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February 24, 2009 06:01 PM

Because I still have the tabs open: In this Thursday's paper, you'll find a wee tiny last minute preview of a show at Sam Bond's by a band called The Clues. The Clues, assuming it's the right Clues, include former members of Arcade Fire and the short-lived but beloved and awesome Unicorns. (There's another The Clues in Colorado, apparently.) The Clues are kind of a pain to Google unless you include the band members' former bands. But there's some good stuff out there:

• Pitchfork has an MP3 of "Perfect Fit," from The Clues' upcoming debut album.

• Exclaim News has a nifty live YouTube clip from Pop Montreal.

• Constellation Records has a page up for the forthcoming CD, but no new tracks.

• And Villa Villa Nova, a Canadian online store for music and such by the people that run it (and others), has a few clips and tidbits about the band.

Now there's just one problem with this band and their show: It's March 1, the same damn night as the A.C. Newman show at John Henry's. Show-hopping on a Sunday? Let's just hope it isn't raining.

(Addendum: Suzi tells me this is the EW blog's 1,000th post. Hey, nifty!)

February 23, 2009 08:04 PM

Which of these is "Meth Mouth" and which is "Mountain Dew Mouth?"

A.

B.

A is Dew, B is Meth. So is Mountain Dew the new Meth?

ABC news reports :

"Central Appalachia is No. 1 in the nation in toothlessness. According
to dentists, one of the main culprits is Mountain Dew soda. With 50
percent more caffeine than Coke or Pepsi, Mountain Dew seems to be used
as a kind of anti-depressant for children in the hills."

Just Dew'n the acidic, sugary corporate product does appear to have drug-like effects for children:

February 20, 2009 01:27 PM

Blog? What is this blog you speak of?

Oh, sigh. My apologies, all 12 blog readers, for having been so buried in this week's top ten movies story that I have sorely, horribly neglected this little box here. There are always so many things to blog about — the movies I wish I hadn't had to leave off that list, for one thing. But hey, it's Oscar weekend! And the predictions are just so damn predictable! So let's play a little game I like to play with the Oscars. It's called Who Will Win, Who Should Win, and Where the Academy Went Wrong.

OK, it's not really called that. I just made it up. But Oscar commentary is a time-honored and slightly pointless tradition I'm not about to give up on now, even if I still have a couple of movies left to see. It's not all about the roles, after all; it's about the gossip and the politics and the nonsense that shouldn't matter. Let's take a peek.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Will win: Rourke. Everyone says so. The movie is this year's Last King of Scotland: unremarkable, but built around a major performance. Is it the best performance of the year? I wouldn't say so, but I bet the Academy voters do.
Should win: Tough call between Jenkins, Langella and Penn. Penn has his Oscar (for Mystic River); Jenkins is a long-time character actor carrying a sweet, quiet piece; Langella owns Frost/Nixon, especially in the last half hour. I'd probably pick Langella, honestly.
Should've been nominated: Mathieu Almaric in A Christmas Tale is the first that comes to mind; just 'cause they're in French doesn't mean his last few roles haven't been award-worthy. And heck, Robert Downey Jr. WAS Iron Man. If we can nominate Pitt for such a shallow, pretty, vague role as Benjamin Button, why not Tony Stark?

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Kate Winslet in The Reader
Will win: Winslet. It's her year! Everyone says so! And Meryl Streep already has plenty of Oscars. If Kate wins, it'll be one of those incredibly disappointing years when an actor wins for (what's perceived to be) one of their weaker roles. It happens.
Should win: Melissa Leo. No argument; her performance in the underseen Frozen River is unfussy and natural and incredibly believable. Hathaway was very good, too, but the overlooking of her costars makes it harder for me to get invested in her chances.
Should've been nominated: Honestly, I think this category is a disaster of overlooked performances. In short: Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy, Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long and Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, to name just a few (let's not bicker about technicalities of release dates, shall we? These movies had U.S. release in 2008, so in my fantasy world, they're eligible. And they sure weren't nominated before).

And the rest of the categories are ...

