Wesley Fenlon | Not with a bang but a whimper. - Part 2


I hope you're not implying that any day is unimportant at Cortex Semi.

For reasons I’m not sure I can fully explain — or even understand – Primer is one of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen.  Like the most important works of science fiction, it eschews drama for ideas, or an idea, in this case time travel.  Here is why this is great science fiction:

Compare Primer to Back to the FutureBack to the Future is a fantastic movie; it’s a classic adventure, fun and heartwarming and flashy and entertaining, which dances around the concept of time travel with faux-concern about disrupting the space-time continuum.  Doc Brown’s eyes bug out whenever Marty tries to change the future, but ultimately this issue is dismissed and relegated to something that concerns only these characters.  Recreate the past or your whole family will slowly disappear from a photograph, culminating in the erasure of your birth!  Back to the Future is Marty’s story, and the “right” thing to do in any situation regarding time muckery is to make sure everything turns out well for Marty.  Everyone goes home happy.

In Part II, you’ve got the evil Biff who uses knowledge of the future to get rich, rule the world, blah blah.  He’s a comical villain, his ancestor was a villain, his kids will be villains.  There’s destiny at work, here, and the grand design allows for the underdog McFlys and the mean old Tannens to be at odds forever, which makes for fun call-backs in the world of cinema.  What it doesn’t do is provide any sort of genuine questions of how time travel would affect real people.  And that’s fine — it doesn’t have to.

Primer does.  We see two men — two good men, kind and hard-working and smart — run aground the rocky morality of time travel.  We first see them labor, as scientists, to understand what they have created, and the implications of it.  We see them take great pains to avoid anything dangerous beyond their understanding — to prevent any sort of possible paradox, in case such an event may irrevocably damage their lives and the lives of others.  And when, inevitably, they begin to make meticulous changes to the future, we see the damage done to their own friendship.

Primer is certainly no cheeky adventure in a badass flying car, and even the inevitable destruction of the DeLorean does little to make a real case for the moral implications of time travel.  In Primer, we see the implications of their actions eat at the characters from within, just as the effects of their device eat at them from without.  In the end, the narrative becomes almost impossibly complicated — and it starts out pretty damn hard to follow.  But following the exact series of events isn’t really necessary.  It’s not the point.  Knowing that these men are dealing with forces outside of their own understanding, and seeing how power weighs on them is what makes this great sci-fi.  And, as I mentioned at the beginning, seeing what actions such believable, rational people will inevitably take is seriously unsettling.  Primer weighs heavy on the conscience.

A rational movie about time travel?  Yup, turns out it is possible after all.

Romancing in the Big Leagues


Perhaps he doesn’t deserve the credit, but ever since Judd Apatow re-branded the adult comedy scene with his balance of foul language and from-the-heart sincerity, genre movies have started to step up.  Of course, you’ve still got piles of shit like Meet the Spartans and plenty of chick flicks like Valentine’s Day that aim for the lowest common denominator.  Cheap, poorly written comedies and sappy, predictable romances will still be around to exploit the stupid and the emotionally susceptible.  But ever since Apatow came along with The 40 Year Old Virgin, and especially since he followed it up with Knocked Up, more than a few romantic comedies that looked bland and cookie-cutter have turned out to be — surprise! — quite sharp.

Enter She’s Out of My League — this is a funny-ass movie..  With the exception of Blood Diamond, no movie has surprised me as much from the trailer to the real deal.  Starring Jay Baruchel as the skinny loser guy with no self-confidence (but a heart of gold!) who somehow snags the hottest chick on the block, She’s Out of My League hardly steps outside the bounds of its genre expectations, but it sure plays well within them.  The biggest weapon in its arsenal is the supporting cast of lovable losers, who, again, couldn’t be much more predictable.  But it doesn’t matter — they’re funny anyway.

T.J. Miller, who you might have heard, but barely seen, as the likable camera-guy in Cloverfield, channels Seth Rogen in The 40 Year Old Virgin as the wildly inappropriate crazy friend with curly hair.  He threatens to steal the spotlight away from Jay, but Nate Torrence often gets to it first.  He simply radiates charming innocence, and any roly-poly grown man citing Disney movies as allegories for romantic situations is guaranteed to win a few laughs just on principle.  That he does it so well only makes his character more endearing.

