To letterbox or not to letterbox

Trying to see a movie on television in the same format as it appeared in theaters has always been a challenge. Do not say the words "pan and scan" to us. But with the advent of widescreen HDTVs the problem seems to have gotten worse. The Cheese Fry's newest pet peeve is to tune into to some B-level cable channel (we're looking at you, Lifetime and FX) and see what is clearly a square image (and decidedly not in HD) purposely stretched horizontally to fill the rectangular widescreen TV frame. It's insulting. Do they think all us simpletons with our fancy Costco TV sets care about is that our whole TV is filled? Do they not think we can see that things on the edge of the frame of stretched and pulled?

When trying to explain this dilemma to newbies, it's not always easy. Full disclosure: we're not always 100% clear on how it all works, either.

Thankfully, a site called AspectRatioPolice has put together a nice primer on the problem with fitting rectangular movie frames into squarish TV boxes.


Wizard of Westwood

The Cheese Fry has worked at UCLA for quite some time now. UCLA loves them some John Wooden (who died earlier this month at age 99). His name and face are plastered all over campus. We could pretend to know all about his legendary coaching exploits, but the truth is that despite his amazing accomplishments, he's mostly just a name to us from the dusty pages of NCAA history.

That said, the guy was something of a poet when it came to pithy self-help quotes. He wasn't a bestselling author for no reason.


* I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.
* You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.
* Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.
* It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
* The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
* Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
* Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
* You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.
* Never mistake activity for achievement.
* It isn't what you do, but how you do it.
* If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
* Failure is not fatal, but failure to change may be.

And our personal favorite:

* Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.



Comedy out of certain, you know, situations

We hold these comedic truths to be self-evident:
* "Better Off Ted" would be a huge hit in a fairer, more just world. We saw it once and was really impressed. Never tuned in again, though. See our point?
* "How I Met Your Mother" is amusing mostly for its often clever non-linear storytelling that often doubles back on itself or cuts away for asides, flashbacks, and fantasies. Despite his unending accolades, Neil Patrick Harris is not the MVP of this show. It's Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan.
* "Two and Half Men" is hilarious, but so consumed with raunch and sleaze that we want to take a shower after watching it.
* "The Middle," with its lower-middle-class, "Roseanne"-style, just-scraping-by sensibility, was refreshing the first couple of times we saw it. But then it just became glum and depressing. If we want to worry about money problems, we'll open up our checkbook.
* "Community" is apparently really hitting its creative stride. So says the buzz. We'll take its word for it. But we do love us some Joel McHale (plug: watch "The Soup" on E!).
* "The Big Bang Theory" does the stale three-camera, live-before-a-studio-audience structure of set-up, punchline, bigger-punchline better than anyone. When it's good, it's very good. When it's not, it's very stale.
* "The New Adventures of Old Christine" was just canceled and it's not hard to see why. It was very solid, but just not particularly new. No pun intended.
* "Parks and Recreation" is one we haven't seen and, frankly, don't plan to. What are we, paid TV critics? We have a life, people. But we do love us some Amy Poehler.
* "30 Rock" is like medicine. It's so very very good for you. But we can't seem to look forward to it. Maybe it's that smug, you-probably-won't-get-this-joke attitude?
* "The Office" is now something of an elder statesmen, which is just strange. It's not as good as it used to be, but it can still be brilliant. What an ensemble of weirdo characters. That includes you, too, Jim and Pam. Normal people would have quit that insane job long ago.
* "Modern Family" is often hilarious, but what makes it satisfying is its pro-family sweetness. It's a feel-good comedy for the whole family. Yes, ABC, you can use that quote in your ads. There's a little Phil in the Cheese Fry. So says Mrs. Cheese Fry.
* "Cougartown" is the best sitcom on the air today. Period. Take it to the bank. Fade to black. The gags come so fast, we can't always keep up. Thank you, DVR "rewind" button. Surreal and sublime. Will you marry us, Busy Phillips?

Play it again, iTunes

Twenty songs we never get tired of hearing.

