Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Most Important Decade Since the '60s?

As this decade comes to a close, it seems all the more tragic that we never built consensus over what to call this era (the "aughts," the "naughts," the "zeros"?).

Why? Because it's becoming increasingly clear that this is the most significant decade since the 1960s.

Do you doubt me? Consider all the geopolitical and macroeconomic events of the decade:
1. The dot-com bust
2. A disputed presidential election
3. Sept. 11
4. The anthrax attack
5. The Afghanistan War
6. The Iraq War
7. Katrina
8. The housing boom and bust
9. The financial crisis
10. A black man becomes president
11. The worst recession since the 1930s

(Note: I don't buy into the pedantic argument that the decade actually continues through 2010 — despite two angry letters to the Chronicle this week. Yes, there was no Year 0, and so maybe the millennium didn't start until 2001. But that doesn't mean decades can't start and end whenever we want. We could celebrate the decade of 1993-2003 if it was expedient for society.)

Anyway, back to the colossal importance of the '00s. Can the 1970s, '80s or '90s possibly compete? I think not.

The one downside to the decade is a paucity of significant cultural movements, especially in the area of music. The '70s had punk and disco. The '80s had New Wave and hip-hop. The '90s had gangsta rap and grunge. What did the '00s bring? A lot of great music, no question — but groundbreaking new genres? Not so much.

But decades aren't remembered for individual events, they're remembered for capturing a mood. If you had to encapsulate the 1960s in a word, it would probably be: "protest." (That covers the counterculture movement, the music, the proliferation of drugs and the opposition to the Vietnam War.)

What encapsulates the '00s? It would probably be something like: "coping with fear." That sums up most — if not all — of the items described in my list above.

UPDATE: Guess I forgot to include Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in history (though by no means the deadliest). My list now goes to 11!

'Avatar' Versus 'Alien'

In my last post, I challenged someone to come up with more similarities between James Cameron's "Avatar" and his earlier "Alien" movies.

Well, this article today did just that — as part of a broader analysis of Cameron's love-hate relationship with technology:
Cameron made "Aliens," the nightmarish counterpart of "Avatar"'s utopian dream. In both films, human colonists and strange aliens clash on a distant planet; in both films, technology proves ill-equipped to defeat the natural world. It's interesting, though, to consider how much Cameron's new film inverts the earlier one, despite their numerous similarities. In "Avatar," the Na'vi are basically alien hippies; in "Aliens," the titular creatures are remorseless, bloodthirsty xenomorphs. In "Aliens," the heroine, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) agrees to join the Colonial Marines on their mission only when they agree to annihilate, not subdue, capture or study, the aliens. In "Avatar," Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) rejects his own species and decides to help the Na'vi because of the Marines' desire to annihilate anything that stands in the way of their acquiring the minerals they're looking for. Both films end with a showdown between an alien and a human inside an enormous robotic suit, though the ultimate outcome and the character who the audience is supposed to root for is quite different from movie to movie.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

BuboBlog Reviews 'Avatar'

(We saw "Avatar" in 3-D over the holidays. It's a visual feast, as well as a thrilling and moving story — despite the fact that every twist of the plot gets telegraphed well ahead of time. BuboBlog Rating: 3.5 asterisks out of 4. As usual, I have my quibbles.)

1. How does James Cameron make another sci-fi movie featuring Sigourney Weaver and giant mechanized suits, and then NOT let her reprise her best line from the "Alien" movies: "Get away from her, you bitch."

Actually, "Avatar" really could have been a spinoff of the "Alien" franchise. Both feature a ruthless paramilitary corporation that endangers lives with reckless greed. They both have hostile aliens. And again, both have those robot suits. (I'm sure someone else can come up with more similarities.) Of course, the "Alien" films already have spinoffs: the Oscar-caliber "Alien vs. Predator" movies.

2. I guess I have to be the one who says it: The aliens looked fake. I don't mean in the crowd scenes or the action sequences, but when "Avatar" uses CGI for close-ups, it's just not convincing. If you doubt what I'm saying, pay attention to the parts where Cameron switches between scenes with the Na'vi aliens and the humans back on the base. Your mind has to reconcile the fact that the aliens look like a cartoon and the humans look real. He would have been better off using actors with makeup and prosthetics, though this would have been much more expensive. (Gollum in "Lord of the Rings" looked similarly computery and fake — yeah, you heard me.) As amazing as "Avatar's" technological advances are, in 20 years it's going to look as fake as the stop-motion effects in the original "Clash of the Titans."

