Oscars 2011

An assortment of Oscar thoughts, two mornings after:

  1. Although I haven’t seen any of the other four performances nominated for Best Actress, I was very pleased that Nat won for Black Swan. I finally got to see it Saturday night, and she was amazing – obsessive, vulnerable, violent, childlike, sexy, terrified, passionate, barely sane. You root for her, then yell at her, then pity her, then fear her. I haven’t liked all of her performances (don’t look so shocked!), but she was born to play this role. Her Oscar speech was very gracious and professional, as well. It’s cute to see her in love and pregnant.
  2. I really need to see The King’s Speech. Period dramas like this aren’t typically my favorite, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews, and now the film has a truckload of hardware to back them up.
  3. Inception won a few well-deserved technical awards, although Christopher Nolan was strangely left off the list of finalists for Best Director.
  4. As many other commentators have noted, I wasn’t a big fan of James Franco’s hosting duties. He seemed tired and apathetic. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, lit up the night with her tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I’d like to see her host again with someone else (and some better material). Any ideas? How about her and Tina Fey? Or Billy Crystal?
  5. Trent Reznor won an Oscar? Seriously? Does that make him a sellout or simply a well-rounded badass? Will “Wish” still sound the same? What about “Closer”?
  6. How is it that Annette Bening has never won?
  7. Someday I want to do a Oscar marathon of all ten Best Picture nominees, either a two-day version or a full 24-hour one. This year I hadn’t seen most of them, just Inception and Black Swan.
  8. The Dude abides.

Emotional Pornography Revisited

Earlier this week I blogged about “emotional pornography,” the movies, books, and TV shows that seek to replace normal emotions with unrealistic, stylized forms of emotions that create unrealistic expectations. While I thought the idea and the linked article were interesting, I wrestled for a while with my post as I tried to figure out what exactly to say. It didn’t quite seem right. Thanks in part to comments from my mom and grandfather, I think I figured out why: both my article and the one from Relevant are trying to lump two distinct but related issues into a single catchphrase, and it doesn’t quite work. The two issues are:

  1. Do the romance and romantic comedy genres create inappropriate expectations for real relationships, setting us all up for failure?
  2. Is it appropriate for the creators of media in general to intentionally craft their stories to elicit a particular emotional response?

Expectations in Relationships – Sorry, but I don’t see any way to dispute this one. Fire away if I’m wrong. Whether it’s good or bad is a separate question, but to me it’s very clear that romances and rom-coms intentionally create larger-than-life relationships in order to entertain us. They provide enough conflict to make the storyline interesting, but in the end, there’s generally a happy wedding between the two people we’ve been rooting for throughout the movie. They filter out the messy details of relationships unless those details can generate a good laugh.

We (well, some of us!) LOVE this stuff, right? We cheer for the Man in Black and Princess Buttercup, Jack and Rose, Prince Eric and Ariel the mermaid, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in every movie they do together. We imagine how much fun life would be if our lives could be like theirs. And maybe that’s not all bad. Real life is hard. Escaping it for a bit is fun.

I’m just concerned, based on my own experience and what I’ve read and heard from others, that people can be disappointed when their relationships don’t look like the ones they see in the movies. If you’re a woman who thinks she’s married Sir Lancelot, you might be horrified when he doesn’t bring home flowers every night, he gets scared if you assign him to diaper detail, and he occasionally pees in the shower because it’s more convenient. If you’re a man who thinks he married Charlie from Top Gun, you might be really confused when sometimes she isn’t in the mood because she’s PMSing, she gets mad when you get drunk and embarrass her in public, and she occasionally has to do decidedly unladylike things like taking a dump.

Emotional “Manipulation”?

This, I think, is the more interesting question. As you might have seen in the comments, my grandfather astutely points out that many of our greatest films and books have a huge emotional impact, which is one of the features that make them so great. I’ve seen hundreds of movies, if not thousands, and many of the most memorable got me involved on an emotional level. I cared about the characters, celebrating their triumphs and mourning their losses.

Rudy comes to mind. The cynic might dismiss Rudy as manipulative and even silly. Sure, Rudy’s obsession with playing football for the Irish could be considered foolish and immature. But tell me you didn’t tear up when the crowd started chanting his name in that final game or when he sacked the quarterback on his final play. The filmmakers intentionally changed some historical details, found a perfect actor for the role, and designed the film to make you care about Rudy’s quest as much as possible. You ache for him every time he gets rejected. You cheer for him when he finally gets to suit up and get on the field.