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Will win: Heath. No one will ever forgive the voters if he doesn't.
Should win: Heath. Because he was really good.
Should've been nominated: I'm having a hard time coming up with obvious snubs here, though I'm sure someone will correct me. Although I did think Javier Bardem did a nice job as the pivot point around which Vicky Christina Barcelona turned.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in Doubt
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
Will win: Most money is on Penelope, but I think Rebecca Hall is the best actress in Vicky. There's also the chance, if we're being a bit cynical, that voters will want to reward the powerhouse roles of Doubt without rewarding previous winners, and go with Viola Davis.
Should win: Marisa Tomei. I don't like The Wrestler. I don't even think Mickey Rourke is that amazing in it. But Tomei — whose My Cousin Vinny Oscar I thought totally undeserved — lights up the movie every time she's on screen; her ability to delineate where fantasy and real life split is far more fascinating than the way Rourke portrays the two as inextricably linked.
Should've been nominated: Samantha Morton in Synecdoche, New York; she's the only thing that kept me watching. OK, so did Michelle Williams. And Emily Watson in her tiny part. Also Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married.

Best animated feature film of the year
Bolt; Kung Fu Panda; WALL-E
Will win: WALL-E, easily.
Should win: WALL-E, easily.
Should've been nominated: Waltz With Bashir, easily.

Best documentary feature
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon); Encounters at the End of the World; The Garden; Man on Wire; Trouble the Water
Will win: Hard to call, as I've only seen two, but people do like Man on Wire...
Should win: ... and by "people" I also mean "me."
Should've been nominated: Again, Waltz With Bashir, easily.

Achievement in directing
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher
Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard
Milk, Gus Van Sant
The Reader, Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle
Will win: Danny Boyle, barring a last-minute push for Van Sant.
Should win: In this case, I'm kind of on the side of the masses: Though I thought Slumdog's story was weak and its characters paper-thin, I think the film had an incredible sense of place and, in its first hour at least, a vivacity that was pretty striking (I also adore the closing credits, for what it's worth). I'd rather see it win for directing than win Best Picture, though I think that's a losing argument at this point. Fincher deserved an award for Zodiac more than this one, and Van Sant deserves it for both his 2008 movies, but as long as Ron Howard doesn't win, it's cool.
Should've been nominated: I accidentally skipped this one the first time through. Well, given that my favorite movie of the year was The Fall, I'd say Tarsem, but I realize that exists in a different universe than the one in which the Oscars take place. So, more realistically, Mike Leigh for Happy-Go-Lucky, at the very least, and hell, I'd throw Christopher Nolan in there for The Dark Knight, just for fun.

Best foreign language film of the year
The Baader Meinhof Complex, Germany; The Class, France; Departures, Japan; Revanche, Austria; Waltz with Bashir, Israel
Will win: Seems likely Bashir will pick this one up — not least because it got snubbed in or disqualified from two other categories — but people do also like The Class. (Caveat: I've only seen Bashir.)
Should win: (Caveat: I've only seen Bashir.)
Should've been nominated: Though this is harder to call given the strange rules about release dates and such, I would have liked to see pretty much all of the foreign films on my top movies list nominated where eligible, but particularly Let the Right One In. The Academy needs to acknowledge more genre films, especially when they do interesting new things with familiar elements.

Achievement in cinematography
Changeling, Tom Stern
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Claudio Miranda
The Dark Knight, Wally Pfister
The Reader, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Slumdog Millionaire, Anthony Dod Mantle
Will win: A lot of money on Slumdog here, too, and Mantle surely has a lot to do with the lovely sense of place in the film.
Should win: I've not seen Changeling or The Reader, and none of the other nominees wowed me the way last year's sad loser The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did, so I'm a touch indifferent.
Should've been nominated: The Fall, period. I don't care whether you liked the story or the characters or anything else about it — it was still astonishing to look at.

Adapted screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, screenplay by Eric Roth, screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt, written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, screenplay by Peter Morgan
The Reader, screenplay by David Hare
Slumdog Millionaire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
Will win: Part of a Slumdog juggernaut, I expect.
Should win: I find myself not the least bit invested in this one.
Should've been nominated: Probably Let the Right One In, at least.

