The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2019 Oscars

Another year, another set of movies!

JoJo Rabbit

Authoritarianism = bad

Brainwashing youths = bad

Nazis = bad

Hitler being a brainwashed kid’s invisible friend = an irreverent take on the above. But it’s not singularly great. Next movie, please.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

It’s a movie about movie-dom. The Oscars love that stuff. It’s a better Quentin Tarantino movie (which is saying something given his usual standard of quality), but it has his typical traits: a relaxed run time, talkiness, and a ton of world-building. And, oh yeah. Brutal, unrepentantly gory violence out of the blue. If you normally like his movies, you’ll love this. If they’re not normally your favorite, you should still watch it, as it’s one of his best movies so far.

Ford v Ferrari

It’s been the go-to joke since the trailers for this movie first came out, but this truly is the ultimate “dad movie.” (or “granddad movie” depending on your age). Truly, it’s the only one of these my dad was interested in seeing. That doesn’t make it bad, but aside from the “dad topic” (1960s sports car racing…), it has a lot of “dad moments” and “dad comments.” Whether it be the “scrappy underdog overcoming those pretentious Europeans” [note: those “scrappy underdogs” were bankrolled by one of the largest companies on Earth] or completely unnecessary “out loud” reactions to obvious situations. Hint: Shelby arriving via showy airplane landing and someone saying something like “Now that’s how to make an entrance.” Ugh. The racing scenes are great, and it truly is a good car movie, and I like cars, so I’ll recommend it. Christian Bale is… Christian Bale in this. If you’re wondering if he’ll go too far in his impression of someone, even if that person isn’t famous… the answer is yes. Look at this, then keep it in mind when watching. I don’t know a ton about 1960s sports car racing, but I know enough to see how the movie deviated from the true story, but I won’t hold that against it. It’s this year’s Green Book which (somehow) won last year, so who knows.

The Irishman

I appreciate Martin Scorsese movies. (weasel word noted) I find mob movies very same-y (“I love my family, but I kill mooks who get in my way. Let’s all go to church and pray. Fuhgeddaboutit! Moral Complexity!”). I generally have little tolerance for movies that approach, much less exceed three hours. The Irishman was great and got better as its run time ticked up. That said, it doesn’t transcend the genre, and its de-aging effects draw wayyyy too much attention to themselves for a movie of this caliber, and it didn’t need to be 3+ hours long.

Little Women

Short answer: Not the best movie of the year and it won’t win. It was fine. Longer answer: this is the movie about which I’ve read the most. I wasn’t familiar with the story going in, and using the same actors for the 8 year time jumping without (what I could tell) obvious visual cues was a little disorienting, as the main characters would have been jumping from their early 20s to their “tweens.” A lot happens, but the plot is more vignettes than a continuous thread from beginning to end. Meryl Streep plays another Queen B (the “B” doesn’t stand for “bee”) but is kept in the background, so it’s not her usual scenery-chewing role when she’s given the background, “so… your character is a little bit difficult.” Laura Dern is NOT great in this movie; another reviewer said it best, she’s playing the mom character as a cool aunt instead of a mother. The dialogue also oscillates between contemporary and old-timey even from the beginning of a scene to the end. Very odd. With a second viewing, I’d wonder if this is to track the progression of the main character’s writing. Maybe.


This is the one. It’s scary without being a horror movie; it’s funny without being a comedy; it’s heavy family drama without being melodrama; it’s satirical without being satire; it’s simultaneously ironic yet sincere. It’s the best movie of the year. If someone ever asks “what does the director do other than tell actors where to stand?” watch this movie and point out how it maintains a singular tone while hopping among genres. It’s amazing.


It’s a movie-gimmick war movie. Without “movie-gimmick” modifying “war movie,” what else is there? Answer: not a whole lot. BUT, the “single take” gimmick makes it worthwhile. This is faint praise, but at least it wasn’t another World War II movie. I won’t spoil it here, but I did give the movie a “holy crap” when as “plane and barn” scene played out. That was unexpected given the trailer and commercials. It won’t win.

Marriage Story

In the tight race for “really good movies I never need to see again,” Marriage Story just edges out Joker. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson successfully create characters where you can hate them in one scene, then completely root for them in the next. Ray Liotta, Laura Dern, and Alan Alda steal all of their scenes but remain “I could see how there are people like this in the world” despite almost being caricatures. Watch it. Once.


This is the toughest nominee to encapsulate. It was good, and never dragged while telling an uncomfortable story. Joaquin Phoenix walked a tightrope between “best acting” and “most acting,” usually staying on the correct side, unless it was a dancing sequence, so a win for him wouldn’t be too out-of-line. The issue with this movie is my own baggage where there’s no outcome that wouldn’t have resulted in me saying, “but just a little Batman would’ve helped it.” Watch this: “The movie wasn’t great. It had some moments, but never quite came together. Some Batman would’ve helped.” OR “The movie was awesome. They did something new with the character. I can’t help but wonder how much better it would’ve been with some Batman in it.” I’m closer to the latter (“great” not “awesome,” though), but it’s clear that this is on me. What isn’t on me is that Parasite is objectively the better movie, so my conscience is clear.


Should win: Parasite.

Will win: Likely. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It’s a movie literally about a Golden Age of Hollywood for which many of the Academy voters were alive. Good luck, every other nominee.

Should have been nominated: Uncut Gems and Adam Sandler. This isn’t just “applying the manic side of his usual characters in something serious for once.” This is whole-cloth character creation. A completely bonkers ending, but in immediate hindsight, it makes perfect sense.

Should have been nominated, part two: Ad Astra. I liked Brad Pitt in this more than in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and I love me some hard sci-fi. Brad Pitt’s stunt man in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was presented as interesting but just outside the frame. Ad Astra puts all of that directly into the movie itself. (Sure, these are supporting vs. lead roles, but Ad Astra is the one no one is talking about.)

Out of left field MVP: Tracey Letts, with “I don’t think that’s Jeff Daniels… is it? No, it’s definitely not.” turns in TWO of this year’s movies, Little Women and Ford v Ferrari, and he’s GREAT in both. (disclaimer: he was also in two of 2017’s nominees, The Post and Lady Bird.)

Last year’s recap here. Two years ago’s here.

The Nike NOT Christmas Pack Christmas Sneakers

Since writing the definitive recap of the five years of Nike’s Christmas Pack, this site has been inundated with traffic associated with searches for… why people in the United States say cheers instead of goodbye. And by “inundated,” I mean “a couple hundred visits at most per month.” But, like Shackleton, by endurance we conquer, and some Nike “Christmas” sneakers which weren’t part of Christmas packs had been released (and one re-released) and left unaddressed by me. So here we go.

LeBron 7 “Christmas”

From way back in 2009, we have the LeBron 7 “Christmas” colorway. It’s from the golden age of LeBron James’ signature models (7–10), and without green to go with the red, it has an “angry Christmas” feel to it. The black to red gradient in the “fuse” area ties it all together, but the main feeling it evokes is “stay away.” That doesn’t mean it’s not a good-looking shoe; this model straddles two eras: the late 2000s “fuse and Flywire” construction and 360° Air Max unit as well as the early/mid-2000s actual, real leather. Nike would move to fuse and “posite” only in the coming years before switching to Flyknit for the 15, 16, and 17. This sneaker came out one year prior to the formal Christmas packs, and the progression of the materials can definitely be seen as a ‘foot in both eras’ starting point. Its aged well, still looking like a modern design despite being literally ten years old at this point. The neat detail here is that the model released as a retro on 12/21/2019. Not so neat: the only explicitly “Christmas” detail is the sockliner.

There are worse Christmas sneakers, but there are also much better.


KD 9 “The Sauce”

Moving ahead seven years to 2016, one year after the last official Christmas Pack, Kevin Durant and Nike brought out this bundle of Flyknit and full-length, visible Zoom Air. The dedicated splash page still lives, and, for the record, there’s no explicit Christmas reference, but there’s “ugly Christmas sweater” print on the tongue, and it’s very clear “The Sauce” referenced is cranberry. It released in early December, so it’s definitely “holidays,” whether Thanksgiving or Christmas. Complicating matters is that Kevin Durant actually didn’t wear these on Christmas. He wore a white, purple (blue?), and gold PE (player edition) of the KD 9 instead of these. Boring.