Is it manipulative to craft a story to elicit the maximum emotional response? I’m not sure.

An artist can tell the same story in many, many different ways. I don’t really write much that’s creative anymore, but when I did, I had to make countless decisions about what to include and what to exclude. Every word and every detail in a story, poem, or screenplay needs to contribute somehow – by developing a character, advancing the plot, expressing a theme, or preferably some combination thereof. I definitely tried to involve my readers emotionally as I told my story. I wanted to move them in some way, whether to laughter, fury, or tears.

If you don’t get emotionally involved with a piece of art, and it’s not making you laugh or entertaining you in some other way, then what’s the point? Why bother watching or reading until the end? I hear some critics call certain works “emotionally manipulative” in a negative sense. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m not sure how to make an engaging movie that doesn’t manipulate the viewer’s/reader’s emotions somehow. I suppose a lowbrow comedy could probably succeed, but most other genres need to engage our emotions. Otherwise, we just won’t care.

Super Size Me

The other night I watched one of those movies that I felt I should watch but kept putting off – Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. The premise is simple: against the advice of every doctor and loved one he has, a guy goes on a McDonald’s-only diet for 30 days to see what happens. He must eat three McDonald’s meals a day, try each item on the menu at least once, “super size” the meal if the cashier suggests it, and not eat anything that doesn’t come from there. He also reduces his activity level to the “average” level for an American.

Spurlock is monitored by three doctors, a dietitian, and a trainer throughout. At the beginning of the experiment, he weighs about 185 and is in excellent health by all measures. After 30 days of eating nothing but McDonald’s, Spurlock’s body goes significantly downhill:

  • He gains 25 pounds, almost a pound per day (his average daily consumption is 5000 calories when he only needed 2500)
  • His liver function drops significantly due to damage and fatty deposits, similar to the liver of a binge drinker.
  • His cholesterol jumps 50-60 points.
  • His sexual function decreases.
  • He suffers from depression, headaches, chest pains, fatigue, and a general lousy feeling.

Obviously, few people except documentary filmmakers would ever go on such a diet, but many people eat out several times a week or even every day. Many of them experience some of the same symptoms that Spurlock did.

National Health Crisis

In between the updates on Spurlock’s 30-day journey, he shares a variety of information related to the obesity problem in America. You’ve probably heard some of the facts before, but they are worth repeating. America is now the fattest nation on earth. Texas is one of the fattest states in America. About two-thirds of all adults are overweight, according to the CDC. Childhood obesity is skyrocketing, as are many related diseases such as diabetes. Obesity is now the second-leading cause of preventable death behind smoking, and I suspect the two will trade places within a decade.

Obesity is a national health crisis that costs us billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and it’s time to start treating it that way.

What kills me is that so many overweight people don’t seem to care.

Sure, if you ask overweight people if they want to be fat, most will say no. They might tell you that they try to eat right or exercise sometimes, but it’s hard and doesn’t work. They might spend billions on pills, workout videos, gym memberships, surgery, and more but don’t see the results they want.

To be more precise, it’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they don’t seem to care enough to make the changes they need to make. And quite frankly, that apathy irritates and saddens me. I hope it does the same for you.

Most of us don’t start off as Ferraris genetically, but the vast majority of us get a fairly healthy, functional body that should last us many years with proper care. As a Christian, I view my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and believe that I am created by God in his image. When I don’t take care of the body he gave me, it’s like being given a brand-new car and trashing it – leaving it out in hailstorms with the windows open, never changing the fluids, driving it through a patch of thorny bushes, and finally volunteering it for the local high school’s car bash fundraiser after 60,000 miles. What a waste of a beautiful gift!

Yes, I understand that there are medical conditions that contribute to the difficulty. Yes, I agree that it’s frustrating to be disciplined enough to eat well and exercise regularly. The Sourdough Jack at Jack-in-the-Box is one of my personal faves, and my family life and weird work schedule make it hard to work out consistently. Yes, the deck is stacked against us by a variety of external factors such as the companies who sell unhealthy food, the power of their lobbyists, and educational policy that favors standardized test scores over physical activity in schools. But I maintain that in most cases, the primary responsibility lies with the individual. We choose what to eat. We choose how active to be.

