Saturday, January 28, 2006

Day of the Fop

Reading recently about Peter Lynn's cruel and insensitive (but hilarious) childhood experiences fighting cripples and retards, I couldn't help but laugh out of recognition. Not because I ever got into a fight with a cripple or a retard, but because I've always had a deep streak of insensitivity. No, no insensitivity, exactly... more like outright cruelty. I am always willing to laugh at the idea of causing extreme pain to others.

Here's an example, even though it involves taking no action and raising no arms against the less fortunate. Back in 1996, Carl and I were both working at the Barnes & Noble in Oakbrook Terrace, IL. Anyone from that area will immediately know the kind of business fuck/self-important asshole/crotchety old bumpkin/entitled yuppie kid/stupid ignorant slut yuppiewife clientele we got at that store. Carl and I were both from a little further south of Roosevelt Road, and even though we both grew up in pretty privileged areas, neither of us was swimming in money or, really, self-respect. Especially not putting an incredible backlog of magazines out on the shelves while customers browsed around us.

So, we're working one morning, shooting the breeze and making derisive comments about the kind of magazines Barnes & Noble carries but no one buys, and suddenly I look out the front windows. Passing in front of me is some faceless business fuck; trailing behind him is his asshole, entitled, ungrateful little spawn. Judging by my own age at the time (20) I figured the kid must be about 16 or 17. He was wearing one of those L.L. Bean jackets that makes yuppies feel like they've even seen a forest, much less worked one. Grey slacks. Bright red hair in this kind of blow-dried sweep that went back in a far too meticulous fashion for a teenager out with his dad. And with his freckles and deep-set green eyes (the kind of beady eyes one usually sees in the less cuddly members of the rodent kingdom), he curls his delicate little lips and sneers at me. As if to say, "Hmph, labor; my daddy could sell your ass into slavery if I told him to do it." A full-blown, contemptuous, Bush family sneer directed not only at me, or at Carl, but at the thin societal curtain that keeps people like me from turning into the Incredible Hulk and ripping the arms off of innocent people and beating them to death with them in a blind rage.

"Don't you look at me like that, Fop-boy," I said aloud. "I rape your ass."

Carl, the only person nearby, immediately burst into laughter.

This was the best release of laughter in my entire professional life. Carl and I didn't just get the giggles; we retired to the receiving room, away from the eyes and ears of customers, and laughed our fucking asses off until it hurt to breathe. Girlish giggles, loud belly-laughs, snot-blowing snorts, guffaws that come all the way from the balls up. For the remainder of our eight-hour shift, we did the bare minimum of work while we laughed at the notion of raping that little Fop-boy, of how much pain we could inflict on him, of how much he would scream and how it would sound.

"Ooh, no! Help me!" Carl would say in a high-pitched, strangled voice, and the immediate mention of it would send us into a convulsive laughing jag that was impossible to control. I believe that, were I full of some liquid, I would have lost all control of my bladder. And that would have been pretty funny, too.

Carl and I referred to that incident for years as Fop-boy Day, probably the most fun day we ever had at that soul-crushing den of evil. Can you imagine how much two people would have to hate their jobs, the class structure, and the entire socio-economic structure that holds America together to laugh for an entire work day at the notion of raping some Fop-boy? I would imagine it's quite a lot.

God, it still makes me laugh.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Short Man Syndrome

I've been awfully sick lately. For over a month now, I've been down with a very bad cough. For a while, I was near bronchitis. The new semester started last week, on the 18th, but I missed that week (I've only got class on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester). I also missed last Tuesday; three days in a row. I e-mailed all four of my professors about this; two of them had the grace to e-mail me back, tell me they understood, and tell me what to do to catch up. When I finally went to my classes yesterday, a third professor only had to hear me talk to say he understood and wouldn't count the absences. But the fourth...

Before I get to him, I have to stress that I have been very, very sick (and still am; the cough has yet to fully go away, and the hacking and wetness of it is driving me crazy; I hate the way it echoes around the room or in public buildings, I hate the amounts of phlegm that come up with it, I hate the way my back and my abdomen hurt because of the frequency and effort of it). This isn't me cutting class idly. The diarrhea that came with it sure sucked, too. And the occasional vomiting--if you too have ever vomited so hard that some of it came out through your nose, you have my undying sympathy. For awhile, I almost became dependent on the alcoholic cough medicine I was taking--I stopped taking it yesterday and can actually feel myself craving for it as my energy flags. This has not been the best time of my life.

So, I head into my composition class for the first time yesterday, and I know I'm in trouble right away. The professor has gray hair, a neatly clipped goatee, and is about five-foot-two. He's wearing a shuit-jacket with a casual shirt and jeans underneath, and loafers (side note: is there a handbook for how to dress like a pretentious writer?). I introduce myself and apologize; he rolls his eyes and looks away, wondering just what he's going to do with me. Then he says: "Well, sit in on the class today, then come see me in my office next week and we'll discuss what we're going to do about it." I thank him as I take my seat. "Don't thank me," he says, "until I agree to let you stay."

Fuck you, I'm thinking. Apparently, he runs his class like a workshop, requiring daily writing and constant communication. Fine, that's why I decided to take the course. I sit through the class, a very patient man, not participating because I'm not supposed to. As the class is filing out, he catches me and says: "Oh, Aaron."

"I'm not happy about this, either," I say to him, my voice thin and my throat raw, trying not to cough all over him. "Believe me, I hate this." I try not to point out that I had e-mailed him, asking him to get back to me, and he hadn't even given me the courtesy of a terse reply.