Though these are after the golden age of KD sneakers (3–6, maybe 7 if you like straps), I have a soft spot for the 9s and 10s, and maroon is an underrated sneaker color, as is the bronze-colored swoosh, and the red Zoom Air strands(?) give an extra pop in the midsole. Sure, the clear (“icy”) rubber looks good, but in my experience, that’s just one, inevitable scuff waiting to happen. I’d like to say that “Ugly Christmas Sweater” wasn’t yet played out in 2016 (it was), but it is a fun detail that can actually be executed in Flyknit, unlike, say, “glossy metallic red” or “white birch bark” like seen during the “fuse” era. There’s just only so much one can do with Flyknit, though. (but the Kobe 9 Christmas certainly used it to the best of its abilities)

Christmas colors – ✔

Christmas story – Sure!

Christmas Sneaker!


LeBron 14 “Out of Nowhere”

Look, these are in the “worn on Christmas” category, not “Christmas Sneaker” category. Beyond that, they’re from LeBron’s “mini dark age” of sneakers which consisted of the 13 and 14 from 2015–2017 (sue me, I like the 12s, the first of the three “Zoom Air hexagons are the future!” models). They’re not Christmas-y in the slightest, but they are MUCH better looking than almost any other colorway of the 14, especially with that bloodstripe separating the grey and black areas of the shoe. Nice. The neon (“volt”) hits are as understated as such things can be, and a “just black and grey” sneaker ends up anything but. But they’re not Christmas.

Two stars. But only because there’s nothing “Christmas” about them. I do think they’re very nice.


But, Dan, if these just happened to be worn on Christmas instead of designed for Christmas, wouldn’t that mean this article should be more complete, with lots more entries? Maybe. But this one showed up in a search for “LeBron Christmas Sneakers,” and I didn’t want to stop the article at just two models.

Speaking of articles, Nice Kicks has its own Christmas sneaker rundown for 2019, which is a bit broader than mine. They point out that the 2010 pack had a traffic light theme. Hmm.

I suppose it is a traffic light.

Quick recap: has a great sneakerwheel-ish picture of all the models except the 13 (and the 14… which isn’t really a Christmas design).

LeBron 7 pictures from

KD 9 pictures from

LeBron 14 pictures from

The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2018 Oscars

And we’re back at it, again! The Best Picture nominees in alphabetical order…


It’s Ricky Jerret from Ballers! Kylo Ren! And they bring it. This is a simple movie (Black guy cons his way into the KKK, including a personal relationship with James Duke), with complex details throughout. It takes place not in the Deep South but Colorado Springs, and in the 1970s, not 50s. The most bleeding heart liberal in the movie is a white police officer who’s generally a background character who argues with the main character. The few “wink, wink, nudge, nudge — this is just like today” moments work better in montage form at the end than the “who could imagine that ever happening” lines in the movie that are practically accompanied with staring down the barrel of the camera lens. But this juxtaposition is the strongest takeaway from watching; the 1970s weren’t that long ago. This might win Best Picture. Adam Driver was great, but not award-winning great, and if he was nominated, John David Washington should’ve been nominated, too. Spike Lee has a good chance of winning for directing.

Black Panther

This nomination is a big deal, and that’s all I’ll say about that. Sticking to just Marvel, Infinity War was a better movie, but this is clearly a Marvel top 3. Expanding to comics generally, Into the Spider-Verse was unquestionably better. This has no chance of winning Best Picture (the Academy and voters consider the nomination itself to be the prize for this movie), but would be my pick for Production Design and Costumes, where a world is truly created instead of recreated as in The Favourite or BlacKkKlansman.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek had better not win the Best Actor award. This is the definition of impression acting… and he even gets to wear prosthetics! It’s trendy to trash this movie, but it’s merely OK-to-Good not the full-on dreck that is often claimed. The most significant issue is getting Queen’s music in the movie is key to a movie about Freddy Mercury, so relying on the band’s script approval leads us to such insightful takeaways that the other members of the band wrote many of Queen’s songs. I now know that “I’m In Love With My Car” wasn’t written by Freddy Mercury. I’m VERY glad that the movie spent any of its runtime correcting that misconception. We’re also stuck with the movie’s hard stop of a happy ending in 1986 (the band is back!) while Freddy Mercury died in 1991. A more interesting story the movie doesn’t even allude to is his choice to not disclose his HIV/AIDS status until literally the day before he died. (in fairness, I’m not sure that Freddy Mercury, of all people, being the person to destigmatize HIV/AIDS from being thought of as a “disease of gay men and drug users” would’ve really helped all that much.) This shouldn’t win anything, but Rami Malek has distractingly oversized chance of winning (this is a prosthetics joke), and I suppose the art/technical awards like Sound Mixing have a chance, though picking a movie about a band for sound awards seems a little on the nose. No, no. On the teeth! A little on the teeth!

The Favourite

This is my pick for Best Picture; an absolutely bananas movie with a plot description which sounds like Oscar bait, but actually isn’t when viewing the final product. “Two women compete for the affections of Queen Anne at the turn of the 18th century.” BLAH. SO BORING. But it isn’t. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, surprising, horny, and even a little violent. Also, there’s a dance-off and multiple(!) duck races filmed in ways no duck races have ever been filmed before. Strongest recommendation. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll win Best Picture, but I have higher hopes for the actresses. More unfortunately, it will likely win for Best Costume Design because, well, it’s a movie about the British monarchy in 1703. This is low hanging fruit and another “Most” award instead of “Best.” That’s not to say it’s easy to construct the costumes, but these aren’t better costumes than anything in a painting from the era or even other movies which have come out taking place in the same time period. (Note: I would be willing to watch an informative video from someone who actually knows about movie costume design about why this hot take is garbage, but I’m waiting…) Also, it will likely win for Production Design. They shot it in an actual castle! That’s practically cheating! “But we needed to fill it exclusively with period appropriate artwork!” they say. That’s like filming a baseball movie at Yankee stadium, then replacing all of the Yankees logos with whatever fictional team the script calls for, and getting period appropriate cars for any exterior shots.

Green Book

Did you know that the South was incredibly racist in the 1960s? What about that not only were they racist, they were hypocritical? No? Well, then have I got the movie for you. And it has a happy ending centered around a Christmas dinner after everyone learns lessons. Blech. (in seriousness, read the Wikipedia article about the actual Green Book. Eye-poppingly terrible… and not all that long ago.) Mahershala Ali is awesome here; Viggo Mortenson is punching below his weight class with a low effort Italian-American accent for a character whose arc can be telegraphed from the first scene he’s seen. The bulk of the story is given to Viggo Mortenson’s character’s growth, but Mahershala Ali’s character actually gives us anything to think about. He’s of two worlds, but accepted by neither. The black community looks down at him because he’s of the rich white person’s world and acting like he’s “better;” the white community looks down on him, for, well, because he’s black. This is similar to the dichotomy Virgil Abloh has discussed with his Off-White brand and branding as being parts of streetwear and luxury fashion as well as being black in the otherwise lillywhite world of high fashion. Unfortunately, this angle in the movie is presented as a screaming fight on the side of the road where all detail of that experience is literally spelled out and “NOBODY WANTS ME!!!” is tearfully and loudly delivered. Beyond that, there’s some cynical bending of the truth in the movie. The two didn’t become friends or remain in contact after their roadtrip. Hint: none of the “since then” pictures in the credits show them together. It must be said that this is better then Crash, and Crash somehow won a Best Picture award, so that means that this has a chance. Mahershala Ali should win.


This is faint praise, but this was a very well-made movie. I do realize this is reacting “that’s funny” to a joke instead of laughing. “Masterfully assembled at the peak of technical proficiency,” I never want to sit through it again (and thanks to Netflix, it took three viewing sessions to watch it the first time). I’d be open to reading a “why Roma is good, and you don’t get it,” but I’d need someone to provide a coherent reason why there’s a sequence in the movie that goes like this:

  • Scene 1 (triage center at hospital) – one shot. Result: Patient needs to go to an operating room. Cut to scene 2.
  • Scene 2 (hallway between triage center and operating room) – one continuous shot. Hallway is shown empty. Doors open and characters enter hallway in the distance. Camera rotates to track characters walking through hallway then opening doors of operating room. Cut to Scene 3.
  • Scene 3 (operating room) – one shot. the absolute best sequence of the movie, though didn’t require Scene 2 at all.

And the whole movie is a series of vignettes in that same style. I appreciate the craft, but not the product. It has a decent chance of winning. This would not offend me, but it should not win, as it would be the film version of “most movie” similar to how the Emmys often give awards for “most acting.”

