Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend

I am not a big sports fan, so when I saw the size of the biography Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, I wavered. Then, opening the 628 page book and seeing the size of the print made me even more nervous. This book was going to take forever to read. But then, I read the prologue. In those seven pages, I saw that James S. Hirsch, the biographer, was a remarkable storyteller. Those seven pages made me realize that the 621 that followed wouldn’t be so bad.

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend begins with Mays’s childhood in Alabama and continues through his career with the Giants, his last seasons with the Mets, and on to his present life. As is expected (and preferred), the book focuses almost entirely on the baseball. Though Hirsch does touch on relevant parts of Mays’s personal life, his focus on the baseball matches the importance the game played in May’s life.

Throughout reading Willie Mays, I found it clear that Hirsch is an admirer and a fan. However, he did not turn his book into an adulation or let his admiration keep him from presenting Mays’s faults. Mays is a man who had almost super-human talents, and it was reassuring and humanizing to read some of his struggles and weaknesses.

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend is filled with baseball games from the era that baseball truly was America’s pastime. Even though I’m not a sports person, I found myself excited and eager to find out what plays Mays was going to make and whether or not the Giants would win the game.

I give Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend a 4/5. I recommend it to you especially if you are a baseball fan, but those, like me, who aren’t could definitely enjoy it. Know that it’s a large book that takes a long time to read, but that it is one so well-written that you don’t mind spending the time to read it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Willie Mays

Buy the Book

Of course, the real question is what you think of Jon’s new beard. Personally, I’m not crazy about it. 2/5.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Greenberg was weird. I watched the film with my parents last Friday, and after it finished, my dad said, “Well. That was strange. It had funny moments, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a comedy. I don’t know if I liked it or not.” That alone could be my review.

Greenberg’s plot is entirely character driven. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a 40ish guy with emotional problems who doesn’t know what he’s doing with his life, is house-sitting for his wealthy brother and reconnecting with old friends from California. He also develops a thing (I wouldn’t call it a relationship) with Florence (Greta Gerwig) his brother’s personal assistant. Before she meets Roger, Florence, in her mid-twenties, is struggling finding balance after the end of a serious relationship, and her interactions with Greenberg don’t help any. Greenberg shows both of their lives over the six-week period Roger is house-sitting, not limiting its focus to only the interactions between the two.

My biggest complaint with Greenberg was that it moved incredibly slowly (particularly the first two thirds of the movie). I wanted scenes to be shorter and a little more relevant, and I wanted something to happen. There were some incredibly funny scenes (particularly in the last half), but not nearly enough for it to live up to the quirky comedy the trailer portrayed.

I was hoping that by the time I reached this point in the review, I would know how I wanted to rate Greenberg. I liked the characters, I liked the jokes, I thought the acting was well done, but I can’t say the same about the movie as a whole. I’m going to give it a 2/5, though part of that low rating can be attributed to expecting a comedy and getting a drama with some funny moments.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Ben Stiller

Buy the film

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted. I'm currently making my way through the incredibly long biography of Willie Mays, though I hope to finish it by the end of the weekend.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hot in Cleveland (Day of Reviews, Post 5)

I thought Sex and the City 2 would be the worst thing I’d watch today, but I was wrong. That place was taken by Hot in Cleveland, TV land’s original sitcom. It bases itself on this premise: three ladies traveling from LA to France have to emergency-land in Cleveland and decide to stay because the guys there find them hot. Every joke is broad and heavy-handed, but the laugh track (or, possibly, the live studio audience) eats them up. I, however, did not.

Betty White is the show’s silver lining. Her timing manages to make a few of the bad jokes tolerable, but even she can’t save them all.

I was really hoping to give this show a 4, since then I would’ve given one of each rating to everything I reviewed today. But, you know, that’s clearly not going to happen here. It’s getting a 1/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Betty White. (Watch it. She is a delight)

Watch Hot in Cleveland on Hulu

Y Not (Day of Reviews, Post 4)

I love the Beatles. And the role that Ringo Starr played in the band was the perfect place for him. He can’t quite pull off being the front man/songwriter like he attempts to in his album Y Not.

Generally, I’d say the music of Y Not isn’t bad, particularly the guitar-heavy songs like “Fill in the Blanks” and “Peace Dreams.” The lyrics, though, are unmoving and predictable. It’s an album you can play the “Guess what the last word of the next lyric is Game” and win every time. And the title track, “Y Not,” was just terrible all around: music, lyrics, and misspelling a word on purpose.

