Movie review: Choke (semi-spoilers)


We saw Choke on Saturday. This was the book that got me hooked on Chuck Palahniuk.

David Fincher did such an awesome job with Fight Club, though the box office draw for it was low. So Clark Gregg had quite a challenge ahead of him: do artistic justice to a really good, but really tough, book, and still put some butts in seats.

For opening weekend, it was only on one screen in town. We went to a 4:25 showing, and the 67-seat theater was almost full.

Gregg's version is very commercially viable. It's short (run time is around 90 minutes), and he managed to get an R rating on it (the book is very NC-17).

He didn't have an easy time of it, but he did.

I clearly am not alone in thinking it was an OK interpretation.

Palahniuk fans are, admittedly, a hard bunch to please.

I went with someone who had not read the book, and the only Palahniuk she was familiar with was Survivor, which looked like it was going to be optioned as a film, but, well, 9/11 happened, so no more airplanes crashing on purpose for a while.

She was very conflicted about the movie, on a "I really shouldn't like this, but I kinda do" level.

I enjoyed it on a "this is entertainment, and I'm glad I spent an hour and a half in a theater watching it" level (especially with the dinner that followed).

But, yeah, it was an OK interpretation. Victor bottoms out in a much different place, and the intricacies of the choking scam aren't fully revealed. For me, that was really the brilliant part of the character – that he's got a really good ledger system for it, despite the fact that he's a royal screw-up in most other parts of his life.

Anyway, see it. If you enjoy movies, see it for the diversion. If you enjoy Palahniuk for the art of Palahniuk, see it because if you want more of his books to be optioned, this needs to do well.

The view from the white corner

The best thing I ever saw Catherine Orland do was manage to not deck Joel Ackerson when he asked her if we still needed women's music festivals. You know, because women are equal and all that.

Simiarly, white privilege is so dead. Umm, yeah. Sure it is, if you say so. Mitch posted this, and you need to watch it. And I'll definitely be following This Week in Blackness now.

Also, if you want to give Tim Wise a hug, you can find him here.

Book reviews: Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo by Tim Dorsey

After a desperate cry for fiction recommendations on Twitter a few weeks ago, Mitch came through with shout for Tim Dorsey.

So, I headed over to the local library and grabbed Torpedo Juice and The Big Bamboo.

They were both lots of fun.

First off, let me warn you away from these books if farcical, derivative work bothers you. Because seriously, you're going to recognize:

• Buddy films
• Jack Kerouac
• Hunter Thompson
• Jimmy Buffett
• Coen Brothers
American Psycho

And that's off the top of my head at 6:15 on a Friday morning.

Dorsey was a reporter for 12 years, then started writing novels about Florida.

This is going to be more of a character review than a pair of book reviews, because it's the main characters, Serge and Coleman, who make the stories.

Coleman is an obese drug-abusing alcoholic. He's a classic bumbler who somehow makes it through life as a sidekick without messing things up too much.

Serge is a teetotaling serial killer and scam artist who only kills and scams people who really need it – like nursing home developers who close down, rebuild, then reopen, kicking all their Medicare patients out.

Serge is the mastermind, an obsessive sociopath you really want to hand a glass of Scotch and tell to chill the heck out (although he does camp out and meditate when necessary, and always enjoys a sunrise).

Coleman really just isn't sure what's going on, but he can follow instructions at least 40 percent of the time, and the reader is always left guessing which 40 percent it will be.

Anyway, these books are fun. Go read them. There will be some available at the DeWitt Community Library sometime after lunch.

Tuesday night dinner

The lack of saturation on the cell phone photo doesn't do dinner justice.

Andrea's garden had quite the yield this season, and I was the happy recipient of some of the late-summer variety: red and yellow tomatoes, cucumber, squash, beans, a few peas (and also some recently canned peaches, not included in dinner).

The tomatoes, beans and peas were cooked in: (roughly) 2:2:1 butter:brandy:Southern Comfort, with mustard seed, celery salt and chili paste to taste. Cucumbers and squash were simmered separately in a little bit of olive oil with mustard seed and celery salt.

All veggies were combined and served over steamed white rice.

Eaten with a glass of Just Peachy by Swedish Hill.