Original screenplay
Frozen River, written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges, written by Martin McDonagh
Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E, screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
Will win: A tossup between Milk (which may not win anything else) and WALL-E.
Should win: I'd love to see Mike Leigh win something for Happy-Go-Lucky, but I'd be happy with WALL-E and delighted with Frozen River.
Should've been nominated: Ever so many things, again, largely foreign and on my top 10 list. But Rachel probably also deserved a nod here, to be fair.

Best motion picture of the year
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Frost/Nixon; Milk
The Reader; Slumdog Millionaire
Will win: Slumdog Millionaire. And then Hollywood will pat itself on the back for being so cool and, like, aware of the world outside L.A. (Me? Cynical? Never!)
Should win: Of this bunch? Not a one of 'em. But I'd pick Milk, then Slumdog Millionaire, just based on the options.
Should've been nominated: The biggest omission here is WALL-E, I think; it's pure animation snobbery. A lot of folks would have liked to have seen The Dark Knight nominated, which would have made things interesting. Like the other overall categories, my list of snubbed nominees is pretty much my list of favorite movies of the year, but realistically, I'm mostly cranky on behalf of the animated robots.

And the other categories, briefly (skipping shorts as I've seen none of them, yet):

Editing: The underrated yet incredibly important category. Very possibly another Slumdog win, especially for that great chase at the beginning, or a rare Dark Knight moment — except that there were more than a few complaints from the peanut gallery about some of the action sequence editing. (Not from here, mind you.)

Art direction: A very tough call. Be a nice place to recognize that while Revolutionary Road wasn't great, it sure looked great — ditto The Duchess. But Button and Dark Knight were gorgeous as well.

Costume design: Catherine Martin (Australia) has a few little gold men already, I believe, but they're always deserved. Still, Kate Winslet's precise Revoutionary dresses — or the period garb Keira Knightley was laced into in The Duchess — could nab this one.

Sound editing/mixing: Always, for me, the toughest awards to feel like I've got a grip on, which is silly given how much the way a movie sounds has to do with its effect on a viewer. Wanted is a terrible movie, but it sounds amazing; still, if these don't get caught up in a Slumdog sweep, I could see 'em going to anything. Genre does tend to get a bit of technical due here.

Visual effects: Button. Done. Which other film have you read so much about the effects for? Not even the semi in Gotham could beat this one. I think. I could be wrong. But it's "achievement" in visual effects, not "freaking awesome action sequences," so ... there's that.

Makeup: I love that Hellboy II is nominated for this. Possibly it deserved an art direction nomination as well. But give it to the big red guy's creator already.

Original score: Four of the five nominees — Desplat, Howard, Elfman and Newman — are fairly frequent flyers in this category, but I'm not sure that means A.R. Rahman will win for Slumdog; if memory serves, the score winners tend to go a little traditional. The most memorable of the traditional bunch was Milk — I think? Nothing is really standing out here.

Original song: The only question is, Which Slumdog song will it be? (And why did the Academy only nominate three songs? Lame, guys. Lame.)

February 11, 2009 02:43 PM

Facing huge cuts in city services due to the recession, the Eugene City Council voted unanimously today to blow at least $17 million in city reserves on a new police station that voters opposed three times.

Keeping the reserves from being used to prevent more than $10 million in cuts to popular library, parks, Hult Center, planning, community policing and other services was a primary motivation for the City Manager and councilors. “It really can’t be on the table as part of the budget committee discussion,” said Councilor Chris Pryor. “We need to make sure it goes for this.”

Three south Eugene councilors and Mayor Kitty Piercy had expressed concerns about the budget maneuver on Monday. But including up to $5 million in the proposal for a seismic and mechanical upgrade of the City Hall building was apparently enough to win over their support today.

But while all the councilors and city staff may support prioritizing the police station above other city services, voters do not. Police station measures failed in May and November 2000 and again in 2004. The last margin was 60 percent opposed.

City Manager John Ruiz recommended that the council get around the will of the voters on the police station and spend its reserves on the unpopular facility without asking voters. Voter approval is "unlikely in the foreseeable future,” he wrote in a memo.

February 11, 2009 05:40 PM

The Eugene Fire Department deployed 23 people for five hours to respond to a “small leak” of hydrochloric acid gas from a railroad tank car last night.