A Star is Born

Maybe a “safe” choice to win (the showbiz industry loves stories about showbiz), but I’d support it. For a first time acting, Lady Gaga’s performance is top-notch, and Bradley Cooper’s first shot at directing is also remarkably successful. And even crazier, the most unexpectedly successful performance might be Andrew Dice Clay… and he’s playing an actual character, not just his persona but with a different name. Two nitpicks: of course it’s a movie about singers, but some of the concert footage outlasts its welcome; Bradley Cooper’s deafness sub-plot was a waste of time. I do wonder what Viggo Mortsenson would’ve pulled off in that same role; Bradley Cooper played the character in two modes: “stoic” or “completely over-medicated.” It might win!


I do realize that I’ve railed against “impression acting” above and previously, but, come on, Christian Bale, Steve Carrell, and Sam Rockwell are really, really good here. And, yes, I realize prosthetics were involved, too. I enjoyed The Big Short. The complexity of creating and manipulating mortgage-backed securities allows for “STOP THE MOVIE, HERE’S AN EXPLANATION.” Vice takes Adam McKay’s approach from The Big Short, but applies it to explanation of items not earning that “edutainment” tone; it’s patronizing and has an unearned smugness that rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m generally, politically, in the same alignment as the filmmakers. BUT, those moments are rare, and as long as you’re comfortable watching a movie that, itself, talks about the fact that it’s movie (the script itself is practically a character), it tells an incredible story. Those complaining that the movie doesn’t show “the other side,” the movie addresses this with Cheney’s final soliloquy (delivered directly to the camera, of course). Again, as someone who’s generally the target market of the movie’s perspective on things, he should’ve added “There hasn’t been a second September 11th, and Osama bin Laden is dead” to his “We needed a leader that was willing to make the tough choices. The type of choices you’d be afraid to make, but know someone needs to…” speech. Not that that completes the “other side” argument or is necessarily a valid counterargument for the real-life terribleness the movie showcases, but it would at least round it out a bit more. It won’t win, but the screenplay and its three nominated actors have good chances.

Others Worth Mentioning

First Man is as good or better than any of the nominated movies, and Ryan Gosling is great in a role that absolutely isn’t imitation (can you do a Neil Armstrong impression? Exactly.). I’m not sure why or how it disappeared from the awards scene so aggressively, but it belongs to be there. It did receive nominations for the art-technical awards, and all of the key sequences rely on completely bonkers sound work. These aren’t “the big 6,” but they’d be well-earned for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2017 Oscars

There was but one of these guides previously, due to that being the only year I saw all the Best Picture nominees once the field was expanded beyond 5, and/but I also saw all of them in 2017. Let’s do this (in alphabetical order).

Call Me By Your Name

A 25 year-old initiates a sexual relationship with a teenager, and the movie glorifies it. In 2017. Certainly “problematic.” No? Because it’s two guys it’s not? Really?  “Well, he’s 17, and the age of consent in Italy…” Because age of consent-based arguments for questionable relationships are waterproof… Completely ignoring the previous (and that his parents are 110% on-board), the movie wanted to make me turn rural 1983 Italy into my own ripe peach. It won’t win anything except maybe Best Cinematography… except it wasn’t nominated.

Darkest Hour

Despite the title, this is an “impression” movie. It’s all about an actor impersonating instead of acting. Somehow this is considered a higher form of acting than creating a character whole cloth. There’s no possible way to watch this movie with any feeling other than “Hey! It’s Gary Oldman mumbling in a fat suit! WAIT! Is that Director Krennic doing his best King’s Speech impression? Awesome!” I don’t like that I chose to do this in alphabetical order because it’s the weaker of the two, but this is also a movie about Operation Dynamo (hint: Dunkirk). Two in 2017! It won’t win Best Picture, but Gary Oldman has a chance for Best Actor (though he shouldn’t). Unexpectedly, the movie had a modern presentation for a World War 2 story, with unique shots ( it “quotes” Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor bomb-tracking shot) and aggressive titling establishing the timeline. Then it turns into a “dramatic historical speeches” movie which could’ve been one of Steven Spielberg’s good but not great modern history efforts. This would make an excellent double feature with The King’s Speech. I’ll say it: I don’t get much out of World War Two movies which don’t feature the United States as the heroes.


I have nothing  snarky to say about this. It furthered my feud with Mark Rylance (since Bridge of Spies, it’s been all downhill), but I liked everything about this. Christopher Nolan even got a boyband member into this movie without making it a thing.  The final sequence with Tom Hardy to the end credits is perfect. I’ll repeat my complaint about Darkest Hour, above. A World War Two movie which doesn’t feature the United States as the hero is missing… something. I do wish they hadn’t prefaced the section about the dock “the mole,” as I had no idea they weren’t talking about “mole” in the sense of “a double agent.” I want it to win, but I don’t think it will.

Get Out

Points for the nomination for a horror movie. The first two-thirds of this movie gave me the worst “something really bad is going to happen, I can tell. But I’m not sure what that’s going to be. Yeesh.” Then it got crazy. It turns into something  too crazy for the Oscars at the end, though the Original Screenplay award is possible, with a small chance for Best Director.

Lady Bird

The best movie you’ll ever see about whether or not a mom is going to turn her car around at the airport and see her daughter leave for college. or not Yeah. That’s the extent of the climax. The rest is a bunch of impressionistic stuff about a 2002 high school graduate, presented in a series of scenarios as if evoking a more serious Napoleon Dynamite. Sacramento doesn’t deserve a valentine, but this movie is that valentine. Broadly, this is probably(?) the best (maybe most realistic?) movie about dysfunctional but still functional relationships between mothers and daughters that’s been made, so there’s a unique perspective there (the dress-fitting scene at the thrift store) that’s captured because of the female writer and director, but not a whole lot happens. I suppose I have more appreciation for being a teenage girl in Sacramento in 2002, but that’s about it. Juno gave the experience of teenage girl with a much more engaging plot. It might win Best Picture, but it shouldn’t. Best Director and Best Actress have a chance.

Phantom Thread

This is the smoothest movie I’ve ever seen. What does that mean? The first hour feels like one continuous shot, but it absolutely isn’t.  The movie starts, a considerable amount of establishing plot happens, then it’s not until an hour and ten minutes or so that it feels like there’s a “stop” in the film. The soundtrack, shots, and especially editing are completely, perfectly smooth in the first hour, establishing the world in which the actual plot of the movie will take place for the second hour.  I cringe saying this, but it’s masterful. Immediately after finishing it, I respected the technical aspects, but this movie more than any other stuck with me after. It has a chance for Best Picture and Director. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis’ Best Actor Award to lose (and if he does, it will be to Gary Oldman who was actually competing in Best Impression). 

The Post

This is Bridge of Spies with 70% less plot. To fill out the running time, they tack on  a useless sub-plot about the Washington Post being up for sale. It’s not bad, but has no business being considered for Best Picture. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are the obvious stars, but Bradley Whitford, David Cross, and Bob Odenkirk are great additions. It should not win any awards.

The Shape of Water

Say it with me. O-S-C-A-R. B-A-I-T. Set in a time period slightly in the past so no one get bothered by broad characterizations? Check. The love of old-timey movies is a plot point? Check. Plot features outsiders who aren’t so outside to cause any offense? Check. It might win Best Picture and Best Director. It was fine, though the Sea Creature reminded me a whole lot of Abe Sapien, and it has the usual characteristic of Guillermo del Toro movies where the budget choices make for a cast full of no-names… and Michael Shannon.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Great, great soundtrack. Good, but not great, movie. It’s all about establishing a world and a mood… until Sam Rockwell’s character flips a switch and decides he wants to fix things. Considering the topic, the movie has a fun sense of humor. It might win Best Picture, but it shouldn’tExpect some of the acting awards to land here.

