This is an email I sent to my boss this morning. Baseball really can be used to achieve everything you want in life. (Dr. M is the Chief Medical Officer and I'm the Regional Director of Medical Education.)
Dear Dr. M, I went to LA this weekend and listened to audiobooks on the drive. Yesterday I listened to Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. I can't believe I hadn't read it before -- it's been on my list for a long time. It's about how Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As, put together consistently winning teams despite having the lowest payroll in baseball. The concepts described can be applied to medical education, the students being the baseball players. In my analogy, you are the team owner, I'm the GM, Dr. W is the assistant GM, the attendings are the coaches, and the students are the players.
First of all, the title of the book is wrong. It should be The SCIENCE of Winning an Unfair Game, not the ART. This is what I call Evidence Based Baseball. We are trying to practice Evidence Based Medicine when it comes to patient care, but I believe we should try to find a way to apply Evidenced Based Baseball principles to medical education. We should pick medical students the way Billy Beane picks baseball players.
The Billy Beane approach was not just unique in baseball, it was nearly heresy. For over a century, baseball has been run by tobacco-spittin old guys who did things because their coaches did it that way because their coaches did it that way. Just like in Medicine. We do it because our attendings did it because their attendings did it. Both in execution (baseball strategies/patient care) and personnel selection (players/students). Baseball was run by tradition and habit. Beane and his Harvard-educated-geeks-with-laptops wanted to look at the statistics, the evidence, and do things in a new way.
I'll try to distill this down.
The Oakland As had the lowest payroll in Baseball. The Yankees and Red Sox had the highest payroll. Billy Beane was the GM of the As. How could he get his team to compete? Conventional Wisdom said you: have a lot of money, you buy the best players, you win. But what exactly is "the best player"?
First: define your goal. The ultimate goal is to win the World Series. The practical goal is to get to the playoffs every year. How do you get to the playoffs? You win games. How many wins does it take to get to the playoffs? 95. Not a number picked out of the air, but by looking at statistics. Now, how do you win 95 games? Conventional Wisdom said it had to do with the team's ERA or batting average or home runs or steals or defense. The evidence said it was about one thing: run differential. At the end of the season, if your team scores a certain number of runs more than your opponents, you will win 95 games. (I don't remember the number, but it was a specific number.) Great. Now, how do you get that run differential? The statistical evidence showed that it's about On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and the OPS, but primarily about OBP. How important is pitching and defense? Statistically, not as important as has traditionally been thought.
I'm skipping A LOT here for brevity, but let's talk about OBP. Beane didn't have much money, so he wanted to get the "best" player for his money. He wanted undervalued players, players with a high OBP who weren't considered top prospects by the old tobacco-spittin scouts that utilized their eyes to evaluate players and had no knowledge of sabermetrics.
Now: who has a high OBP? Specifically, what kind of player consistently has a high OBP? It all boils down to the strike zone and the players ability to see the strike zone, see the pitches, and make good choices at the plate. It's about PLATE DISCIPLINE.
Now back to medicine. I have all these ideas floating around that I need to organize and settle. We need to decide what our ultimate goal is. What is our equivalent of getting to the playoffs and winning games? Do we want to produce doctors who will score highest on the Boards? Do we want to produce doctors who can churn out a large volume of patients? Do we want to produce specialists? Do we want to produce doctors who will return to our health center to practice primary care medicine? We have to define our goal.
The next part will be harder: how to achieve the goal we've set. In baseball, there are statistics for everything going back to the 1800s. We'll have to do some research on what kind of medical student becomes the doctor we want to produce. Is it the kid with the highest MCAT scores and GPA? Probably not. Is it the kid who just barely made an acceptable MCAT score or GPA? Maybe not that kid, either, but we don't know that yet. Is it the kid who speaks Spanish or spent a summer in Honduras or who did research as an undergrad?
Back to baseball, the As trained their minor league coaches to teach plate discipline to their players in the farm system. It turns out, the player who naturally has plate discipline will always have it. It's easier in the long run to find a player with plate discipline than to create one.
We need to figure out the medical student equivalent of On Base Percentage (the result we're looking for) and Plate Discipline (the QUALITY that gets us to that result).
When we took a look at the first year medical students who wanted to be placed at our site, I made up a list of qualities I wanted in a student to choose from among them - our version of the Draft. We got 90% of the students we wanted. We'll see how that works out. By next year, I hope to work that out with more evidence and less "gut."