The city responded in moon suits and evacuated Union Pacific employees from the rail yard off the Northwest Expressway. But the city didn’t evacuate the neighborhood next to the accident.

To get money for new offices, the city is now trumpeting the chance of a few police cars getting trapped under City Hall in an earthquake. But a far more dangerous and likely hazard may be a toxic train derailment.

In 1982 a chemical car derailment forced the evacuation of Livingston, Louisiana. The chemicals burned and exploded for two weeks and were only controlled after digging a huge pit and blowing the rail cars up.

Imagine this next to the 5th Street Market or in the Whiteaker or Trainsong neighborhoods:

February 7, 2009 05:46 PM

Going to church on Sunday?

Most people in Eugene won't.

The Eugene/Springfield metro area ranked as one of the very least religious places in the nation in a 2000 national study by the Glenmary missionary group. Only one in four people in Eugene go to church, half the national average, according to the study. Out of 276 metro areas, Eugene ranked 273 for the lowest percentage of adherents.

Here's some clips from the Glenmary study:

clipped from www.glenmary.org

Four metros report less than one in
four claimed by the participating groups: Medford, Oregon
(22%), Corvallis, Oregon (23%), Redding, Calif. (24%),
and Eugene, Ore. (24%). (Complete
list available
.)

blog it

clipped from ext.nazarene.org

273 Eugene 24.5%

blog it

Oregon ranked as one of the least religious states in the nation in a Gallop poll released this week. The poll asked, "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" Nationally 65 percent said yes. In Oregon the percentage was 53.

That doesn't mean they were regular churchgoers. Nationally only 30 percent told Gallup that they go to church at least once a week.

Here's clips of the Gallup stuff:

clipped from www.gallup.com

Overall, 65% of Americans say religion is an important part of their daily lives

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So with so few actually very religious, especially here, what does this mean for all the political God pandering?

Should the Obama inauguration have included at least four official sermons (two at the event, one in the morning and one the next day)?

Should the 4J School Board recite the "under god" pledge at every meeting?

What about all these, national, state and city prayer breakfasts?

What about gay marriage in a state where half don't consider themselves religious and less than that go to church regularly?

February 5, 2009 12:28 PM

McMansion

Republicans are pushing to add more tax breaks for the rich into the Obama stimulus.

An idea to use taxpayer money to subsidize lower mortgages is gaining traction. The Register-Guard endorsed it today.

But most of the tax break would go to the rich, who are unlikely to spend it to stimulate the economy.

Here’s the math using calculators and interest rates from Bankrate.com and assuming a subsidized interest rate drop of 1 percent to about 4.4%, as discussed by Republicans:

Double-wide Schmuck:

Mortgage: $100,000
Monthly payment at current interest rate: $560
Payment at new subsidized rate: $499
Savings: $61
% Savings: 11%

McMansion Millionaire:
Mortgage: $500,000
Monthly payment at current interest rate: $6,646
Payment at new subsidized rate: $ 4,996
Savings: $1,650
% Savings: 25%

So the millionaire saves 27 times more than the work-a-day loser. No wonder the Republicans are so excited about this idea.

A big chunk of the difference is that McMansion “jumbo” loans now pay about 1.5 percentage points more interest because they are a greater risk to lenders. So they benefit the most from the Republican tax break.

Most economists agree that big tax breaks for the rich will do little to stimulate the economy. The rich already buy whatever they want and will just pocket the money. Poor people on the other hand will spend the money quickly for basic necessities.

Most poor people don't even own a house. Half of the people living in Eugene are renters.

February 5, 2009 07:39 PM

For police officers and judges, dishonesty is a firing offense.

Without integrity, none would trust them.

So why are these law enforcement officials lying to hype crime?

Eugene’s acting Police Chief Pete Kerns and a gaggle of local judges have declared that the area suffers from a crime wave of apocalyptic proportions. The local mainstream media has repeated their crime claims without question, causing much confusion.

Here are the documented facts:

According to the FBI, Eugene’s violent crime rate has fallen 53 percent and its property crime rate has fallen 43 percent since 1997. Here’s the data table from the U.S. Department of Justice’s official online database:

Using the same DOJ database, out of 398 cities with more than 100,000 people, Eugene ranks 280th for violent crime rate and 90th for property crime rate.

