Friday, February 26, 2010

See Crazy Heart (it's good)

Back when I first got the idea for this project, I was explaining it to my friend Natalia.
"So I have to read and watch everything people go on the Daily Show to promote. Like yesterday, Maggie Gyllenhaal was on the show promoting that movie... Crazy...crazy something...I know it's not horse..."
"Crazy Heart? Oh man, I want to see that movie. Can I go with you when you see it?"

We made plans to see it as soon as it came to Kalamazoo. We thought that it would be the next weekend. Turns out, it finally arrive almost two months later. So, a few days ago, my roommate Devika joined Natalia and me as we walked to the theater to see Crazy Heart.

Natalia knew she would love Crazy Heart, a movie centering on Bad Blake, a country musician struggling with alcoholism. But this was not the kind of movie Devika and I would usually see; Devika loves chick flicks and action movies and I go for comedies. It didn't take long, though, for the three of us to get sucked in.

Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Bad Blake was phenomenal. While watching most movies, I don't think of characters by their given names; instead, I refer to them by the actors' names. However, in Crazy Heart, it was all Bad Blake-- I actually found myself forgetting he was played by Bridges. And I was completely won over by Bad. At the beginning especially, he wasn't a particularly likable character, but I liked him nonetheless. It was painful to watch his drunken stupors; it was heartening to see him perform well. The three of us watching were drawn in; multiple times throughout the movie Devika would say something like, "Oh no, [something terrible] is about to happen," and I'd feel that tight feeling of dread in my chest, even though deep down I knew it was just a fictional story. But Crazy Heart was not as predictable as we assumed-- most of the dread-filled moments were not followed by the terrible events Devika had foreseen.

The supporting characters-- Colin Farrell playing the young, good-looking country star, Maggie Gyllenhaal as reporter and love interest, and Jack Nation as adorable little boy-- were strong, though not to Bridges' level. The movie steered away from painting characters with a broad brush. There was no "bad guy," no "good guy"-- there were just people, and I liked that.

Music, of course, played a big role in Crazy Heart. Even though the music has been widely acclaimed, I hate country music, so initially, I wasn't looking forward to that aspect of the film. However, though the music was certainly country, it fit with the movie, and Bridges performances were genuine and impressive (I had no idea he could sing!). I found myself tapping my feet along to the songs, and I would go so far as to say I liked them. Natalia, a country fan, and Devika, who feels neutral towards country music, both loved it. During the closing credits, they both said they were going to buy the soundtrack.

I'm glad I went to see Crazy Heart. It's another one of those things I would never had done had it not been for my Daily Show challenge. I also would never had learned how to spell Gyllenhaal. I give it a 4/5, and I definitely recommend it.

In this review, I tried to do something a little differently and take more of a personal look. Is that a take you like, or would you rather my reviews be more straightforward?

Additionally, starting now, there will be posts on The Daily Shill at least once a calendar week. I may not always have something new to review, but I'll find something relevant to talk about.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Food Rules Rules!

Let me apologize for that terrible pun. But I loved the book.
When Jon Stewart said reading Michael Pollan's Food Rules would take less than an hour, he wasn't lying. Even if you don't read it in one sitting, though, it won't take long to get through. Pollan boils his book down to seven words "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," and he has written 64 rules relating to this idea. Because Food Rules is broken into these rules, with no more than a few paragraphs describing each one, you can pick up the book for just a few minutes and get something from it. I actually read most of Food Rules in pieces during the lulls at work while my computer was thinking.
And I loved Food Rules for more than its brevity. Pollan writes well, but in an almost casual tone that everyday readers can latch onto. And the book is interesting! (Something I wish I could say about John Yoo's Crisis in Command, the book I took a break from to read Food Rules). The rules are straightforward, not preachy or laden with guilt. Do I think I'll follow them all? Certainly not. I can't afford to buy only natural/local foods, and even though I know it's bad for me, I love my sugar. But will I think about them and follow some of them? You bet. I'm going to start reading ingredient lists and try to buy products that follow rule #7 "Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce."
All-in-all, I would recommend Food Rules to anybody. I'm actually going to give it a 5/5 because I don't have any complaints. Way to go, Mr. Pollan.

In other news, this should be a good week for Daily Shill posts. Crazy Heart (the movie Maggie Gyllenhaal came on the show to promote) has finally come to Kalamazoo; I'm going to see it tomorrow night. And, as I said earlier, I am currently reading Crisis in Command, which I sure hope I'll finish soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The List

Welcome to The List, where I keep track of my progress. As you can probably figure out for yourself, titles with a strikethrough are ones I've finished. You can click any finished title to link to the review.
Also, thanks to my pal Caroline for suggesting this!