With a couple great backers behind him and some laugh-out-loud dialogue guaranteed from their hang out scenes, Jay Baruchel carries the leading man position surprisingly well.  Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he’s from the Apatow school of young actors, having starred in the TV series Undeclared and popping up as a bit part in Knocked Up.  As he proved in Tropic Thunder, there’s something infectious about his nervous mannerisms and voice — which is exactly what She’s Out of My League needed, since it’s playing on our sympathy for Jay’s character Kirk throughout.  Kirk is a nice guy, though he doesn’t really know it, barraged with one horribly uncomfortable situation after another.  His job as an airport security agent actually seems pleasant next to his Nascar-loving, Branson-bound family, who have essentially adopted Kirk’s ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend into the family.

For the most part, Kirk simply absorbs the awkwardness, and only one or two moments in the film reach out of the screen and make you squirm in your seat.   It’s a nice change from comedies that revel hanging awkward terror in the air like an oppressive cloud, and it’s much more fun to gawk and how totally, dreadfully, shudder-inducingly awful Kirk’s family is.

The movie’s propelled along by an energetic soundtrack and solid cinematography.  The camera work isn’t anything revolutionary, but it puts a stamp of quality on the movie that’s yet another sign She’s Out of My League stands above the pack.  It may not quite pack the emotional power or humor of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  But it ends in the best possible way: leaving me wanting more time with this particular group of misfits.

Where do you go from perfect?

The Players

Something about the heist genre seriously confuses me.  No no, it’s not the intricate/incomprehensible plots or the way the audience is manipulated into rooting for a lovable bunch of criminals.  Basically, what I don’t understand is why modern remakes like Ocean’s 11 and The Italian Job, and original creations like The Bank Job, exist at all.  I’m not saying they’re bad movies!  Ocean’s 11 in particular is tons of fun, with a fantastic cast and a great finale.  It’s just that, well, they’re all entirely unnecessary, because The Sting perfected the genre in 1973 and there was simply nowhere to go but down.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman star as a pair of lovable con artists — one up-and-coming, one an old pro — out to pull the ultimate grift on uptight Irish mobster Robert Shaw.  Redford and Newman don’t quite recapture the insanely perfect chemistry of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, but that’s the kind of magic that only happens once in a lifetime.  Nevertheless, they both play their characters with easy grins and are a joy to watch.  Newman plays one of the best poker games put to film against an increasingly furious Shaw, while Redford bounces around Chicago looking utterly dashing in 1930s clothing, and boy does he know it.

If the film was down to Redford and Newman as Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff carrying a heist all by themselves, it would probably still be pretty great.  But the supporting cast comes into play in a big way, and the scope of the con dwarfs anything I’ve seen in another heist film.  The secondary characters like Kid Twist and J.J. Singleton show up, make sure the job sounds good and impossible, then jump in feet first and make it happen.  The Sting portrays an entire culture of con-men, interconnected and operated like a genuine industry.  Kid Twist rounds up recruits to perpetuate a massive robbery, and they’re all, obviously, perfect gentlemen.

That’s really what separates The Sting so profoundly from the rest of its genre — everything works together to project an easy, charming atmosphere of pure confidence, which permeates everything from the costuming to the set design to the intertitles.  The setting feels utterly authentic, even if it’s clearly filmed on sets, and Scott Joplin’s ragtime piece “The Entertainer” add enormously to the 1930s flavor.

The plot carries its weight just like everything else, and strikes a typical balance between revelation and secrets hidden until the grand finale.  And if a twist is a necessary component of any heist movie, The Sting may, again, have the very best.  It’s also the only film I’ve ever seen that begins a con with the opening credits.  But that’s easy to do, when you know you can pull it off.

Mario Galaxy 2 and the Case of the Stolen FunkLord

Nintendo’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 may be a bastion of creativity and fresh ideas, a wealth of originality crammed into a lovingly-crafted 3D platformer.  But behind that creativity lies an insidious case of theft.  Nintendo clearly poured so much effort into coming up with new ideas, when it came to a chubby-space-faring guide, they had to reach back into gaming’s past for inspiration.  And so we were given Mario’s new guide, Lubba, born from another blobular adventurer — though obviously a much more brodacious one.

Dat's Earl

Total bummer, Nintendo.  Total bummer.