Maybe some things aren’t intuitive. In traditional medical school there are always learners above you telling you what to do and what not to do. Dr. Smith likes it when the student does this. Dr. Jones hates it when the student does that. There’s nobody above you when you’re the first class to go through a brand new medical school. Of the nine students in my group, some intuitively know to work hard on the wards. Others, um, don’t. I’m shocked and dismayed at getting reports of a student leaving the hospital before the attending! The most s/he would do is NOTIFY the attending that s/he was done for the day. WTF? Student arriving late, leaving early, telling attendings they don’t want to [whatever] in the hospital because s/he has to study for the shelf exam! It’s not just one kid. All one kid cares about is the test. I was complaining to MSA that MSB actually walked out of a surgery! S/he wasn’t scrubbed in, but s/he left to do something else! MSA asked, “is that wrong?” YES! IT’S WRONG! Holy cow, it’s an honor and a privilege to be in the surgical suite. If you’re scrubbed in, you’d better scrub out only if you’re p physically ill. If you’re in the O.R. but not scrubbed in, you’d better have a f*ck*n good reason to leave, and you need to ASK PERMISSION TO BE EXCUSED for that f*ck*n good reason. A student should never say, “I’m done” on the wards. You’re never done. You’re just ready to ask what you can do next.
I'm having breakfast and coffee at Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, on Speedway & Cherry in Tucson. I haven't found another place in town with excellent food (and a good variety of choices) and excellent coffee. Most coffee shops don't sell food, other than pastries, and most restaurant coffee isn't very good. I've been coming to Bentley's since I was an undergrad, when it was in another location, and to this location since I was in medical school in the early 90s.
Recently there have been signs on the wall: "No computers at tables between noon & 2pm, all computers must be at the communal table during these hours." That's reasonable. During the lunch hour, they want tables free for patrons who will order a meal. The guy who has been sipping on the same coffee since 9:30 a.m. should either buy a lunch or make some room for someone who will.
Now there's a new sign that says something like: "We are trying to run a business in this tough economy. If you are here for a meeting or to use the Internet, please at least buy a cup of coffee."
Wow. Unbelievable. This is a locally owned coffee shop, not the public library. Didn't these leeches have mothers who taught them right from wrong? The nerve of some people amazes me. The coffee is only a couple of bucks, fer cryin out loud. I asked the barista guy about this. He said that they'll sometimes ask a table full of people having a meeting for at least one of them to buy at least a cup of coffee, and some people are insulted at being asked. I asked the barista if they ever just ask people to leave who won't purchase anything. He said some of them are so indignant they just get up and leave on their own.
Some people can be such @$$holes.
So if you find yourself in Tucson, please go to Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, 1730 E. Speedway, www.bentleyscoffeehouse.com. They have a terrific variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. And GOOD COFFEE, not industrial crap covered up by flavored syrups and foam.
And please buy something.
p.s. the people who work here are wonderful, down to earth people whom I DO NOT KNOW. I have no affiliation with this coffee shop, other than as a patron for nearly 20 years.
See prior post. We didn't end up trying for perfect steaks. The steaks they bought probably weren't the best quality and they were going on five days old by the time we were sitting down to dinner again. So I sliced them up and made delicious fajitas, with onions, several colors of bell pepper, some leftover rosemary potatoes, and a few other Mexican secrets. Served with rice, beans, and salad. It was a fun night, with 3 Aussie guys and 2 American women. While Adam was texting someone, I tweeted:
"How do you spell fajitas?" he asked between sips of absinthe.
So, Shane bought a LOT of steak the other day. Big fat 2-inch thick steaks. I fancy myself a pretty good amateur chef, but one thing I have never been able to master is The Steak. The guys like to grill, and usually Shane can make me a perfect steak, medium-rare to rare, but there must be a trick to cooking these really thick ones. BTW, I have no idea what cut of meat they got, and neither do they.
Since Shane spends a lot of time in "the city to the north" with his girlfriend, Adam and I have been experimenting with the steaks. Adam cooked for us last night. It was RARE. Even too bloody for me, and I like it pretty bloody. So I spent today looking at steak recipes from all my cookbooks and the Internet. I thought I'd give it a shot tonight, I even used a meat thermometer, but I went too far in the other direction.
Last night the steak was too rare. Tonight the steak was much too cooked.
We're gonna try again. Maybe it will be just right.