He sighs in a meaningful way. "Alright, well, the syllabus is on the internet, and you can talk to Steve [another student] about what's required. Come see me in my office on Wednesday. I guess since you're enrolled in the course you can stay. But you're lucky I'm in such a good mood today."

Yeah, I'm sure my being near bronchial for the past five weeks--three of them, depressingly, on winter break--was a real inconvenience for YOU. Do I say this to his face? No, of course not. But I might just be saving it up for an explosion in his office on Wednesday; I can feel it coming already.

In my three decades on this planet, I've quietly and submissively cowered to all of the short, angry men of authority that I'm going to. I know he thinks that I'm some scared kid who's going to take his rebuke and do whatever he says. I know he's one of those diminutive men who feel like they have to make up for their genetic deficiency by proving their intellectual scrappiness and fierce wit over and over again. The man has taken the limited power that being an English professor at a third-rate state university has given him and become a miniature martinet.

I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more.

Throwdown 1/27

15 random thoughts, questions and observations for the week.

1. Well, the big news has come down: Walt Disney officially bought Pixar in a deal worth about $7.4 billion. Can you believe that? Now, normally I would be decrying the end of good animation in America (can any upcoming CGI movie look more like every other upcoming CGI movie?), but there are some bright spots here. First, Steve Jobs is now on the Disney board and this makes him Disney’s largest individual shareholder; he know how not to run Pixar into the ground, and he won’t let Disney do it for him. Second, David Stainton, the current head of Walt Disney Feature Animation (and a man whom many blame for the decline of Disney animation) will step down and be replaced by Ed Catmull, the current head of Pixar. Third, the chief creative officer of these animation studios will be John Lasseter. This is great news, because Lasseter has talked in the past of setting up a traditional cel animation studio at Pixar; he’s the director of Toy Story and Toy Story 2, movies that were wittier than any non-Pixar CG animation; he’s been instrumental in bringing the best animated films in history from Japan’s Studio Ghibli to Disney DVD (including theatrical releases for Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away); and he’s the guy who once said that the medium is not a story. So, even though they’re going to combine Pixar into the Disney animation department, it’s still in good hands. Fourth, Pixar is going to retain its brand and continue to work in their own offices away from Disney. Fifth, and as predicted, now that Disney and Pixar have reached an agreement, Disney’s planned non-Pixar Toy Story 3 has been scrapped. Maybe they can raise Fraidy Cat from the dead. Will we be seeing a return of great cel animation? It’s only one of many hopes which are safely raised.

2. Fox has announced that X-Men 3 will be the last part of a trilogy, probably because Hugh Jackman doesn’t want to play Wolverine for the rest of his life and the first two were, face it, kinda lame. He calls the third film a satisfactory conclusion, but the beginning and middle parts were so unsatisfying that I can’t see how it could be.

3. I don’t know, I think Mandy Moore can do better than an unfunny John Ritter wannabe like Zach Braff.

4. Hey, didn’t Stephen King retire from novels? Maybe he was just out of ideas for awhile. If so, why does he think playing the crotchety old everyman would be a good thing? His new novel, The Cell, basically reveals its whole point on the sleeve: "Cell phones are the ultimate in self-absorption and that self-absorption will destroy society, and only those of us noble everyday people who shun cell phones will be able to save it." Snooze...

5. I think the next person on Lost who’s going to die is going to be Charlie. Then again, I thought Sun was the last one, and they went for the obvious choice, so who knows? After three or so episodes of Jack/Locke/Desmond I’m beginning to wonder if the creators have any idea where this thing is going next.

6. Gotta love that MPAA; Kirby Dick, the director of a new documentary (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) that takes issue with the ratings board (and was predictably given an NC-17 rating), has accused the MPAA of illegally making copies of his film. The MPAA, pirating a movie? There’s no honor in this country.

7. Jack Abramoff’s dad, Frank, wrote a letter to George Clooney after the joke Clooney made at the Golden Globes. In the letter, he called Clooney "glib and ridiculous" and called the quip "deeply hurtful to many innocent and decent people." He went on to say that Clooney "brought shame and dishonor on you and your profession." That’s debatable, but at least Clooney didn’t raise an official-bribing fraud artist. I guess this would be a bad time to ask Frank what his son had to do with jacking Abram off?

8. Humorless ass Russell Crowe is threatening paparazzi not to go near his pregnant wife. It’s great that he’s all concerned, but are we done with this guy yet? Look, if you want to be a celebrity, people are going to take your picture and hassle you every so often: you made your choice, so deal with it. I appreciate that he’s more concerned with the craft and not the ceremony (though he takes the job a little too seriously; it’s not like he’s running a country or something, he’s playing dress-up and make-believe for a living), but I’m getting real sick of this guy bitching to the media about how he hates being hounded by the media. Can we stop paying attention to this guy yet?

9. Al Sharpton took issue with an episode of Cartoon Network’s The Boondocks, and demanded they apologize for a recent episode that satirized Martin Luther King Jr. I’d be happy if Aaron McGruder just apologized for making such a crappy show based on a derivative comic strip that isn’t even funny. Or the lame anime rip-off animation that just comes across as so fucking pretentious.

10. Hey, if Pamela Anderson’s so interested in "what God intended," why doesn’t she de-plasticize herself? I'm getting sick of being told how we have to mutilate God's creatures in order to eat meat. Yeah, duh, thank you.

