Angry Men (1957)
24 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
25 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

26 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
27 Goodfellas (1990)
28 American Beauty (1999)
29 Vertigo (1958)
30 The Pianist (2002)

31 Sunset Blvd. (1950)
32 Apocalypse Now (1979)
33 Some Like It Hot (1959)
34 The Matrix (1999)
35 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
36 Taxi Driver (1976)

37 The Third Man (1949)
38 Paths of Glory (1957)
39 Fight Club (1999)
40 Das Boot (1981)
41 L.A. Confidential (1997)
42 Double Indemnity (1944)
43 Chinatown (1974)

44 Requiem for a Dream (2000)
45 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
46 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
47 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
48 Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (2001)
49 Saving Private Ryan (1998)
50 All About Eve (1950)
51 M (1931)
52 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
53 Raging Bull (1980)
54 Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
55 Se7en (1995)
56 Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000)
57 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
58 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

59 La Vita e bella (1997)
60 American History X (1998)
61 The Sting (1973)
62 Touch of Evil (1958)
63 The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
64 Alien (1979)

65 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
66 Rashomon (1950)
67 Leon (1994)
68 Annie Hall (1977)

69 The Great Escape (1963)
70 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
71 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
72 Reservoir Dogs (1992)
73 The Sixth Sense (1999)
74 Jaws (1975)
75 Amadeus (1984)

76 On the Waterfront (1954)
77 Ran (1985)
78 Braveheart (1995)

79 High Noon (1952)
80 Fargo (1996)
81 Blade Runner (1982)

82 The Apartment (1960)
83 Aliens (1986)
84 Toy Story 2 (1999
85 Strangers on a Train (1951)
86 Modern Times (1936)
87 The Shining (1980)
88 Donnie Darko (2001)
89 Duck Soup (1933)
90 The Princess Bride (1987)
91 Lola rennt (AKA Run Lola Run) (1998)

92 City Lights (1931)
93 The General (1927)
94 Metropolis (1927)
95 The Searchers (1956)
96 Full Metal Jacket (1987)
97 Notorious (1946)
98 Manhattan (1979)
99 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
100 Graduate, The (1967)


Holy self-selection bias, Batman! The AFI Top 100 this is not. Matrixes, Aliens, Hobbits and Jedi, oh my! (But given that, why did “Brazil” fall past the cut at #162?)

Also, a pretty strong bias toward the contemporary: of the top Ten, six were made in my lifetime, and three in this decade.

What the hell is “The Shawshank Redemption” doing there?

Of all the ones I haven’t seen, “Rashomon” is by far the most embarrassing, especially since I own it. I think I’ll be fixing that tonight.

hickory dickory

Ever since WNYC replaced their 9am-11am “Morning Music” classical music program with an assortment of NPR political talk-radio shows, I’ve been thinking that I need to buy an alarm clock with a CD player. The need for this was hammered home on Monday morning: I had an hours-long, fitful, thrashing nightmare about being trapped in a seminar on modern Jewish identity with an unbearably unctuous host and a non-stop barrage of annoying questions from the audience…and finally woke up to find that (A) I’d actually been listening to the Brian Lehrer Show in my sleep, and (B) I was an hour late for work. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

So I’ve been poking through the listings at all the usual places, and it’s been an agonizing process.

Clock radios with CD players come in basically two varieties: $35-55 cheapies and $100 and up monsters. The cheapies worry me: I’m all too familiar with the lifespan of the CD player units in low-cost consumer kit (see: my last boombox. see also: my boombox before that), and not a one of them has a warranty longer than 90 days. I have cats. They push things off of desks. This is not gonna happen.