Stuff It, Skinny Boy

Some of you might be thinking, “Sure, Box, easy for you to say. You stay skinny without even trying!” Yes, it’s true that I’m fairly thin. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I try to run at least 10 miles a week and take walks during my break at work. I also eat a pretty healthy diet. My breakfast is almost always a bowl of high-fiber cereal, OJ, and coffee. My meal at work is usually a bagel, a banana, some yogurt, and maybe a cereal bar or low-fat popcorn. Dinner varies in healthiness. I rarely drink soda and try to avoid sweets except on special occasions, as dessert is my Kryptonite. I have to work to keep my body healthy just like anyone else.


Years of desk jobs, hormonal birth control, poor diet, stress, and having two children eighteen months apart had left my wife unhappy with her weight. A few months ago, she decided to make some changes. She joined a gym and started working out four to five days a week. She ditched her frequent soda habit and eliminated most sweets. She started limiting her portion sizes and improving the quality of her food. She isn’t doing anything magical, just making smart choices consistently. As a result, she’s already lost 20 pounds and counting. Her energy level is higher, she feels better overall, and she feels better about herself as well. I am very proud of her.

Peer Pressure

A man in Super Size Me made a really interesting point that stuck with me. As the anti-smoking movement grows in scope and power, it’s becoming more socially acceptable to encourage smokers to quit by harassing them, excluding them, taxing them, and making their lives difficult. We’re also passing new laws every year that restrict where people can smoke. Especially with friends who smoke, we can sometimes confront them directly through humor, facts, or other means to express your concern for their health and your own personal discomfort from their habit.

Imagine if we used the same approach to obesity. Imagine if we confronted each other about how fat we are, how poorly we eat, and how little we exercise. Imagine if we could demean a Double Big Gulp or a Big Mac as easily as we deride cigarettes as “cancer sticks”. Imagine if we could tell an overweight friend, “I’m tired of watching you slowly kill yourself” as easily as we could say it to a chain smoker. Imagine if we charged airline passengers by the pound or charged overweight people a higher copay or deductible for health care.

Would these interactions be awkward? Rude? Difficult? Painful? Absolutely. But our current approach doesn’t seem to be working, and the stakes are too high to maintain the present course.

So let me take this opportunity to start the conversation. If you are overweight, I am worried about your health. So are your doctor and (I hope) your family and friends. Even though it will be difficult, I want you to do what it takes to reach a healthy weight. Eat better. Be more active. You don’t have to become a marathon runner or competitive cyclist, but you do need to get off your butt and do something. Often.

If you’re currently overweight but trying to lose weight, as I know many of you are, I salute you. You are attempting a difficult task, one that many lack the will to pursue. You rock!

It’s not about having a good-looking body. Believe me, I’ve seen enough naked people to know that most of us don’t and can’t have a perfect body. I certainly don’t and never will. Besides, most of the “perfect” bodies you see in magazines are made perfect with PhotoShop.

It’s about having a healthy body, and an overweight body isn’t healthy. Do you want to be healthy? Are you willing to do what it takes to get there?

Random Reviews


ALDI is a European-style grocery store, the Ryanair of supermarkets. It offers a very low level of service in exchange for prices that are lower than Wal-Mart’s in some cases. They are popping up all over the DFW area. Lured by the advertised promise of $0.99 strawberries, we piled into the minivan and checked it out.

The Good: Yes, the prices are very, very low. They sell a really good German riesling for about $6. They force you to return your shopping cart to its proper place by requiring a 25c deposit.
The Bad: The selection is poor, with few choices and mostly brands you’ve never heard of. You have to bag your own groceries after paying for them. ALDI doesn’t take credit cards. It’s hard to find what you’re looking for.
Overall: Meh. We might go on occasion to get a few super-cheap items if Jenny finds any good sales, but we’ll continue to do our regular grocery shopping at Super Target.


I hadn’t seen When Harry Met Sally all the way through until now. It raises some interesting issues, so I recommend seeing it.

First, can a man and a woman be just friends? What if the guy finds the girl attractive? What if the girl finds the guy attractive? Would that preclude a casual friendship? What about a deeper friendship? This question particularly interests me because I’m generally more comfortable around girls than guys. I feel like I can be myself more easily around them. As a happily married man who wants to remain happily married, this tendency presents a bit of a problem. I have several friends who are women, some married, others single. Yes, I find some of them attractive. So I make an effort to keep these friendships very transparent, to keep my wife aware of any interaction I have with them, and to avoid being alone with them. Although Jenny isn’t a jealous wife, I want to make sure she never has any reason to wonder.

