Knee-jerk review: "Black Swan"

1. Layered and complex. Nicely done.
2. There's a definite sense of dread hanging over the movie. You're always halfway expecting something bad to happen in even the most everyday scenes.
3. Strange fixation with injured fingernails and toenails. Discuss the significance amongst yourselves.
4. It's almost Polanskian in the way we're never sure what's really happening and what's only a fantasy. Creepy and unsettling.
5. We always respond to a movie that provides a glimpse into an exotic professional world. And this certainly feels like an authentic look at the pressure-cooker life of a prestigious ballet company.
6. Natalie Portman's getting Oscar buzz for her performance and we get that. She does a good job in the kind of showy, dynamic role (i.e. scenes where she screams in anger, scenes where she trembles in fear, scenes where she sobs in agony) that Oscar voters love. But we still find her cold and remote. Sorry.
7. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is a knockout. She's completely magnetic and beguiling. A long way from "That 70s Show."
8. We like the way the film slowly, subtly reveals that something may not be quite right with Portman's relationship to her mother.
9. There's some very complex ideas at work here about art. What sacrifices are necessary in pursuing art? Is there more to art than just technical proficiency? Do you also need emotion and unpredictability? Are genius artists also by definition volatile and crazy? Is there such a thing as artistic perfection?
10. No, we didn't know what "Swan Lake" was about until we saw this movie.
11. Vincent Cassell is predictably oily and untrustworthy.
12. You because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you.
13. It's good, yes. Complicated and ambitious in ways so many movies simply aren't. But The Wrestler is still our favorite Darren Aronofsky film.

Ranking holiday mixed nuts

1. Cashew - We wouldn't trust anyone who didn't like cashews.
2. Almond - A close tie with the cashew. There's something so aerodynamic about its shape. Like a salty little bullet.
3. Macadamia - Because it's exotic and oddly soft to chew.
4. Pecan - We love pecans, but we have to deduct points because you can find them just about anywhere.
5. Brazil - If we ran a mixed nut empire, we'd never include this nut. We'd starve the Brazil nut people right out of business. Does anyone honestly like this thing?


Have a Hyundai Christmas

Amid the brightly-colored noise of holiday ads pushing two-day sales and zero-percent-financing comes a beguiling series of spots from Hyundai. We thought there was something weirdly intriguing about the two musicians in the commercials, especially the female singer's beatific, wide-eyed serenity. If only we could attain such a look of sedated bliss. A quick check of Google confirms that these are no actors, but in fact members of a Southern California indie band called Pomplamoose. Where do they come up with these names?


Our five greatest flag football moments

The Cheese Fry spent its early 30s in an almost weekly quest to cause bodily injury in a pathetic attempt to recapture lost youth by pretending to be a football player. Even with the flags and a no-tackle rule, these Culver City-Santa Monica-based contests were brutal. Players went to the hospital, broke bones, suffered permanent disfigurement, and endured a week of Advil consumption to recover for the next weekend contest. At one point we were wearing not one, but two knee braces.

If there were a highlight tape of the Cheese Fry's greatest moments, this is what would be included:

1. The Mud Bowl. Imagine a soggy soccer field, more puddles than mud. Imagine pouring rain. Imagine players wearing heavy, stretched, wet clothes streaked with mud. Now imagine the Cheese Fry as the only player wearing cleats. It was an afternoon that made us feel like Barry Sanders, planting and cutting, juking and jiving. You can't catch me not because I'm good, but because you're stuck in flat-soled sneakers. We will never forget the glory of this performance.

2. Thanksgiving Overmatch. A crisp Thanksgiving morning, a bigger crowd that usual. Probably six-on-six. Because of the way the schoolyard pick went down, the Cheese Fry wound up being covered by a very short, very confused gentleman. He didn't know much about football. The result wasn't pretty. We dominated the Short Confused Guy without mercy.

3. Heatstroke Fly. Griffith Park on a hot summer day. First play from scrimmage. A fly on the right sideline. The Cheese Fry sprinted, blew past the defender, got open. The ball dropped perfectly. The Cheese Fry doesn't usually catch balls over the shoulder very well. But that afternoon, we got the ball and didn't break stride. Boom. Touchdown. Cut to ten minutes later as the Cheese Fry suffered what was surely a heatstroke. But it was worth it. Right?

4. The Perfect Throw. The Cheese Fry would never claim to be a good passer. It takes a tricky combination of eye-hand coordination, spatial geometry, and fast thinking to get the ball where it needs to go. Frankly, we're terrible. But one throw sticks in our memory because it was so instinctual and so flawless. And never to be repeated again. It was a moment where, as they say, "the game slowed down." With a defender in our face rushing, we delivered a strike (on a rope) through two defender's outstretched hands and planted it right in the belly of a slanting receiving. Poetry in motion.