Congressional Quarterly ranked 385 cities based on overall crime rate using FBI data. Eugene ranked 224th highest:


So why are they hyping crime? Well, the police have been pushing for huge budget increases for more than a decade. The judges apparently listen more to the police than the evidence.

February 5, 2009 02:03 PM

The UO is looking for an architect for a new 400-500 room dorm, apparently somewhere behind the Natural History Museum.

The UO has been sharply criticized for building lavish athletic facilities instead of relieving dorm overcrowding.

Here’s a tour of two students’ UO shoebox dorm room:

Contrast that to the football player locker room:

What will the new locker room at the UO's new quarter-billion-dollar basketball arena look like?

January 30, 2009 05:55 PM

I took too long to write about last Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica, and hereby vow (with fingers only a little bit crossed) to do better in the future. But there are a couple of things I want to scribble down before tonight's episode airs ...

So this is longer than intended. It happens.

"A Disquiet Follows My Soul" was initially plenty entertaining — and totally disappointing once I took the time to think about it even a little bit more. Friends convinced me that between being shot by a Cylon, duped by a Cylon back on New Caprica, wary of Cylons in general and in charge of the nav systems — and therefore deeply skeptical of bringing Cylon tech aboard the fleet's ships — there's reason enough for Gaeta's mutiny. So I've come around to the plot — to a point. The problem is, the show's telling me Gaeta's cracked without showing me anything that convinces me it's in keeping with the character. Was he willing to lie on the stand to get a conviction for Baltar? Yes, but I always thought that had more to do with Baltar — and what he knew about Gaeta — than pure Cylon hatred. I'm not certain it all adds up, and that the showrunners weren't just looking for a smaller-part character who wasn't completely loyal to Admiral Adama. (I will admit that discovering that the things that happened with Gaeta in the "Face of the Enemy" webisodes took place between last week's episode and this — as opposed to between seasons 4.0 and 4.5 — make me a touch more sympathetic to Gaeta's emotional state.)

(As an aside, you really expect me to believe that every single soldier in that mess hall was interested in rising up against Adama? Every one? I'm holding out hope that what we didn't see in the previews for this week was that Adama knew all along; someone pretended to go along with Gaeta, but was just planning to let the admiral know what was up.)

In other character news: Apparently everyone knows that Ellen Tigh is the fifth super-special Cylon, but no one's talking about it; President Roslin is busy running laps and getting busy with the admiral but not doing her job, thereby acting incredibly irresponsibly and leaving the government in the hands of a near nutjob, Tom Zarek; Baltar is preaching about how bad God's been, which really makes me hope that the idea of the Cylon god being either another model of Cylon (a Zero?) or a human programmer gets explored; and oh, yeah, the Chief finds out his kid isn't really his kid.

And here the show shows its ass. In the first half of season four, in "The Ties that Bind," poor Cylon-hating Cally found out her husband, Galen Tyrol, was a Cylon, and promptly tried to airlock herself and their son. There was absolutely no reason to believe she wasn't airlocking the kid because he was half Cylon, and to now pretend that it was because she didn't want the kid raised by a Cylon is to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. In other words, if they knew, back in 4.0, that the kid was actually the son of Viper jock Hot Dog, Cally would have at least considered handing him off. Yes, she was nuts, but she wasn't that nuts; she was hurting like crazy and depressed to boot. She could have left Nicky in a basket outside the pilots' racks with a note. She could have done something. The show's executive producer, Ron Moore, pretty much says that the paternity issue was retconned, and for the obvious reasons: They'd established that Hera was the first (and, apparently, only) human-Cylon baby, and then they decided Tyrol was a Cylon; something had to go. I understand that storytelling doesn't always go where you want it to, but there had to be a more elegant solution.