Season wrap-up: Parenthood

Parenthood: Strong Start, Average Finish

Previews for Parenthood had me interested in the show before its March debut, mainly due to the involvement of producer Ron Howard.  And once I saw the pilot, I was mighty hopeful: Peter Krause led the cast with energy and believability, Lauren Graham played a pretty good Gilmore Girl, and in general the whole Braverman clan seemed to fit snugly together as a new TV family.

By the end of the season, though, things had changed.  What was my least favorite plot thread in the pilot — Dax Shepard’s discovery that he had a son — had become the stand-out relationship in the show, while the rest of the family’s problems sank deeper and deeper into melodrama.

In the pilot, Crosby (Dax Shepard) played the typical goof-off irresponsible brother who suddenly found himself confronted with parental responsibility.  It was easily the most predictable element of the show, starting off, but Dax Shepard really put his heart into it, creating both the funniest and most appealing member of the Braverman family as a result.  The writers kept it interesting by focusing on both his relationship with his son Jabbar and mother Jasmine, and wisely writing Crosby’s girlfriend Katie out of the show early.

Parenthood managed to balance lighthearted moments with serious “raising kids is tough” drama throughout the first half of the season, but inter-family drama just made the show less fun to watch as it went on.  Of course, “fun” isn’t a requirement for television drama: The Wire certainly never held back from brutalizing its characters.  But Parenthood is hardly The Wire.  At its heart it’s a feel-good show, about people overcoming their problems and living happily ever after, or at least happily until next season.  And I’m completely okay with that.  I may have snickered when my high school government/economics teacher took two class periods to show us Remember the Titans because it was a feel-good movie, but it does make you feel good, dammit.

Problem was, Parenthood got bogged down in entirely too much family melodrama to be fun or especially believable.  A teenage love-triangle can go a long way towards killing a show, and the resulting family in-fighting buried some of the more interesting relationships, such as Adam’s (Peter Krause) attempts to bond with his nephew.  In the end, Parenthood resolved most everything with a pretty little bow on its head, so maybe it will come back stronger next season with more interesting plot threads and less teenagers crying and squabbling.  But if I tune in, it’ll mostly be to see where Crosby’s going, and I’ll have my fingers crossed that his character can continue to surprise and improve through season two.

An Education in Disconnection

An Education in Disconnection

I think there’s a piece of me missing.  I didn’t know I was missing it until about three months ago when I first saw An Education.  The film was up for three Academy Awards.  And not throwaway awards, like sound editing or hairstyling.  We’re talking real awards: Best Picture and Best Actress.

I spent a couple hours watching An Education, and afterward I started to think something wasn’t quite right with me.  And ever since, that same niggling uncertainty will pop back up and gnaw at my confidence.  But today I found out for sure.  I watched Fish Tank.

Apparently 2009 was the year for depressing British adolescent flicks.  Or maybe those are the only kinds of movies British people make outside of the Bond franchise, and the two I’ve been exposed to are but the tip of a horrifyingly vast iceberg of teenage angst.  I really don’t want to know, because An Education and Fish Tank were enough to prove something to me.  Despite critical acclaim, despite passionate writing and emotional acting, despite powerful cinematography, I just can’t seem to care about young British girls and their experiences with older men.

An EducationWhatever part of my brain dishes out sympathy, it’s missing the receptor for the plight of the British youth.  After watching both of those movies, devoting four hours of my life to them, trying to appreciate them as the movie buff I aspire to be…mostly, I was just bored.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot in each film I can appreciate.  An Eduation captures its setting beautifully, applying this glossy sheen of wonder to the high society of 1960s Europe.  It’s like a perfectly-resored antique, and an absolute pleasure to look at.  I just couldn’t draw much of an emotional impact out of the story.  The problem sure wasn’t the acting; Carey Mulligan’s Oscar nomination was well-deserved, and Peter Sarsgaard exuded Child Fucker from the moment he showed up on screen (and seriously that Minnie/Bubbalub scene is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen).

Maybe that was the problem, actually.  When your movie is about a young girl falling for a dashing older guy who woos her with his charm and offers her the world, is there ever any doubt how things will turn out?  Watching An Education amounts to spending two hours waiting for something awful to happen, and then it does happen, and then people get over it and life goes on.  The story is told well, but it was destined to end the way it did from the very beginning, and didn’t bother to take any detours along the way.  It was a straight line from start to finish, and my sympathy didn’t make it far past the starting line.