Laura’s Oscar List, 2009 movies Awards March 7, 2010 Not predictions necessarily, just assessments. Categories in alphabetical order
Actor in a Leading Role Colin Firth – A Single Man Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart Morgan Freeman – Invictus Jeremy Renner – The Hurt Locker. George Clooney – Up in the Air
Morgan Freeman doesn’t look anything like Nelson Mandela, not in the face or the body, but it took very little time for me to forget that this was the American actor. Freeman really embodied the style and spirit of Mandela – in the way he held his shoulders, his stance, his walk, and his vocal cadence. Good job. Better performances were from Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, and Jeremy Renner, who were equally brilliant. Colin Firth gave the most emotionally moving performance of his career. The Hurt Locker would not possibly have been as great a film without Renner’s compelling and understated performance. I think Jeff Bridges will win, as much for a body of amazing work, as for this particular (and particularly outstanding) performance. If I had a vote, that’s what I would cast. He is long overdue for recognition of an exceptional oeuvre.
Actor in a Supporting Role Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds Matt Damon – Invictus Christopher Plummer – The Last Station Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones Woody Harrelson – The Messenger
I hated The Lovely Bones. Hated, hated, hated. Stanley Tucci is a terrific actor. Why couldn’t he have been nominated for Julie & Julia this year? Or ANYTHING else in any other year? Not that his performance in TLB was bad, it just was an awful movie. I didn’t get a chance to see The Messenger. I don’t understand Christopher Plummer being in this category. He should have been a nominee for Actor in a Leading Role rather than Supporting. Fer cryin out loud, the movie was about Tolstoy! And he was wonderful! Christoph Waltz was noticeably good in Inglourious Basterds for playing Nazi Col. Hans Landa. I would submit that the better supporting performance in that same film came from French actor, Denis Menochet, for his portrayal of Perrier LaPadite, the farmer whom Hans Landa visits to find out if he was hiding Jews under his farmhouse. Menochet was only on screen for a few minutes, but his performance was exquisite. Quiet and tense, it’s one of the most powerful scenes on that subject that I have ever seen. If Christoph Waltz wins, as I suspect he will, he owes M. Menochet a debt of gratitude for making that scene as compelling as it was, and setting the tone for Landa’s character for the rest of the film.
By the way, Christopher Plummer was on a roll this year! He was the bad guy in Up. He was Doctor Parnassus. And he was Tolstoy in The Last Station. Hurray for older actors!
Actress in a Leading Role Carey Mulligan – An Education Meryl Streep – Julie & Julia Gabourey Sidibe – Precious Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side Helen Mirren – The Last Station
See – Helen Mirren is nominated in the category for Leading Role for being Tolstoy’s wife Why was Plummer’s Tolstoy in the Supporting Role?. Mirren is as good as Meryl Streep overall as an actress. If there were awards for performance duets, my nominees would be Mirren & Plummer for The Last Station, Sidibe & Mo’Nique for Precious, and Streep & Tucci for Julie & Julia. Anyway, that’s not how it works.
I’ve seen all these films and my favorite performance is Helen Mirren’s. I liked Carey Mulligan, but it seemed more like great casting than great acting. I always love Meryl Streep and she really embodied Julia Child. Gabi Sidibe’s Precious was indescribably good. That’s especially evident when I’ve seen her on talk shows and interviews. The actress is NOTHING like the character. Seems like the odds are on Sandra Bullock to win. I really liked that movie. It spoke to me on a personal level. Bullock gave a terrific performance and was nothing like Miss Congeniality or the Proposal girl. My vote would have gone to Helen Mirren, though. If Sidibe pulls out a surprise win over the more established actresses, it would be a triumph both for African American actresses and plus-sized actresses.
Actress in a Supporting Role Maggie Gyllenhaal – Crazy Heart Penélope Cruz – Nine Mo’Nique – Precious Anna Kendrick – Up in the Air Vera Farmiga – Up in the Air
The only one I didn’t see was Nine – because Roger Ebert didn’t like it and because one doesn’t re-do Fellini. Besides, Penélope Cruz just won an Oscar for Supporting Actress last year for an obnoxious, over-the-top performance of a crazy byatch in a mediocre movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. For me, this is a tossup between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mo’Nique. Mo’Nique had a tough job to be a very abusive mother. It must not have been easy for her to do the things she was required to do in that movie. I think another hard to accomplish task, in another way entirely, was to be a believable girlfriend to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. “The Girl” could have been a throwaway role in the hands of a lesser actress than Gyllenhaal. I believed that these two could get together and even love each other. Vera Farmiga was great in Up in the Air. Wonderful sex appeal from an “older” (i.e. over 30) woman character. Young Hot Chicks only aspire to that kind of sexual self-assurance. If I had a vote, I’d struggle up to the last minute to decide between Gyllenhaal and Mo’Nique and I’d end up casting my vote for the less volatile role. Academy voters tend to do the opposite. The more screaming and throwing things, the better your chances (see notes on Cruz last year). If that holds true this year, congratulations will be in order to Mo’Nique.