The Harry Potter Book Series

I read* the Harry Potter books this summer. Harry Potter fans and superfans, if there’s something I’m missing or being unfair about, let me know.
*Note: For those with strong opinions about that word, I’ll point out I actually books-on-taped it during hiking trips. I’d say it’s 85-90% of the experience of actually reading it. I listened to the Stephen Fry version which seems to be the UK version. It’s practically “acted” more than read, and I’d wholly recommend it.
First, I’ll point out I had seen all the movies prior to this summer, and I very aggressively read the Wikipedia pages when the later books were released to keep on top of the story. I will recommend the books (audio or actual) and movies (well, not the second one) to anyone, so the below isn’t meant as a list of complaints, though I suppose it may be read as that. I’ll stick with saying I really liked the books, and this is just a list of things that came to mind when I was listening this summer.
Book 6: It seems like people like MacGuffins. Do you think 6 is too many?
Book 7: Hold my beer.
As far as I’m concerned, “pensieve” is an anagram for “plot dump.”
Movie 3 is something special. Book 3 is just as good as any other of the better books but not necessarily a stand-out. It is the first book that establishes that the novels’ “world” is huge, not merely big, though.
The movies gloss over the dynamic of the magical world vs. the non-magical world. In the books, there’s some very neat stuff there, from the Prime Minister having a relationship with the Minister of Magic to Hermione’s non-magical, dentist parents wanting her to get braces instead of using magic to fix her teeth to Ron’s dad’s hobby of figuring out how non-magical items work. There’s also lots of the magic/non-magic crossover at the beginning of the 4th book (almost entirely removed for the movie without much impact).
Book 5 just never ends. He gets the vision he needs to go to the Department of Mysteries then just waits until he has additional visions with more details. It’s the longest book (30 hour audiobook! Others range from 14 to 23 hours), but the least happens. Neville meeting his parents at the hospital was a nice, sad moment, though. This one was struggle to get through. And Umbridge is as entertainingly awful in the movie as she was in the book.
Maddening patterns:
  • “He who must not be named”/”you know who” — UGH. STOP IT. Then the last book lampshades it by actually making it so if you say “Voldemort” the bad guys are magically alerted.
  • After 7 story years, people STILL don’t listen to Harry’s concerns and continue blow off his ideas. I wanted to yell, “HIS NAME IS IN THE TITLE OF THE BOOK; HE’S PROBABLY CORRECT.”
  • Slytherin: “They’re not all Deatheaters, but all Deatheaters are all from Slytherin. Best to keep them part of the school.”
  • Draco Malfoy: there’s no possible way that even in the world of the books he’d not be in more trouble. He goes from annoying brat to generally criminal at the beginning of the 6th book. (Then much further later in that book.) The series handwaves it away in an earlier book (‘his father has sway in the ministry.’) but come on.
Fleur Delacour was needlessly made into a “light” villain in book 6. Why? Were they running out of bad guys and unlikeable characters already?
Voldemort should have killed all the Weasleys at once, leaving one Weasley to survive, either Ron or Ginny, preferably Ginny.
Why? In the 7th book, when Voldemort casually says he will kill anyone supporting Harry Potter as well as their families, it doesn’t have as much weight as it should. Also, it’s a black and white action Voldemort can take to “show” instead of “tell” with respect to how evil he is.
Where are the other wizards from around the world when Voldemort is attacking Hogwarts? If he wins, he’s a world-wide threat. He’s not just going to be the United Kingdom and Ireland’s problem. Is this a Batman+Gotham thing where the threshold for accepting outside help is ridiculously high?
The series has a habit of John Galt-esque speeches. When Voldemort comes back in the 4th book… Holy Infodump. And Harry is right there for the entire speech! I suppose mystery (intrabook and throughout the series) is a big component, but Harry and his friends generally don’t solve the mysteries, they just end up getting explained (at length) at the end.
Some sequences in the movies are better:
  • Hermione removing herself from her parents’ life lands with stronger impact in the opening of the 7th movie.
  • The movies realized we didn’t need a lengthy sequence at the Dursley’s at the beginning of every installment. We got the point after the second one.
  • The 6th movie doesn’t feel as aimless as the 6th book.
  • Ron’s exit in the 7th book’s camping sequence was just as awkward as it was in the movie… and it’s resolved with another infodump.
  • The romantic/relationship sub-plots from the books weren’t missed in the movies.
  • Wand-fighting in the movies was more interesting than it was in the books.
  • Jeeves and Percy Weasley weren’t missed in the movies.
  • Luna Lovegood is better in the movies than the books. It didn’t feel like too much was cut between book and movie, so I think that’s a statement on the quality of the actress. The character doesn’t really pop off the page but is very memorable in the movies.
  • The eighth movie is really, really good.
  • The fourth book is the best book. The third movie is the best movie.
  • The second book (and movie) doesn’t need to exist.
The 6th book’s plot is literally Harry waiting to get invitations from Dumbledore to watch a series of different flashbacks. If you’re following along, notice that this isn’t a plot. Then they go to the cave, then Dumbledore dies.
I’m all about expanding the world, but the Grindelwald and Dumbledore stuff in the last book feels out of place. It should’ve been a hinted at but unaddressed plot point to be followed up upon in a later series (which they seem to be doing in the Fantastic Beasts movies). It didn’t add anything to this book series.
Speaking of explaining things, it would’ve been good if, by, you know, the second time Harry Potter’s life was threatened, Dumbledore told him everything he knew. Sure, that removes a lot of the mystery and revelations throughout the series, and maybe a 12 year old wouldn’t do well with learning he had to “die” to stop Voldemort. But having Harry spend every day working on offensive and defensive magic for years in anticipation of that fight makes a lot more sense than trying to have him be a “normal” (magic) kid. Potions class and astronomy didn’t help him beat Voldemort. At all. Have him beat Voldemort, then make up for the missed school time with a Wizard GED later.
Hagrid is a moron.
Hagrid has no arc. He fits in with a story about 10 and 11 year olds, but he’s completely out of place after that.
I love that, based on one reference in the 2nd book, Harry Potter fans have unnecessarily “calendared” out every single moment in the series. For example, did you know Dumbledore died on June 30, 1997? J.K. Rowling seems to be amused by this aspect of the fandom, too. But in one of the later movies, the Dursley’s car has a 2006 registration sticker! I really hope someone got fired for that blunder.
Go read the books!
The Harry Potter book series gets 4.5 stars. There is a constant level of excellence throughout, but books 2, 5, and 6 just aren’t as good as the others.

Figuring Out How to Remove Deodorant Stains

Before and After (flash makes for weird shadows)
Before and After (flash makes for weird shadows, but the one on the right is pure white)

So, I know the immediate reaction is to say “how gross!” but let’s just get it out there that not wearing deodorant is significantly more gross, and, hey, being a human is gross.

I’m writing this review to address a few outcomes of a typical search for this issue:

  1. Most articles mention that it’s the aluminum in antiperspirant that causes the yellowing and/or blackening on white undershirts, and deodorant doesn’t have aluminum in it, so use that instead. Problem 1) this doesn’t address removing the stains on your clothes now, Problem 2) maybe some people prefer antiperspirant.
  2. Other articles say “switch to a natural alternative to antiperspirant which doesn’t contain aluminum.” Again, 1) this doesn’t address existing stains, 2) many comments in such articles talk about how they tried it (sometimes with some crazy “natural” oil or something), but the inefficacy was obvious (as in, they stunk), 3) this is what hippies do.
  3. Some articles provide a thorough analysis of the chemistry of the canonical deodorant + antiperspirant stain types (whether the yellow or black variety), then provide a list of home remedies (ground-up aspirin solution, pretreating with normal laundry detergent, vinegar, NEVER CHLORINE BLEACH – it makes the staining worse!, Borax, rubbing dryer sheets on it, using a dedicated anti-stain spray which says “great for protein stains!”, etc. These articles often end with a note that switching to something without aluminum is a great idea… As if that suggestion retroactively removes stains or provides the benefits of an antiperspirant.
  4. There are even some articles that say the solution (pun?!) is to use (much) less antiperspirant, and to let it dry (absorb?) before putting on that first layer of clothes. Girl, I wake up like this. I don’t have time for that.
  5. Articles say “use OxiClean!” Now we’re getting somewhere! But you’re still searching for “how to remove deodorant stains,” which means it probably didn’t work for you when you tried it. Hint: just adding it to your normal wash cycle won’t take care of stains. Maybe it’d take care of the issue if you had used it from day zero of wearing your bright white new shirt, but, at this point, you’re searching for how to remove stains, not avoid them.

This is what you need to do to get deodorant stains out of clothes (note that I’m referring to deodorant and antiperspirant as synonyms here):

I believe the normal OxiClean would've had the same results, but I got this because the shirts were white. I've since used this for all my laundry, and it's been 100% fine on all colors.
I believe the normal OxiClean would’ve had the same results, but I bought this because the shirts were white. I’ve since used this for all my laundry, and it’s been 100% fine on all colors. Note that despite the “White Revive” branding, the product is color safe.