3. In some ways, the 3-D made all this CGI more palatable. Everything in 3-D has a certain fuzzy, unreal feel to it. So it mitigated the obviously fake computer effects by making the whole movie look a little strange. But this seems more like a cheat, rather than a groundbreaking step in filmmaking.

With that said, I really admire the way "Avatar" uses 3-D. Rather than only relying on gimmicks (having arrows shoot out at the audience), it creates an immersive 3-D environment. When you look through windscreens, you can see the dirt on the glass in 3-D. The effect also spotlights the use of holograms and heads-up displays — technology that we'll all probably be using in the not-too-distant feature.

4. The 3-D also added depth to Pandora's many bioluminescent creatures. Question for a biologist: Would there be a plausible reason for so many land-based organisms to rely on bioluminiscence?

5. The company in the movie is trying to mine a precious element called "unobtainium." Seriously? The writers couldn't think of anything less ridiculous than that?

6. Sam Worthington's accent switched back and forth between American and Australian throughout the movie. Was this just a gaffe, or is Cameron predicting the future? By that I mean the formation in 2104 of the United States of Ameristralia.

7. Would it really make sense to design a giant robotic suit that lets you participate in knife fights?

8. For most of the movie, I expected this bit of exposition: "If your avatar dies, you die in real life." (After all, that's how it worked in similar films — everything from "The Matrix" to "Nightmare on Elm Street.") It turns out that the movie decided not to go this route, in one of its rare deviations from formula. What the film did was something cooler (spoiler alert): Instead of the hero's avatar being threatened, the villain goes after the sleeping body of the real-life man instead. It was a nice twist.

9. It was hard to know what to make of the Native American allegory. Obviously European settlers committed atrocities on the indigenous peoples of this land, and "Avatar" aims to condemn that. But by giving the Na'vi's mysticism a scientific backing — essentially, making the magic real — is Cameron trying to glorify the Native Americans' actual beliefs, or create an alternate universe in which their creed wasn't hokum? Either way, it comes off as a little condescending.

10. There weren't a lot of false notes in the movie, but a few cliches could have been cut. Let's all agree that a character should never say either "We have a situation here" or "I didn't sign on for this" ever again.

UPDATE: I also should mention that the 3-D really helps make the subtitles easier to read. Maybe all foreign films should be in 3-D?

But why did the movie use the cheesy Papyrus font? Only marginally better than Comic Sans.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Float On

I dig the new(-ish?) number sign on 875 Howard.

This is the former site of the temporary Academy of Sciences — and it's still in need of a new tenant, as far as I know. It's also across the street from Obama's hotel of choice: the Intercontinental.

The sign reminds me of those cool 3-D floating location titles on "Fringe."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monkey-Fighting Shirt

It's here, people: on my torso.

Courtesy of Zazzle: The "Monkey Fighting Snakes on a Monday to Friday Plane" shirt.

(I would have used a little more hyphenation, but who am I to complain?)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The More Things Change...

In all the discussions about "Avatar" and the technological advances of filmmaking, one point has been overlooked.

Twenty-five years after "Splash," mythical creatures still need long tresses in order to strategically cover their boobs.

(In fairness, the prospect of 3-D breasts may a little unsettling.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ethan, Miles, Eva, Lila: Futuristic Names

This is no surprise if you've been tracking baby names at all, but Jacob and Emily are officially the most popular names of the '00s.

Still, I'm a bit amazed by Jacob's dominance — in that I've never met a single baby named Jacob. Maybe they're all in the middle of the country? (It's also the name of a frequently shirtless character in the "Twilight" movies, but the name's popularity was established years before that series came out.)

Now the race is on to determine the most popular names of the next decade. The ParentDish blog put the question to baby-naming experts.

Their answer? For boys, Ethan or Miles will reign supreme in the '10s.

And for girls, it will be Ava or Lila.

This prediction may be on the money, because we know babies with each of those four names. Our friends must be tastemakers!

Meanwhile, Elliot is still wallowing in the lower ranks, despite a small uptick last year. Is it too late to add a frequently shirtless character named Elliot to the next "Twilight" film?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

E.T.: Phone Home

Maybe this became inevitable when we gave our child the initials E.T., but he is now obsessed with the telephone.

When we get home, Elliot marches over to the phone. He likes to play the messages or check the ringer volume level. Best of all, he'll press a button called "Do Not Disturb," which makes it impossible to tell if anyone has called us — the calls go straight to voice mail. Joy!

Elliot also seems to think that the phone will solve all problems. At day care, Elliot's favorite toy is a make-believe cell phone. When his best friend Sophia cries, he'll spring into action: running over to the pile of toys, finding the cell phone and running back to hand it to her.