Fish TankThen there’s Fish Tank, which took an altogether different approach to the same coming of age dilemma.  An Education seemed to show us that life is pretty amazing, as long as you don’t get tricked by charming child predators.  Fish Tank’s motif is more along the lines of Life Is A Bit Shit, and nobody is really ever happy about anything.  The protagonist, Mia, and her ghastly mother try to out-horrible each other because they’re both pretty miserable.  The mother is the party type, still trying to have a good time and acting like she doesn’t have kids to be responsible for.  And Mia has so much rage and angst built up she just hates everbody, and has to tell them at every available opportunity.

The whole thing is recorded with handheld cameras, and the style works perfectly to capture the low-class urban social system at work, high-rise tenements and cramped spaces.  Mia spends most of her time wandering aimlessly or dancing.  And her dancing is complimented several times throughout the film, though it mostly seemed awful to me.  But if there’s anything I’m less fit to analyze than the emotional state of a 16 year old lower-class British girl, it’s probably dancing.

The worst thing about Fish Tank is that the only character who is remotely appealing is mom’s boyfriend Connor, who, of course, turns out to be a double-life leading sleaze.  The depiction of Mia’s life is raw and just terrible enough to feel authentic, but is also borderline uncomfortable to watch.

When I think back on coming of age stories, there are plenty that resonate with me.  Quite a few of my all-time favorites are coming of age tales, in fact.  But all of them are a little more nuanced, complicated, or masked than either An Education or Fish Tank.  Take FLCL, for example, which buries a very sweet growing up story underneath layers of Japanese pop-culture references, robot fights, and a level of weirdness only Japan can cram into a couple hours of television.  Or Ferris Bueller, which begins as a story about a lovable slacker and ends as a much more poignant story about Cameron, and what happens to love and friendship after high school.

Fish Tank and An Education simply didn’t resonate with me that way.  Much as I tried, I couldn’t generate the sympathy to feel much for the girls, as horrible as their situations were.  Maybe it’s because the prospect of having my life ruined by a charming-but-ultimately-evil 30 year old man is utterly foreign to me.  But I found Joyce Carol Oates’ novel You Must Remember This to be far more gripping and emotionally powerful than either film, even though it told much the same story.  The power of prose over film, I guess.  Or it could’ve just been the accents.

Wait’ll you get a load of my felt fedora and spats.


When I watch film noir, I’m peering through a window to an earlier time, a window to a place I never lived in.  It’s a place where men dress in pinstripe suits and trenchcoats for breakfast, rarely go anywhere without a fedora and a cigarette, and drink their liquor straight.  And they drink it constantly.

Granted, it’s a world that never really existed — not the way Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s made it out to be, where every guy’s a tough guy with a square jaw and an oblique wisecrack waiting behind a grim smile.  But it’s always felt like an authentic world, real within the confines of its own imagining, reflecting a now-departed society where people really did talk tough and mysteries really did exist, if you bothered to follow the trail of breadcrumbs from shady alley to shady alley.

Maybe that’s why Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir Brick is so wildly surreal.  Set in modern-day suburban California, Brick transposes the language of classic noir into rapidfire, jargon-saturated dialogue, as heavily stylized as Juno but with none of the whimsy.  There are no men in suits and coats, no cigarette holders, no fedoras.  In their place are boys, teenagers treating high school social circles with the same gravity as mobsters and racketeers.  And they deserve that world-weary treatment; Brick presents an unrelentingly dark disturbia, in which crime and danger hardly bother to lurk beneath the surface.

Noir has jarringly and unabashedly been stuffed into a high school, bringing with it the eerily empty streets and late-night meetings of the urban underworld.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, easily one of the strongest young actors of his generation, plays the classic loner — street-smart and tough enough to take a beating — searching for the identity of his ex-girlfriend’s murderer.  Brendan knows she’s in trouble, tracks her down, finds her dead; from there he’ll do whatever it takes to flush her killer into the open, even if it means dealing with heroin dealers and the cliques of rich kids manipulating everyone beneath them.