5. Our Favorite Play. We loved this call - typically called at the goal line as one player drew it our on the T-shirt of another player - because it almost always worked. Why? Because the Cheesy Fry is so very slow, but in possession of soft hands. If we can get open, we'll make the catch, coach. While two receivers slant over the top, we drag across underneath. In the confusion of the crossing pattern, we almost always got a step on the defender, got open, and made the catch. Score.

Knee-jerk review: "Tron Legacy"

1. Pretty pictures for sure.
2. At first we didn't like it much, but there is something intriguing about the film's central theme about the impossible pursuit of perfection and the unintended consequences of such a folly. We find that sort of fresh.
3. The younger, CGI'd Jeff Bridges is pretty laughable. Like something out The Polar Express. Great idea, though.
4. The plot seems needlessly convoluted and confusing. And packed full of cheesy, on-the-nose dialogue. Could have used another rewrite or two.
5. We never thought Olivia Wilde was that hot. Guess she is.
6. Lightcycles, meet lightjets. Cool.
7. The music, by Daft Punk, is nothing short of incredible. Best part of the movie without question.
8. We didn't know Bruce Boxleitner was in this movie. An unexpected surprise.
9. If Encom is the Microsoft of this world, how is it that its sleek corporate headquarters is seemingly guarded (on the eve of its newest OS release, no less) by a single pudgy, middle-aged security guard? It's this kind of narrative implausibility that drives us crazy.
10. We do have fond memories of the 1982 original. We even turned a plastic frisbee into an identity disk. Yes, we were one of those kinds of ten-year-olds.
11. Michael Sheen is certainly having a good time. The movie could have used more of that sort of energy and edge. It's almost like he stepped in from another, better film.
12. It's all fairly somber and humorless. There's one laugh line in the whole movie, involving Jules Verne, of all things.
13. If the portal is so easy to get to from the grid, why don't more programs try to use it to escape?
14. Curious to see if wide audiences (beyond the nerd niche, we mean) turn this into a hit and validate Disney's unusual decision to sequelize a film that's little more than a cult novelty.
15. Overall, a disappointment. And we had low expectations.


Knee-jerk review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"

1. No, we never read the books.
2. It really is a wonder that Warner Bros. didn't completely screw this franchise up. Every movie in the series is exceedingly well-made - and for the most part, each one is better than the last. Trust us, there were so many ways for this to fail. (And we're not even counting the possibility that J.K. Rowling would fail to keep delivering best-sellers.) Cast the wrong kids, fumble the tone, pick the wrong director, fail to properly trust the source material, get sloppy with the sequels and coast. Every pothole was miraculously avoided.
3. We still don't understand what Ron Weasely adds other than some lame comic relief. He gives Harry a family, yadda yadda. Okay, sure. But is that really enough to make him one of the Big Three?
4. We always liked Mad Eye.
5. Some very clever, if unsettling, satire here, especially the Stalin-style purging and persecuting of Muggles (and suspected Muggles).
6. Bellatrix Lestrange is kind of hot.
7. The best sequence of the movie: breaking into the Ministry to get the Horcrux.
8. "Horcrux." What a word.
9. Not much of a cliffhanger ending, if you ask us.
10. Hermione is kind of a bad ass, isn't she?
11. We don't much like the first two movies, perhaps due to our general distaste for simple-minded, gee-whiz director Chris Columbus. (We will never forgive him for Home Alone.) But we must give him begrudging respect for setting up the Potter world and for picking a sterling cast.
12. "Stupefy!"
13. Poor Dobby.
14. We want a tent like that. Might actually go camping once in a while.
15. There is a lot of running around... and also a lot of waiting around. And while we are fed a good deal of important information, there is a nagging sense that not much is really happening. One can only assume the real action will take place in Part 2.

Topics of Conversation with Old School Friends You Haven't Seen in a While

* Your babies and children
* Who was in which class (i.e. you can no longer remember who's older and who's younger)
* Bad things that have happened to old classmates (or better yet, bad physical appearances of old classmates)
* Amusing stories that involved you many years ago but the supposed details of which you have zero recollection (i.e. "I never said that!")
* Comparisons between the current incarnation of your alma mater and the one you inhabited many years ago - these new kids have it much better than you did
* Wondering how you survived some of the stupid shenanigans you once pursued
* Dead teachers
* Asking your classmates if they remember so-and-so (odds are only 50-50 at best that they did, which makes no sense - how can they not remember so-and-so?)
* Where old classmates now live
* What old classmates no do for a living
* Whether or not you're on Facebook