Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Lars Von Trier's 'Breaking the Waves'

I'd never seen a Lars Von Trier film before, but I've always been intrigued by the reviews I've read of his films and the soliloquies to his greatness I've heard from my cineaste friends. He's been considered an important director, even by those who don't always like his films. A friend told me earlier this week that "important director" is code for "no one likes their movies."

I had the chance to put this to the test last night, when I watched 1996's Breaking the Waves for the first time. A movie that makes your heart ache. I loved the movie, but it's certainly bleak in a way where it may not be beloved by everyone.

The movie tells the story of a young woman named Bess (Emily Watson) and the love of her life, Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), opening with their wedding in a remote village in Scotland. It's a pure love told in a realistic, moving fashion. Still, the time of joy doesn't last, and at her husband's urging, Bess is sent down a road of debasement that can be hard to watch. She does horrible things, but she does it all for the sake of her love for her husband and her love for God.


Random thoughts on the State of the Union

• Rock star presidents: Growing up, I always thought of the president and members of Congress as colleagues. I pictured them meeting together and calling one another on the phone. One thing that the State of the Union always seems to make clear is that this isn't necessarily the case, as you read stories about members of Congress coming early so they can get a good spot just for the opportunity to shake the president's hand and you watch Obama signing autographs for members of Congress as he leaves the chamber. Even for members of Congress, presidents are still celebrities.

• As a former history major, I always enjoy a good historical reference used to frame a major speech. President Obama referenced the period of history I spent the most time studying in school, the Civil War, drawing an allusion to when the Union was turned back at Bull Run. It was an intriguing allusion on the same day controversial historian Howard Zinn died.


Wrapping my head around the iPad

The day has arrived, and Steve Jobs has come down from Mt. Sinai with Apple's long-rumored device, the iPad, a tablet computer. The price is cheaper than I expected (starting at $499), but especially the upper end models (up to $829) are priced significantly higher than netbooks. Apple did manage to stir everyone's imagination with the device's release.

Still, the first thought that came to mind when I saw Steve Jobs actually holding the thing was... awkward. It looked like even Jobs was still getting used to the concept, and I think the day of the tablet being just another common piece of technology is still years away, if ever.

One thing that did help me start wrapping my head around the potential of tablet computers was a story NPR did the other day on All Things Considered, "What's The Allure Of Tablet Computers?"


Bill Gates' awesome new Web site

As a lifelong Mac user, it pains me to say this, but Bill Gates' new Web site, the Gates Notes, is excellent. He's retired from being actively involved in Microsoft, but is now working full time as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He created the Gates Notes site to share his thoughts on both his work with the foundation and on other things he's learning about and interested in. It's a great opportunity to get a peek inside the mind of one of the world's most successful people.

One article on the site I found particularly interesting was a piece he did answering the question "Where can I get unbiased news?" He sites some great sources, and it's well worth checking out.

Bill Gates also joined the ranks of Twitter just last week, where he's offering a wide range of thoughts, links, and retweets.


Conan O'Brien: 'Please do not be cynical'

"I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen."

Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show farewell speech was a great moment in television history, and one that will stick with me. As a journalist, it can be easy to become cynical, but I thought Conan's point was a great one to keep in mind and is a stance that I think will ultimately produce better journalism. Being a cynic is easy; working hard and being kind requires far more than that.

Video of Conan's full farewell speech (as well as the rest of the last episode of the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien):