Movie Review: The Invention of Lying

The Invention of LyingVoltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” In Ricky GervaisThe Invention of Lying, Mark Bellison does that and more. In conceiving the world’s first “lie”, he opens the door to a world of imagination and emotion. The concept is clever and occasionally funny, but the execution feels a bit off.

In watching the movie, I kept thinking about it in comparison to Gervais’ television comedies The Office and Extras. Both are set in modern-day Britain, yet their characters also seem incapable of lying. David Brent shares the “good news” in The Office that the company is closing his branch and giving him a promotion.In Extras, guest-starting Kate Winslet explains she wanted to do a Holocaust movie to better her chance at winning an Oscar (in real life Winslet won last year as an ex-concentration camp guard in The Reader). The characters’ unusual honestly is what makes these shows funny, yet when it becomes normal in this movie it seems a bit off.

I suspect part of the problem is the A-list American stars struggled with the dry, British humor. Most of the cast seemed to misread deadpan for robotic cluelessness. The only actors who seem capable of telling the truth without a straight face in the film are Gervias and Arrested Develepment alums Jason Bateman and Jeffery Tambor.

The film seems to get lost in a Monty Python-esque turn when Bellison conceives the greatest “lie”, that of an omnipotent power and an afterlife. The film also treats fat losers as a race, which as a fatty I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. I enjoyed the premise of the film and some of its more inspired jokes, but ultimately I was left wishing for more.

News Reading and Focused Tasking on the iPad

New York Times app on iPad at launch at San Fr...
A series of events this weekend caused me to purchase an iPad on Saturday. I bought it mainly to test with in the short term and I’m still undecided about whether I want to keep it. It’s gorgeous, easy to use, and very well designed. It is also very expensive, fills limited “needs” and is inflexible. However two ideas stuck out very big in my mind from my first days of use that I wanted to share.

News Reading

The New York Times and USA Today applications are very impressive. In the past I’ve been pretty skeptical of “e-ink” newspaper applications. Hyperlinking and the interoperability make the Web superior to most news applications. The iPad applications, however, do a good job of recreating the experience of flipping through a newspaper skimming and reading stories as you go. Individual articles fill the screen, text wrapped in narrow columns which are easier on the eyes. On the USA Today app, you could literally “flip” through pages by dragging your finger horizontally. It was so simple and fun that I read through all 29 articles that were available on Monday morning. I haven’t read that much of a newspaper in years.

I still don’t think that applications are a good investment for most publishers, but I think there’s a lot Web publishers can learn from the design of these applications. Navigation was sparse. The focus was on content, not links. I spent little time on the apps’ front pages and a lot more time reading strories. Instead of marketing each story as a single product and trying to push other products on you (the Amazon.com model), the apps encourage you to play and consume more (the Netflix model?). Reading on these applications is more about the experience. Rather than overwhelming you with choices, they are offering a single cohesive product. These applications don’t have the burden of advertising and other marketing obligations that their Web counterparts have. I think some advertising could still be incorporated without destroying the experience (and in this environment, would be more valuable for advertisers). In the end I was frustrated that more news Web sites are not designed like this, since there is little in the apps that you couldn’t do in HTML.

The iPad will not save the print business model. For starters its too late. This device is not ubiquitous enough yet to make up for lost print revenue even if consumers would pay for subscriptions. Publishers have to recognize that they will never be able to recapture more than a fraction of their old subscription base online simply because they have too much competition.The publishers who do want to charge for content on an app should at least be smart enough to block access to non-subscribers on their main site. Otherwise they’re just selling bottled water. Under the right circumstances I could see myself paying for the right to read certain publications, but I don’t see myself as a typical consumer in that sense.

Focused Tasking

One of the biggest complaints from iPhone users is the lack of multi-tasking on the device. Playing on the iPad I’m starting to think the issue is exaggerated and that maybe this “limitation” is actually a feature. Forcing you to dedicate the whole screen to one view helps you focus on the task at hand, again by limiting choices. I believe this is part of the reason why I spent so much time reading the news apps on my iPad. It was more work to switch to Twitter or Gmail than it is on my browser. Whatever app I had open got my full attention. Compare that to my work computer which typically has half a dozen apps, more than a dozen windows and a bunch of tabs open at once constantly demanding my attention.

Even Safari on the iPad allows you to focus more on the task at hand. Tabs are banished to a background view so you aren’t constantly tempted. Double tapping on a text area zooms in on it, so the content you’re reading fills the screen. This is a feature is meant for making text more readable on mobile devices, but it also allows readers to block out distractions on the page. The HTML5 video experience also allows you to make any embedded video full screen, which looks great. You also have to consider that most iPad/iPhone users are a captive audience. They’re either traveling or too lazy to leave their living room, so they’re more patient and want to enjoy the content.