1 Bananarama, "I Heard a Rumor"
2 Mazzy Star, "Fade into You"
3 Jade, "Don't Walk Away"
4 Neneh Cherry, "Buffalo Stance"
5 Pink, "U + Ur Hand"
6 The Cars, "Drive"
7 Glass Tiger, "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)"
8 Sly Fox, "Let's Go All the Way"
9 Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now"
10 Van Halen, "Panama"
11 Beyonce, "Crazy in Love"
12 Maroon 5, "Wake Up Call"
13 Jay-Z, "Show Me What You Got"
14 Carolina Liar, "Show Me What I'm Looking For"
15 Nickelback, "Photograph"
16 Trick Pony, "On a Night Like This"
17 Kelly Clarkson, "I Do Not Hook Up"
18 Dido, "Thank You"
19 Carolyn Dawn Johnson, "I Don't Want You to Go"
20 O.A.R., "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)"

Fade in on: main titles

Christian Annyas, whoever she/he may be, is our kind of obsessive-compulsive collector. Christian's website meticulously catalogs screenshots of feature film main and end titles. It's a fascinating nostalgic trip not only through film history, but also through design/typographic history. This is just the kind of pointless hobby the Cheese Fry would have likely undertaken when he was in elementary school.

Shredding is fun

Courtesy a Wired magazine shout-out, SSI makes industrial-sized shredders. You know how your home shredder doesn't like staples? Not much of a problem for SSI. They post videos demonstrating the titanic horsepower of their machines, which includes shredding a car and a dozen or so bowling balls. Grrr.


Our new favorite commercial

When we see this commercial, we have to stop and watch it. Sublime.

"You lie!"

We're not political pundits (though the job sure does look easy enough) here at the Cheese Fry offices in beautiful downtown North Hollywood. But it seems to us that Washington has gotten a lot more rancorous in its petty partisanship. We certainly hope this isn't a case of some lame, crotchety "things were better in the old days" sensibility, but it could be.

From where we see it, this whole things seems to have gotten it's start with the Republican witch hunt of Bill Clinton. For a variety of reasons that far smarter people have filled books with, the right-wing hated Clinton and everything he stood for. But it wasn't enough to hate him. Clinton was vilified. And so we got a years-long investigation by Ken Starr that changed focus and direction as needed to find a scandal, any scandal, to stick to Clinton. The president is certainly a man of many errors and omissions - all Lewinsky-related decisions made by him are shocking at best and shameful at worst - as most presidents are. But few presidents ever had to contend with so rabid and relentless an attack from the opposition. That he was ultimately impeached for lying in a deposition, to us, hardly counts as a "high crime or misdemeanor." That he was accused of this Congress made for some very thick irony. You needed hip waders to get through the river of moral hypocrisy and phony sanctimony flowing down the Capitol hallways.

And then George W. Bush got elected. Which put the shoe on the other foot. You won't get any argument from us about the criminal, reprehensible decision Bush made to invade Iraq on the basis of lies and double-speak. But just as Clinton was demonized by the right, so too was Bush demonized by the left (although with a lot less fervor and organization - there simply is no Rush Limbaugh for the Democratic side of things, try as Al Franken did). Bush's simple-minded ways and aw-shucks personality were a particular source of ridicule, which in some ways proved the right's point - if you're not an Ivy League grad with a string of fancy degrees, then you're beneath contempt. The idea of treating the office of the president with respect and dignity was but a distant memory of some golden era that ended with the 1992 victory of Clinton.

Now we're come full circle with Barack Obama replacing Bush. The Republicans, sore losers in so many ways, have predictably brought out the knives to slice and dice the president as often as possible. Add to this parisan mix the powderkeg racial issue and you've got some real open hatred. It's not enough to oppose Obama's policies. No, you need to claim he's not even a U.S. citizen or spread rumors that he's a Muslim sleeper agent or suggest that he's a communist in a world where there's really only two countries left that are truly Communist-run. (Most of these folks wouldn't know communist doctrine if you gave them a copy of Das Capital.)

The Cheese Fry was particularly appalled by Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie" during the president's first State of the Union, treating a solemn event as some kind of South Carolina pep rally. Was Wilson shamed or sanctioned? Nope. He was a hero of the Republican party for daring to speak out. (We experienced a shocking moment of self-awareness when we realized that we probably wouldn't have been so outraged had someone shouted "You lie!" to Bush from the floor of Congress. Might we be just as hypocritical? Might we be part of the problem? In a word, yep.)