If you’re a big Ringo Starr fan, you probably know what you’re getting and would enjoy the CD. If you’re not, I wouldn’t lead you to it. It gets a 2/5.

Watch Ringo Starr play "Walk With You" on the Daily Show.

He also played With a Little Help From My Friends

Buy the CD

And now I’ve reviewed the entire month of January. Progress! There may be one more review today, but this is probably the last one. Have a super weekend!

Sex and the City 2 (Day of Reviews, Post 3)

I haven’t seen any episodes of Sex and the City. I haven’t seen Sex and the City the movie. But, I can no longer claim that I haven’t seen Sex and the City 2. And that is a sad thing.

Let me tell you, the movie is rough. It follows four rich ladies, Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and the uptight redhead (whose name I can’t remember…okay, I’ve looked it up: she’s Miranda) to Dubai, perhaps the most excessive place in the world. In it, they wear crazy clothes, ride camels, drink, have sex (and get arrested for it), buy shoes, and complain about how hard their lives are at home. It was sickening.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I had followed these characters for years, but I doubt that. A few of my friends are Sex and the City fans, and they disliked the movie as well. The movie is not funny, dialogue is not natural (though that could be blamed on the writing rather than the acting), and characters are not relatable.

The highlight of Sex and the City 2 was watching Liza Minnelli perform “Single Ladies,” but any joy from that was taken away by the stereotype-filled gay wedding where the dance took place.

As you might expect, I’m giving the movie a 1/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with writer and director Michael Patrick King

No One Would Listen (Day of Reviews, Post 2)

Harry Markopolos, the man who warned the SEC that Bernard Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme almost a decade before Madoff turned himself in, has written a book about the process entitled No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller.

In No One Would Listen, Markopolos shares a truly unbelievable situation. This guy figured out that Madoff was stealing billions from investors, but despite his many efforts, he could not get the SEC to investigate the case. Even after reading the book, I still don’t understand how the SEC managed to ignore the case. Markopolos did all the work, and they still didn’t do anything.

Markopolos’s personality is not at all removed from his book. He is blunt, angry, and bitter. Boy is he bitter. Though his points are justified, I got tired of the “SEC sucks” talk, even though I completely agree that they do suck. Markopolos ends up coming off as a bit of a jackass. In the epilogue, though, he shares his 16-point plan for fixing the SEC, and seems a much more reasonable guy. Most of his points make sense, and I do hope the government implements them.

It was a struggle for me to get through No One Would Listen, and though I can’t quite pinpoint why, I think it may have been a combination of it being yet another book about economics and it being the first Daily Shill book I read after my vacation. But despite my challenges, I wouldn’t warn you away from reading it. I wouldn’t recommend it either, though. It gets a 3/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Harry Markopolos

Buy the book

Louie (Day of Reviews, post 1)

Today, Friday, July 9, will mark a day in Daily Shill History. (Perhaps it will be the only day in its history. Time will tell). Today, I am going to attempt to make as many Daily Shill updates and reviews as possible. I have done just a little bit of prep work. Last night, I watch the episode of Louie that I am about to review (but, it was after midnight, so, technically, it counts as today), and over the past week, I’ve read all but the last 15 pages of No One Would Listen. But other than that, everything that is reviewed today will have been seen today. So I’d better get started.

But before I jump right in to my first review, I have to fix something from last week. When I wrote my thank-you section in my “Progress Report” I thanked my friend Brodie for designing the Daily Shill logo, but forgot to thank him for the more important thing he did. Brodie came up with the name Daily Shill. I came to him with my mission and asked him what I should call it. (I had no idea, and I knew he was awesome at this sort of thing). It was a tough one, but in a day or so, Brodie came up with the Daily Shill, which is perfect. So, thanks again, Brodie! And now, the review.

Louis C.K. is a funny guy, but being funny doesn’t always translate well into a sitcom. Louie, however, gets every word right. The show, which is about one-third standup, two-thirds sitcom, blends the two together nicely, with switches between the two not feeling abrupt. I watched the first two episodes, (yes, I enjoyed the pilot enough to keep going) and the issues in the shows I saw (and likely in the whole series) mirror ones in C.K.’s life: namely being a newly divorced father of two children.