Yes there are some apps that need multitasking – I really can’t justify just sitting and looking at the NPR orPandora apps while I’m listening to them. Ithink I would suggest instead of caving on multitasking, Apple adds the ability to load widgets to your home screen that run in the background. That would allow me to keep track of live feeds like Twitter and Facebook while I’m idle (like last night when I was watching the NCAA Championship game with my iPad). It would also give radio apps a place to run in the background while you’re working. I imagine we may be hearing more about the future of multitasking in the iPhone later this week, but I for one hope they leave it largely unchanged.

* * *

So are some of my big observations from using the iPad, neither of which have gotten a lot of attention in the initial reviews. Even if you don’t need/want this device, there’s a lot you can gain from just looking at the design of the applications. It is worth spending a day or two playing with if you get the chance.

Things that Happened in 2009

  • The ESPN.com redesign launched to mixed reviews. I proudly rolled out my changes without breaking anything.
  • Started running daily and watching what I ate for a month, ultimately losing 10 pounds. Then I fell back into my old routine.
  • Spent a Sunday in New York as a tourist seeing the MoMA and Avenue Q.
  • The Weiner family welcomed their first child, Sadie. Congrats.
  • Ran the O’Hartford 5K in 36:48, exactly tying my race partner AP.
  • Survived the NCAA Tournament launch and my boss’ two week paternity leave. Probably the toughest two weeks of my career.
  • Went to watch Penn State play in the NIT semifinals at MSG. We won the NIT championship, making us the best of the worst.
  • Read Blink!, The Blind Side, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restraunt at the End of the Universe, and Me Talk Pretty One Day.
  • Mourned the death of Harry Kalas.
  • Attended the Annunciation BVM School Class of 1999 10 year reunion, which was fun.
  • Said goodbye to Kaitlin Lee, Aaron Ho and ultimately Andrew Erickson at work. Welcomed Brandon Dow and Shane Leighton.
  • Spent a lot of evenings watching the Screaming Monkeys and 79ers games, which I attribute to there being nothing to do in Connecticut.
  • Survived Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.
  • Spent some time in Ocean City, NJ with my family. It was the first time my parents ever rented their own beach house.
  • Drove halfway to Newport for the Newport Folk Festival before realizing I had no cash or credit card on me. Turned around and enjoyed a nicebarbecue that evening at Pacino and APs. Not a bad day.
  • Went to Disney World with my mom and brothers Kevin, Jack and Billy.Oppressivelyhot but otherwise a great trip.
  • Made a surprise appearance at my brother Mike’s first football game as starting quarterback. He scored a touchdown on his first play.Helped move my brother Pat into his new house the next day.
  • Spent 5 days in Boston at the jQuery conference and the Ajax Experience. I highly recommend the jQuery conference.
  • Bought a new bed frame, discovered it was the wrong size for my mattress. Bought a new mattress – there was no way I was building another bed.
  • Bought an iPhone. Discovered I couldn’t get my work’s e-mail or make a call without getting dropped. Returned the iPhone 3 days later.
  • Saw Usain Bolt run in person at ESPN’s campus.
  • Attended a Bills-Jets game, the Eastern Illinois-Penn Stategame, and the Harvard-Yale. The Penn State game included a stay at a cool cabin up by Mount Tussey.
  • Watched the Yankees beat the Phillies in the World Series. A sad ending to a great season.
  • Joined the ESPN bowling league and got my average score up to 113.
  • Got eyeglasses because I’m apparently farsighted.

Epcot 2009

Epcot at DuskThis year I took my Mom and my 3 youngest brothers to Disney World from August 6-11. It was ridiculously hot and humid the whole trip, but otherwise a lot of fun.On our first full day in Disney World we went to Epcot. Going to Epcot was a strategic move recommended by the Unofficial Guide – get the World’s most “boring” park out of the way first. Thus while everyone was excited about rides like Test Track and Mission:Space, Kevin (age 12) decided that anything that wasn’t a roller coaster was a waste of time. After fighting his mother and picking on his little brothers for a while, Kevin finally warmed up to Disney entertainment and eventually accepted something with a title as boring as Universe of Energy could be fun. Unfortunately we were all too hot and tired to really appreciate the World Showcase there are limited free options there. We did get to ride Soarin’ twice thanks to smart FastPass usage and it was a big hit amongst the entire group. I was glad I got to ride Universe of Energy, Spaceship Earth, and see Turtle Talk because I missed those rides the first time I came to Epcot. I also appreciated Illuminations a lot more this time because we got a good seat and I decided not to waste time taking pictures. By the end of the day I think everyone was satisfied with their first Disney park experience – even Kevin.