11. Kanye West comparing himself to Jesus? I can’t even grasp how much that annoys me and describe it coherently. So, let me just say this: Kanye West, go fuck yourself, you untalented cunt.

12. Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Bubble, was released today, although most theater chains are refusing to carry it because it will also be available on Tuesday on DVD. Theater chains are really, really pissed off about the way some filmmakers are trying to shorten to window in order to stay afloat in a business landscape that gives consumers a lot of choices on how to spend their money. I mostly think the theater chains have brought it on themselves, and I’m not against the simultaneous release. Still, if anyone wanted to have any real guts, they’d release something with the potential to be a huge blockbuster. I’d love to see Disney release something huge in theaters and then put it on DVD the following Tuesday, just to see how viable this is. Honestly, I still think they should just put them on sale immediately for, like five bucks. I think more people would buy them than rent them, just because they’re so cheap. I know a lot of people who do this anyway.

13. So, James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces was heavily fictionalized. You know what? I don’t care, and I find it funny that anyone else does. The argument goes something like this: "The book claims to be a true story, but there are lies in it!" So? It’s not a history book, it doesn’t have to pass the veracity test. I think it’s the license of a writer to make things more dramatic, to invent things, to amalgamate. What is it with you people? You’re always amazed when movies take dramatic license, or when Fargo claims to be a true story as an artistic device (or Sleepers, for that matter). You’re outraged when a pop singer uses a guide vocal, or when people use computers to enhance the sound on their music albums. Yet more than half of you believe that George Washington cut down a cherry tree as a lad, because it’s in an old book (which the author of said book admitted he’d made up). You believe the Shroud of Turin is real, even though the man who sold it to the Church admitted he’d made it himself. Or that you should worship Jesus because Mel Gibson browbeat you into it. You know what I say about James Frey? If you can fool that many people at once, you deserve to. He deserves to get away with it; the man is a literary genius. This isn’t the Hitler diary or the Howard Hughes biography. This is a work of fiction, basically. And you know what? I especially love that this involves Oprah, who has, typically, made this whole thing about her being fooled and taken advantage of (her whole show is like a giant blog; I mean, a whole show on how much she likes old TV shows? she’s not exactly an ace reporter, here, and her constant need to be loved and sympathized with is pathetic). I love that the people who only read what she tells them to feel screwed and duped by this guy. That’s what you get for not cracking a book more often, housewives.

14. You know what else is stupid? The similar furor over the authenticity of The Da Vinci Code. Boy, it doesn’t matter how stupid your book is; if it makes people feel even a little smart, they love it. And then, of course, there’s always people who attack it with a furor. It’s a work of rambling fiction, get over it.

15. Oh, and Chris Penn died. In case you’re interested.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

DEATH WISH 3 (1985)
Disposable crap that wasted time one morning. I tend to like Charles Bronson; the original Death Wish had something to say about social order, but this was a dumb revenge flick enhanced slightly by the appearance of Marina Sirtis's breasts. The makers had obviously seen The Warriors and taken its heavy stylization as documentary footage. ** stars.

LORNA (1964)
Another Russ Meyer classic about the sin of not being able to satisfy your woman sexually. Lorna Maitland stars as Lorna, and is so lovely and sensuous and erotic that the entire movie could've just been her bathing scene and it would still be one of the best movies I've ever seen. As usual, Russ is kind of cruel towards the American husband, and towards those who commit infidelities, but it's really got something to say about how people relate to one another. Hard to take your eyes off of. **** stars.

A Studio Ghibli film (not directed by Miyazaki) about how a high school student is inspired to become a novelist. This may be the only animated film I've ever seen that has no real fantasy element in it. The girl is inspired by a cat statue called the Baron, and imagines him as a character, but it's not a real fantasy element (for a more fantastic movie, see The Cat Returns, which is a semi-sequel that could be the girl's novel). Whisper of the Heart is a touching, emotionally complex film that serves as the perfect explanation for how any story can work in animation, as long as the script is strong enough. Truly wonderful; a definite **** stars.

Ponderous, pointless, interminably dull; must be Miramax Oscar bait! Where do I start? Okay, the major problem is this: it's too damn long. There are two parallel stories, but only one (Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger must survive the lean times of Civil War-era Appalachia while Nicole waits for Jude Law to return) is interesting. The other (Jude Law's journey) is pointless, shrill, and weird for the sake of weird. It doesn't actually add anything to the movie except for a lot of wasted minutes. This is the kind of story that's so unsure of itself and its ability to be interesting that they have to throw in characters like a backflipping albino sharpshooter who gets nosebleeds. Like most movies in America, it takes a potentially excellent 102 minute story and spreads it out over 155. The story is also...well, it made me uneasy how it seemed to excuse the South for the Civil War at the same time it was basically apologizing for it. The only Northerners you see are all bastards. And why couldn't they shoot the movie in Appalachia, anyway? Romania looks pretty, but it doesn't look like America. The actors are mostly bad. The good performances: Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Ethan Suplee, Donald Sutherland, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Cillian Murphy, and I guess Jude Law was okay. There were a lot of bad performances, though: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Melora Walters, Jack White's smirking and inappropriate appearance (not since Prince has a singer stuck out so badly), and pretty much everyone else in the damn movie. Renee Zellweger's hammy, overblown performance was certainly not Oscar-worthy; it was alright, but it was just that kind of showy role they used to give to people like Thelma Ritter, Spring Byington, and especially Edna May Oliver (the whole role could have been transported from Drums Along the Mohawk). It's funny--she takes the piss out of a turgid, self-important movie--but not great. The movie is far too precious about its music and historical details. There is no real entry point, as the first hour is too boring to hold the attention. And now to the two people most responsible for this mess. First, Nicole Kidman. Not only is she a (mostly) bad actress, but she's all wrong for this movie. I can't see someone with so much botox in her head and highlights in her hair living in Blue Ridge, North Carolina, in 1864. And when she takes off her clothes, she looks so toned and firm; it doesn't seem realistic at all. Sorry, but that's how it is. And then there's Anthony Minghella, who wrote and directed. Did we learn nothing from how awful The English Patient was? This movie is just so freaking dull, and it asks a lot to be this dull and pointless and obvious for 155 minutes of a viewer's time. It would have been an easy fix, too: concentrate on the women and the incredibly obvious lesbian subtext, and cut out Jude Law's role entirely except for the beginning and the end. All the best scenes were already in Gone with the Wind, anyway. *1/2 stars.

