Archive for June, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

This is the first Michael Moore movie that’s given me more pleasure than irritation. There’s a lot of powerful, compelling material to be had, and a delightful minimum of Moore’s usual confrontational, gimmicky shenanigans. So much so, in fact, that the couple of times he does go into his typical corner-the-powerful routine, it feels quite out of place and perfunctory.

In terms of humorous gimmicky skewering of Bush and his policies, frankly, I think Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” does a much better job, and they do it on a nightly basis. (I still get a laugh remembering their interviewer asking Don King, “Aren’t you afraid that by associating with the Republican Party, you’re bringing the taint of corruption to boxing?”)

“Fahrenheit” undercuts its own argument slightly with its early use of some cheap shots at Bush and his people. The montage of officials saying “Iraq” and “al Qaeda” is not a very convincing way to make the point. Worse, there are several scenes of Bush and his senior officials preparing for television or public appearances. I suppose the primping of the makeup and hair people is supposed to look frivolous and superficial, and Bush’s goofy facial expressions and silent gesticulations are supposed to make him look like a buffoon. But really, you could collect exactly the same kind of material on just about anyone who makes speeches in front of TV cameras on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with Bush as a president, and I found myself thinking, “Oh, come on, you can do better than that.”

Fortunately, the movie does do better than that. The cheap shots are mostly confined to the first 30 minutes or so of the movie, and after that there’s a lot of meat to chew on. There are plenty of disturbing, emotionally unsettling sequences. I knew full well I was being manipulated by a skilled filmmaker, but the manipulation worked nonetheless. Whether it’ll sway anyone’s vote, who knows, but it at least has a lot of people thinking seriously about what’s going on in the world, and that can’t be a bad thing. I agree with a lot of what it said, but not everything; even so, I appreciate the additional opportunity to think about why I agree or disagree.

Politics may have played a role in its strong showing at Cannes, but I have no beef with it winning the top prize on cinematic merit alone. The personal passion behind this movie is vividly obvious from start to finish, and even with its flaws it’s a fine example of political filmmaking.

One thing’s for sure: it pleases me greatly to see Disney’s face rubbed in this film’s sudden and extreme financial success. They were a bunch of spineless ninnies for refusing to let Miramax distribute it, and I hope their shareholders are foaming at the mouth over the millions of dollars of profits Disney was too timid to earn.

Ideal body weight calculator

Monday, June 28th, 2004

Here’s a site with a much more medically modern ideal weight range calculator than most of the others on the net. Most of them are based on 20-year-old actuarial tables that fail to take into account your age and are wildly off if you’re outside a narrow range of heights. There’s a link on the site to an explanation of what else is wrong with that commonly used set of weight ranges.

In praise of spaghetti squash

Monday, June 28th, 2004

The biggest single thing that’s made being on a diet bearable is spaghetti squash. It is a dieter’s dream food.

A spaghetti squash is an unassuming-looking yellow vegetable, roughly watermelon-shaped, generally around five pounds. Inside, the flesh is made up of pale yellow strands, which from a distance look like spaghetti noodles. (Some people say it even tastes a bit like egg noodles.) You can use it the same way you’d use noodles: mix in some vegetables or chicken, top it with some sauce, or make a light vinaigrette and use it in a salad. But unlike real noodles, it is extremely low in calories: an 8-ounce serving, which can easily serve as the main course of a meal, is only 75 calories. Yep, that’s right, only 150 calories a pound and you can eat it like pasta.

It is a winter squash, meaning it has a long shelf life as long as it’s kept in relatively cool temperatures. I keep it on my kitchen counter out of direct sunlight and have never had one go bad, even after sitting there for a month.

Cooking it couldn’t be easier: poke a hole in it with a fork and bake it at 400 degrees F for an hour or 375 degrees for 40 minutes if you have a convection oven. Let it sit on the counter for a half-hour or so to cool down, then split it open. Scoop out the seeds and the connective tissue they’re attached to. Then scrape out the flesh with a fork, and before you know it you’ll have what looks like a big bowl full of noodles.