You probably have a number of items which need to be “de-stained.” So, get a big bucket (I used a 5 gallon example). Fill that thing a bit less than half-way with hot water. Put two full scoops of OxiClean into your bucket of hot water (it comes with a scooper). Stir it around to make sure it dissolves. Put your deodorant-stained clothes in that bucket. Make sure you get them all the way drowned in there. You’ll find that some items will rise to the top, and there a a couple options. 1) Have a stirrer handy (I used metal tongs every 30ish minutes… I’m not 100% sure on the chemistry, but metals + acids are bad news. OxiClean means metals + bases, but I kept the tongs out of the solution when not stirring, just in case). 2) put your biggest towel on top of the shirts and make sure the towel gets soaked in the solution. The towel may float, but it will keep all the shirts in the juice.

5 gallon bucket with stirrer
5 gallon bucket with stirrer

BBOS (big bucket of soaking)
BBOS (big bucket of soaking)

The key part (and why you’re looking this up) is that it takes a while. Give it at least four hours in the bath. Immediately after the bath you’ll see the stains are almost gone, but the soaked fabric makes it tough to tell. After the soak, put your items directly in the washer, and do a cycle which matches the care instructions on the clothes label (specifically the water temperature). Use the normal amount of detergent but also an amount of additional OxiClean to match the instructions on the OxiClean container (note that the soak, detailed above, uses WAY more OxiClean than a normal wash cycle). Based on my OxiClean container, that was “line 2” which is the lowest mark on the included scoop.

After - with flash
After – with flash

Seriously, look at these results. We’re talking about “like-new” levels of whiteness… even in the most-stained areas. This is why I’m spending so much time writing this up. It’s an awesome result without much work.

After - no flash
After – no flash.  Any “questionable” areas are due to lighting only.

Some additional info: everything I put through this process was white and used as an undershirt. (OxiClean is color-safe for most fabrics, though just getting it out there…) All items were Banana Republic t-shirts, and most were 96% cotton, 4% spandex (gotta make the show muscles s-h-o-w), and three (of the eight in the bucket) were 100% cotton. Same (great) results for all. I didn’t have any unexpected fabrics which show up in undershirts in my testing … My Slix polyester + spandex undershirt doesn’t seem to have the staining issue, and I don’t have any shirts made from blends of modal or “bamboo” (for undershirts and underwear, “modal” = fancy Rayon, “bamboo” = fancy modal).


Figuring out how to remove deodorant stains gets FIVE big stars because it makes clothes look like new, and it’s very inexpensive; the entire container of OxiClean was $8, and I used… um, at most, 5% of it(? two full scoops) to “fix” eight shirts. Also, the opportunity for rock solid SEO adds at least half a point.

TL;DR Get a big bucket. Fill it half-way with hot water. Put two full scoops of OxiClean in the bucket and stir it to make sure it dissolves. Put the stained clothes in that bucket for 4 hours, and stir every now and then. After the soak, wash as normal, but add OxiClean per the instructions on its container.

The Nike Basketball Christmas Pack 2010-2015. An Overview.

What?! They have Christmas sneakers now? Yep. Kids these days. Seems like they could use some holiday opinion-ing.

Nike’s basketball branch has been releasing a “Christmas Pack” every year since 2010. Each of their “signature” athletes gets a Christmas colorway. From 2010, that’s been Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. Though he had a “Christmas” colorway last year (actually more of a “PE,” or “player edition,” which saw formal release later in the year), Kyrie Irving wasn’t part of the 2014 marketing blitz. This year, he is.

Onto the reviews:


sgsdg hgdshdh e
KD 3, Kobe 6, LeBron 8V2

Not much Christmas-y about the bright yellow (and now dated-looking) KD 3s, but the Kobe 6s are considered classics, and have been nicknamed the Kobe 6 “Grinchmas.” Red and white clearly get the point across on the LeBrons which really kicked off the mid-[sneaker]-career golden age for Lebron James (8 V2, 9, 10, 11), though the black mid-sole looks out of place and not very festive. Evaluating on just on a hit-or-miss ratio,  a weaker than it sounds: 2 out of 3.

Overall: ***


KD 4, LeBron 9, Kobe “System Supreme” 7

I’m never digging a strap on sneakers, but the usually under-used copper color on the KD 4 looks quite warm and, thus, Christmas-y. I wouldn’t say that copper is the warmest metal (hello, that’s nickel… duh). Again, LeBron James isn’t messing around: lots of red and green on the 9s, with a “frosty” (read: transparent blue-ish rubber) sole. Kobe Bryant is doing… that over there from that weird time period when Nike was using very thin flywire in the paneling itself instead of on or around the paneling (the LeBron 8 V2 is the same way. Look at the LeBron 11, below, for comparison). A stronger 2 out of 3 than 2010.

Overall: ***½


LeBron 10, Kobe 8, KD 5
LeBron 10, Kobe 8, KD 5.

Look, the Kobes and KDs just… are. They’re neat, but not festive. BUT, those LeBron 10s with the metallic red with green laces and transparent green rubber; the full length max zoom air; the backwards swoosh (back when that was actually notable); the ruby-colored plastic support above the speckled mid-sole… Christmas! Let’s take a closer look:


A REMARKABLY strong 1 out of 3.

Overall: **** on the strength of the LeBron 10 alone.


Clockwise from left: KD 6, LeBron 11, Kobe 8
Clockwise from left: KD 6, LeBron 11, Kobe 8

The best of Nike’s Christmas packs so far; Kobe’s doing whatever he’s doing over there, so let’s ignore him while we focus on the others. Each deserves a deeper dive.

KD 6 – metallic red and mint green with gold accents. That’s “Christmas” with a capital “let’s all gather by the fire and sing Christmas carols.” Some finer points: the “KD” badge in the heel decorated with Christmas lights (!), the “snow” flecks on the green mid-sole, and the flannel pattern on the heel. Oh, wait, they also included an “ugly sweater” pattern in retroreflective (“3M”) ink on the medial side, so it only shows up if the light is just right.  Perfect. (though maybe so Christmas-y it may look out of place on December 27)

kd6-2 KD6-1

LeBron 11 – lots of green and snowy scenes to be found.


Overall: ****½ Kobe’s too good to be celebrating Christmas, I guess.


KD 7, Kobe 9 Elite, LeBron 12

Whoa! Three Christmas-themed sneakers in the “Christmas Pack” for once. Kevin Durant went with an “eggnog” theme with his. The strap is unfortunate, but it’s neat execution if you like your sneakers to be two-tone. The white of the front is actually an off-white, eggnog color. Kobe Bryant has a quite festive Christmas stocking theme that is executed nearly ideally (the black carbon fiber sticks out visually, but Nike wants the carbon fiber to look like carbon fiber). Finally LeBron James has a white birch tree printed pattern (think of birch bark). The ad copy is a bit… convenient “white birch like he saw when he was a kid in Akron!” or something like that, but it works. A big 3 for 3.

KD 7 detail:


Kobe 9 Elite detail:


LeBron 12 detail:


Overall: ****½ None are as nice as the Christmas-themed options in the 2013 pack, so a tie is in order.


LeBron 13, Kyrie 2, KD 8, Kobe 10 Elite
LeBron 13, Kyrie 2, KD 8, Kobe 10 Elite

Nike’s theme this year is “Fire and Ice.” Notice two white and blue colorways (ICE!!!) and two black and red colorways (FIRE!!!). Of note is that the medial sides of the KDs and Kobes don’t match the lateral sides:

KD (this is the same pair of sneakers!). The medial is completely different. The speckled pattern on the mid-sole is supposed to be hot coals… hmm. Close enough.


Kobe: red on the medial side, black on the lateral side. Funky.


Somehow, white and blue are 2015’s “Christmas Colors.”

Some details of the LeBron 13 — brr! But some neat snow and ice details in the fabric:

lbj2015-2 lbj2015-1

And to give him some attention, here’s a close-up of the Kyrie 2 — eh, a lot of textures going on there. Good execution on both the “cold” and “snow monster with a taste for mammal blood” themes [check out that strap]:



Despite the KD 8 and Kobe 10 being very cool (pun!) models, these colorways are not Christmas. I don’t love the whole blue and white thing, but it’s growing on me. A very weak 2 out of 4 hit to miss ratio.

Overall: **½ This isn’t a good year for the Christmas Pack. Sorry, Nike.

Retro Review: The Current TV Landscape (The Office, Scrubs, and the Ghost of Arrested Development) – Part 1

With the fourth season of Arrested Development premiering in a few short hours on Netflix, I figured this would be a good time to re-post something I wrote shortly after its cancellation (way back in 2006) where I explained I was on-board with the show ending permanently.