A Lifetime TV movie starring Tori Spelling. That about says it all, doesn't it? **1/2 stars.

Russ Meyer's second and last movie with Lorna Maitland focuses on small town politics and infidelity. Surprisingly serious, this is Russ Meyer's lost classic; it feels like a real attempt to make a serious movie. You know, with tits (Lorna is joined by the sexy and wonderful Rena Horton). Hal Hopper is especially great and riveting as a man at the end of his rope. **** stars.

CANDY (1968)
A truly bizarre movie about a woman (Ewa Auli, very cute) who drifts through her life at the mercy of strange men who want to do her. It's an odd, odd movie with an odd, odd cast: Richard Burton, Ringo Starr, Marlon Brando, John Astin, James Coburn, John Huston, Anita Pallenberg, Elsa Martinelli, and others. Becca and I disagreed on what the point of the movie was: I say it's about the inherent corruptness of institutions and why people can't rely on anyone for help. It's a sort of Buddhist movie, too, about freedom from desire. I have to say, I really enjoyed it, even though it was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen. Great psychedelic rock soundtrack, with a theme song ("Child of the Universe") by the Byrds. It's somehow appropriate that this movie, written by Buck Henry from a Terry Southern novel, came out the same year as Barbarella and Vixen. If that sounds like a compliment to you, go for it. ***1/2 stars.

Lame Disney Channel movie that thinks it's a musical but somehow isn't--half the scenes are staged as part of the plot, half of them comment on the action with an inherent lack of the knowledge of musical plot structure. And the singing is pretty bad, too; everyone sounds like a pop singer now, singing through their noses; guys in a high falsetto, girls in that weird Britney accent ("How was I suppose ta kna"). The only actor I liked was Ashley Tisdale, who, along with Lucas Grabeel, play those type of theater Nazis that you knew and hated in school; she (and he, to a lesser extent) seems to get that her role should be played archly for the sake of comedy. Everyone else takes it so fucking seriously. This should be Tisdale's movie. As for the songs themselves, there's one or two good ones, but everything in the movie is so beside its own point that it doesn't matter. The director is Kenny Ortega, who not only inflicted Newsies on us, but also produced a short-lived Disney-produced series called Hull High about 15 years ago; with this movie, he seems to be reviving that lame show (I think it had Cheryl Pollack on it). *1/2 stars; strictly for the kind of dorks who think Fame and Flashdance are magical movies.

This movie about a lesbian love affair tries hard, but doesn't quite make it all the way. The ending is kind of obvious, but the tension is genuinely compelling. A hard movie to describe, actually; it strangely doesn't leave much up for discussion. It's not moving. It feels rather clinical, somehow. I liked it, but the story didn't involve me emotionally. *** stars.

Another Studio Ghibli movie, this one by Isao Takahata. It's based on a Japanese comic strip about a family, so the story is actually a series of vignettes about the daily life of an average, humorous family. That said, it's one of the most wonderful films of any kind I've ever seen. The simple, minimalist line-drawing style is so endearing that it becomes a wonderful antidote to today's detail-heavy computer animation. Yet another movie that proves how important story and emotion are. **** stars.

Lorna Maitland

Pictures by Russ Meyer Posted by Picasa

GLAAD needs to get a life

The boy in question. Posted by Picasa

Every year when American Idol comes on, there's always some big to-do about how we absolutely, positively, MUST be sensitive to each and every person at each and every time of each and every day. It's basically bullshit to me. First off, the judges aren't being rude every time they comment on someone's singing; people, learn this: it is not rude to tell people they can't sing when they are on a singing competition of their own volition and they are being judged by people who have experience in the music industry. People in general, and Americans in particular, are such crybabies. I rebel against this idiocy of sensitivity when it seeks to pervade everyone's attitudes. Yes, I do feel you should be polite and understanding, but sensitivity seems to imply too much to me. And why does it have to be so selective? We can be sensitive to fat people and gay people, but not to people who smoke? Not to people who smoke pot? We must be sensitive to people who are robbed, but never to the social pressures that turn people into thieves? That alone seems judgemental to me. And if no one were judgemental, no one would ever have an opinion about anything, and everyone would be the same.

Learn this, too: Absolutely everyone is not going to be okay with what you do or with who you are. That's life, get a helmet and stop crying about it.