But really, it's not just that BSG's creators first killed Cally off and then rewrote her to be a cheating harlot in death (sorry, Moore, your revamped timeline just isn't convincing me). It's that they killed Dee to make a point about hopelessness, then gave her not a moment's thought except to have her death serve as a way for Lee to feel some nice noble pain, and for Adam to go have it out with his Cylon second-in-command. It's that they're showing every sign of sidelining Starbuck, whose story is among the show's most fascinating, and whose brief time on Earth was absolutely heartbreaking. It's that they've sent Roslin off to the crazy place where she doesn't take her cancer treatments and thinks only of herself, leaving the Lee/Adama/Zarek trio of certainty and misplaced ideals at the helm of the rest of humanity. It's that Caprica Six is now relegated to mom-to-be and not appearing in Gaius' head, steering so many stories from her strange perch in his imagination. It's that Athena killed Natalie, Three (ostensibly) stayed on Earth and we've not been back to a Cylon ship since Earth was found. It's that there's more to the dream of the Opera House.

BSG doesn't always fail its women, but it has been lately. As further commentary, I give you Llama Mama's Top Five Suicides on the Reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

Ouch.

I have other complaints — we're being told too much and shown too little; what's up with the Final Five and their sudden position as speaking for the Cylon fleet? When, oh, when do Anders and Starbuck have their "Frak you, Cylon husband!" scene? — but the crushing of the female characters is really on my mind, and not only because it's what's been discussed among friends and on message boards since the episode aired. It's not, however, all bad. It's still Battlestar, and I, for one, will always have hope.

Oh, show. Be better. (And, on a random note, please show us something the previous Earth existences of Tory and Anders. Please? To go with Tyrol and Tigh's? Please?) Give me more to think — and type — about than how frustrated I am. Mmmkay?

Further reading from people who are smarter than me and not in a raging hurry (OK, I'm guessing at that last part): Sharp-eyed film-geek words from Todd VanDerWerff at the fantastic The House Next Door; understandable frustration (and a nice dose of snark) from Lisa Fary at Pink Raygun.

The next episode can't come fast enough.

January 29, 2009 06:06 PM

I'm a bit embarrassed that I completely forgot to mention this last week, when I first heard it, but better late than never: Culiarnia Eugenius, also known as EW's food columnist, Jennifer Burns Levin, reminded me with her recent post that hey! Mark Bittman ate at Bellly last week! And that's kind of nifty. Here's what The New York Times food writer had to say about his experience:

Dinner: Belly, a popular new Eugene restaurant run by a lovely young couple doing honest, straightforward food and doing it well. (Among other things, I ate tripe and pig’s foot stew, and a braised lamb shank.)

From the rest of the post, it sounds like he also ate at Plaza Latina, too — though I can't figure out which take-out pizza join he means. Clearly, someone should've sent him to PRI.

January 23, 2009 06:04 PM

I dithered.

I didn't want to.

I never cared.

Etc.

What a pack of hooey.

Battlestar Galactica isn't perfect. Television almost never is, even the television I love best. (OK, Deadwood comes fucking close, and if you've ever seen it, you understand why it was vital I swear in the middle of that sentence.) But it's astonishingly good, and powerful, and sometimes beautiful, and incredibly acted.

I came to BSG late. Really late. Late as in I spent the last few months watching the first three and a half seasons, racing, faster and faster, when I realized that the last episodes would begin on Jan. 16. I ranted to friends, I ranted on the internet. At least once, I cried. No joke. I loved it and then, for a time, I hated it; in season 2.5, characters seemed to get rewritten and lame one-off episodes shoehorned in (should you feel compelled to start from the beginning, I recommend just pretending "Black Market" doesn't exist). But it turned back around again, and improved, and kept improving (with one or two stumbles), and kept working, sometimes uncomfortably, making real-world parallels and asking endless questions about what it means to be human, and what we'd do in impossible situations, and how two incredibly different yet incredibly similar peoples might or might not ever find a way to live together after ages of conflict.

Read more. Lots more. Warning: I ramble.

It would take too long — far too long — for me to go through all the things in BSG's previous seasons that I was awed or horrified by, and really, I'm not writing this for non-watchers. It's too late for that. It's too late to catch up on the nuances of the frak-or-fight relationship between Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Portlander Katee Sackhoff) and now-former pilot Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber, whose natural English accent never, ever slips through). It's too complicated to explain the show's history with regard to the Cylons, the "toasters" who were created by humanity but then turned on their makers, obliterating the humans' 12 colonies. There's too much to explain about the way the show beautifully writes its characters while sometimes stumbling over storytelling and keeping characters, well, in character. And while I'm sure I'll get into it over the course of this season, at the moment I haven't time to address the ways in which it sometimes seems the show's writers are flying by the seat of their pants, occasionally rewriting the story's history in ways that just don't quite fit with what we've been told before (two words: Resurrection hub. What?).

