Archive for October, 2008

15
Oct
08

So About These MacBook Announcements…

Apple Netbook The MacBook Pro will always have a special place in my tech treasure chest.  Strangely, it was the first Mac I purchased (in 2001 – back then we called ‘em PowerBooks.)  And for a long time I thought that’s where my computing dollar would be spent: continuously upgrading from MacBook Pro to MacBook Pro.  Perhaps I wouldn’t upgrade each year, but I’d certainly get in on major revisions and every other cycle.  And strangely enough this would be the cycle that would make sense.  (I bought my MacBook Pro in 2006.  I’m loving it, but somehow it’s really starting to show it’s age.  My backspace key is missing.  It’s got a few scratches.  And since it’s the primary machine that I use (right in front of my television) it would certainly make sense.  But that was with a 2006 mindset.  A lot has changed in the world.

I wrote about a year back about how excited I was that the industry was moving towards these small and inexpensive desktop experiences.  The newly coined ‘netbooks’ are getting old in the tooth according to some.  But I think they’re just about the most exciting thing in technology.  Why?  Well, for one, the conventional wisdom (if you spent time in a Best Buy or J&R Computer World here in Manhattan over the years) is that the smaller the laptop you seek, the more you’re going to pay.  It used to make sense.  (Smaller diodes, more careful manufacturing process, more expensive and hard-to-manufacture parts.)  But something about that logic never completely made sense to me.  So the netbook’s arrival as a major new tech category was a welcome trend.

The main reason why I’m so excited about the prospect of the netbook as a serious option is that it fits in with my life (and I would presume most consumer’s lives) perfectly.  I always get frustrated when people ask my about buying a laptop vs. a desktop.  People never consider the higher cost and lower performance that you’ll get in comparison to the actual amount of times that the machine will actually be moved.  I’m the ‘computer fix-it guy’ for a lot of my friends and some acquaintances and I’ll tell you – they get strange looks from me when they approach me with a Dell Inspiron and complain that it’s ‘making a noise’.  (Probably just the hard drive, but if it isn’t, they’re SOL for sure.)  For the majority of folks that I consult, a netbook is a wonderfully elegant solution for so many reasons:

Continue reading ‘So About These MacBook Announcements…’

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12
Oct
08

The Visitor: Review

TheVisitor It’s rare these days for me to add a movie to my Netflix queue on the strength of the trailers that come at the beginning of other rentals.  It feels like a zero sum game to keep adding movies.  My OCD tells me to finish this queue and then add a bunch more movies later.  But something about the trailer for The Visitor made me suspend that policy.  I don’t even remember what it was, but somehow it affected me.  It seemed like it would do what I’m always looking for movies to do – give me a different perspective.  The disc showed up in my mailbox on Friday and now after having experienced it, I’m better for it.  This might be the most engaging and original film experience that I’ve seen in the past few years.

The Visitor stars Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale – an introverted professor who lives in Connecticut in solitude and in the shadow of his recently deceased wife.  The college calls him to make a trip to Manhattan to attend a conference and despite his resistance, he’s forced to go.  Upon arriving in the apartment that he and his wife called their own in New York, he quickly realizes that he’s not alone.  He awkwardly stumbles across a couple (Tarek and Zainab) who are not from New York (or even from the United States) who had been living there for months.  And the story progresses from there. 

As the story unfolded, I had this feeling that it would somehow play into every modern day stereotype about people not from this country.  Tarek (played by Haas Sleiman) is of Syrian descent and is Muslim.  I kept bracing for the unveiling that he was here as some part of terror cell.  Or that he had some link to it.  But refreshingly I don’t even feel like I’m spoiling in revealing that while the events of September 2001 affect the lives of everyone in this movie, none of the characters have even a remote attachment to the things that helped to cause it.

This movie has a magical quality.  Often you’ll see strangers who are forced into situations where they need to learn to like each other and it just feels fabricated.  But the friendship that Tarek and Walter have is completely genuine.  It’s infectious.  Richard Jenkins is phenomenal in his ability to portray a man who is visibly barren.  While he has a beautiful home and a job that allows him to teach only one class and conduct and independent study in preparation for the writing of a book, he’s completely devoid of life.  Tarek is the absolute opposite of this.  He has nothing, yet his smile and his happiness reach out through the screen.  I caught myself smiling several times during the interactions between Tarek and Walter.