So, anyway, GLAAD is going after American Idol right now, in part because of the kid in the disturbing picture here. Apparently, it was quite rude of Randy Jackson to ask this young man if he was a girl or not. But Randy was genuinely confused; watching it on TV, so was I. The kid was actually in the process of saying he found it funny that people often confused him for a girl all the time! So, why is it insensitive of Randy to be confused? Honestly, the kid freaked me the fuck out! Here he is, he walks with a girly walk, he comes in wearing what appears to be ladies' jeans, what is without question a ladies' top, and a belt that looks like a sash. With his high, light voice, he sings Whitney Houston's "Queen of the Night." He has his hair cut in a feminine bob and has very feminine mannerisms. When this confused the judges, he took it personally and came out crying, claiming the judges were "prejudist" (possibly; Simon sure hates those fat girls) and "racist" (wha?). He also seemed to feel that his general bizarreness was why he didn't get to go through to the next round; actually, the kid couldn't carry a note with a bucket.

I don't want to harp on the kid, because I'm sure he was embarrassed and disappointed, but... was this a joke? I mean, he comes in basically dressed like a woman, acting like a woman, and singing like a woman, and then he freaks out when someone says so? It's like he just has no idea how he comes across, which is always weirdly tragic. If you were to ask me, I'd say based on what I saw that this kid has some major gender confusion. But, apparently, it's insensitive to judge, even though that's what everyone does every day. It just freaked me out the way this kid had no idea how people saw him.

But GLAAD, I think, needs to let this one go. The pop music industry couldn't be more gay-friendly if they tried, frankly. GLAAD needs to learn, too, that tolerance and acceptance are two separate things. They also need to realize that, honestly, gay relationships are basically defined by sexual preference, and people that feel queasy explaining heterosexual sex to their children are not going to be more comfortable explaining homosexual sex to them. Everyone is not okay with it; hell, I'm an atheist, and that's not okay with everyone I know. I don't think homosexuality is evil or wrong or anything like that. It doesn't even make me uncomfortable. But confusion about someone's sexual identity in the case above is not really an insult, is it?

Unless, of course, GLAAD is taking it for granted that being called gay is offensive... There's a tenuous line, eh?

Some TV Doin's a-Transipirin'

Emily's Reasons Why Not; cut before it could realize its potential. Posted by Picasa

Here's some current news about what's going on with the instant-popularity contest we call television programming:

* Sadly for my dear Heather Graham, Emily’s Reasons Why Not will never air again; the remaining five episodes will sit on the shelf. ABC’s entertainment chief Steve McPherson admitted that he hated the pilot and just didn’t think it would ever get better; conversely, he wants to keep Jake in Progress because he luuuurrvs it so much. Can you see a gender-based bias here? It's like they'll make the same show about guys over and over, but because of Sex and the City, they consider Emily's superfluous. It's all bullshit; like people don't make the same action movie over and over again. In fact, not only has there been a distinct bias against "women’s shows" in the development announcements for the new season, but there’s also a bias against single-camera sitcoms (Emily’s, Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, etc.). NBC shot a new pilot for their upcoming sitcom Teachers because they didn’t like the single-camera format. The thing I and many other intelligent people like about single-cams is that there is no studio audience, no laugh track; there isn’t that condescending sense that you need to be led by the hand and told when to laugh. Can you imagine My Name Is Earl and The Office with laugh tracks? It would ruin the entire balance of the show. I’m not so stupid that I can’t figure out what’s funny; besides, humor isn’t necessarily the point of either of those shows.

* Speaking of Teachers, it’s going to take the place of The Office in April. Yes, Steve Carell is going to make a movie, and even though The Office has been renewed for the 2006-07 season, they are going to take the show off the air (instead of showing reruns of the low-rated first season to try and build up the already-precarious position of the show with the audience) and try Teachers in its place. NBC makes no mention of whether or not The Office is going to return in the same time slot. You know, if networks want my loyalty as a viewer, they’re going to at least have to make the concession of showing the programs I want to see. Without moving them constantly.

* The West Wing, Steve McPherson’s beloved Jake in Progress, and The Book of Daniel were all cancelled this week. Daniel, a show I was actually enjoying, will not be returning to the schedule (which sucks, because there were only something like four episodes left to run). Wouldn’t be a week in America if there weren’t a show I was interested in being cancelled.

* Do people just like to see celebrities do anything these days? After Dancing with the Stars and Skating with Celebrities, we’re now going to have to see Duets, in which average desperate celebrities sing alongside professionals. Whatever. It’s on Fox, of course. I’m sure Dave Coulier will show up somewhere; apparently he’ll work for bus fare and a ham-and-cheese. Man, pretty soon there’ll be whole shows devoted to just watching celebrities clean out their attics and garages. "What will we find behind Mr. T’s workbench?" I shudder just thinking about the sheer number of former celebrities willing to degrade themselves just for a couple more years’ recognition.

* Speaking of Fox, their entertainment president, Peter Liguori, is being cagey on the issue of Arrested Development. He keeps saying things like "it’s highly unlikely" the show will be coming back, rather than just coming out and saying it’s been cancelled. A lot of people think that they’re waiting to see who else wants it before making a final decision (and don’t pay attention to any rumors about ABC; they’ve admitted they’re not going to take it). Fox is also definitely cancelling That 70s Show and Malcolm in the Middle, and seem evasive on the once-hilarious Bernie Mac Show. They’ve also greenlit a pilot for an American version of the British sitcom The Worst Week of My Life, which is actually a pretty smart America, it will be developed by the director of The Pacifier. Man, we are so not smart. The reason Coupling didn't work in America is because we're so childish about sex; I don't expect this one to be any different, because it's about marriage and we're childish about that, too.