But if I’m going to consider for one instant spending $100 on a clock radio, I don’t feel unreasonable in holding out for perfection. This should, if at all possible, be The Last Clock Radio I Will Ever Buy, barring flood, fire or nuclear strike. It should not only do everything that I could imagine a clock radio needing to do, but it should also do it for two people, since hell if I’m buying another monstrosity when I move in with Miranda. It should have multiple alarms, weekend alarms, volume fade-in, adjustable LED brightness and battery backup. It should be smart enough to use the buzzer or radio instead of the CD if it’s on batter power. It should play CD-Rs as easily as pre-recorded CDs. It should have an interface for setting the alarms that is simple enough that random houseguests will not need instruction drills a la my metastatic stereo. Ideally, it would play MP3-CDs as well as audio-CDs. In a perfect world, it would sync itself to NOAA atomic time. And given all that, it must not be butt-ass ugly.

Needless to say, no such thing exists. For any price at all, including $500 look-ma-I’m-a-gold-plated-asshole models from Nakamichi et al.

One model comes tantalyzingly close: the Panasonic RC-CD600. This one gets it Right on so many levels that I want to tear my hair out when I read about its stupid mistakes. The big win: each of the two seperate speaker units has its own snooze/alarm-off button. And you can set each alarm to come out of both speakers…or only one. I could kiss whoever thought of that it’s so brilliant, except… except… it only has two alarms… of which only one can be the CD. This is just mystifying: obviously the physical design is completely perfect for a couple, but apparently you’re supposed to mud-wrestle your S.O. for the privilege of waking up to music? They couldn’t spend the extra $1.50 for another IC to hold more than 2 alarms? I’d almost be willing to forego the lack of volume fade-in and the less critical features and just get this now, but…screw spending that much money on something with such a boneheaded design flaw. God only knows what others are lurking inside.

I really, really need to make friends with someone in the design side of a consumer electronics company. Because otherwise this can only end with me buying a mini-itx board and building this damn thing on my own.

(The things you own end up owning you? Duvets? Hunter-gatherer? I have no idea what you’re talking about.)

pimping my friends

It’s lowbrow and tasteless…and I find this hilarious.

my, what a big…machete you have.

Proof that my subconscious is out to get me: ideas like this one keep popping up unbidden…

Freddy vs Jason?

how about…

Freddy / Jason!

I’m sure it’s out there, somewhere. But I refuse to look.

If you’ll pardon me, I need to go floss out my brain with barbed wire now.

I am such a geek.

A small observation about The Matrix Reloaded:

Neo isn’t The One…

…he’s Number Six.

a small postscript…

…in lieu of an actual review of Reloaded, a bit of practical advice for anyone trying to see it this weekend:

Buy tickets in advance, line up early, and if necessary trample small children to get a seat at least halfway back in the theater. There is action in every corner of the frame, even in a lot of the establishing shots, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it continually annoying and distracting to have to physically scan from side to side of the screen to take it all in, especially during the fight scenes.

For this reason, I’m probably gonna ignore the threatened IMAX release.

apres matrix

For some reason this approach to movie reportage continues to amuse me, so forthwith, my up-to-the-moment, indispensible reviews of…the trailers preceeding The Matrix Reloaded. Beware, it’s a pretty ugly sight:

  • Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde — Remember the famous scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, where Malcolm McDowell is strapped into a chair with his eyelids pried open with calipers, and one of the doctors is carefully dripping saline solution into them from an eyedropper to make sure they didn’t dry out? Well, replace the saline solution with paint thinner, and you’ve got a rough idea of what watching this was like. Granted that I am about as far removed from the target audience of this film as it’s possible to be while still living in this country, but who, exactly, thought that “Ms. Barbie Goes to Washington” was a concept worth paying $30 Million to execute? When the trailer (which contained multiple seperate shots of Luke Wilson looking Supportive And Earnest in his role as The Supportive And Earnest Boyfriend) was over, the entire row in front of us broke out into boos…and then the rest of the audience applauded the booers.