In my favorite scene in the film, Tarek (who is a musician) leaves his drum (called a Djembe) in the apartment and somehow Richard comes home from his conference early and sees the drum.  It calls him.  He sees it and tries to resist.  But he can’t.  He takes the opportunity to try his hand at the drum and somehow Tarek finds him playing.  While the introverted Walter finds himself apologizing profusely, Tarek makes him feel at ease and the two partake in a drum session/lesson that is rhythmic, funny and hopeful.  It is this scene that acts as a microcosm for the entire film.  If only more people would share their culture with each other (and not just in one direction), how incredible would this world be?

This movie could have taken the easy way out and thrown in a heavy musical score to try to evoke emotion.  There isn’t any reason to do that here.  The music that is in the film already acts as an incredible soundtrack.

This may sound a bit extreme, but for me this is more than just a five-star film with incredible and original performances.  This is a film that represents the hope of a nation.  There are so many contradictions in American society today.  We seem to have forgotten the hope of Ellis Island in exchange for our fear of terrorists.  I believe that we need to keep the nation free, but it’s the diversity that makes us strong and expands our world view.  If we could all find friendship in folks who aren’t like those we are accustomed to dealing with, it would make the world a better place.  When you say the word ‘diversity’, it has come to evoke a sense of resistance.  “To force other cultures upon us in the hope that we’ll be more tolerant.”  But somehow we missed the real strength.  It is meant to be an opportunity for the exchange of customs and ideas.  It’s an opportunity to expose a part of ourselves – our music, our language, our ideals.  If you leave this movie with anything less than an uplifted heart, somehow you missed the point.

Don’t be like me – add this movie to your queue of movies to see without hesitation.  After having seen this film, I’m in the market for a Djembe.

12
Oct
08

Shopgirl: Review

danesmartin

At the suggestion of a very special friend, I decided to check out Shopgirl.  I’d seen the poster art previously, but never really considered checking this one out.  In short, Shopgirl might have been better received (at least by me) had the casting choices been more carefully considered.  I had some baggage to bring to the table, and that ultimately affected my enjoyment.  (But there are more than a few issues with this one.)

Shopgirl stars Claire Danes as Mirabelle – a twentysomething glove sales attendant at a Saks Fifth Avenue in California with a somewhat uncertain future.  Also starring as her love interests are Jason Schwartzman and Steve Martin.  Claire, as always, is quite dashing.  Aside from her physical attractiveness, she projects a personality that is profound; she seems like the type of girl who you could really get to know on an intellectual level.  I didn’t have a problem with ‘Mirabelle’ as much as I did her choices (but more on that in a bit). 

Where I did have a problem was with the other casting decisions.  Steve Martin has been trying his hand at this ‘serious actor’ thing for quite some time (L.A. Story, Grand Canyon) it just never worked for me.  When I see that face, I just want jokes.  Be they flatly delivered exaggerations or blunt SNL-style humor, that’s what I find myself looking for.  That isn’t to say that I’m so unforgiving that I won’t allow an actor to range outside of the roles I’m accustomed to seeing him in.  I think Jim Carrey has done a phenomenal job in his non-comedic roles (and I’d like to see him in many more serious films).  But Steve Martin as the straight man just doesn’t do it for me.  He didn’t in other films and he definitely doesn’t here either.

There are few actors that irk me the way that Jason Schwartzman does.  It’s a mean thing to say – I know – but he’s probably the most annoying actor this side of Tom Green.  I just don’t get him.  I’ve been trying to find it in my heart to forgive him since I Heart Huckabees, but this just adds kerosene to an already raging fire.  Clearly he’s got ‘acting chops’, but every role I’ve watched him in just frustrates me more and more.  Why?  Well, for starters, he’s needlessly complicated.  He’s every annoying kid in my childhood who redefines the notion that ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’.  There are short nerdy actors that could have worked in this role (which is KEY to the viewer’s appreciation of the film).  And regardless of my prejudices, Jason Schwartzman just doesn’t work in this role.  Period.  (Zack Braff – where are you when we need you!?!?!)

Continue reading ‘Shopgirl: Review’