Monday, February 28, 2011

The Social Network

I was sitting in the theater with my friends Brodie and Caroline, about to see The Kids Are All Right, when the trailer for The Social Network came on the screen. It was ridiculous, showing Facebook posts with a terribly dramatic version of “Creep” sung by a children’s choir. I started laughing: the movie was taking itself entirely too seriously: it’s about a website, for heaven’s sake. I turned to Brodie and Caroline and said, “This looks absolutely awful.” Then Caroline said, “Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay,” and my internal debate began.

See, I think Aaron Sorkin is a brilliant writer; I love The West Wing. If he wrote the screenplay, the movie was probably going to be good. But a movie about Facebook? I couldn’t quite believe that would be worth watching. When Justin Timberlake came on the Daily Show to promote it, which meant that I had to see the movie, I still wasn’t willing to put down the money and go to the theater. Even when everyone and her best friend started saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s so good,” I stayed away. But last week it arrived for me at the library. And last night—just before it won Oscars for Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay—I sat down to watch The Social Network. And, yes, it was pretty darn good.

For those of you who have managed to avoid the hype, I’ll give a brief synopsis. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) creates a website that crashes Harvard’s servers and brings him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) who are looking for a programmer for a Harvard-exclusive dating-site they’ve designed. At the same time, Zuckerberg turns to his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) to help him fund and create The Facebook, an idea that may or may not have been influenced by the Winklevoss’s website. Eventually, when The Facebook takes off, Zuckerberg gains the attention of Napster creator Sean Parker (Timberlake) whose influence causes a rift between Zuckerberg and Eduardo. This plot is interspersed with flash-forwards to the two trials regarding Facebook that Zuckerberg faces from the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo respectively.

Sounds complicated? It kind of is, but somehow it is entirely followable. Even though the movie is terribly dramatic (though not quite as much as the trailer might lead you to believe), it didn’t bother me. A lot of that is due to Sorkin. Throughout the movie I often felt like I was watching an episode of The West Wing—even though the subject matter was entirely different. Though Sorkin’s fast-paced, witty dialogue is not how people speak in real-life, I find it so entertaining, I wish it were. Despite the fact that none of the characters were particularly likeable (so there was no one to cheer for), I was invested for the entire movie.

Eisenberg, who won me over when he hosted SNL a few weeks ago, portrayed Zuckerberg with a robotic simplicity, which somehow made his jerkish actions more explainable. This was the first movie I’ve seen Eisenberg in where I didn’t think of him as a poor man’s Michael Cera. Hammer made the Winklevoss twins a great enemy and managed to show each twin’s distinct personality so they weren’t always grouped as one person. And Garfield’s Eduardo was the only character who I felt any sympathy for—he did great. (Who’s excited to see him as the new Spiderman? I am!)

There’s been a lot of drama over how much of The Social Network is true and how much was creative license. It was based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, who claims his book is entirely true. The librarian in me wants to sit down and research the veracity of the entire movie, but then I remember that library school has left me with no time to do that (ironic, no?).

In the end, despite entirely enjoying the movie, I’m giving it a 4/5. It’s certainly worth watching, but it also isn’t as life-changing and wonderful as some people may claim.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Justin Timberlake

Buy the DVD

Monday, February 21, 2011

Half Empty

I am 100% optimist. Though I focus my optimism on finding silver linings—rather than convincing myself that wonderful things are going to happen—and I try my best not to foist my optimism on others, I have a suspicion it drives some people crazy. I've never met him, but I imagine David Rakoff would be one of those people, as his book of essays, Half Empty, is presented as a call against optimism.

In his essays-- focused on the topics pessimism at the turn of the 21st century, Rakoff’s unsuccessful attempt at an acting career, the musical RENT’s romanticized view of the lifestyles it presents, and the recurrence of Rakoff’s cancer (among others)-- Rakoff warns of the dangers of positivity. However, he was not too heavy handed with the anti-optimism, rather, it served as a thread to connect all of the book’s essays.

Rakoff is an excellent writer. His prose is somewhat heavy, not allowing for decent skimming, but it is worth it to take the extra time and read Rakoff’s sentences slowly. Rakoff’s humor sneaks up on you—he isn’t broad, but I found myself reading a sentence and laughing aloud on more than one occasion. Though a few of the essays moved a little slowly (the first one was actually the hardest one for me to get through), all are worth reading.

The final essay in the book, “Another Shoe” is absolutely phenomenal, and if you don’t have time to read the entire book, it’s worth buying or borrowing just for the single essay. It takes the reader through Rakoff’s discovery of a tumor in his arm, his fears that the arm will need to be amputated, and his thoughts on the struggle with cancer. And, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the final sentence of the essay made me look at the entire book in a new light.