I guess he gets points for empathy and problem solving. As for knowing what women want, he's still pretty clueless. Luckily he'll grow out of that phase in the next 80 to 90 years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Talk About Hypocrisy!

Maybe I was still a little groggy when I turned on NPR this morning, but I heard part of a report that said Governor Schwarzenegger was spending $26.5 million to "crack down on bad actors."

This is crazy! I mean, who is Arnold to judge, right? Much as I admire his film career, was he really that convincing as Mr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin"?

And what does this program mean for Jamie Kennedy?

UPDATE: Some confusion, folks. I did a little more research and it turns out they were talking about "bad actors" in the state's In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program.

My bad, I guess. But NPR should really choose their words more carefully!

Paradox Products

Maybe I was a little too hard on Stain Eraser, the tie cleaner that doesn't work on ties. Just walking around our apartment, I saw some more egregious examples.

Elliot's low-sodium Saltines? I'm not sure you can sell a product with "salt" in the name, and then remove all the salt. That's like having a carob Choco Taco.

And then there's my Family Guy drinking-game pint glass (a cherished gift) — a product that has probably put many a frat boy in the intensive-care unit.

If you read the fine print on the side, it says: "Not intended for use with alcoholic beverages."


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 10 Most Embarrassing Songs From the Past Decade That Somehow Appeared on My Computer's Hard Drive

(A lot of people are doing best-of-the-decade song lists. This is different.)

Listen, people: I don't know how these songs got on my hard drive — they just did. Some of them even have iTunes purchase information, saying my credit card was used to buy them. This is, of course, absurd. I blame Elliot.

10. Sasha & Shawna: "Dust in the Wind" (2007)
If you like highly operatic renditions of 1970s light rock, well then, this is one.

9. Kelly Clarkson: "It's Raining Men" (2002)
Am I the only straight man who owns this song? I hope so.

8. Glee Soundtrack: "Alone" (2009)
If you're going to cover Heart, you may as well cover the worst/best Heart song of all time: "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You." Otherwise, you're just playing with us.

7. LeeAnn Rimes: "Can't Fight the Moonlight" (2000)
This was from the "Coyote Ugly" soundtrack, which I somehow seem to posses on CD. And apparently I took the time to rip the CD and carefully label the songs in iTunes.

6. Boyzone: "Better" (2008)
I am legitimately unclear how this got on my iTunes. No, serious. Is that really the name of the band?

5. Carrie Underwood: "Jesus, Take the Wheel" (2005)
After downloading this song, I was disappointed to discover that Jesus isn't her Dominican chauffeur.

4. Jewel: "Stronger Woman" (2008)
Actual lyric: "I'm gonna love myself more than anyone else." Maybe her goal is to make her 1990s songs sound better by comparison.

3. Mandy Moore: "Moonshadow" (2003)
If you invite people to your home and Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow" comes on your stereo, you may feel a tinge of embarrassment. If it's this cover version by Mandy Moore, seppuku is really the only way out.

2. Paris Hilton: "Stars Are Blind" (2006)
The terrifying downside to Auto-Tune: Paris actually sounds pretty good.

1. Clay Aiken: "Invisible" (2003)
Creepiest song lyric of the decade: "If I was invisible, then I could just watch you in your room." Sadly, this is still probably the best thing he ever recorded.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fortunately My Ties Are Made of Burlap

I tend to be a messy eater, so I was excited to see this cleaning product today at Container Store.

It's a stain eraser, seemingly ideal for neckties (in that they show a tie on the package). I thought, "Ah, finally I can eat nachos supreme at work without fear."

Then I read the back: "Not recommended for silk."

Crap, aren't most ties made of silk? (Could this be an item for the Consumer Reports "Selling It" column, which covers deceptive marketing?)

As an alternative, I found this online: an adult bib for stroke victims. It's just $11.

I feel like I could totally rock this at the office.

Is it too early to start a 2010 fashion trend? Who's with me?

Friday, December 18, 2009

BuboList: Best Movies of the '00s

(A lot of bloggers preface their best-of lists by saying they're "subjective" or "deeply personal." That's not the case here: This list is definitive and sacrosanct. If you object in any way, prepare for global jihad.)

Counting down, these are the 10 best films of the past 10 years. I've provided links to my original reviews, where available.

10. "Million Dollar Baby" (2004)
Not without some false notes (Hilary Swank's boorish middle-America relatives were a bit two-dimensional). But every era needs its "Old Yeller," and this was ours — with Swank playing the role of the Blackmouth Cur.