Yum, as it were.

Chiefs, Nationals sign development contract

Here are some thoughts on the new two-year development agreement the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs signed with the Washington Nationals, but to tell you the truth, I think I said most of it when I predicted last Tuesday it would happen.

Someone, though, did ask me last night why he should be excited about such a mediocre parent club coming in. My feeling is two-fold: (a) do you go with someone who has a history of bringing mediocre teams here, or with someone who might surprise us? and (b) someone showed some real interest in the community; that's never a bad thing.

So, good luck to the new wave...

Dome, Saturday

It almost seemed orchestrated when this dude started climbing over the seat in front of him, and his buddy yanked his shirt. Dude slid back into his chair without spilling a drop of beer.

Two things you should know about me before I continue:

(a) I'm not a college sports fan; I'm not going to justify that to you, just know that I grew up very much attached to the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots, and never really had a reason to follow sports at the college level.

(b) I'm a Syracuse transplant, as of five years ago. The only real reason I have to root for Syracuse University athletics is that this town in general, and my work environment in particular, is absolutely miserable when the Orange are losing.

When a friend asked me why no one was going to football games, I told her that if you want butts in seats, you have to put a good product on the field, and, failing that, you have to play in an arena that is enough of an attraction to bring people in.

I asserted the SU football team had neither going for it. I also had to admit I had never been to a football game at the Carrier Dome, although I have been there for basketball games and other, non-sporting events.

Also, I'm firmly of the opinion that football's an outdoor sport. Just saying.

So, that friend and her SO joined Mitch and me for the homecoming game on Saturday.

Syracuse beat Northeastern 30-21.

This was the Orange's first win of the season. And a little sad, considering that Northeastern also came into the game winless, but is in an entirely different division than Syracuse. That is, Syracuse beat a team that isn't expected to compete with any team at the Orange's level.

And only by nine points.

Also, take into account that this was homecoming weekend (always want to do your best to guarantee a win there), and that while the announced crowd was something like 36,000, there were actually more like 14,000 people there (the 36,000 is the "paid attendance" figure, so you're talking season ticket holders who don't come to every game, and since it's homecoming weekend, there were probably thousands of tickets comped to celebrity alums, class presidents, and others from the past 60 years who didn't show up).

Axe has a much better analysis than I'd ever draw up.

So, yeah, this team is not the sort of product that draws people, and now having been to a football game at the Dome, I don't think the venue alone is drawing many people: the seats aren't comfortable unless you bring pads (if you haven't been there – they're actually bleachers, so you're very much bumping up against the people next to you), the concessions are even more expensive than at the local Triple-A ballpark, and you kind of feel like you're missing out on something that's going on in a different place if you walk the concourse during the game.

The thing I did really like? Good hecklers.

Cities: Urban creativity and good employees

I've been waking up at ridiculous hours this week (like 3:30-4 a.m., and wide awake), and maybe it's the lack of sleep, but something really clicked with me about the Richard Florida interview I woke up to.

Florida is an author and researcher, and his ideas mesh around the concept of a creative class. He's academic director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto.

He says they called it a "Prosperity" institute because of the growth associated with the word.

Anyway, what really touched me about the interview is his idea of the quality of place.

Included in this are the mixing of people and ideas.

If you build a new development, it's basically building a new shell. It has to grow, and it takes decades, centuries.

If you have a city, you have the energy of the people who started the city centuries ago mixed with the energy of the people who are there now, mixed with the energy of everyone who has been there in between.

The people who choose to be there are there amidst all this energy.

As interviewer Peter Day puts it, you need "good old-fashioned muddle" for a city.

Cities spark creativity, they spark life, and let's face it, the people who opt to live in cities already have those things, and feel they can grow from what's there and add to it.

The same, says Florida, goes for places of work.

When employers recognize that their employees have something beyond the little outline of their job to offer to the company, that's step one.

Step two is making sure employees want to be there – not just working for the company, but that they're given a working environment that helps motivate them.

I have step one at my company. In fact, it's grown beyond the local company, to other affiliates and to the centralized editorial department. Fantastic.

But I work in a soulless atmosphere; no wonder I'm not sleeping well.

I live in a house built in 1890. It has hardwood floors, and lots of character.