The thing about Louie is that it’s not funny in the traditional, expected sit-com style (though, since it is on FX, I guess you wouldn’t expect an Everybody Loves Raymond). Instead, much of the humor is irreverent and out there, dark and dirty. The show takes you by surprise, too; towards the end of the first episode, a woman on a terrible date with Louie escapes in an almost whimsical way that is never addressed by the show. And in an opposite type of surprising, within the first five minutes of the second episode, Louie gets in a conversation with another comedian (who happens to be gay) about whether it is okay to use the word faggot in stand-up for the laughs. The conversation, for the most part, is not funny (and not trying to be), yet it didn’t feel out of place in this comedy. It was an engaging question, given a thorough answer that, when finished, naturally transitioned into jokes.

I’ve never given a TV show a 5/5 before, but I think with Louie, I’m going to do it. Sure, every joke didn’t make me laugh out loud, but many of them did, even though I was watching it alone in my room. If you’re looking for a different take on a sitcom, I definitely recommend it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Louis C.K.

Watch Louie on Hulu (You can also watch it on FX on Tuesdays at 11)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Progress Report!

Well, here I am, the first day of July. This marks six months since my Daily Show challenge began: halfway through the shows in 2010, a quarter of the way through my timeline.

It’s time for the quarterly review (or progress report, if you will). I’m going to jump right into that, but I also want to encourage you to give me suggestions and feedback. Is there something I do that you hate? What about something you wish I did? Anything you particularly enjoy? Does anyone (besides my mom) actually read this? Let me know!

Progress Report #1:

Timeline: Out of the 68 items currently on my list to review, I’ve completed 29. It’s not halfway, which would be right on target for my goal, but it’s not terribly behind either, especially considering that I wasn’t able to review anything in the month of January. I think my two-year deadline will still be tight, but, as of now, I say it’s possible. Of course, I’m starting grad school in the fall, which might change everything, we’ll see.

Writing: I wish I were a little better at this part. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it now, initially I had no idea how to write a review. I worry that I’m not interesting enough, and I wish I had more opportunities to be funny (or were better at writing humorously). I often struggle with writing reviews for things I really like, and I know I use the words “fascinating” and “engaging” too often. That being said, though, I don’t think I’m doing poorly. There are a few reviews that when I finished, I thought, “Hey, I think I did well on this one.” And I’m starting to think that more and more frequently.

Things I would change: There are some ratings I wish I could go back on. (George Lucas’s Blockbusting, for example, would get a one, not a two). I also wish I had listed books’ subtitles, since they give a good sense of what each book is about. This is something I can go back on, and I will begin including the subtitles. (And eventually go back and insert them into the reviews I’ve already written).

Best Book (that I’ve read for the show): Crazy Like Us

Best Film (that I’ve seen for the show): A Single Man

Worst Book (that I’ve read for the show): Courting Disaster

Worst Film (that I’ve seen for the show): Tooth Fairy

Now for the real question. Am I glad I’m doing this?: It’s a qualified yes.

I have read many interesting books that I never would have read. But I have read even more boring books that I also never would have read. I’m getting tired about reading about the economy and our founding fathers (and, yes, I do know I have more of that ahead). Last week, I was on vacation and allowed myself to check out and read any books I wanted to. I can’t tell you what an exciting trip to the library that was, and what a super week I had (though that certainly wasn’t due only to the books). I miss reading whatever I want to.

But I also feel like I’ve gained a lot of knowledge due solely to this challenge. I have a basic idea of what caused this economic crisis. I know what a “quant” is. I have opinions on pharmaceutical companies marketing American drugs in foreign countries. I know Barack Obama’s mother’s name was Stanley. And it’s nice to know things.

A few brief thank yous:

Let me tell you, libraries are wonderful. Over the past six months, I’ve used cards at the Kalamazoo College Library, Western Michigan University Library, Kalamazoo Public Library, and Chelsea District Library. These libraries (and the wonderful librarians and circulation staff at each of them) have allowed me to read all of these books for free (and worked hard to help me find them). Right now, alone, I have six books checked out, waiting for me to read and review them. Support your library!

My friend Brodie made the Daily Shill logo at the top of this blog. I think it looks really cool, and I never could have made it myself. Thanks, Brodie!

Also thanks to all my pals (and my parents) who ask me how this project is going. I appreciate your support.