Part 1 of 3

With the all-but cancellation of my second loudest talking point three months ago, my TV habits have unexpectedly and ambitiously changed. For many years, the only section of calendar showing “appointment TV” was Fox’s Sunday night from 8-10. Initially anchored by The Simpsons and The X-Files, over the years I’ve regularly watched Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hill, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Futurama, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Arrested Development, and most recently Free Ride. I never watched most of those shows again after either a move to a different night (That 70’s Show, Malcolm in the Middle) or before 8 on Sundays (King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle [again]). The Simpsons’ decline too many years ago makes/made the 8:00 slot more of a sentimental appointment with some memory from my past (maybe), but it’s rare that I don’t catch at least some of the Sunday night shows. (Most recently, I’ve watched Family Guy and Free Ride.)

I hate the Internet. (click the image for full-size)

Arrested Development, originally airing at 9:30 was the best show to come out of the Fox Sunday night, even better than when The Simpsons was what we remember it being like “when it was good.” Generally I’ve found that of the people to whom I recommended the show, it’s pretty easy to pick who will like it and who won’t. Plenty of people are on the record extolling it as the best show ever, and while I’d agree, I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by that community. Oddly enough, Arrested Development has very much become similar to one of those things that I don’t really have a problem with, but the fans are just so obnoxious that I think even more negatively about the item/object/concept than I normally would or should. In the case of Arrested Development, I’m so positive about the show, that the fandom merely tarnishes whatever memory I might have of it, not the actual show itself, if that makes sense. I don’t think that it “revolutionized” the sitcom (it was sort of on for only three seasons) as some claim, it was just the shining example of a different way of presenting 30 minutes of comedy.

For the three seasons it aired, my routine was watch it when it aired, download the widescreen rip on bittorrent, then watch the bejesus out of it until buying the DVD’s the day they were released. The airing of the last four episodes (all shown in a two hour block one Friday night in February) after more than a month of knowing those would most likely be the last episodes of the show hit some note with me in that even though I downloaded the episodes, I have yet to watch them a second time. Considering that I’ve watched every other episode of the show between three and too many times each, I realized it was odd I had/have no desire to watch the last four again, especially considering that they were some of the best episodes of one of the best shows in the history couch-potato-ery. I’m not sure it takes too much effort to correctly read into it; similarly, I own all of the Calvin and Hobbes books, but I’ve never read the last one though I’ve owned it long enough to have read it many times.

For a solid two months, there were continual rumors about where Arrested Development might end up after that Fox made it obvious it wasn’t wanted by shortening the season to 13 episodes. “The Internet” held out hope, but “the internet” ignored the fact that any channel picking up an expensive-to-produce, bottom-of-the-ratings-heap show must not enjoy making money. It was a sad time for many, with (literally) the best show in the history of ever wrapping up. Fox showed the last four episodes in a two hour block directly against the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, almost two months after the most recent airing of the show. In other words, lots of time to “discover” something new.

As great as it was, Arrested Development was not “perfect” in terms of 30 minute television. As widely reported, practically none of the characters were likeable (Michael Bluth was dysfunctional in his own, realistic sort of way, and heck, even Annyong was a jerk to Buster). That’s not what I look for in a show, but there are plenty of lady-folk who need to empathize with characters and figuratively “hug it out” with their TV icons. I don’t know if it was searching-for-ratings-related, but the first episodes of the show established that Michael Bluth had relatively recently become a widower, and the show touched on the challenges of that situation in terms of how it affects teenaged children and the dating process for said widower. Of course, the show still packed in the zaniness, but there was something more there that from the second season and on was ignored. One could tell the writers avoided detailing the how and why of Michael’s wife’s death (she was said to have cancer some time in season 2 or 3), leaving the issue wide open for future episodes, but it was left unaddressed as the show moved toward (admittedly HI-larious) wackiness, zaniness, creative wordplay, and, uh, whimsy. Again, I didn’t need that “emotional resonance” from the show (or any show for that matter), but lesser men consider it a requirement for their TV intake.

Some fault the show for its reliance on jokes that only dedicated (meaning, weekly) viewers would get. That’s not a fault; that’s putting faith in your audience. Of course, it makes a niche show even more niche by creating both a high learning curve and too many inside jokes, but that’s more of a problem with what I’ll say is the “concept of the show” instead of the show itself. Returning to its problematic fans, they’re super-quick to say, “you don’t ‘get’ it, so you’re stupid” completely ignoring the fact that much of the humor depends on earlier episodes and the fact that some people just don’t get much out of the site of a grown man in a mole suit destroying a model train village in front of a group of “Japanese investors” in an homage to Godzilla. The fact that someone might not think something like that is funny doesn’t affect that I still think it’s the best show ever; the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but many of the fans use their opinion of the show (of it being the best) as a reason why everyone should think that jokes like that are funny.

The Ghost of Arrested Development receives five big stars. Sure, the body’s still warm, but with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator, saying he wouldn’t want to be involved even if it picked up by a (fiscally irresponsible) network, it’s gone for good. And I’m ok with that. The time before the last four episodes were aired provided an opportunity to sample other channels’ wares (which we’ll look into later in the week). The series finale was just about perfect, and as I watched it end (into the sunset, of course), as much as I complained that it was no longer going to be on the air, I didn’t want there to be any more episodes. It was that good. It was Arrested Development.

The Morgan Freeman Presidential Saga Trilogy: Olympus Has Fallen/Deep Impact/Oblivion

When Return of The Jedi came out in 1983, nobody expected to wait 16 years for another Star Wars movie to poorly detail what life was like a couple dozen years before the Second Death Star blew up. If the announcement of the prequels to these years-old films was a geek shot-heard-round-the-world, then what 2013 has brought is a BB gun going off in Altoona. Sure, they’ve tried to downplay it, but it’s pretty obvious what Hollywood has tried to do this year, and it’s a fairly ballsy move that just didn’t seem to pay off the way the filmmakers had hoped.

In 2013, major Hollywood studios managed to bring us both a prequel AND a sequel to 1998’s Deep Impact, in the course of two months. In fact, both are still currently playing as of this writing at certain theaters. Deep Impact was a modest success at the box office, making almost $350 million 1998 dollars worldwide, but has pretty much since been forgotten about, because of the overshadowing stupidity and infamousness of Michael Bay’s copycat, Armageddon. Robert Duvall; Tea Leoni; professional Helen Hunt lookalike, Leelee Sobieski; Laura Innes; and pre-Lord of The Rings Elijah Wood were no match for Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, that annoying Aerosmith song, a box of animal crackers, and pre-Lord of The Rings Liv Tyler, but Deep Impact had heart going for it. And a much more depressing ending. Most of the main characters stood around contemplating their own mortality, accomplishments and frail existence, while a giant Director’s Cut Abyss-style tidal wave wiped out anything and everything in its path. Granted, Elijah Wood driving up a hill to take Leelee Sobieski away from what I presume was a Paul Reiser lookalike isn’t the most plausible or most “real” moment I’ve seen in one of these movies, but at least it doesn’t end with the world having simultaneous celebrations and jet flyovers of a NASA shuttle landing pad.

The other thing it has is MORGAN FREEMAN AS PRESIDENT. I don’t know who made that decision (most likely director Mimi Leder, who was relegated back to TV after Pay it Forward turned out as badly as it did) but this was a stroke of genius. Morgan Freeman quickly became the most trusted movie president since Bill Pullman in Independence Day. He was probably the only person who could give confidence to people by saying, “A bunch of comets are going to destroy earth, and everyone is gonna die, except a few people who win a lottery! Those people will get to live in caves for two years and then come back out to try to make a new life on the drowned and scorched earth! Yaaaay, TEAM!”

I don’t think any of us found the rest of the characters likeable, but, man, did I want to know about this president. Where did he come from? How did he rise to power? What might a younger version of him do if North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker? Well, we’ve had to wait 15 years, but just like we eventually found out that Anakin was a precocious junkyard mechanic with a penchant for saying “YIPPEE”, we’ve finally gotten a glimpse at the backstory of Morgan Freeman’s President, in Olympus Has Fallen. And let me tell you, it’s a much better backstory than you’ll find in any Star War! There’s no midichlorians or Jar Jar Binkses either!