Brendan and his acquaintances clash with words loaded with venom, delivered at a youthful speed that matches or outpaces anything in classic noir.  It borders on campy, much like the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City, but Brick never crosses the line from heavy-handed to excessive.  Simply put, it just works.

The shoes match the man

The danger feels real, and Brick is emotionally tense throughout Brendan’s journey.  I was transfixed, trying to piece together the clues and figure out exactly how much danger he was in.  With everyone playing their cards close to their chests and Brendan stirring up the underworld with the grace of a sledgehammer, it’s easy to forget how young all these kids are…until Johnson points it out with a tongue-in-cheek scene featuring someone’s mom, or an ironic moment when a violent drug-dealer casually asks, “You read Tolkien?  You know, the Hobbit books?”

Coupled with Nathan Johnson’s score, with shifts from mournful horns and retro piano to jarring percussion to heighten the intensity of Brendan’s most dramatic moments, Brick does the unthinkable: it out-noirs classic noir, without a trenchcoat in sight.  Rian Johnson knew his material, and he knew it well — low angle shots create imposing characters, and wide shots highlight the solemnity of Brendan’s world, a series of empty rooms, empty halls, empty fields.  And in a modern touch, when there’s violence, the camerawork suddenly explodes into motion.

Brick is a film so lovingly crafted, smartly written and seriously acted that it deserves to be seen more than once…and maybe read again, on top of that.

Whatcha gonna do? Appreciate you.

Bad Boys Bad Boys

Before Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer teamed up to direct and produce one of the most overshot, masturbatory action films of all time (Bad Boys II), they created an action flick with a clear 90s feel that nonetheless retained a hint of violent 80s grit (Bad Boys The First).

Released in 1995, Bad Boys was the first step in Will Smith’s transition from Fresh Prince to, well, Hollywood God.  The 1995-1996-1997 progression from Bad Boys narcotic cop Mike Lowery to Independence Day’s alien face-punching pilot to Men in Black’s look-h0w-fast-I-can-run Agent Jay secured Will Smith as an honest-to-God superstar.

Martin Lawrence has not risen as far, nor did he attain his fame as quickly.  But he’s done all right for himself, moving from a sitcom career into action-comedies just like Will Smith.  Granted, for the past decade he’s largely been starring in shallow buddy movies far worse than Bad Boys, or going the Eddie Murphy route with by co-starring with Martin Lawrence, Martin Lawrence and Martin Lawrence in modern cross-dressing classics.  But at least, with Marcus Burnett in Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, he found a buddy cop team-up that really jived.  Lawrence is the perfect foil to Will Smith’s ultrasmooth, ultrabadass Mike Lowery, and he strikes a great balance between comic incompetent bumbling and serious action star territory.  Which is probably what makes the climax of Bad Boys so great; when Marcus’ whiny, mumbling persona is stripped away to reveal his grim-faced fuck-the-rules mentality, the energy is palpable.

Will Smith’s character is mostly flat (his duty: look cool, talk cool, act cool, be cool), but obviously entertaining.  So overall, Bad Boys is fun, the action is solid, the bad guy appropriately eastern European, and it holds onto just enough of that 80s action grunge to feel a little dangerous (it’s no Last Boy Scout, but, then, what is?).  But that energy Martin Lawrence brings at the end somehow grabs everything good about the film and condenses it into one moment, when the writing is quick and perfect, the acting serious, and the sound and cinematography mesh to project the raw power of the Porsche’s engine and the overwhelming need for speed.

I could watch all of Bad Boys again, waiting in anticipation of that one line.  And I probably will.  Because when Martin Lawrence starts mirandizing bitches from afar, you know it’s on.

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Virtual Worldbuilding

Virtual Light

Did you know William Gibson is one of the most skilled authors of the 20th century?  It’s true!  “Sure,” you might say, “he did practically invent the cyberpunk genre.”  Yup, that’s pretty impressive.  He dirtied up technology, marrying the high-tech with the low-brow to create a whole world of fiction populated with cobbled-together Millenium Falcons instead of spit-shined Death Stars.  You might also note his ability to shrewdly predict the future path of technological development, resulting in almost eerie interpretations of the Internet and the dissemination of information decades before their time.  You could even harp on his fantastic sense of style — which at times reads like a sci-fi lucid dream — or how his fast-paced narratives often imply action without even having to show it.

Yeah, those would all be pretty good points.