Animated Feature Film Coraline Fantastic Mr. Fox The Princess and the Frog The Secret of Kells Up
I saw Coraline, Mr Fox, and Up. Still hoping to see The Princess & The Frog. The Secret of Kells will be at The Loft theater in a few months, and it looks terrific. It’s by the same folks who did The Triplets of Belleville, but it has more of a Persepolis look, only in color. Mr. Fox was just: very Wes Anderson. ‘Nuff said. Enjoyable, if you’re in a Wes Anderson mood, and not for kids. I loved Coraline. It was really freaky. I wish I had seen it in 3-D. Up was great, in spite of some dark and frightening scenes that were incongruous to the tone of the rest of the film. My favorite animated film was Coraline, but Up will win if for no other reason than for having one of the best opening sequences of any film, ever. Besides, if an animated film is nominated in both the Animated Film and Best Picture categories, it usually wins for best animated film.
Art Direction Do I even have to mention the “other” nominees? (Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and The Young Victoria) If Avatar doesn’t win, the voters were paid off. And if you don’t see Avatar in a real theatre in 3D, you’re missing the point.
Cinematography Avatar Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Inglourious Basterds The Hurt Locker The White Ribbon
The above comments on Art Direction do not apply to Cinematography. There’s more to cinematography than great art direction and visual effects. I would love to see The White Ribbon, a black & white German film, win for being visually beautiful in a classic way. The use of light is underrated and misunderstood. That this film was in b&w allowed for a more textured use of light and dark. The film is set just before WWI, so the light would have been either from the sun or from lanterns. The DP had you see exactly what you were supposed to see, even in a dark room lit ostensibly by one lantern. Each scene was perfectly lit and the tone was what was needed for that scene in the film. I saw The Hurt Locker when it came out, last summer, I think. I don’t remember the details enough to give an analysis here. I didn’t see Harry Potter. I’m surprised that A Single Man wasn’t nominated for best cinematography. That was a beautiful film. I mean that literally. Especially if you like men and the male body. I don’t mean that in an overtly sexual way. There are scenes of a man swimming, and just nice shots of nonsexual body parts: a knee, a neck, a shoulder, a forearm. That was just the icing on the cake. I haven’t been as taken with the look of a film so much since Road To Perdition, which won the Oscar for Cinematography in 2002.
Bright Star – Sweet and sad film about John Keats and his romance with the love of his life. Coco before Chanel – Hellooo! This is Chanel! I would vote for this one not just for a display of style but for letting the viewer peek into the Evolution of Style. Nine – didn’t see it The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – good nominee for a film with a strange style. The Young Victoria – didn’t see the whole thing but the costumes were intricate and wonderful. This is the kind of film that usually wins, but I think Coco will win this time.
James Cameron – Avatar Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds Lee Daniels – Precious Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker Jason Reitman – Up in the Air
Clearly the two front runners are ex-spouses Cameron and Bigelow. Avatar was a great achievement in special effects and 3D filmmaking. Cameron changed filmmaking once already with The Abyss and Terminator 2. This is another leap forward in special effects thanks to the hubris and determination of one man. However, the making of a film involves more than visual effects. I hope Kathryn Bigelow wins for good storytelling. The Hurt Locker was exquisitely put together in every way. That is a testament to the film’s director. Lee Daniels deserves recognition for Precious. It could have been melodramatic or exploitive, but it worked because of great acting and great directing. My vote: Kathryn Bigelow.
Burma VJ The Cove Food, Inc. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers Which Way home
Front runners are The Cove and Food, Inc. I think The Cove will win. Many documentaries move the viewer emotionally because of the subject matter. This film moves the viewer also because of the way the story is told. There are scenes as tense as in any thriller, as touching as any romance, and as frightening as the rare “good” horror film. I was literally on the edge of my seat, heart racing, during some scenes. In the end, I cried. And gave money to a cause.
Documentary Short Subject
China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant Music By Prudence Rabbit à la Berlin
No idea. Didn’t see any of them. But they’ll be on my Netflix queue.
Avatar District 9 Inglourious Basterds Precious The Hurt Locker
You’d think Avatar would be the clear winner here, but I think all these films are worthy contenders. My vote would go to The Hurt Locker. Editing to great tension with little action or props is probably more difficult than editing to tension with lots of scenery and explosions.