  • LXG: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — That weird, almost-inaudible keening sound you hear coming from over the Atlantic ocean? That’s Alan Moore, screaming, as yet another of his brilliant, whimsical and detailed graphic novels is turned into unwatchable dreck. Sean Connery, I’m convinced, is on some unstated mission to avenge his treatment in The Avengers (wherein he was cast as a weather-controlling supervillian who liked to dress up in a day-glo teddy bear suit, and I am not making that up) by playing that same character in every movie since then.

  • Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines — Managed the seemingly impossible feat of making this movie seem even less interesting than the previous trailers; this was probably compounded by the fact that it was running in advance of an action/sci-fi movie about a dystopian future ruled by machines that people actually wanted to see. The really scary part? T3 was part of a two-picture deal: unless this film completely tanks, we’re locked into a T4: Boy Howdy There’s A Lot of Terminators Here. But that “unless” is looking less and less unlikely: the audience was visibly bored. So was I.

  • Kill Bill — The downside: same exact trailer as Miramax released two months ago. The upside: it’s a damn good trailer. Not sure if I buy Lucy Liu as a martial artist (someone please tell me that Michelle Yeoh was tragically unavailable?), but whatever: I can’t pretend that they don’t have my money already on this one.

  • 2 Fast, 2 Furious — Every single last shot in this trailer had something in it to remind you that this film was EXTREME! And TO THE LIMIT! And WICKED! And OVER THE TOP! So why was it so BORING, GENERIC, and UNINVOLVING? I swear to god I heard crickets chirping in the back rows. A direct-to-video sequel that somehow escaped its VHS containment cell.

  • Freddy vs JasonThis of all things got the best reaction from the audience, and I can’t really blame them. Sometimes a concept just sells itself, and normal laws of taste, consideration and basic sanity stop applying. Sure, it’s stupid, completely unnecessary, gratuitous and at its shriveled little heart, kinda lame… but it’s Freddy…versus Jason. Like that reunion tour of the original KISS lineup, its position as a signifier of adolescent glory for a certain time and a certain place completely overwhelms any niggling questions about whether it’s a good idea. Not, mind you, that there’s a chance in hell I’m paying money to see this.

  • The Last SamuraiMene, mene, tekel uparshin… Remember in The Producers, the shot of the entire audience with their jaws in their laps after the “Springtime for Hitler” number? Yeah, like that. While I realize that there is no force in this universe that can break Tom Cruise’s satanic contract for guaranteed box office success, if there were any justice at all, this helping of warmed-over James Clavell nonsense would do it.

Oh, and there was that damned Powerade Matrix commercial, which I’m a little embarrassed to admit I found amusing. Yeah, tacky to prepend a film with one of its own commerical tie-ins, but sometimes a good deadpan is enough to make me giggle.

And there was a movie, that I might comment on later.

There I Go, Now Entertain Me

----- Forwarded message from Orbitz Traveler Care <> -----
Departure (JFK): May 28 7:30 AM EDT (morning)
Arrival (SFO): May 28 10:49 AM PDT (morning)
Departure (SFO): June 3 12:30 PM PDT (afternoon)
Arrival (JFK): June 3 8:59 PM EDT (evening)
----- End forwarded message -----

West coast minions: consider yourself adequately forewarned. I demand piggies! Or amusement. Or, er, something.


Wow, to hear Vijay Singh trash talk, you’d think he played an actual competitive athletic sport, not a glorified drinking game cum executive luncheon.

The really ironic thing is that he uses, of all people, Serena Williams to make his point. Now, I don’t expect to see women players in the NBA, NFL or even Major League Baseball in my lifetime, but I can’t think of a single player on the current men’s tennis circuit that I’d give better than even odds against either of the Williams sisters…and am I the last person on the planet to remember Billie Jean King?


no future for us

This last weekend, I made a small trip to the ancestral stomping grounds of Philadelphia, along with a whole mess of friends (Miranda; Adam, John Romkey and Michael Burg from Boston; Adam’s girlfriend Kate from Philly; and from DC) to see The Future We Were Promised, an exhibition of recently discovered works by A.C. Radebaugh, a 1950s illustrator who specialized in the chrome-and-big-tailfins style of futurism, and to spend a little time with my mom for, er, Mother’s Day.