But here we are at the beginning of the end. "Earth," said President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) at the end of season 4.0's finale. Earth wasn't what it was supposed to be. Earth was supposed to be the goal, the missing 13th colony founded by the human race when they left their home planet of Kobol. Earth, instead, was a wasteland.

Episode 4.11, "Sometimes a Great Notion," picked up right where 4.10 left off: on the decimated Earth, which managed to still have plenty of things to reveal on and under its soil. The Earth scenes were all but colorless, stripped of hope and beauty — or nearly so.

"Sometimes" built up to a surprising reveal: the identity of the last of the so-called final five Cylons, four of which were brought together by "All Along the Watchtower" at the end of season three. I clung to the possibility that it was a ploy, that it was more complicated that they were letting on, that it was misdirection; no way was Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) the fifth Cylon, never mind how thoroughly she seemed like a Cylon when she first appeared. But various online interviews with executive producer Ron Moore shot down all those theories: Ellen is the fifth. She's not an aged Six (Tricia Helfer), despite the suggestions made last season. She just is. It makes sense on one level: When Ellen died, we never really saw the body. No one familiar with science fiction/fantasy conventions believed that death for a second.

But I didn't believe she was the fifth, either, and not just because I wanted it to be Zach Adama, the dead son of Admira Adama (the fantastic Edward James Olmos), or, somehow, Lieutenant Dualla (Kandyse McClure). Still, you gotta suck it up and move on, like these last survivors of the human race gotta suck it up and move on, leaving Earth in their wake (though when last we saw one singular Cylon, D'Anna Biers [Lucy Lawless], she was planning to stay on Earth. Whether that sticks remains to be seen).

But one of them couldn't move on — or at least the show decided she couldn't. I'm still wrestling with the death of Dee, who fell apart at finding a set of jacks at the ocean's edge while on Earth's surface, then calmly, cooly shot herself after one last lovely evening with ex-husband Lee. "I just want to hang on to this feeling as long as I can," Dee told Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Jiuliani), a wounded friend and fellow officer, minutes before putting a gun to her head. She couldn't hold on for long, though — and therein lies the problem. We've had no reason to believe Dee would crack so badly. She's long been a calm, consistent, capable presence on Galactica's bridge; she's never freaked out or fallen apart, not even when Lee sent her to rescue Starbuck, knowing he was sending his wife to save the life of his would-be lover. And on a different level, it's frustrating that for the second season in a row, BSG killed off a female character whose main purpose was to be the girlfriend. To some viewers, Dee's death wasn't something to mourn so much as something to be pissed off about — with reason. As Lisa Fary writes, "Her death served no purpose other than to make things for Apollo and the Admiral suck more, so they could have big emotional moments. Anyone could have come unhinged and committed suicide to drive home the hopelessness (again). But, this is BSG, so it had to be a woman because women on BSG are devices."

I can't agree that all the women on BSG are devices, but there is a certain "it had to be a woman" feel to Dee's death, especially coming on the heels of the death of Cally (Nikki Clyne), whose character was also mostly defined by her relationship (which is a whole 'nother can of worms). I've read that BSG is supposed to take place in a post-gender world, but I'm having a hard time swallowing that theory between the deaths, the relative dearth of female pilots and soldiers and the lack of gay characters who aren't dead. If gender doesn't matter, why would sexual orientation?

I wrestle, though, with what BSG does (or has done) relatively well with regard to gender, race and sexuality — and what it stumbles over. On the one hand, it's not an entirely lily-white show; it has had a small handful of gay or bisexual characters; it had the smarts to make the fleet's hotshot pilot female; the two main leadership roles are not played by old white guys. That's more than a lot of shows and even movies manage. But when the show takes these steps toward being smarter, it almost makes the missteps even worse.