* Get ready for the new fifth network, CW. UPN and the WB are combining to create what I guess is intended to be a stronger network; what this means for the shows currently airing on both outlets I have no idea. WWE Smackdown!, Veronica Mars, and America’s Next Top Model will remain on the schedule (which only scares me insofar as Smackdown airs, I believe, on Fridays, and I don’t want to lose out on Reba--I know What I Like About You is already gone--which also airs on Friday...though it was renewed for, like, two more seasons). Industry smart money says that Gilmore Girls, Smallville, and Beauty and the Geek are safe bets, but I’m not so sure about Gilmore Girls; it’s alienating viewers like crazy, and the people who created the show aren’t even going to work on it next year. Never a good sign. Charmed, Supernatural, Everwood, and One Tree Hill are all considered to be on shaky ground right now. And don’t bet on CW cancelling Everybody Hates Chris, either. The network is a joint venture between CBS and Warner Brothers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Identity, Show Thy Face

Was it Peter Sarsgaard who hosted this weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, or was it my friend Carl? They're so much alike, I get confused. Carl, if that was you, I'm disappointed. SNL is worse than ever; a lifeless show, slaves to format and the same tired jokes. The pirate convention sketch felt like a five year-old wrote it. And is there even a rehearsal period? The guest hosts just stand there and don't even try to hide the way they're reading the cue cards. Hey, I love Peter Sarsgaard/Carl F. Schultz and Scarlett Johansson, but they look like untalented fools just reading their cue cards and adding nothing. That Cat Fancy sketch was a technical nightmare considering it wasn't even that funny and most people haven't seen the movie they were satirizing, Shattered Glass, which Peter/Carl starred in.

Anyway, I wish I had caught you before you went out to New York. I was going to ask you to please beat Chris Parnell to death. Preferably with Andy Samberg, Tina Fey's newest "I know he's untalented, but his hair is tousled and ain't he adorable?" Fallon-alike. Oh, well. I'm still a little miffed at not getting an intro to Chloe Sevigny. I see you're dating Maggie Gyllenhaal now, though... congratulations. You can tell me; she's a freak in the sack, isn't she?

You know what's weird? Carl's father is named Peter, and so is Carl's older brother. I've only met his brother Pete a few times; I always thought he looked a little like Donald Sutherland, circa M*A*S*H and Start the Revolution Without Me. I think there is some sort of conspiracy... Pete was obviously an actor... but why? Carl, is Peter Sarsgaard your brother with a fake last name? Hm... Posted by Picasa

There's No Place Like Chicago

Normally, I hate when people forward me stuff like this, but since I've spent the bulk of my life living 30 minutes outside of the Windy City, I thought it was funny enough to share. Posted by Picasa

Seasonal Differences in the regions of the USA:
60 degrees: Floridians wear coats, gloves, and woollyhats. Chicago people sunbathe.
50 degrees: New Yorkers try to turn on the heat. Chicago people plant gardens.
40 degrees: Italian cars won't start. Chicago people drive with the windows down.
32 degrees : CHICAGO--NO PLACE LIKE IT! Distilled water freezes. Lake Michigan's water gets thicker.
20 degrees: Californians shiver uncontrollably. Chicago people have the last cookout before it gets cold.
15 degrees: New York landlords finally turn up the heat. Chicago people throw on a sweatshirt.
0 degrees: Californians fly away to Mexico. Chicago people lick the flagpole and throw on a light jacket over the sweatshirt.
20 below: People in Miami cease to exist. Chicago people get out their winter coats.
40 below: Hollywood disintegrates. Chicago's Girl Scouts begin selling cookies door to door.
50 below: Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. Chicago people get frustrated when they can't thaw the keg.
60 below: Microbial life survives on dairy products. Illinois cows complain of farmers with cold hands.
460 below: ALL atomic motion stops. Chicago people start saying..."Cold 'nuff for ya??"
500 below: Hell freezes over. The Chicago Cubs win the World Series

Know the City and the Roads:
First you must learn to pronounce the city name. It is Chi-ca-go, or Cha-ca-ga depending on if you live North or South of Roosevelt Rd.

Next, if your road map is more than a few weeks old, throw it out and buy new one. If in Naperville and your map is one day old, then it is already obsolete.

Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere; Chicago has its own version of traffic rules: "Hold on and pray!" There is no such thing as a dangerous high-speed chase in Chicago. We ALL drive like that.

All directions start with, "I-94"...which has no beginning and no end. The morning rush hour is from 5AM to noon. The evening rush hour is from 3PM to 10PM. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning.

If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, cussed out and possibly shot. Same goes for not moving on a light that just turned green. When you are the first one on the starting line, count to five when the light turns green before going to avoid crashing with all the drivers running the red light in cross-traffic. THEN...MOVE YOUR ASS OR LOSE IT!

Construction on the Northwest Tollway is a way of life and a permanent form of entertainment. We had so much fun with that we have added the Elgin O'Hare Expressway (which oddly enough doesn't go to Elgin OR O'Hare) and I-355 to the mix. All unexplained sights are explained by the phrase,"Oh, we're in Cicero!"

If someone actually has their turn signal on, it is probably a factory defect. Car horns are actually "Road Rage" indicators. All old ladies with blue hair in a Mercedes have the right of way. Period.

First Ave, LaGrange Rd, and NW Highway, all mysteriously change names as you cross intersections (these are only a FEW examples).