Alas, it was not to be. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adam somehow managed to get a reservation for the seven of us at Morimoto’s on Friday night, so after meeting up with at 30th Street Station, we were picked up by Adam and Kate (who were driving down from Boston), and met up with Romkey and Michael for some serious gustatory excess.

Morimotos with a group of seven is a very different experience than as a couple. Because several of us ordered off the menu while Michael and I got the omakase (the 8-small-course tasting menu), dishes seemed to be arriving at every moment, and there was a sort of constant clatter as we passed forks and plates around the table to let people on opposite ends sample interesting dishes. The restaurant staff handled what could have been a confusing mess with perfect aplomb: every dish ordered arrived, and was quickly brought to the correct person.

The next time I visit Morimotos, I am going to remember to bring a small notebook, because between the sheer number of dishes floating around and the fact that I’d started off the evening with one of their greet tea martinis (and then finished John’s when he decided he didn’t care for it), I don’t think I can recall more than about a third of what we ordered. The standout dishes were Miranda’s “beggar’s purse” of smoked salmon, Siva’s sashimi salad (notable not only for being really, really good, but also probably the best value dish on the menu: an enormous salad with a not-at-all-parismonious helping of excellent tuna sashimi for the same price as a number of much smaller dishes), and John’s fresh-made tofu, which had an excellent high-school-science-project aspect to it: they actually made it at the table. (Apparently to make tofu, you pour saltwater into hot soy milk, stir, and cover. Five minutes later: tofu.) Oh, and the “roast pork belly in rice porridge” appetizer was a great example of convergent evolution: the slow-roasted pork tasted nothing so much like excellent american BBQ.

Also noteworthy: the waitress asked if I’d had the omakase before, which turned out to be significant. Since I answered in the affirmative, they brought me seven entirely different dishes from the ones I’d had the last time. (This compares well to Nobu, where the tasting menu is essentially set save for seasonal changes.)

Somewhere around midnight, the seven of us staggered outside, extremely happy. Adam was kind enough to give Miranda and I a lift to my mom’s place, where we promptly collapsed.

Day Two: Into..the Future! We dragged ourselves out of bed around 10:30am in order to meet up at John’s hotel room downtown to walk over to the Radebaugh exhibit. After everyone had straggled in, we headed up Market street to old city, stopping at the Reading Terminal Market for fresh pretzels from the amish bakery. East Market Street has been trying for years to turn itself into a glittery tourist mecca, but it’s sort of emblematic of Philadelphia’s deeper economic/structural problems: directly across the street from the shiny new Marriott and convention center are pretty much the same pawn shops, ripoff check-cashing places, fast food joints and seedy sex-toy stores as were there throughout my whole adolescence. Contrasts like that are why I’ll always love Philadelphia, but it must give the local chamber of commerce heartburn.

We arrived at the Institute around 2 o’clock, and were all excited to commune with the shiny futuriffic goodness, except that…the Future was Closed. A small, hand-lettered sign was taped to the door, reading “Closed due to emergency. We will re-open this Monday.” No Future for us! Disappointing, but somehow entirely fitting.

With the rest of the afternoon suddenly free to kill, we took a bus over to the Mutter Museum, one of Philadelphia’s less-well-known delights. The Mutter is a collection of 19th-centrury medical instruments, specimens and oddities, housed at the Philadelphia College of Physicians. Some of the exhibits are fascinating, some creepy, some weird, and some just downright disgusting: terrifying specimens of smallpox- and gangrene-infected limbs rub elbows (as it were) with Grover Cleveland’s secretly removed cancerous jawbone, and the soap lady. The Museum is a quiet little place, usually filled half and half with serious medical students and greasy punks there for shock value.

