Archive for August, 2009

Why You Should See “The September Issue”

Anna WintourI was lucky enough back in April to watch a limited viewing of The September Issue at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC (a festival that I highly recommend to everyone who is any sort of interest in ANYTHING). Grace Coddington and Andre Leon Talley, two of the “stars” of the documentary, spoke in a panel after the film along with Director R.J. Cutler.* The film’s mass U.S. theatrical release occurs on September 11.

*Unfortunately, the moderator of the panel, Robert Krulwich, asked awful questions like “How mean was Anna Wintour?”

Of the nearly fifteen documentaries I viewed that weekend, The September Issue was one of the best—if not the best—edited and produced. The September Issue follows the production of the 2008 September issue of Vogue, the largest issue of the year. In 2007, the September issue weighed five pounds. Let me be clear: I have no interest in fashion. Make no mistake about it. The September Issue is about individuals and how they interact. If such characters had existed in a delicatessen, it would make little difference to me.
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Letter to the Letterwriter

I’ve long thought that people who write letters to the editor aren’t held accountable for much of what they write. This is an attempt to change that.

Dear John James,

Your letter to Esquire, which received its own byline online, starts off so promisingly. You come off immediately as more than the standard reader, as one who thinks deeply about music, about art, about music as art. Your case for the cover song is a good one, and one I appreciate and endorse.

However, John James, like Brett Favre, you lose credibility the more you continue. First, you are unable to resist the human urge to write at length about your own experience. You can argue that I care about why you love cover songs: The whole “art as a crossroads of the predictable and unexpected” is a theory that transcends personal tastes. You cannot argue, though, that I care about how you came to love cover songs. The intimate details of your adolescence, your strong sense of personal nostalgia for a bygone era of music, and the editorialization that almost inherently accompanies them are of no interest to me.

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Monday Medley

What we read while wondering what beats DJ AM is trying to impress Ted Kennedy with:

  • William Safire takes on “clunkers”, a word that has been amusing since the “Cash for Clunkers” initiative began.
  • Not sure what was more interesting: The New York Times’ cover story (in Sports) on the possibility that Miguel Tejada tipped pitches and didn’t hustle after ground balls hit by Dominican friends in close games (yeah, there’s a small sample size), OR Deadspin’s dead-on critique of David Waldstein’s frustrating “say-it-already” way of making his point. Our question: Why was this article printed now?

Inglourious Basterds: A Review

inglourious basterds

Of all directors currently making movies, Quentin Tarantino is by far the most interested in movies themselves. All of his films include specific allusions, both in subject and style, to obscure movies, and they often work within the conventions of very refined genres. His latest work, Inglourious Basterds, is supposedly both a war movie (sorry, Josh and Tim) and a “spaghetti western,” as well as Tarantino’s homage to The Dirty Dozen. Whatever that means, it is really, really good.

Given Tarantino’s infatuation with cinema, it comes as no surprise that the climax of Basterds takes place in a movie theater. The “Basterds” of Basterds—a ragtag group of American Jews who (in case you haven’t seen the previews) like to kill “gnatzees” for their leader Brad Pitt—have chosen this spot for an attempted assassination of the crème de la crème of the Third Reich as they gather to watch Joseph Goebbels’ latest propaganda flick, A Nation’s Pride.

This film-within-in-a-film tells the story of Frederick Zoller’s (Daniel Brühl) attempt to fight off 300 Allied soldiers while holed up in a tower in Italy; from the glimpses we see of this film, it looks repetitive and boring— though Hitler seems to get a kick out of it.

The movie is decidedly unlike Basterds itself, which is altogether uninterested in the kind of glamorization of lone soldiers in bell towers that makes for great propaganda. Instead, Tarantino begins his story on a dairy farm in Nazi-occupied France. A lone SS officer, played with brilliant aplomb by Christoph Waltz, with the nickname of “the Jew Hunter” comes to visit the farm in search of Jews hiding from the Germans. Continue reading

Ranking the Amendments, Number 4: The Ninth Amendment

bill of rights

Robert Bork once referred to the Ninth Amendment as an indecipherable “inkblot.” First, as we know from the Rorschach Test, inkblots can have a lot of meaning. The Founders’ perception of this inkblot could tell us a good deal about their inner thoughts. Second, the Ninth Amendment IS NOT AN INKBLOT. Not even close. The Ninth Amendment reads:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
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Some Belated Thoughts on the New Yankee Stadium


I know I’m a little late to the party, but I made my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium the other day (I realize it took me a while, but tickets are expensive and I have a blog to maintain, so back off). The Stadium’s received mostly praise so far (at least architecturally speaking), and despite the grandiose expectations I had, it did not disappoint.