In other words, things seem to be getting worse.

It seems clear that national politics has become a zero-sum game. I can't win if you win. Also know as, the only way I win is to be sure you lose. Compromise is now a dirty word and merrily blocking bills and votes has become a part of the Congressional job description. What's called a "dirty trick" by the minority is a "reasonable procedure" by the majority. The names and parties may change, but the offending behavior remains the same.

We place some of the blame on the economy. When people lose jobs and worry about their future, they're quick to get riled up and look for someone to blame. An aloof, African-American president who talks in flowery sentences and is so unlike the vast majority of Americans (which we think is, like, a good thing) is one place to start.

But we think the real culprit is the partisan media.

In the days of Kennedy and Carter and Reagan, you were stuck with the local newspaper and the three networks. You didn't hear the fringe criticisms and the conspiracy theories and the wack jobs and the rumors. You got the dry facts and maybe a few clips of protesters in the streets. When Walter Cronkite dared to speak out against Vietnam, it was a watershed moment that even LBJ could see.

My how things have changed in a world full of websites and radio stations and cable networks. If you have an opinion, we have a forum just for you. Objective journalists need not apply.

The big bully is, of course, the right-wing loudmouths. Rush Limbaugh often seems to have a stranglehold on his listeners, every opinion taken as fact, every misstatement and exagerration assumed to be gospel. Glenn Beck is a new member of this movement, hooting and hollering from his Fox News soap box, but becoming a force to be reckoned with. But let's not just cast aspersions on Fox News and right-wing AM talk radio. The media partisanship works both ways. The Cheese Fry loves to hate Fox News which so shamelessly slants every single story, but then one day we watched some MSNBC programming with a critical eye. One could argue that Keith Olbermann is just as much a bully as Beck or Limbaugh, mixing opinion with news, making no effort to conceal his agenda. There's a smug arrogance to Olbermann that is identical to Limbaugh: "If you don't know I'm right, you're stupid." At least Jon Stewart is up-front about his show being comedy first, news second.

This is apparently a growing problem in our fractured, niche media marketplace, where everyone can tune into someone who talks and thinks just like they do. This "echo chamber" effect keeps opposing views out and serves to reinforce partisan thinking. It's practically a form of brainwashing, cementing extreme opinion and casting every political question in an us-versus-them frame. It's why CNN, which continues to so quaintly cling to impartial, objective reporting, is struggling in the ratings. No one's interested in that. They want to get riled up and hear what dirty deeds the other side has done today. This unending inflaming of the people isn't helping. It's hurting.

And we'e not sure we can all change the channel.

The Cheese Fry Hot 8 (Lost edition)

1. Dr. Juliet Burke
2. Penny Widmore
3. Sun Kwon
4. Kate Austen
5. Nikki Fernandez
6. Charlotte Lewis
7. Alex Rousseau
8. Ilana

No, we're not Claire Littleton fans. Sorry.

"Surf dudes with attitude... kinda groovy..."

We're way behind in posting odds and ends we consider blog-worthy. This clip is a prime example. It's several months old, but still oh-so-sweet.

"Saved by the Bell" may have been the bigger hit, but true TNBC connoisseurs like us know that its Saturday morning companion "California Dreams" was the far better show. (Editor's note: the truly best show that ever graced TNBC? The late great "Running the Halls.") Both "Saved" and "Dreams" were equally implausible, white-bread corny, and punctuated by those mindless cheers and whoops from the teeny-bopper studio audience. And both clearly offered a ridiculously tame, G-rated take on the realities of high school, surely formed by soulless focus groups and 40-year-old executive millionaires. But there was something edgy about "California Dreams." Maybe it was the ethnically-diverse cast. Maybe it was the somewhat realistic depiction of a struggling garage band. Maybe it was the supercute Heidi Lenhart. Maybe it was just the fact that the show didn't stoop so low as to offer a cartoon character as grating and insulting as Screech. Whatever the reason, lounging around on a Saturday morning in the haclyon early 90s, sometimes nursing a hangover, sometimes just trying to plan out the weekend... this was television manna.

Thank you, Jimmy Fallon. You get us.