I’m giving Half Empty a 4/5. I definitely recommend it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Rakoff

Buy the Book

In the next week or so, I’ll be sending an email to the Daily Show about this blog. Any suggestions of what I should include?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ignite Presentation Link

Remember a week ago when I was promoting that Ignite event where I was talking about the Daily Shill? Guess what! The video of the talk is now online!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ghosts of Cannae

There is an endless list of things on which I am not an expert. Ancient History is one of them. BUT, my college roommate, Theresa (the one who introduced me to the Daily Show) is an expert. (Okay, maybe not technically an expert, but she was a Classics major and sure knows a whole lot about it). When Robert O'Connell's book The Ghosts of Cannae was promoted on the show, Theresa offered to read and review it for me. There was an internal battle: If Theresa reads this one, I won't be able to say I read everything promoted in 2010 versus If Theresa reads this one, I won't have to read it.

The latter won out, so, without further ado, here's Theresa Tejada, The Daily Shill's Senior Classics Correspondent.

Emily and I have been watching The Daily Show together for years. In fact, our communal love of Jon Stewart’s wit and insight was one of the first things that bonded us two freshman college roommates together. When Emily told me about her ambitious project to review every book, every movie, and every other type of entertainment peddled on The Daily Show, I wanted to get involved somehow. Robert O’Connell’s appearance on the show over the summer gave me my opportunity. As a Classical Studies major, The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic got me pumped. Ancient history doesn’t make it into popular culture often, and when it does, it’s often pretty inaccurate or an embarrassment. So thank you, Jon Stewart, for bringing some credibility to the field.

I believe that The Ghosts of Cannae would be an interesting read to anyone. While Cannae might be a foreign term to most people, the main character is not. Hannibal, the famed general who notoriously trekked his troops and a legion of elephants over the Alps, is the protagonist of the story (and the namesake of my doctor!). Hannibal, the Carthaginian who reportedly took a solemn vow at a young age that Rome was his mortal enemy, shook the Roman Republic to its core and reportedly killed 48,000 soldiers at deadly battle at Cannae. This devastating loss challenged Roman values, character, and government and set to stage to fundamentally change the structure of its civilization.

I appreciate that O’Connell introduces and critiques his ancient historians early on in Chapter 1. History didn’t serve the same purpose to the Romans and to Livy and Suetonius (our two main sources on the Second Punic War). O’Connell also challenges and elucidates modern classicists, but his book doesn’t read like a boring scholarly journal. It is easy to tell that O’Connell is a historian (who uses the word “abattoir” and what does it mean?) and sometimes the complex military maneuvers are a little boring, especially if that’s not your forte. But he also writes in a fun, humorous and accessible style. My favorite passage is probably: “of course, Alexander really was a Greek, seemed convinced of his divinity, and was probably crazy.”

Sometimes, his fascination borders on Orientalism, especially towards the Carthaginians (modern Tunisia), of whom the archeological record is less complete and viewed through the eyes of the Romans. I wonder what The Ghosts of Cannae would be like if O’Connell had written it a year or two later, when he had time to digest the recently discovered child burials outside of Carthage suggesting that the child sacrifices how frequently touted throughout the book was a myth (

The first few chapters were a little rough to get through. I thought that his flash-forwards were confusing and a little heavy on the military strategy for my taste. He has a daunting task of succinctly introducing the complex civilizations of Carthage and Rome to explain what aspects of their culture were instrumental in affecting the outcomes of the Second Punic War. His description of the Roman cursus honorum, the civic positions in Roman government, might be the most efficient explanation I have ever read or heard. Once O’Connell reaches Cannae, the narrative hits its stride and becomes much more enjoyable.

Overall, I give The Ghosts of Cannae a 3/5. I took issue with some of O’Connell’s assertions and was hoping for a longer and more thorough explanation of why this battle was a game-changer in the history of the world instead of his timid six-page epilogue. On the other hand, I appreciated his passion for the subject that I also dearly love and it would have made my hour-long presentation on Scipio Africanus for Junior Seminar for Classics Majors much easier. I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Going the Distance

I’ll admit it, I liked Going the Distance more than I expected I would. But since I expected to hate it, that doesn’t mean much.

Going the Distance covers the relationship between Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore). Though the two knew they would only be in the same city for six weeks (and therefore intended to avoid anything serious), they just liked each other so much they needed to give a long distance relationship a try. As one might expect, it gets complicated. (What if they made a movie about a couple who decided to have a long distance relationship and all went well? What would you call that one?)