4/12: Breaking Bad (TV)
4/27: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey by Richard Whittle (Book)

5/5: Need to Know (TV)
5/13: The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations by Ian Bremmer (Book)

6/1: The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future by Arthur C. Brooks (Book)
6/2: Through the Wormhole (TV)
6/8: Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens (Book)
6/9: Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells (Book)
6/15: Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by James Tabor (Book)
6/29: Love Ranch (Film)

7/1: Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban by Jere Van Dyk (Book)
7/5: Rescue Me (TV)
7/8: Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self by Marilynne Robinson
7/26: The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen (Book)
7/27: Fareed Zakaria GPS (TV)

8/4: Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War by Bruce Henderson (Book)
8/5: Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Akbar Ahmed (Book)
8/10: The Switch (Film)
8/11: The Big C (TV)
8/17: Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto by Dick Armey (Book)
8/18: Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Kohn (Book)
8/19: The Switch (Film)
8/24: Hurricane Katrina: the First Five Days (TV)

9/9: Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain (Book)
9/14: A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair (Book)
9/15: The Town (Film)
9/21: You Again (Film)
9/22: Stone (Film)
9/27: Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama by Bill O'Reilly (Book)
9/29: The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? by Linda Polman (Book)

10/2: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris (Book)
10/3: Red (Film)
10/4: There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America by Philip Dray (Book)
10/5: Fair Game (Film)
10/11: Jackass 3D (Film)
10/12: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders by Erica Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy (Book)
10/13: Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me by Condoleezza Rice (Book)

11/8: Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington by Rick Perry (Book)
11/11: Unstoppable (Film)
11/15: On the Right Track: From Olympic Downfall to Finding Forgiveness and the Strength to Overcome and Succeed by Marion Jones (Book)
11/16: All Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera (Book)
11/17: Decoded by Jay-Z (Book)
11/18: Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America by Philip K. Howard
11/30: The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

12/1: Live in Berlin by Sting (Album)
12/2: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (Book)
12/6: Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior by Gen. Hugh Shelton (Book)
12/7: Robot Chicken Star Wars III (TV)
12/8: Blue Valentine (Film)
12/9: Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (Book)
12/13: Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization by Gordon Brown (Book)
12/15: How Do You Know (Film)
12/16: Can't Wait Till Christmas by Mike Huckabee (Book)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

George Lucas's Blockbusting, a flop.

I bet you thought I gave up, didn’t you? But no, I am here, and “The Daily Shill” is finally in motion.

I’ve just finished reading the enormous George Lucas’s Blockbusting, and, to tell the truth, I’m unimpressed. Blockbusting reads like the love child of a middle-school textbook and an imdb trivia page. Though it has plenty of fun facts, they are hidden within the poor writing and uninteresting talk of which actors and directors were originally set to participate in the film.

Blockbusting separates film history into decade chapters from pre-1909 to the 2000s. Each chapter begins with history of the decade’s movie business and graphs that (in my opinion) have far too much to do with finance, and it ends with two-page profiles on selected movies. It is these profiles that I have the biggest problems with. For the most part, the writing is just terrible. Sentences regarding completely different topics are placed next to each other without any transitions. Here is a sample, from the blurb on 1934’s Cleopatra. I swear, these four sentences were printed next to each other:

“Costumer Travis Banton had done his homework, researching historical Egyptian and Roman designs, but his priority on [Claudette] Colbert’s costumes was to reveal as much of her figure as industry censors would permit in the last days before a toughened Production Code took effect on July, 1 1934. Since Colbert feared snakes, her scenes with the snake were put off until the very end. DeMille first saw English actor Henry Wilcoxon while in a projection booth at Paramount and cast him as Marc Antony in his first lead role. DeMille was a stickler for accurate details” (Alex Ben Block, 185).

While reading the majority of the blurbs, I was tempted to pull out a red pen and edit them. But then this book would have taken me even longer to read, and I was ready for it to end.

Despite my distaste, I can see how a movie buff (who does not happen to be an English major) would enjoy Blockbusting. To tell the truth, I’ve only seen 62 of the 300 selected films, and I was definitely more interested in reading the write-ups of the movies I’d seen. But, for the most part, reading this book was a chore. I’ll admit I did quite a bit of skimming, especially in the early decades. A few extracts from the notes I took while reading the 1930s section:

“It’s becoming a disappointment every time I turn the page and it is still a movie I don’t know.”

“I’m getting more and more frustrated that I actually bought this book.”

My attitude did improve slightly when I reached later decades, but, were it not for my challenge, I would have put the book down for good.

If anything, though, reading George Lucas’s Blockbusting has inspired me to watch more movies. Before I try to resell this book, I plan on writing down the list of the featured movies and marking ones that piqued my interest. But even though I got that out of it, I wouldn’t recommend the book. I give it a 2/5, and that’s being generous.

Watch Jon Stewart's interview with George Lucas

Buy the book (but, really, I wouldn't)