We wandered back from the Museum to John’s hotel for tea, which was a surprisingly tea-free affair: due to some internal miscommunication among the hotel staff, the tea didn’t arrive until we’d finished all of our food. Afterward, Miranda took off to hang out with her friend Charlotte, and everyone else sacked out for a nap, so I took off to go tour ‘s new house and catch up over coffee.

For dinner, all of us save Miranda, plus my mom (because, apparently, I trust my friends more than might be rational to behave themselves), headed over to University City to try POD, which was supposed to hook into the “Into the Future” theme of the trip, but had to stand on its own merits, what with the Future being Closed. Pod certainly would have complemented the chrome-and-tailfins motif well: it’s designed like a head-on collision between the Korova Milk Bar in “A Clockwork Orange” and an Austin Powers set. The restaurant’s lights shift color ever few minutes, any furniture that isn’t shock white is covered in bright orange vinyl, and large groups can eat in “Pods” — enclosed circular tables with a set of buttons on the wall that change the color filters in the booth’s overhead lights. Hipper-than-thou trip-hoppy music is piped in, and the pods (and the bathroom stalls!) have adjustable volume controls.

The only problem with Pod was the food. Not that it wasn’t good: it was uniformly good-to-excellent. Nor were the portions in adequate: we ended up taking several large bags of leftovers home with us. The problem was that Pod is a “pan-asian fusion” restaurant, and after eating at Morimotos the night before, it was just a little too much, and really difficult to evaluate it on its own merits. The only two dishes that really stood out for me were the Kobe Beef dim sum, which they cook on a heated stone on the table, and the “eel wrap” of “charred eel, asparagus, avocado and shiso”. Still, if the worst thing you can say about a meal is that you find it difficult to evaluate compared to the best restaurant you’ve ever been to, you’re probably doing well.

Despite the high potential for total disaster, my mom and my friends (most of whom she’d never met) got along well, and when they asked her to tell embarrassing stories about me, she couldn’t come up with any that I hadn’t already told to at least some of them. Having no shame has its advantages, and my mom rocks, thank you.

Sunday was spent doing what every geeky child does when he returns to the family “estate”: catching up on neighborhood gossip (they finally tore down the abandoned crackhouse down the street; sad to think that yet another vacant lot can be considered to be an improvement, but there you go) and…fixing mom’s computer. What began as a small project to cut down a bit on the amount of spam for viagra and sex-with-horses-porn that gets sent to my mother and baby sister quickly escalated into a 5-hour nightmare involving multiple version of Netscape and Outlook Express and a frantic call to Verizon tech support. This, I do for love. Finally, several hours later than I’d intended, we caught a train back home.

It’s strange really: I haven’t lived in Philadelphia for over a decade, but I can still navigate it blindfolded. Every corner downtown has some sort of association for me: the one where I got hit by a taxi, the one where the sandwich-board preacher lady ambushed me; all the cafes and stores I used to haunt. I don’t think I could ever live there again, but I still like to visit, and I think I’ll have to go back again soon: maybe the Future will be open this time.

out of my depth and loving it

Friday night, to celebrate Miranda’s new job, we went out for dinner at Veritas.

Whoa boy. What follows is some severe foodie porn. Avert your eyes if this stuff annoys you.

The first hint that I might have been on unfamiliar ground came as I was sitting at the bar, waiting for Miranda to arrive. Two patrons and one of the bartenders were engaging in an animated discussion about the relative merits of wines from one or another region in France. I’m afraid I can’t really relate any of the conversation’s details, as the terminology was, while technically in English, almost completely without semantic context for me. I like wine, and years of drinking Manischevitz and Mogen David growing up have left me with, if not a proper appreciation for what makes a good wine, at least a firm grasp of what makes a bad one — but I don’t think I’ve spent more than 20 minutes total in my life talking about wine, and so the vocabulary of the wine buff is as alien to me as geek jargon is to the rest of the world.