Second, the whole faking-it thing. Since my family reads this and I embarrass them enough already with this site, I just have one thing to say: Ladies, don’t fake it. You both lose.

Third, why is it so hard to communicate directly? One thing I liked about Harry is that he could be very direct when he wanted to be, such as during their road trip to New York. Unfortunately, he spent much of the movie choosing to speak obtusely because he was afraid of having a real relationship. It wasted time for both Harry and Sally. Sure, it did allow them to grow up and build a solid friendship, which is the best foundation for a dating relationship and a marriage, but in typical rom-com style, it led to unnecessary drama. I respect directness. Don’t make me guess what you’re really thinking and feeling.

The Good: Interesting dialogue, good performances, fun lines, and The Scene is priceless.

The Bad: It’s still a somewhat formulaic romantic comedy, if you can call that a negative.

Overall: Thumbs up!


The Hurt Locker was the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history, so I never heard much about it until Oscar time. Intrigued by the awards, and a sucker for a good war movie, I watched it with my bros last week.

The Good: Great acting, an interesting premise (following a bomb squad around Iraq), good music, stuff blows up
The Bad: Shaky, grainy camera work, little character development, no clear direction for the story
Overall: Pretty good, but not even close to best picture (Inglourious Basterds got robbed).


Over the weekend Jenny and I watched the 2004 film The Notebook, based on the book by Nicholas Sparks. Of all the books I read as a youth, The Notebook was one of the most moving, mainly because it explored a tragic situation that I hadn’t really considered by age 13 or 14: an aging couple in which one partner has Alzheimer’s Disease and has all but forgotten the other. The movie changed a few details from the book but kept a similar structure along with the emotional punch, largely due to excellent performances by the actors playing the young and old versions of the couple.

As a teenager, I remember being horrified by the idea of someone’s losing their recognition and memory of his or her spouse, especially after spending most of their lives together. To share so much with a person and then turn into just another stranger seemed so unfair. Alzheimer’s is a terrible robbery not of one’s possessions or even one’s life, but of the very things that make life so wonderful: your relationships. A few years later, I had to watch couples I knew walk down that lonely but irreversible road, matching real faces and names to the imaginary ones from the book.

Seeing the movie made both Jenny and me face the very real possibility that our own future could end in that dark, tangled forest. A day could come when I wake up and don’t remember who Jenny is, or when I come home from work and she thinks I’m a burglar. I hate that thought. The idea of forgetting Jenny, or Brenden, or anyone else in my family breaks my heart. I would rather die than live thinking that they are strangers.

One thing that consoles me about Alzheimer’s patients is my belief that if they know Jesus, they will one day receive a new body at the Resurrection. Although I don’t have any solid Biblical backing, I assume that with the new body should come a restored mind that can remember all the wonder, beauty, pain, people, and adventures gathered during their brief walk on earth.

May it be so, Lord.

Worst Movies Ever

Tonight Jenny and I watched Disaster Movie, one of the many cheaply done spoof flicks. My expectations were very low – thin plot, cheap effects, marginal acting, with (I hope!) enough laughs thrown in to make it worth my time. I’m still debating. Although a few parts were amusing and I enjoyed two of the performances, it was so mind-numbingly dumb and over-the-top that I must rank it among the ten worst movies I’ve ever seen. So I got to thinking – what would my Bottom 10 be? IMDB’s Bottom 100 list has plenty of ideas, many of which I’m happy to say I haven’t seen.

Of the movies I have actually seen, here’s my preliminary Bottom 10, in no particular order:

  1. Disaster Movie
  2. The Stupids
  3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (possibly a stretch for this list, but it’s fresh on my mind)
  4. McHale’s Navy
  5. Blair Witch 2 (I actually enjoyed the original, though)
  6. Teen Witch (sorry, Lisa!)
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (sorry, I know it’s a classic and all, but I just couldn’t like it except for the theme song)
  8. Die, You Zombie Bastards! (we rented this one WANTING a bad movie, but it still counts)
  9. Batman and Robin
  10. Anaconda

What would you put in your Bottom 10?