Foreign Language Film
Ajami – haven’t seen it, but it will be at The Loft soon. The Milk of Sorrow – haven’t seen it Un Prophète – haven’t seen it, but it will be at The Loft soon. El Secreto de sus Ojos – haven’t seen it. The White Ribbon – This is an instant classic.
The only one I’ve seen is The White Ribbon. Ajami and Un Prophète will be showing at The Loft in the next couple of months. The winner will either be Un Prophète or The White Ribbon.
El Divo Star Trek The Young Victoria
What the heck, I’ll go for Star Trek.
Music – Original Score
Avatar Fantastic Mr. Fox The Hurt Locker Sherlock Holmes Up
Did The Hurt Locker even have a score? One of the things I loved about it was its lack of music directing the viewer’s emotions (well, except for the scene in the truck near the end). No prediction here from me.
Music – Original Song
“Almost There” – The Princess and the Frog “Down In New Orleans” – The Princess and the Frog “Loin de Paname” – Paris 36 “Take It All” – Nine “The Weary Kind” – Crazy Heart
Of these films, I only saw Crazy Heart, and I’m surprised the cartoon has more nominated songs. Weren’t all the songs in Crazy Heart written specifically for the movie? I loved every song in that film, and I don’t even like Country music – anymore – I used to like it, but it hasn’t been the same since about 1990. This is old school Country, which reminds me, I should go to iTunes to see if I can buy that soundtrack.
A Serious Man An Education Avatar District 9 Inglourious Basterds Precious The Blind Side The Hurt Locker Up Up in the Air
There used to be ten nominees for Best Picture in the early days of the Academy Awards. The last year there were ten was 1943, the year Casablanca won. My favorite films of this past year were: The Hurt Locker, District 9, A Single Man (which wasn’t nominated), Precious, and Crazy Heart. I liked Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, The Blind Side, Up in the Air, and Up. I also liked The Men Who Stare at Goats. I only saw half of A Serious Man because it was so painful to tolerate, I could only handle so much before I had to just get up and leave the theatre.
I’m thrilled that District 9 was nominated. It was a wonderful examination of humanity, good and bad. I wish Sharlto Copley had been nominated for best actor as Wikus van der Merwe. He was, as the film progressed, weasly, incompetent, prejudiced, cowardly, frightened, desperate, selfish, angry, loving, manipulative, courageous, selfless, powerful and peaceful.
Am I making a prediction here? My vote would go for the Hurt Locker and I hope it wins.
Short Film (animated)
A Matter of Loaf and Death French Roast Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty Logorama The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y La Muerte)
This was a good crop of animated films. I liked A Matter of Loaf And Death, a Wallace and Gromit film. French Roast was really cute. My personal favorite was La Dama y La Muerte. I wouldn’t know what to predict. Seems like, with the exception of The Danish Poet in 2006, my favorite is never the same as the winner.
Short Film (Live Action)
Instead of Abracadabra Kavi Miracle Fish The Door The New Tenants
In general, I did not like this crop of films as a group. They were all so depressing! There was blood in every one except the one with cancer! I thought The New Tenants was like every dark comedy indie I’ve seen for twenty years. Instead of Abracadabra was like the Scandinavian Napoleon Dynamite. The audience loved it and I suspect it will win. Kavi and Miracle Fish were good films featuring terrific child actors. The Door was very sad. I thought about The Door a lot in the days after seeing all of these.
Sound Editing (the art of recording sound effects, the production of sounds from scratch)
Avatar Inglourious Basterds Star Trek The Hurt Locker Up
Sound Mixing (refers to how the sounds of a film are put together)
Avatar Inglourious Basterds Star Trek The Hurt Locker Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I’d like to see Avatar win for Sound Editing and The Hurt Locker win for Sound Mixing.
Avatar District 9 Star Trek
Take a wild guess.
Writing (adapted screenplay)
An Education District 9 In The Loop Precious Up in the Air
Writing (original screenplay) A Serious Man Inglourious Basterds The Hurt Locker The Messenger Up
Often the writing awards are like runners up or consolation prizes for films that won’t win the big prize. Usually if there’s a kooky comedy, that will win. Recent examples include Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sideways. There isn’t one of “those” types in these nominees.
For adapted screenplay, I would personally vote for District 9, but it won’t win. I predict Precious or Up in the Air. By the way, I rented In The Loop and shut it off after ten minutes.