Here’s one simple way I eat it at work; I can prepare a batch of the ingredients once a week, and it takes just a few minutes to slap together in the morning before I leave. At only 150 calories for a good-sized portion, I can bring a couple servings with me and have plenty to eat at my desk without blowing my calorie budget.

8 oz spaghetti squash (75 calories)
1/4 cup marinara sauce or other tomato-based sauce (30 calories)
1 oz chopped grilled chicken breast (45 calories)

When I’m ready to eat it, I mix it all up in a microwave-safe container and nuke it for about a minute and 20 seconds.

This site has some more elaborate recipes and some photos.

Friday, June 25th, 2004

An article in the New York Times describes the growth of “alibi clubs,” anonymous groups of people who send each other text messages and agree to act as one another’s alibi for skipping work, cheating on spouses, and other clandestine activities. Big Brother may know where you are when you’re carrying your phone, but now it’s easier to lie about it to everyone else.

Spider-Man becomes an Indian superhero

Monday, June 21st, 2004

An Indian version of the Spider-Man comic book is in the works, supposedly the first time a superhero has been reimagined for readers of another culture (though some would say Thor came first). When the inevitable movie is made from this comic, will it feature big song-and-dance numbers? And which multi-armed figure from Hindu mythology will be the stand-in for Doc Ock?

Europe vs. the United States

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

This report by a Swedish thinktank compares the economies of the United States and the European Union, and Europe doesn’t fare too well. It’s written in a very accessible style. I used to think that, if I were poor, I’d much rather be living in Europe than the US. Now I’m not so sure — by some measures, America’s poor enjoy a higher standard of living than the EU’s middle class. Of course, it sucks to be poor anywhere in the world.

Plane lands at Air Force base by mistake

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

The real head-scratcher here is how, post-9/11, an airliner could get all the way to an Air Force base’s runway without the military making it crystal-clear to the crew that they weren’t where they were supposed to be. Shouldn’t there have been fighter jets nearby, cluing the crew in to their mistake?

Quick review: The Chronicles of Riddick

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Remember when you saw “The Fifth Element?” Remember the way every frame was oozing visual style, the way the whole thing was packed full of detailed, inventive imagery and a brand-new mythology? And remember that it made you not mind so much that the story was kind of dumb and there were a few too many contrivances for comfort? Well, that’s exactly how I felt about “Riddick.” This movie has enough pulp sci-fi elements to keep an army of slobbering fanboys muttering “Cool!” to themselves, and it is enormously pleasing to the eye, but probably best not to analyze it too terribly deeply. Let its ambience wash over you while you sit in awe of the artistry.

In some ways this movie reminded me a lot of some of the big historical epics of yesteryear. Yeah, you could tell the big panorama of ancient Rome was just a matte painting, but man, it sure was a pretty matte painting, and anyway it was just an establishing shot for the palace intrigue. Obviously the technical wizardry here is decades more advanced, but I get the sense the filmmakers valued “grand and beautiful” above “realistic,” even if it meant requiring a little more suspension of disbelief. There’s a sense of scope here that most movies, especially most sci-fi movies, avoid because they know they can’t pull it off successfully — much cheaper and safer to stick with confined, claustrophobic settings.

I can easily see why a reviewer wouldn’t like “Riddick.” Some people have more tolerance than others for “Shouldn’t he be dead right now?” moments and grown men marching around in uncomfortable-looking bizarre costumes, and there are plenty of both here. But it puzzles me that several major reviewers (e.g. Richard Roeper) seem to have found the story difficult to follow. I didn’t find that at all. All the major plot points follow logically from what’s come before, though not all the details are completely explained by the end. I assume we’re going to get a sequel to cover some of the stuff that was hinted at.

Seeing the first movie (”Pitch Black”) is helpful but not required. They make an effort to explain the relevant parts of that story to the uninitiated. On the other hand, “Pitch Black” is a fun little movie, so no harm seeing it anyway.

Four out of five stars.

Mewling Reborn

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Movable Type didn’t like one of the security fixes I installed on the Web server, so I took the opportunity to scout around for new blogger software. WordPress seemed like the nicest free one around. I’m impressed so far — it’s very clean and fast, and a hell of a lot easier to set up than MT was.