Morgan Freeman was a regular, average, ordinary elderly black Speaker of the House. Until one day, North Korean terrorists staged a meticulously-planned takeover of The White House and held The President hostage inside of the secure bunker. With the President unavailable and the VP in some completely unannounced location, Speaker Freeman becomes the acting president. This was EXACTLY THE SCENARIO I WAS WONDERING ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO! How did they know? The rest of the movie shows how in this time of crisis, he became the strong, stalwart leader that a million people could follow into a magical system of caves with hopes of one day repopulating the earth.

There are a few things that aren’t specifically spelled out, like how I’m assuming he had to dye his hair and get a facelift when he began running for President, so he’d look younger and hipper to court the youth vote. Or how, I’m guessing, since the advanced technology that the U.S. Government had was compromised and used in the destruction of most of Washington, President Freeman decreed that everyone start using 1998 technology that had more failsafes. But all in all, it makes for a pretty good prequel.

I do think they went out on a limb a little by not making President Freeman the main character. See, the main character is actually some former secret service agent who is conspicuously NOT named Jack Bauer. When a giant airplane destroys a whole lot of Washington and the North Koreans kill EVERY SINGLE WHITE HOUSE STAFFER NOT IN THE BUNKER, this agent, Gerard Butler, decides to play John McClane and sneak into the White House and take everyone down himself with a lot of punching and stabbing of people in the head. I’m not joking. SO MANY HEAD STABBINGS. Also, somehow the president’s kid is the only one who has managed to hide and stay alive outside of the bunker. Gerard Butler has to save the kid, then the president, and then kill the bad guy, preferably with a knife through part of his head.

But, Director Antoine Fuqua, WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH PRESIDENT MORGAN FREEMAN? He doesn’t even STAY president at the end, because Harvey Dent lived and went back to being president!

As a movie, the whole thing’s pretty okay. There’s some ridiculous destruction of Washington, plenty of civilians getting mowed down, some good Die Hard-type stuff, and plenty of over-the-top line readings, especially the hilariously-whispered titular line, delivered by some random, dying secret service agent.


As a prequel to Deep Impact, it’s not all that I was hoping for, but it did provide us with an insight into President Freeman’s first few hours as president, and boy did he ever deliver!


But what makes this whole plan really crazy, is that they didn’t just make a prequel. They shot a prequel AND a sequel at the same time, like Back to The Future 2 and 3, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and The Matrix Reloaded. And they didn’t just say “What happened to all of our favorite surviving Deep Impact characters when they came out of those magical caves?” Oh no. They went somewhere even crazier, and I really dug it. They went far into the future, with Oblivion.


Oblivion kind of follows the same model as Olympus Has Fallen, in that it relegates President Freeman to a side character, albeit an important one, and shows a major moment in his life, even if he doesn’t show up until 45 minutes in.

But what the filmmakers, notably writers Michael Arndt and Karl Gajdusek and director Joseph Kosinski, have imagined in the asteroid aftermath is devastating. Humanity never retook the earth. That asteroid, it seems, was sent as the first wave (pun intended) of attack by an alien race trying to take the earth. Somehow, we did win the alien war (maybe by flying biplanes into the ships’ primary weapon shafts or uploading a virus or something), but destroyed the earth and ended up living on a moon of Saturn. Tom Cruise is tasked by Melissa Leo’s character (who was the Secretary of Defense in Olympus Has Fallen and now seems to be in charge of all Earth-related matters) with flying around the remnants of New York (the Empire State Building, a former Pro-Thunderball arena, etc.) to fix droids and enormous water fusion machines, and collect “Dan Smith Will Teach You to Play Guitar” flyers that have been littering everywhere.


If you’ve seen the trailers, you know this part. He finds a downed ship filled with astronauts, gets taken hostage by a group of freedom fighters, and finds out that everything is not what it seems. And you guys know who the leader of the cave-dwelling human populace is? President Morgan Freeman, who has now changed his name from President Beech to just “Beck”, because of some kind of Cloud Atlas future-speak, no doubt.

I don’t want to give away all the twists and turns, but President Beck helps Tom Cruise discover his true self and who the mysterious astronauts are, and plays a huge part in putting an end to the remaining alien threat.

There are a few continuity errors here and there, but none of those trilogy movies were perfect. Back to The Future had to replace Morty’s dad in the second one, Star Wars had that whole “Clone Wars” monologue that doesn’t make any sense, Lord of The Rings had a car in that one shot, and they never even made a third Matrix movie!

This movie is solidly entertaining from start to finish, even if we’ve seen some of these specific story elements in previous sci-fi stories, like spaceships, aliens, robots, Tom Cruise running, Dune, etc. I give it a four.


Oblivion is an epic story and a very strong end for a character that we’ve grown to love over these three movies and 15 years. What they’ve managed to come up with as a third chapter is even crazier than going back to 1885. As a threequel, I give it a solid four-and-a-half stars.


As a trilogy, this is epic, inventive storytelling across a variety of genres, from action-thriller to disaster movie, to post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. It takes real guts to make a trilogy this way, and from a storytelling perspective, it completely pays off. We see President Freeman/Beech/Beck from his political beginnings to his heroic end, from the destruction of Washington, to the destruction of the world as we know it, to the end of the struggle against our alien combatants. His story is that of one of the greatest leaders in all of fiction, that of a man who, through so many harrowing moments, has shown humanity the dignity and courage that we should come to expect of those whom we put in charge. I wish they would’ve sold this as a whole story, though. Maybe that was the big twist, but I didn’t even put the pieces together until I saw the films. I think if people would’ve known that these were sequels and prequels they probably would’ve had a higher box office gross. Despite all this, though, this is instantly one of my favorite movie trilogies of all time, right up there with the first three (of the proposed 6) Baby Geniuses movies.


The Reading Fightin Phils Re-Branding is a Beautiful Mess

Screen Shot 2012-11-20 at 12.24.24 PM
To be clear, when George W. Bush talked about how “terrorists hate our freedom,” he was talking about apple pie, Coca-Cola, and Minor League Baseball. He was talking about giving a cartoon ostrich a bad attitude and making it a team’s logo. He was talking about using an “F” with fists as an alternate logo. He was talking about a tough-looking hotdog as another alternate logo. And he was talking about the concept of having two completely unrelated alternate logos.

Terrorists would hate the new Reading Fightin Phils uniforms, and that’s why they’re awfully amazing (and amazingly awful).


What’s Amazing

The standard “Home” uniform and everything about Bunbino (including his name and bad attitude), and the anthropomorphized “F” who looks like he’s had a few too many and he’s ready to mess your world up are great. The feathering of the letters and logos to keep the ostrich theme going is a nice touch. The whole thing, even the components I don’t like, is “fun.” Sure, it has the slight odor of “branding exercise,” but I think families (read: kids) will love this stuff until they need to replace some of it in a few years when the gimmick wears off. Yes, I realize “gimmick” is probably the most dismissive term I could use, but Minor League Baseball’s marketing currency is gimmicks.

Home_1The other “Fightins” uniform:


What’s Awful

The fact that nothing is integrated between the two “Fightins” designs and the two “Baseballtown” designs doesn’t help things. Essentially, the away uniforms are just a hodgepodge of branding, as if Brandiose, the marketing firm paid to realize this re-design was given a “things unique to the Reading Phillies” bulleted list, and simply wrote “OK” next to each item. The away uniforms saying “Baseballtown” instead of “Reading,” because it apparently “resonates” (more on this later) with fans in other cities when Reading is the visiting team, is ridiculous (in a bad way). The “our color scheme is every color” color scheme is the worst kind of compromise. Why isn’t the “Fightins” solid blue jersey navy instead of “Iris Blue?” Implying there’s anything “classic” about either of the “Baseballtown” jerseys is painful; they’re just a mess of kitchen sink uniform design, which, of course, might be not unreasonable for a minor league team.




You. I don’t like you.

The Ostrich. If there had been some historical moment where there was an ill-advised and poorly planned petting zoo at a pre-game event in Reading and something ostrich-related happened (mass bitings, the infield being torn apart in a turf war between two competing ostrich gangs, a first baseman getting kicked in the head, etc.), sure, play into that history once enough years have passed, and it’s “funny” instead of “civic embarassment.” Tying the semi-primary logo to the admittedly ridiculous (in a good way) crazy peanut vendor is a stretch. I actually liked the concept of the logo/mascot more before I read about its inspiration. I hate those damn birds. (I prefer my flightless birds cute and cuddly, thank you very much.)

[If the Reading Phillies ever institute an ostrich race as between-innings entertainment, consider me to be the first volunteer.]


What Straddles the Line?