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Burr Pond State Park

Rock By Burr Pond

Decided to get out of my apartment this morning and go for a hike around Burr Pond State Park in Torrington, CT. Basically its this giant pond/lake/reservoir with hiking trails winding around it. I did to “blue” loop around the pond, which ended up being about 2.7 mi and over an hour of walking. I didn’t realize how long it was going to take when I set out on my journey. At first I was struck by the natural beauty of the woods surrounding the pond, but at some point I transitioned into just wanting to be finished with the hike. Still it was a nice way to start the day and its a great place to spend some time. Click on the image above or the “Read More” link to see my complete gallery
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Old School: An Influential Movie?

A couple weeks ago Slashfilm released a list of the ten most influential films of the last decade that seemed pretty incomplete. One comment I liked was that Old School should have been included on the list, for essentially spawning a generation of “Frat Pack” films and opening the door for Judd Apatow’s sex comedies. Watching Old School again tonight, I have to agree. It was amazing to me just how many lines from this movie are still used on a daily basis. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Sometimes you think you have true love and then you catch the early flight home from San Diego…
  • Earmuffs!
  • Well, um, actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we’re going to go to Home Depot. Yeah, buy some wallpaper, maybe get some flooring, stuff like that. Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.
  • Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!
  • We’re going streaking! Through the quad and into the gymnasium!
  • Oh, yeah. Cheeeeese… Didn’t we lock you in the dumpster one time?
  • No. That’s a piece of crap. We stopped selling that six months ago. Nice gesture, though.
  • You’re my boy Blue!
  • Good talk, see you out there
  • If you’re holding this letter you already know.

New York

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I got tired of spending weekends tucked away in my apartment, so I decided to take the train down to New York City for the day. I went to the noon mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then walked over to the Museum of Modern Art. After spending some time there looking at the works of Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and Warhol I walked down to Times Square to get Broadway tickets from the TKTS booth. Then I walked back over to the Rockefeller Center to look around the NBC Studios area (I didn’t take the tour because I went on it years ago). Then I went back towards Broadway to see Avenue Q. Click the picture to see my full photo gallery.
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Double Advertising

The Super Bowl is the ultimate corporate event and since every television network is owned by a multimedia juggernaut, its really become a showcase for the home empire. NBC Universal had a lot of ads for its theme parks, movies, TV shows, and its parent company: GE. But I think what surprised me the most was how NBC’s talent and properties showed up in other sponsors ads.

First up, Conan O’Brien in one of the funniest ads of the year. It brings up a good point though, Conan never does ads. So why would he do one this year? Could it be because NBC wants him to get some more exposure before he takes over The Tonight Show this fall?

Next up is Monsters vs. Aliens appearing in the Sobe commercial. This one makes a little more sense, since Sobe sponsored the 3D trailer event for Monsters vs. Aliens just seconds before. All in all though, the characters seemed a bit out of place in an already weird commercial.

Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock introduces the American public to Hulu. Hulu is part owned by NBC, so this could be considered a house ad. But it isn’t a subsidiary, so it stands to reason they produced their own commercial. And who better to play a television executive then a man who already plays a television executive on TV. At one point he’s actually watching his own show.

Finally MacGruber is an SNL skit turned Pepsi commercial. This one seemed most curious, since Pepsi already had a series of commercials that were stylistically different geared towards their brand “refresh”. Watching this (hilarious) commercial almost makes me wonder in NBC threw in the SNL guys for an extra ad sale.

2008 Movies Wrap-Up

Hey, I’m blogging again! Last year I had a best movies of the year list done by now, but I haven’t seen enough of the end of year films yet to put out  a definitive list. However, I decided I should at least start thinking about my favorites for the year. So I decided to start with a post in the fun style that Kaitlin Lee wrote her list in a few weeks ago.

My Favorite Movie of the Year (So Far): The Dark Knight
Not very original I know, but this is a film that surpassed everyone’s high expectations for it. Where other superhero movies have been comic books focusing on the build up to a final battle, The Dark Knight is a graphic novel brimming with stories and skirmishes that build to a thrilling climax. I’ve watched it a half a dozen times and I’m still not tired of it.
Buy It: DVD | Blu-ray

My Other Favorite Movie of the Year (So Far): WALL-E
Yes Pixar is the most successful film studio around, but WALL-E raised the bar even higher once again. WALL-E is a visual spectacular with a surprisingly deep story. It’s the characters though that make this film so special – it’s hard to awww at the sight of WALL-E and Eve together.