Going the Distance couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a romance, and the mix it settled on just didn’t work for me. There would be a bit that made me laugh out loud (even though I was watching the movie by myself) and then a long dry spell where the relationship was awkwardly advanced (or lots of bad jokes were made). The plot-specifics were too predictable—there was that one out of place conversation in the movie that was clearly setting up the end of the movie. However, even despite these problems, it seemed that all the movie needed to be decent was another draft or two to tighten some jokes and add some subtlety.

Barrymore overacted and often looked too old for her part, but none of the other actors are worth complaining about. There were enjoyable cameo/sidekick roles played by several people I love including Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan, and the Daily Show’s own Rob Riggle and Kristen Schaal.

I’m giving Going the Distance a 2/5. It’s not a waste of time, but not worth seeking out. And it’s not worth writing more than a few short paragraphs about.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Drew Barrymore

Buy the DVD

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ignite Chelsea 2

Looking for something awesome to do this Friday night? Live in the Chelsea area? Interested in learning new things, including, but not limited to the origin of the Daily Shill? Want free pizza? Well have I got the event for you!

This Friday, February 11 at 7 pm, come on by the Clocktower Commons (in the vacant space next to Las Fuentes) to see Ignite Chelsea 2.

What is Ignite, you may be asking? Good question. And you’re in luck, the first presentation of the evening answers that question. (An Ignite presentation about Ignite…it’s mind-boggling). But, the short explanation is that Ignite presentations are 5-minute talks with powerpoint slides that automatically switch every 15 seconds. Presenters choose topics they’re passionate about, so it should be an exciting evening.

What’s on the docket for this week’s event? Well, in addition to my presentation about the Daily Shill, you’re also in store for talks on the art of the road trip, the extreme sport of Parkour, What is Art (in 5 minutes!), and cartooning in the 21st century, plus more!

And what’s this about free pizza? Well, Jets Pizza will be providing snacks.

Any questions? Leave a comment, I’ll answer them. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Third World America

I’m going to begin this review with a digression. Let’s talk about Arianna Huffington. Despite the fact that her name (and online journalism) has been around for a while, I unintentionally managed to go a long time without hearing anything she said or reading anything she wrote. I vaguely knew that she was similar to me on the political spectrum (if a bit more liberal) and assumed that I would enjoy her book.

And then I saw her on Conan. In the interview, she was asked why she owns three blackberries. Hold it, I thought, What does any one person need with three blackberries. One blackberry? Completely reasonable. Two blackberries? Silly, but understandable if you needed to talk and browse the internet at the same time. Three? Terribly excessive! Is it even possible to use three blackberries? I was actually interested to hear how she justified her ownership. But what did she respond with? Some story about how she fainted, tried to cut back her blackberry use to only two (because they caused her fainting?), but was now back to using three. In other words, no real answer.

Ever since I saw that interview in December, I can’t stop thinking about the ridiculousness of owning three blackberries, and, slowly, I have become more and more angry with Huffington for her ownership. Here she is, in theory a champion for the lower and middle class, and she owns three blackberries. I’m not saying that if you have money you should donate it all and never buy yourself nice things. What I’m saying is that maybe you shouldn’t have three of the exact same nice thing.

So, now for the review. As you can gather, I didn’t go into the book with the best opinion of the author. However, I assumed she would be a good writer (considering the fact that her career is based on it) and thought the book wouldn’t be so bad. Turns out, it was a false assumption, but more on that later.

In Third World America: How our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream, Huffington presents a cavalcade of depressing facts about the state of America, making the point that if we don’t make some big changes, the country will lose its status as a world leader and, indeed, a first-world country. The book is split into five sections, each finishing with first-hand accounts from suffering, formerly middle class Americans. The final section provides actions America needs to take to avoid its great decline.

Politically, I should have felt myself agreeing with the points Huffington made. I should have read what she wrote and been spurred to action. Instead, because it was written in such an abrasive, accusatory matter, I found myself reacting defensively, thinking “She’s being too harsh. It’s not really that bad.” (Even though, chances are good that for many people, it is). Couple the accusatory tone with a glut of weak and clich├ęd metaphors, awful puns, and out-of-place pop culture references, and you’re left with an unpleasant reading experience.

The final section of the book, where Huffington presents potential solutions, was the best part, though I would have liked to have more actions individuals can take, and fewer proposals of large (and unrealistic) overhauls.

Despite my many complaints, I’m giving Third World America a 2/5. It did present interesting facts about America’s current state, and had I not been so anti-Huffington prior to reading, I may have cut the book more slack.