If asking directions in Cicero you must have knowledge of Spanish. If in Bridgeport, Mandarin Chinese will be your best bet. If you stop to ask directions on the West or South side you better be armed. A trip across town (east to west) will take a minimum of four hours, although many north/south freeways have unposted minimum speeds of 75. The minimum acceptable speed on the Dan Ryan is 85. Anything less is considered straight-up sissy.

The wrought iron on windows near Englewood and Austin is not ornamental.

The Congress Expressway, commonly referred to as the Eisenhower Expressway, is our daily version of NASCAR (though often at speeds that don't exceed 5 mph). The Dan Ryan is called "The Death Trap" for two reasons: "death" and "trap."

If it's 100 degrees, it's Taste of Chicago. If it's 10 degrees and sleeting/snowing, it's opening day at Sox Park. If it's rained 6 inches in the last hour, the Western Open Golf Classic is in the second round. If you go to Wrigley Field, pay the $25.00 to park in the "Cubs Lot." Parking elsewhere could cost up to $2500 for damages, towing fees, parking tickets, etc. If some guy with a flag tries to get you to park in his yard, run him over.

Chicago, there's no place like it!

The Ultimate Lindsay Lohan: Alternate Speak

Lindsay Lohan’s debut album, Speak, was a surprisingly good pop album. There’s a lot going against it, of course: the increasingly homogenous production of John Shanks, Kara DioGuardi’s pathetically similar lyrics (every song the same one), and the weakness of Lohan’s voice. Her second album, A Little More Personal (RAW) is essentially a disaster. It’s too personal, yet entirely fake, and the music is a shambling mess. When Speak came out, I decided that all the tracks were in the wrong order, so I made my own version of it, cutting a couple of songs and adding some from the soundtracks she had appeared on. So, throwing out over half of her second album, I present my own alternate, enhanced version of Speak. You can get most of this on iTunes, so if you want to build it, go ahead.

Track One: "Rumors"
Still Lindsay’s strongest single, this song set the tone for her annoying "I love you, don’t look at me" persona. Though it establishes her theme--people are looking at her too much, people are obsessed with her (she’s like the real life version of Regina George in Mean Girls)--it’s actually a well-produced track. Big, full; it also filters her voice a bit to make her sound like she can sing a little more strongly than she actually can. I know a number of people who were disappointed that the rest of the album didn’t sound so club-oriented.
Found On: Speak (bonus track)
Defensive Lyric: "I’m gonna do it my way, take this for just what it is."

Track Two: "Anything But Me"
Lindsay asserts that her true self is hidden deep inside of her and worries that she can’t find it in this busily-produced, slightly overdramatic number. I thought this was definitely in the wrong place on Speak; they placed it towards the end, making her sound defeated, rather than in the beginning, setting up a possible reverse of her feelings. I should explain here that I kind of like for albums to tell stories, or at least follow a sort of dramatic structure that makes the tracks seem more compelling and less random. Either way, this is a good set-up, though not a strong opener, which is why "Rumors" precedes it.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "One moment turns into another before I’ve had time to run from all the other ones."

Track Three: "What Are You Waiting For"
An early and cheesy song (it’s Disney), but it has a pleasant melody and seems to fit in with her theme.
Found On: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen soundtrack
Defensive Lyric: none

Track Four: "Symptoms of You"
I really felt this should have been a single, but they went with "Over" and its awful, hateful music video instead. This is one of her rare uplifting songs, with more of that heavy production (at least she’s consistent, which gives her album a nice flow). And, unlike a lot of her songs, it’s kind of pretty. If you’ve ever listened to her music, have you ever noticed how her love songs are so tentative and shy? It would be endearing if it weren’t, well, Lindsay Lohan. Her uncertainness used to be her most endearing quality.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: none; there’s actual pure emotion here

Track Five: "Ultimate"
Still Lindsay’s best song, this Disney number has some good pop guitar that almost, almost approximates the sound of rock ‘n’ roll (Linz plays a member of a punk band in the movie). It reminds me a lot of being 14 and listening to the radio on a summer evening (ew, nostalgia--I know...). If only she had continued in this direction, she might be doing real rock by now. Her voice is better suited for it, anyway.
Found On: Freaky Friday soundtrack
Defensive Lyric: "I’ve been wasting time with clueless guys, but now it’s over."

Track Six: "Something I Never Had"
Because Lindsay can’t really sing well (in technical terms), but her voice used to have a lot of personality, slow, ballad-like (but still heavily produced) songs like this are kind of rare for her. After the breakneck pace of "Ultimate" (if only a chick version of the Ramones could come along and tear that one up), it’s a nice breather that’s got its head in the clouds while taking furtive glances down at its feet. The old Lohan dichotomy (I love you, but I’m afraid you’ll hurt me) is a lot better than the new one (I want attention, but I pretend not to).
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "Someday, I just keep pretending, you’ll stay, dreaming of a different ending."

Track Seven: "Nobody ‘Til You"
Another song that would have been a better single than "Over" or "First." Great production, confident voice, and after "Something I Never Had" it answers back with an assured, devil-may-care attitude. The problem is, Lindsay can’t maintain the attitude through the entire album. But this song is going for what it wants, and everyone else will just have to keep up. Good layering.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "Love me, hate me, I don’t care anymore."

Track Eight: "If It’s Alright"
This song goes for some kind of weird Portishead kind of sound that doesn’t work a hundred percent. This is the first really morose, depressing song I’ve put on here, and it has a good tune over the chorus, and it also kind of sucks to answer the self-assured "Nobody Till You" with this needy, uncertain song. It makes the previous song sound like a bluff; but I figure maybe it is. Either way, this song’s pretty sad.
Found On: A Little More Personal (RAW)
Defensive Lyric: "And if it’s alright, I’ll wait here till its daylight so I can see that we just don’t belong."