The name. I need to be fair here; I was concerned that anything other than “Phillies” would be completely absurd and simply wrong. “Fightin Phils” is about as good as it could possible be… if it’s considered necessary to make a change. I don’t love that the official name is two abbreviations, and teams with long names, such as the Diamondbacks, have simply abbreviated the name on jerseys to address the obvious spacing concerns, but, oh well. Their press release establishes that the team will be known as “The Fightins,” though the actual success of the name will be determined by whether fans take it up or just continue calling them the “Phillies.” The fact that they claimed the re-branding would help the people who apparently think they’re in Philadelphia when they pull up to a 9,000 seat stadium… in Reading… is disingenuous to the point of being insulting to anyone in earshot.


Bigger Picture

I sit here conflicted. Simultaneously, the Reading Phillies (I guess more accurately, the “Reading Fightin Phils”) published a press release filled with corporate marketing speak and prominent pimping of the fact that they will have “the most on-field wear in the minor leagues” as if that’s somehow an accomplishment and not a business decision while also playing into the legit family friendly (and affordable) reality of AA baseball. It gives a severe feeling of 2+2=5? seeing the phrase “celebrating their brand stories” when one of those stories is Bunbino, an anthropomorphized hotdog (presumably “with attitude”) whose name was provided by an 11 year old kid who won “a 20-person picnic at the Reading Eagle Pool Pavilion… and a box of 100 delicious hot dogs courtesy of Berks Packing” for her winning entry. Seriously, what’s more American than winning a box of locally packed meat products? That’s not a rhetorical question, and there’s no sarcasm there. Really.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how much I should care about whatever Reading is up to. I haven’t been to a game there since the early 90s, I don’t follow Phillies prospects closely enough to be familiar with their roster, and I have no interest in watching big name MLB players’ rehab starts. I have this idea that “Phillies” is the right name for the team, but I can’t back that up with anything other than the fact that when I was a kid, I really liked going to games there, and they were the Phillies. The only foul ball I’ve ever caught was at a Reading Phillies game when I was 9. It was a diving grab on the concourse; I scraped my knee. It was awesome. I still remember that. I don’t remember any specific games I went to at Veterans Stadium during that same era. Not a single one. But I remember that Reading Phillies game. That’s the emotional connection to brands that companies strive for, but can’t just pay a company from San Diego to generate when given a bulleted list of “things that kids like at the stadium.” These aren’t necessarily good reasons to keep the “Phillies” name, though I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking along these terms.

There is some choice corporate nonsense in the press release, though there are some revealing details if it is read between the lines. Highlights are below.

relationship with the Phillies is stronger than ever and the Fightin Phils is a
unique way to enhance our ties with Philadelphia even more,” said Fightin
Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker. “The Fightin Phils reaffirms
our bond with the Phillies in a creative, unique way.”


This is the first quote from Hunsicker in the press release, and is in the “if we say something enough times, it makes it true. Ignore everything else we’re doing” mold. The way to “enhance ties with Philadelphia even more” is to not change the team name from “Phillies” (or “R-Phillies”) to anything else. Again, in fairness, the new name could be a lot worse.

The Fightins’ new name is highlighted by an ostrich logo that symbolizes the feisty bird that is now indigenous to Reading because of the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. With its fists ready for battle, the new ostrich logo represents the fighting spirit of the franchise, both on and off the field.


That’s not what “indigenous” means, even in the funny/ironic/loose way for which they’re aiming. “Familiar” is the word they want. Also, what exactly is the franchise’s “fighting spirit… on and off the field?” Seriously, what does it mean for a baseball team to have a “fighting spirit off the field?” Do the players in Reading have a “tough guy” reputation? That’s not a rhetorical question. Anyone in Reading know something we don’t? Are their players banned from local bars?

It will be the first time in the franchise’s history that the team will feature an identifiable mascot. The logo is also the first in professional sports to feature an ostrich as its mascot.


Don’t feature these as accomplishments. Were fans missing an identifiable mascot? Another team uses a biscuit as a mascot; they win the “unexpected mascot inspiration” prize.

“When we decided to look at our franchise, we felt that we needed a mark the spoke to families since being a family destination has been paramount to our success,” said Fightin Phils General Manager Scott Hunsicker. “Our former mark didn’t speak to those families and kids-something our new mark definitely does.


This is counting your ostriches chickens before they’re hatched. Consumers decide if brands “speak to” them, not the people paying (and getting paid) to come up with new ones. Go ahead and rationalize the money spent on it, but don’t congratulate yourselves yet. It’s tacky.

“Our analysis showed us that Baseballtown resonated across all metrics,” said Hunsicker.


This means absolutely nothing… but sounds great. What were the metrics? Whether the term “Baseballtown” evokes positive feelings? Were they expecting a different result? It’s crazy that this language is from the same organization that included 100 hotdogs (from a local company!) as part of a prize for winning a branding contest.

On top of its new name and logo, the team will have the most on-field wear in the minor leagues when they take the field in April.


Again, this is not an accomplishment. The use of the term “on-field wear” instead of “uniforms,” “jerseys,” and so on is a nice call-out to the fact that a portion of this is merchandise-related. “On-field” is the lingo used in the marketing departments for selling this stuff. “We’re no longer going to be selling ‘hats’ and ‘jerseys.’ We’ll be selling ‘on-field wear.'”

Of course, in all fairness, how much money is there in AA merchandising? I guess the answer to that is “enough,” but these aren’t evil corporate overlords lighting last year’s unsold jerseys with $100 bills. Even the order form for getting yourself one of the four jerseys includes a note that you get to be on the field for the National Anthem at the first game in Reading Baseballtown. 10 year old Dan would’ve thought that’s the coolest thing ever… then he would’ve spilled mustard all over it.

The fact that I’m sure that if I called the number on the order sheet, I’d be directly connected to a human being speaks to the odd juxtaposition between the internet and the old timeyness of Minor League Baseball. 15 years ago, I (or any other jackass on the internet) wouldn’t even know that the Reading Phillies were getting a “re-branding,” heck, it wouldn’t even be called a re-branding, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a press release using the word “metrics.” Beyond that I don’t even know how I could’ve bought their merchandise other than with a visit to their stadium.

So, is their re-branding a success? I guess one may need to be from Reading to really answer that question. I have no connection to the team anymore. As an outsider, the “Baseballtown” motif seems forced. Is it? I don’t know. Would their fans prefer their uniforms to read “Reading,” their hats prominently showing an “R” instead of a “B?” Does “Baseballtown” actually resonate with their fans more than the city’s name itself? Maybe it does. That doesn’t excuse the generally ugly “Baseballtown” uniforms, of course, especially the awful black and blue pixie league softball top. But, they got a lot of things right, too. The “F” logo is unique and basically says “Minor League Baseball and proud of it” as opposed to “we’re a lesser version of our affiliated MLB team; we’re a cheaper version of them!” like using the “Phillies” name or an “R” in the style of the Phillies “P” would. New name: pulled off admirably with an extremely high degree of difficulty. The pinstripe jersey is a borderline masterpiece and uses some neat fabric technology to showcase its history. That attention to detail is to be commended. Bunbino: awesome. The ostrich… well, let’s see where it is in 6-7 years. I’m not the target audience, and maybe kids will latch onto it. I’ll reserve my judgment; importantly, it could be worse.

On the whole, the comments above showcase the root of the issue. The “Baseballtown” items are completely separate from the “Fightin Phils” aspects. Making that worse is that the “Baseballtown” uniforms leave much to be desired– colors, typefaces, even their inspiration. Keeping up the marketing-speak of the press release, that’s sending a mixed message with your branding; notably, they’re not being marketed as the “Baseballtown Fightin Phils.” Why couldn’t “Baseballtown” be kept as a a patch on the sleeves on jerseys with either “Fightin Phils” or “Reading” on the front. Make a trendy rounded logo with “Baseballtown” around the perimeter integrating the Phillies “P” and even Bunbino opposite the “Baseballtown” copy. Easy. Fundamentally, the whole “branding story” ends up less than the sum of its (many) parts. “Everything” is never the right answer to “what’s the best part of our brand?” The gap between “Fightin Phils” and “Baseballtown” is so wide that I can’t even say the whole thing is good or bad. There are items I like, but the items I don’t like aren’t even part of the same team’s uniforms. As a branding exercise, this gets a thumbs-down. As a uniform redesign, the “Reading Fightin Phils” gets a thumbs-up, the baseball team of “Baseballtown” gets a thumbs-down.

**½ Squarely in the middle — half good/half bad.