But there’s another element of his writing, more overlooked, that deserves praise for so effectively bolstering up the stories Gibson has to tell.  I was suddenly struck by the intricacy and imagination of Gibson’s worldbuilding while reading his 1993 novel Virtual Light.  Having only read the short story “Johnny Mnemonic” and the Sprawl trilogy before Virtual Light, its slight departure from the tech-heavy cyberpunk of his earlier works was an interesting change.  Granted, Virtual Light still bears the markings of a cyberpunk dystopia, but lacks hacker heroes like Neuromancer’s Case and vivid depictions of cyberspace.  In all of his books, Gibson harnesses that knack for predicting technology’s path and uses it to build a unique world, unusually believable and more thoroughly thought-out than nearly anything else in sci-fi.

Virtual Light is no exception, only the results of Gibson’s worldbuilding are even more interesting than usual because he applies them to contemporary society.  The novel hits much closer to home, even if its near-future setting isn’t so far removed from his earlier works.  He creates a world where California has been ravaged by earthquakes and split into NoCal and SoCal (amusingly playing off the already-existing cultural differences between the two), while Japan has been similarly decimated by an Earthquake nicknamed Godzilla.  A cool setting, but hardly as amazing as the character J.D. Shapely who lurks in the shadows just outside Light’s corona.  Shapely is not a protagonist, an antagonist, a tag-along; he’s simply a memory.  But he was a man whose unique biology led to a cure for AIDS.  In 1993, AIDS was a hot-button issue, and Gibson took it upon himself to address the issue within the realm of science-fiction, creating a Martin Luther King-esque martyr for a cause that concerns every living person on the globe.

Gibson is obviously interested in exploring real social issues, extrapolating them into a future scenario and scrutinizing how they would eventually impact us all.  Shapely becomes a cult figure, worshiped by the poor, celebrated by the rich.  He weaves history, fake documentaries, and character observations of Shapely references throughout Virtual Light, none of which directly relate to the plot in the slightest.  They create such a real, powerful vision of the world that Virtual Light’s fictional society derives enormous complexity from such a tangential story element.

Like Shapely, another oft-referenced, never-seen character, Reverend Wayne Fallon, addresses a real social issue.  Fallon is an ironic extrapolation of the modern Joel Osteen, a character whose followers have advanced from worshiping on television to worshiping television.  It’s an amusing cyberpunk blend of religion and technology, but also a bit frightening; when people start looking for God in their television, you know the outside world is really going to suffer.

The scary thing is, Reverend Fallon’s flock aren’t all that unbelievable.  They hang out in the background as fuel for dystopian thought, while the majority of Virtual Light’s plot plays out in chase scenes and cop drama.  Interestingly, its conclusion steers much closer to the intriguing worldbuilding information Gibson packs into the novel, focusing more on class issues and social strife surrounding the future of San Francisco.  Reading the book days after leaving the city, I loved picking up on Gibson’s geographic references to real places, but ended up coming away with a new respect for his work thanks to the socially conscious blend of present-day class issues, future social problems and a dab of zesty science-fiction dystopia in a fictional 2005 that, even in 2010, edges a little too uncomfortably close to reality.

Trials and Tribulations: Browsing the 10.1″ Web

The 10.1 Inch Web

It’s hard out there for a netbook. You think it’s easy, being ultraportable and Internet-ready 24/7? You think it’s easy, cramming the entirety of the Internet into 614400 pixels? Well, it’s not. Not one bit.

Take the ASUS EEE 1000H, for example. A rock solid 5 hours of battery life, a decent keyboard, and 10.1 inches of matte LCD made for peerin’ into the world wide web. Sounds decent, right?

Wrong. But it’s not all the computer’s fault. The 1000H is like the little netbook that could. It’s a 3 pound featherweight anticipating that first-round KO from a better faster stronger competitor like the HP Mini 311. But it’s still going to tighten its gloves, bite down on that mouth guard, and put up its dukes. And with the right web browser in its corner, it might even hold its own.

But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? On a weak processor like the Atom, on a screen that doesn’t even hit 720p, how do you balance performance and usability for the perfect web experience? It’s all about finding the right web browser. Trouble is, none of them get it quite right. It’s tough out there for a netbook — let’s take a look at how Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera help and hinder our exploration of the 10.1″ web.

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