9. "Borat" (2006)
Breathed new life into the mockumentary by mixing real-life interactions and staged sequences. Will people still be watching this movie years from now? Maybe not, but it was easily one of the funniest films of the decade.

8. "Pride and Prejudice" (2005)
Showed director Joe Wright at the height of his powers (way more satisfying than "Atonement"). Fans of the BBC miniseries say this movie didn't measure up, but you know what? At least it didn't have flashbacks with a cheesy disembodied Darcy head.

7. "Team America: World Police" (2004)
In terms of the sheer number of laughs generated, it's hard to compete with this one. The songs, the marionettes, the vomit, mentally retarded Matt Damon — it had it all.

6. "Knocked Up" (2007)
Still the greatest example of an Apatovian comedy, either from Judd himself or his growing ranks of acolytes: funny, crass, tender and moving.

5. "The Prestige" (2006)
Vastly superior to its Victorian-magician doppelganger "The Illusionist," this was Christopher Nolan's second-best movie of the decade.

4. The Pixar films ("Wall-E," "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles" et al.)
It's maybe cheating to group these together, but no one does quality control like Pixar: All their movies were solid. And they only seemed to get more sophisticated and bold as the decade wore on.

3. "Brokeback Mountain" (2005)

Any of my top three picks could easily qualify as No. 1. This was the greatest love story of the '00s, as well as the most moving tragedy.

2. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)
Something about the combination of director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman magnified both men's talents while keeping their failings in check. (Much of their other work this decade can only be seen as flawed experiments.)

1. "Memento" (2001)
Forget Batman: This remains Christopher Nolan's crowning achievement. No special effects, no big budget — just a great concept, exploited in the most fascinating way. And it was everything that "Mullholland Drive" (released the same year) was not. That movie was a lazy dream. "Memento" was an intricate puzzle that invited you to solve it, and rewarded you when you did.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adding Insult to Injury

Do you realize we've been misquoting Rodney King for the past 17 years?

He said, "Can we all just get along." But somehow we've gotten it into our collective head that it was, "CAN'T we all just get along." (I learned this while doing research for my Lego Space Police post.)

Wikipedia has a handy list of misquotations that includes an entry on King.

Some of the other misquotations are pretty interesting. Like apparently "Crocodile Dundee" star Paul Hogan never said, "Throw another shrimp on the barbie." Hogan's actual quote: "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you" (which sounds a little dirty).

Others are more obscure:
Misquoted: "Kneel before Zod, son of Jor-El!" —General Zod in "Superman II." (Actual quote: "Come to me, son of Jor-El...kneel before Zod.")

Wow, yeah. I can't believe how many times I've heard someone mess that one up.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

From SoMa With Love

This weekend they opened a temporary "pop-up" Target tent in Mint Plaza, just south of Market Street.

The idea is to bring Target's best-selling items to the city (since there are currently no Targets in San Francisco). That means we get all the benefits of suburbia without having to get in our cars.

This got me thinking: Why should we in SoMa "have it all"? In the spirit of giving, we should take some of our amenities to the suburbs.

They're probably badly in need of pop-up needle exchanges, pop-up detox centers and pop-up marijuana dispensaries.

Does anyone have a tent I can borrow?

(Artist's rendering.)

What I Learned From 'Taken'

(We finally got around to seeing "Taken," the Liam Neeson kidnapping thriller that came out in January. It's a shame it took me so long, because there were a lot of valuable lessons.)

1. If you have the opportunity to go to Paris, DON'T DO IT. Paris is incredibly dangerous. You're better off in the crime-free haven of Los Angeles.

2. If you do get kidnapped, make sure you're wearing a really ugly bedazzled jean jacket. It will make it easier to track you down later.

3. Try to remain a virgin before getting abducted. That way, they can kill your non-virgin friend first.

4. Everyone in Paris would rather speak English than French. This includes bellhops, gangsters and prostitutes — they'll all start speaking English to you before they even know you're not French. Also, if you tell people you're from the French government, no one will think anything of you speaking English the whole time (bonus points if you use miles instead of kilometers).

5. French bureaucrats sometimes work late hours. (Actually, this was probably the one implausible part of the movie — I bought everything else.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Transgressions' Finally Revealed

When Tiger Woods admitted to "transgressions" recently, he wasn't specific about what those were. Well, now we finally know.

In an e-mail allegedly sent by Tiger, he wrote: "I want you to lay next to me, lay on me or where ever you want to lay."

Lay? Is there a direct object in that sentence, Tiger, because I sure don't monkeyfighting see one! (I guess it could be an attempt to make an innuendo with "lay," but that seems unlikely.) It should be "lie."