That presented a small problem, because Veritas is all about the Vino. There was a copy of the winelist on the bar, and it was a monster: a three-ring binder that could easily double as a blunt weapon, with everything from recent California vintages to generations-old Mouton-Rothchild. After about thirty seconds of browsing, my eyes crossed and I put it aside.

A setup like this could all-too-easily become a pretentious mess, interesting only to wine geeks and scensters, but instead, the staff at Veritas were, to a one, friendly, cheerful, uncondescending, and breathtakingly efficient. The sommelier asked us a few simple questions about our dinner and quickly recommended what turned out to be a perfectly matched pinot noir, and then got about a thousand extra style points for pouring tastes for both of us rather than just the boy. The waitress was so consistantly able to appear the exact instant we’d run out of bread or water that we began to look around worriedly for the camera pointed at our table.

And the food?

Holy god.

Round one, appetizers, went to Miranda. I had the seared fois gras over rhubarb compote with roasted hazelnuts, which was superb, but no match for her littleneck clam chowder with saffron-infused potatoes, red peppers and tarrgon. You could smell the saffron across the table, and one spoonful was a full-body saffron experience.

Round two, entrees, was a draw. She had the roasted chicken with potato gnocchi and chanterelle mushrooms; I had the seared duck breast with fingerling potatoes. After some consultation with Miranda, I decided that licking the sauce off the plate would have been over the top, but I was seriously tempted.

Round three, desserts, was mine: Miranda’s raspberry sorbet and marzipan ice cream terrine was stunning, but a clear second to the chocolate souffle, which was presented like a Mondrian painting of dessert: all carefully placed shapes, lines and cross-hatches. I had a small glass of Taylor Fladgate port (the only wine on the entire menu that I recognized by name, thanks to my former employer Bob, and ), and Miranda had a Tokaj, which tasted strongly of honey and dill.

I’m afraid that my alcohol tolerance is no longer what it was during my serious drinking days: after a half bottle of wine plus a cordial each, I felt a strong need to linger over my coffee before risking a walk to a taxi.

For quality of the food, Veritas was easily on a level with Nobu and Montrachet, the other two “famous” NYC restaurants I’ve been to. But for the entire dining experience, I’d have to rank it above them both: Nobu is loud and impossible to get reservations for. Montrachet’s layout is relatively cramped, and while its table service is excellent, you first have to pass a legendarily obnoxious host. As a small bonus, Veritas’ menu is entirely pre fixe, and actually cheaper per person than the others.

Recommended, to put it mildly.

spreading the disease, I mean gospel

looking like an idiot on line, all for you

I am happy to announce that X2, with or without its goofy tagline (“X-Men United”, or not, depending on which ad you see), would have been worth it even if I’d had to pay for it.

It’s not perfect, but much like Spider-Man, all of its problematic bits are clustered near the end of the last act, so they’re pretty easy to forgive. Of the at least three climaxes, there’s one that’s a little too obviously there just to set up X3 (“X-Men Unplugged?” “X-Men Undressed?”) and make the old-time fans feel tended to, and as a result its setpiece effect of a bursting dam feels completely arbitrary. (And it’s telegraphed so far in advance that this can’t count as spoilage.)

But none of that is fatal, and there are plenty of distinct improvements from the first picture, notably in the acting department: Halle Berry (mostly) no longer reads her lines like she’s auditioning for a Hammer Horror film, and Famke Janssen, largely no longer saddled with the first movie’s spotty dialogue, is surprisingly compelling. Singer has made ample use of the extra time and money he got to make the sequel: there’s better balancing of screen time between the assorted characters, and the big effects sequences fit better into the movie’s flow. Poor James Marsden still has nothing to do, but you can’t have everything.

And the fight choreography is substantially better than, say, Bulletproof Monk. Not that that’s a surprise or anything.

Geeks, go forth with confidence.