Despite the criticism the old, renovated Yankee Stadium received, I will always have a place in my heart for the Stadium I grew up with. I admit, though, that the old Stadium lacked authentic identity: It was posturing as the “classic” Yankee Stadium, but had been renovated to change the layout, dimensions and general look. Nevertheless, for a fan of the 1996-2001 dynasty, it had plenty of history.

The new Stadium, however, is a more aesthetically pleasing blend of the old and new. In building the new stadium, the Yankees made a big deal about how they were going to honor tradition and the old designs in building the new stadium, and it worked out.

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A Sign of the Apocalypse? Maybe Not

tom_brady_injury_on_knee_against_kansas_city_chiefsFor as long as I can remember reading Sports Illustrated, I’ve always looked forward to the “Sign of the Apocalypse” section. This week’s sign is “A Long Island company is offering insurance to fantasy football owners that allows them to recoup their league fees if a player on their team gets hurt.” Sports Illustrated isn’t the only one not showering the new insurance scheme with praise. Deadspin isn’t a fan either.

The Wall Street Journal offers a solid description of Fantasy Sports Insurance’s (FSI) scheme:
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Mere Anachrony: The Sopranos Season One


It’s been over two years, now, since The Sopranos ended its run on television with one of the most cryptic endings in television history, leading to weeks of debate over whether or not Tony was dead, who killed him, and why Meadow was such a bad parallel parker.

For many people, that ending is the most iconic image from the show; for some, it may be the only thing they remember of the show’s cultural impact. Unfortunately, that black screen is blocking a very rich history.

It’s easy to forget, but when The Sopranos premiered in 1999, it instantly became the best television drama of all-time (granted, this wasn’t as difficult of a crown to earn back then, since The Wire, Deadwood, Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, etc. had all yet to air). It also resonated culturally in a way other great shows rarely do; it was almost instantly beloved by critics and viewers alike, at least partially because HBO allowed them to show violence, profanity and nudity.

Looking back on the first season of the show, it’s odd to think how “edgy” a lot of it was. Aside from cursing and sex, the show features a character who kills someone with his bare hands in the fifth episode (which HBO thought would render Tony unsympathetic to an audience), which now seems tame (this guy doesn’t even wait five scenes). The show uses psychiatry as a key feature of the narrative, which is commonplace now. And the show offers a frank approach to sexuality and drug use, which has become par for the course now as well.

And yet, none of the shows that have pushed the envelope farther has achieved the resonance that The Sopranos had. What made the show great wasn’t shock value— though it had plenty of that— but something much more substantive. Continue reading

Ranking the New Testament!

Let’s be clear upfront: Religious biases aside, the New Testament is WAY cooler than the Old Testament. God’s a lot nicer, there’s a lot less holier-than-thou, you’re-all-goin’-to-hell stuff from prophets, Jesus is a lot more compelling than anyone in the Old Testament, and Paul might be the most influential writer in world history.*


That’s why, if you’re gonna try to take down the Bible, start with the New Testament (unless you’re Jewish; that’d be nonsensical [although, do Jews ever attempt to read the whole Bible?]). If you get tired after one testament, you’ve read the good one. And if you decide to soldier on, it’s a lot easier making it through 1 Chronicles knowing you’re almost done.

But if you’re a buffet-style pick-and-choose reader (and who isn’t in these ADD times of ours?), here’s how they stack up in the New Testament:

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Dear Wendy’s, Bring Back the Pita


You will hear me defend agnosticism, insular arrogance, irrational anchoring, and the Second Amendment before you will hear me offer a general defense of the food quality of American fast food chains.

As a child not very into the burger, going to fast food restaurants was a tough experience. While my peers salivated at the mere idea of a Quarter Pounder with fries, I shrugged with indifference. Whether you’re a child or an adult, you should be able to comprehend the frustration that comes from the vast majority of others appreciating something far more (or far less) than you do (e.g. Fireworks!).
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