This must be what happens when you learn to write at the Subway of universities.

SF State Building Looks Fake

Students at San Francisco State seized control of the business-school building this week to protest budget cuts. The Chronicle printed this photo.

Observation: What's up with this building? It seriously just says "business" on the front?

Are we sure this isn't the backlot set from Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School"?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spotted on Lombard Street

You have to admire the fact that Linoleum Larry's is still around, seeing as how both linoleum and the name Larry have fallen woefully out of fashion.

It's just a shame that Asbestos Earl's is no longer in business.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Is 'Lego Space Police' Racist?

When I was a kid, Lego men came in one race: yellow.

Now that I'm a dad, I've been exposed to a new generation of far more diverse Lego people.

In the popular Lego Space Police series, human characters pursue intergalactic criminals — all of which, coincidentally enough, are non-human. (The scene depicted below is a clear case of profiling.)

What does this say about the Lego worldview? (And is a "District 9" licensing deal in the works?)

To quote Rodney King: Can we all get along?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Scene of the (Reindeer) Crime

This came as a shock to me: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was created here in the Bay Area.

The song was written by San Francisco resident Randy Brooks, and then recorded by the local husband-and-wife group Elmo and Patsy Shropshire in 1979. For a while it was only played on local radio and then country radio — until finally it became a mainstream hit in 1984.

All this time I thought the song was recorded by drunk Nashville studio musicians (possibly in between takes of "Rhinestone Cowboy").

Anyway, it's a shame that the Bay Area has ceded the production of annoying country-novelty tracks to other parts of the world. It seems unlikely that anyone here in San Francisco is going to write the next "Rockin' the Beer Gut."

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's an Eco-Friendly Death Match!

There's been some debate lately about the greenest place in America. New Yorker writer David Owen dissed a report that said Vermont was the greenest state, noting that people in Vermont burn a ton of gas driving everywhere (a byproduct of living in the middle of bum-monkeyfighting-egypt).

He argues that New York is the most eco-friendly place in America, because the population density forces people to take transit and live in small apartments.

I agree that Vermont is an environmental disaster. You might as well light your Hummer on fire and crash it into an AquaNet factory. But I think Ess Eff might give New York a run for its money.

As I've noted before, San Francisco is the second-most densely populated major city in the U.S. And while our transit system isn't as good as the New York subway, we use less electricity per household.

We also compost and recycle a much higher percentage of our waste than New Yorkers. And when you're looking at building green housing, it's a lot easier if you don't need much heat or any air conditioning.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Say the Name: Part Two

Remember my discussion about movies that mention their title in the dialogue.

Well, I was excited to see that "Funny People" is such a movie! I watched the unrated version of the film on pay-per-view last month. (Note: It's possible that the title of the movie isn't said in the rated version — I didn't see that.)

I realize everyone else may have already seen "Funny People" by now, but here's my belated capsule review: I agree with the criticism that its third act breaks tone and turns into a different movie. And I don't think it was the tightly constructed comedy machine that "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" were. But to me, it was never boring and definitely worth seeing (despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time). BuboBlog rating: 3 asterisks (out of 4).

Adam Sandler was actually probably the least funny part of the movie, but that's okay, because he had a lot of help. I mean, how many films have a standoff between Ray Romano and Eminem? (Exactly one, by my count.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Button Up, Button Down

There's an ongoing debate in our household over how to button Elliot's sweater before he leaves the house.

Kelly insists on buttoning every button, whereas I say one or two buttons is enough — since Elliot prefers the machismo style.

So I was very interested to read TWO stories this week on this very topic.

First, the Wall Street Journal declared that unbuttoning your shirt is very hip — and it's even okay to show a little chest hair again. (This apparently is called "heavage.")

Then Slate did a piece on how buttoning your shirt all the way up "is often shorthand for retarded....Think Forrest Gump, Billy Bob Thornton's Karl Childers in 'Sling Blade,' or Sean Penn in 'I Am Sam.'" (Yes, apparently Slate's official style is to put "retarded" in italics and boldface.)

Since Elliot's preference seems to be no shirt at all (or pants), he's way ahead of the game.

UPDATE: It should be noted that the "cholo" look permits you to button the top button without being labeled retarded. (Or at least, people will be too scared to say it to your face.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Really, Christopher Cross?

There appears to have been a production error with this "The Very Best of Christopher Cross" CD — in that it has 19 songs on it, instead of three.

Track 11 is "A Chance for Heaven (the Swimming Theme from the 1984 Summer Olympics)"?

Wow, okay.