If I do freelance work, I do it downtown or in the Westcott section of town, which is fairly artsy.

My day job, though, I drive to an office park and sit in a drab gray-and-green cubicle.


In fact, I come to a chain coffee shop to write before work, because it's the only one close with Internet access (even though they block some sites).

And, if I want lunch, the only places I can walk to are that coffee shop, a small mall food court, and a Nothing but Noodles franchise.

To get to those places, I have to walk across parking lots and medians, because if I walked along the road (no sidewalks, by the way), I'd be looking at about a 40-minute walk to get anywhere.

No wonder we all want raises every year: We don't have any atmospheric motivation at work.

On the one hand, that's enough venting before 7 a.m. On the other hand, this is a real problem for American employers. A lot of us have voiced (repeatedly, over the course of more years than I've been there) that we'd like to move the office downtown.

If the company did that, and gave us an interesting place to work while there, the creative juices would be flowing, and productivity would rise. It sounds like that's not just my opinion.

This is why I don’t do live interviews

Got this in the e-mail at work. Ouch.


PLANO, Texas (Sept, 16 2008) – In a continued effort to educate Americans one bottle cap at a time, Snapple offers New York Knicks reporter Jill Martin a side job for the off-season: Snapple Cap Fact Writer. In a recent interview, Martin failed to answer basic trivia questions about her own team - including a question about the years in which the Knicks have won the NBA Championship.

To ensure that New York fans have a more informed reporting staff, Snapple invites Ms. Martin to write five Knicks-focused Snapple cap facts. In addition to gaining crucial knowledge for her career, Martin will receive $1,000 for each cap fact. Snapple will provide any and all resources needed to research these facts, including: Internet access, direct contact with devout followers of NY sports fans and the email address of the president of the Patrick Ewing Fan Club.

The job offer expires on the NBA's opening night October 29, 2008. “Snapple, in no way, wants to interfere with Martin's full-time job,” said Bryan Mazur, vice president of marketing for Snapple. “However, this is a wonderful opportunity to engage a talented young reporter - and Snapple is more than happy to help!”

To respond, Martin can contact the Snapple consumer line at 1-800-762-7753.

I officially feel old, at least in new media terms

Remember Napster? It was a music sharing service that was hugely popular among college students, unemployed hackers and other people who thought disposable income and music were mutually exclusive.

The site was started by a college drop-out named Shawn Fanning, who got sued about 30 million times (OK, slight exaggeration) for letting people trade copyrighted music for free, and who is probably now quietly making some giant income because he's a genius who figured out how to leverage the Internet really well.

Just saying.

After the original Napster was shut down, it disappeared for a few years and then someone bought the name and logo (we call that a brand in marketing terms, kids), and turned it into a boring international conglomerate with Los Angeles headquarters and offices in New York, Tokyo, Luxembourg and Frankfurt.

They also have a "free" service that swallows your IP address and lets you listen to a song without paying three times before you then have to buy it.


Best Buy – you know Best Buy, don't you? They have those 50-foot yellow-and-blue tags glowing from the sides of box stores and malls everywhere – decided Friday it would buy Napster in an effort to (snicker) take on iTunes.

iTunes has 70 percent of the (legal) music download market. Best Buy wants to double its sales in the next five years.

Somehow this just feels like the cool kid turning square, then becoming a lifelong mid-level corporate tax attorney for the rest of his life.

So long, Napster. It was good watching you wither away to a soulless paper-pusher.

Where the songs collide

Ceili Rain

Music has always been part of my life. I come from a musical family, and those who aren't musicians, are fans of music.

There have always been pockets of music genres I don't particularly care for. Country music has been one, and much to Jonathan's chagrin, so is Irish music.

Lately, though, my ears and tastes seem to be evolving. I'm hearing where different forms of music that I previously didn't enjoy fit in with the kinds of music I do enjoy – even with those that I enjoy most.

Leonard Bernstein, the great classical conductor and composer, famously pushed music critics to understand that pop music was worth reviewing because it was also about form. He reportedly was a fan of Janis Ian.

I'm starting to hear a blurring of lines between styles, and am recognizing instead that form travels independently of instrumentation.

Or maybe I'm just getting older.