For original screenplay, I would vote for The Hurt Locker. I didn’t see The Messenger. I suspect The Hurt Locker will win.
Up in the middle of the night. At 3 a.m., Mom called me instead of 911. Dad yelling that he's dying. This is unfortunately becoming familiar. Sugar's probably low. I told her to give him some juice. I didn't panic. Got some clothes on and drove over, not slowly but not dangerously fast, either. He looked "low." I got his testing supplies and checked his sugar. 44. He was alert enough to drink juice and eat cookies and ice cream. Came up to 57 after that, and would continue to rise. Twice we've had to call the paramedics to give him IV glucose. Those times his BG was in the 20s. Those times I was in a panic. He really looked like he was gonna die. He has bad CHF and a leaky mitral valve, low EF, etc etc etc. The ticker ain't gonna last. Mom is more scared than she tries to let on. Now it's not quite 4 a.m. Raining. Dog was waiting for me when I got home. I've got Miles Davis on. I'll go back to sleep for the next couple of hours.
Dad had a panic attack, so I went over. Short PMHx is: 79 y.o. w/ CHF, DM, HTN, pacer/AICD, paroxysmal a-fib on Coumadin, DJD, GAD, OSA. Did I miss anything? For the last several months the SLEEP apnea (he says it with a stress on the word SLEEP) is torturing him. It's like two well-established forms of torture: suffocation and sleep deprivation. He has been an anxious person all his life, but it's worse, if that's even possible, with the OSA. There was nothing I could do for him, so we went outside, wrapped him in some blankets for the frigid 55 degree weather, and did some slow, deep breathing. We'll try to get him in to see "that SLEEP apnea lady" to see if she can adjust his CPAP. I wanted him to start at 12 cmwp, but she started him at 8 and inched him up to 10. Shoulda started him at 12 like I said.
I've started the annual catch up on movies before the awards season starts.
I finally saw Inglourious Basterds, or however you spell it. I thought it was great. I had already convinced myself that Quentin Tarantino would never come close to Pulp Fiction. I liked Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, very much, but it seemed like he was trying to recreate PF every time. I did not see any of his ultra-violent-for-the-sake-of-being-ultra-violent-isnt-that-fun films. (Apologies to QT & fans if those films were considered good, it's just not my cup of tea.) Inglourious Basterds was a step in a new direction, which is a good thing. A director needs range, just like an actor needs range. Not every character in every film should talk like Jules & Vincent. I wish QT hadn't felt the need to resort to some QT devices like "chapters" and PF-esque title font. The movie was terrific without those things. It wasn't even that violent, other than the baseball bat to the head scene. But if you're gonna bash someone's head in with a baseball bat, it should definitely be a justified Jew smashing in the head of an unremorseful Nazi. Contrary to what I thought from the ubiquitous clip of Brad Pitt saying Na-tzi with a short a, the film is mostly about the French and German characters, speaking French and German. The scene at the beginning where the French farmer is interrogated by the politely evil Nazi officer about where the Jews are hiding is one of the most painful scenes of that nature I've seen in years. Both actors were understated and powerful. If you haven't seen this film yet, put it on your Netflix queue!
Now, Synecdoche, New York. Not Schenectady, New York, a real city, but SYNECDOCHE, a real, if obscure, word meaning "a play on words in which a part may be used for the whole or the whole for a part." You can see where this is going. The beginning was good and somewhat realistic in its depiction of a married couple whose relationship has lost its luster. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a genius, and so is Katherine Keener. Keener is always realistic in her characters, which is why her character leaves after about the first third of the movie. Then it's just a descent into the tortured mind of the Hoffman character, which is a descent into the tortured mind of Charlie Kaufman, the writer-director. Kaufman is the disturbed genius behind the screenplays for Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It must suck to be Charlie. During the excruciating latter 2/3rds of the film, I thought, "My God, Vincent Van Gogh must have suffered terribly." Mental illness is something no one can understand who is not going through it. If this film had any value to me, it was to increase my empathy for the mentally ill. One of the several things I admired about the film was that the actresses had "real" bodies, a euphemism for being heavier than a bikini model. Samantha Morton has gained a lot of weight and it has kept her out of a number of roles, so it's good to see her back on film again.
These reviews explain Synecdoche and its "navel-gazing" better than I can:
I like self-absorbed artsy fartsy independent films about artists making art as much as the next hippie liberal. But too much is too much. I trudged through the film waiting for it to end and when it finally did, I felt relief for the characters and for myself. But mostly for myself.