I don't have any answers; it's just something I think about when I'm watching, and also something I find difficult to explain and write about with stammering and stumbling over myself. Maybe that's why the show stumbles, too. Maybe you have ideas. And speaking of both ideas and things I don't have any answers about, it's time — before I run out of time in the day — to talk about Starbuck.

But where to begin? With her disappearance and reappearance? With her crazy time on Caprica, when the Cylons may or may not have stolen one of her ovaries? With the weird way she's so trusting of Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) now, after he locked her up on New Caprica, trying to get her to love him and finding himself killed over and over again instead? Or with the simple, basic question everyone now has about her: What is she?

Someone somewhere theorized that when Starbuck's Viper exploded over a mandala-shaped storm, she both died and didn't die, and I like that idea; in a way, it fits one of the show's oft-repeated underlying themes: This has all happened before, and it will all happen again. In some other life, Starbuck lived and crashed on Earth. In some other life, she came back to the fleet. In some other life, something entirely different happened. But here, the lines are crossed; what if the Starbuck whose body was on Earth was from some other time? What if when she nose-dived into the storm, chasing a Raider that may or may not have been there, her timeline split? It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility for this show.

Neither is one of the other theories: that she's some sort of deity. Or that she's really the first Cylon-human hybrid (which reminds me, when are they going to talk about the second Cylon-human baby in the fleet? Ever?). Or that when the old hybrid said she was the destruction of the human race, it meant ... well, that she had been, in a way; maybe last time, she nuked Earth, and eventually, that meant the Cylons nuked the colonies; therefore, in a roundabout way, she was their destruction. Nothing has to mean what it seems like it means.

At least, that's how the show seems to be playing it. But I'm a little wary of reading too much into BSG right now, as sometimes the writers take things far more literally than I expect. The close watchers in the audience see hints and conspiracies, suggestions and layers in the episodes' complex narratives. But it feels, right now, like all that thought we're putting into the show may not result in a satisfying payoff. Sure, last week's episode was great. But will the greatness continue?

Sometimes, though, it's worth watching just for what's on the screen right then, without worrying about how the story got there or where it's going next. And last Friday gave us that experience in every scene with Starbuck (and, to be fair, with Dee). When she found that downed Viper — her downed Viper — and creepy, future-seeing, Starbuck-obsessed Leoben backed away from her, scared and confused, the show hit a high note: bleak, spooky, wounded, uncertain. And then it topped itself with the unforgettable image of Starbuck, a black silhouette against a deep blue sky, building a funeral pyre for herself. And then it topped even that with one lingering shot: Starbuck, sitting alone, elbows on knees, watching some other version of herself burn, the pyre a strange, haunting beacon in Earth's empty darkness.

For moments like that, all the other things I've said here aside, Battlestar Galactica is more than worth it.

(Even more reading: This post is wicked awesome.)

January 22, 2009 10:33 AM

Ho, hum.

I realize it's a little bit weak to comment when you've not yet seen all the films, so I'll be brief: Even the surprises this year (Melissa Leo, Richard Jenkins) don't feel like surprises. Slumdog Millionaire ceased being an underdog even before it got here, and while it a perfectly fine film, it is not a Best Picture. Not, not, not. I think I'm attached to exactly one category: Man on Wire had really best win Best Documentary.

That said, yes, of course, I know the Oscars mean less and less. But there's still something fun about them. Or there can be. But this year is so epically predictable — and it feels like about 12 movies got all the nominations, which is painful (shall we discuss, however, the horrifying phrase "Oscar nominee Wanted"?) — that my ability to care is taking a big hit.

January 16, 2009 05:08 PM

Yesterday, the Oregon Arts Commission announced the recipients of its annual fellowships, given to "performers and writers of exceptional talent and demonstrated ability, professional achievement and continuing dedication to an artistic discipline." The cash awards ($3,000 each) can be used "to complete work in progress or embark on a new body of work, undertake research, study or experiment with new materials or media."

Among the 13 winners were two Eugeneans: writer Debra Gwartney, who in 2006 co-edited Home Ground with Barry Lopez, and trumpeter Brian McWhorter, who teaches at the UO and is frequently mentioned in Brett Campbell's music columns. Congratulations to both of them — and all the other recipients!