Worst (or Most Disappointing) Movie of the Year: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Ok I know that most people didn’t expect this movie to be good, but I thought the first two Mummy films were some of the best popcorn flicks in a while. I hoped the country shift would breathe new life into the film, but instead it was just a way to get away with making the SAME EXACT MOVIE AGAIN! Except it was much, much worse than that. Not satisfied with mining Indiana Jones movies for inspiration, this one literally lifts whole storylines and action sequences from it. Add to the fact that you have Jet Li in the film and your final battle is a repeat is him merely standing behind thousands of undead soldiers. Really? What’s most disappointing was China really was a great creative opportunity for this franchise and some of the visuals were spectacular. Unfortunately the story, script, acting, and directing were asinine.
Honorable Mention: The Spirit. Actually probably a lot worse than The Mummy 3, but I expected this one to be bad.

Fun Sleeper: Let the Right One In
Hard to say its a sleeper because the geek movie sites are all raving about it, but to the general public this Sweedish preteen vampire movie is an unknown. Don’t confuse this with Twilight, the pop culture phenomenon which is apparently about “vegetarian” vampires. Fear not, in this movie the vampire feeds on human blood – a lot. Besides its horror appeal though, there is a very twisted but sweet story about young friendship.

Overhyped: Burn After Reading
I love the Coen Brothers, but this one just seemed weak. Brad Pitt was funny but kind of over the top. Clooney was creapy. John Malkovich – I just couldn’t buy a guy that goofy being a spy. Really, aren’t spies supposed to keep a low profile? And while all the Coens’ films are about stupid criminals, I just couldn’t really find anything likable in any of these characters. I do plan on giving it a second chance some day, but I came out of the theater dissapointed with this one.
Honorable Mention: Frost/Nixon. I liked this but anyone who thinks this is Ron Howard’s best is crazy.

Biggest Surprise: Kung Fu Panda
While Pixar has been going out and creating amazing movies, Dreamworks has been content to cater more to the lower end of the kid crowd with movies built on fart jokes and pop culture references. Even the Shrek franchise has lost a lot of its steam. So I wasn’t expecting much more than a few laughs at Kung Fu Panda. To my surprise, Kung Fu Panda actually had a sweet story and endering characters. And the animation was fantastic. Unlike The Mummy, Kung Fu Panda capitalized on the richness of China’s landscape and culture. If you haven’t had a chance to see this film, you should (and find an HD version if you can).

Movie I loved that nobody else I know liked: Cloverfield
A lot of people did like this movie, but the people I went with were kind of underwhelmed. I have a soft spot for disaster movies though and I think this was a refreshing take on an old concept. For the YouTube generation, carrying around a video camera in the midst of a monster attack seems as rational as running for safety. And keeping the creature’s orgins a relative mystery seems like a smart move (no need for Matthew Broderick trying to explain some nuclear Godzilla). All in all this movie is just a lot of great, geeky fun.

Worst Timur Bekmambetov Movie: Wanted
I was a big fan of Night Watch and enjoyed Day Watch, so when I heard the director was making an American action movie I was excited (though important to note, not excited to hear the 3rd Night Watch movie will be made in America and in English – that’s stupid). I fell asleep the first time I watched Wanted and thought that’s why I didn’t like it. Then I watched it awake and stopped halfway through. What really did me in though was reading about how cool the comic it was based on was and how far from it they strayed.

Disturbing Trend: Fewer Good Indie Movies
I felt like I saw fewer indie movies this year and there were fewer good ones getting released. I was especially disappointed with the year end movies, not even one of which compares with last year’s slate. The upside is that the more commercial, blockbuster films are getting better. Still, I’m hoping that some more cool, obscure films find their way to the cineplexes in 2009.

Honorable Mentions: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Iron Man, and Rachel Getting Married
Forgetting Sarah Marshall seemed a little more genuine than some of the more recent Apatow inspired flicks. I’m looking forward to Jason Segel reviving the Muppet franchise.  Yes Iron Man was Robert Downey, Jr’s film, but I was equally impressed with the smart direction by Jon Favreau. Between this and Elf, he’s one of the more surprising filmmakers out there. And Rachel Getting Married was the queen of the indie films for me this year.

Elligable Films (all the movies I’ve seen from 2008 so far)
21, American Teen, Be Kind Rewind, Bolt, Burn After Reading, City of Men, Cloverfield, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frost/Nixon, Funny Games, Get Smart, Ghost Town, Gran Torino, Hancock, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay , Hellboy II, In Burges, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Let the Right One In, Pineapple Express, Quantum of Solace, Rachel Getting Married, Role Models, Slumdog Millionaire, Snow Angels, Speed Racer, The Bank Job, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess, The Happening, The Incredible Hulk, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Rocker, The Ruins, The Spirit, The Strangers, The Tale of Despereaux, The Wrestler, Traitor, Tropic Thunder, Vantage Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, WALL-E, Wanted