Track Nine: "First"
Unfortunately, the makers of Speak thought the fast guitar made this one a perfect opener. They were wrong; the song is weak and too snarky. I wasn’t fond of it at first; when I did my first alternate version of Speak, I omitted this song completely. After it was used in Herbie: Fully Loaded and they played it on the Disney Channel over and over again, I got used to it and came to appreciate it. It’s still one of her lesser songs, but I included it because it was a single (I always try to include the singles when I do these with a newer artist). Halfway through this compilation it works, because it’s more of her devil-may-care bluff; it doesn’t sound like a girl who is very confident in her relationship.
Found On: Speak (or, I guess, the Herbie: Fully Loaded soundtrack)
Defensive Lyric: "I used to be a girl who would let a guy breathe, but you’re mine."

Track Ten: "Disconnected"
The most Avril-y of Lindsay’s songs, this is another depressing tune. I find that there’s a definite through-line on Speak; every song bears some similarities to every other song. Doesn’t this one share a lot of structural similarities with "Anything But Me" and "Speak" and "Over"? The opening of "Over" and "First" are nearly identical. Maybe she should work with Jim Steinman. A heavy-sounding song.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "I just wanna live my life sedated, cuz I love driving myself away."

Track Eleven: "A Day in the Life"
Lyrically weak, and it sounds like a song from Jem or something, and her voice is layered through the computer to strengthen it, but it’s okay. It works as a break between two really heavy songs, especially since, typical Linz, it sounds like someone trying to convince herself that everything’s okay rather than someone who’s really happy.
Found On: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen soundtrack
Defensive Lyric: "It’s a day in the life, a redundant game, winning or losing, there’s nothing to gain."

Track Twelve: "Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)"
Well-produced, but dark and heavy (or, Becca says, embarrassing and lame). This is the most nakedly obvious song she’s done, but I almost appreciate her naked theatricality: it’s so calculated to win sympathy. The lyrics, the sounds of crying, the thin veneer of emotional honesty which is perfectly timed to make you feel sorry for her (and the video is even worse). Still, I think as a song alone it works pretty well, and it doesn’t make me feel all icky because it’s so damn phony. Such is our Lindsay.
Found On: A Little More Personal (RAW)
Defensive Lyric: "I dream of another you, one who would never leave me alone to pick up the pieces."

Track Thirteen: "Over"
What a downer coming after the previous song, eh? Compound tragedy. This one sounds like a slow version of "First," but it works pretty well on its own (removed from the offensive video). The problem with this song is that it’s supposed to sound cavalier, as though the singer were asserting her own feelings, but Lindsay makes it sound tragic, as though it’s a sacrifice for her to make. Good drama, though, and well-produced.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "I won’t be the one to chase you, but at the same time you’re the heart that I call home."

Track Fourteen: "Very Last Moment in Time"
This was my favorite song on Speak, despite how cheesy it is. The message is one of those typical "live like you were dying" things, but it manages not to sound needy because Lindsay actually reads this one well and her voice sounds a little ragged, a little tired. I bet Willie Nelson could really do something with this; Linz almost makes sincerity here. It’s gentle without begging to be liked. This was the closer on my original alternate version of Speak, and is the closer of the album ("Rumors" follows as a bonus track).
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "I just want to stay here, soaking up the rain falling all around me; wash the world away."

Track Fifteen: "Magnet"
A really good counterpart to "Rumors," "Magnet" sounds like 1985 New Wave with slightly more guitar. There is little substance to the song lyrically, but it’s great pop music. Seriously, she almost sounds like a proto-Kylie. If only everything else had sounded this good.
Found On: Speak (bonus track on international version; I got this song on iTunes)
Defensive Lyric: "I don’t know whether I should hate it or should like it."

Track Sixteen: "My Innocence"
Another attempt at that low, jazzy sound that isn’t entirely successful (especially since Lindsay needs a stronger voice to make it work--she tries too hard, sounding breathy and stagey rather than sincere...maybe it’s just her way). This is another song about her father, and it tries too hard, but it has a distinct sound apart from her other music that I find compelling. Now that I think about it, it’s because it sounds like she’s ripping off any number of songs on Tori Amos’s third album, Boys for Pele.
Found On: A Little More Personal (RAW)
Defensive Lyric: "You took my innocence away, but the rest of me stayed."

Track Seventeen: "I Live for the Day"
This sounds like that lame 1987 music, when New Wave had ended and everything sounded like it was stuck between hard rock and pop music, leading to a sort of muddled sound. This should either be faster and harder or softer and more sincere. It doesn’t work; it sounds like a demo for a better song. This is apparently going to be her next single. Somebody needs to get this girl some old Heart albums so she can hear how this is supposed to sound.
Found On: A Little More Personal (RAW)
Defensive Lyric: "I’ve been through the darkest hour, made it to the other side of you; I can live without you."

Track Eighteen: "I Decide"
Yes, it’s written by Diane Warren, which automatically makes it suspect, but I thought it was a nice song. This also came out before Speak, and it seemed like she was going to go in a more traditional pop-oriented direction. It’s a total reverse from her usual MO; the lyrics are strong, the music lets it down a little. It also fits in with her theme of "Leave me alone, don’t try to tell me who I am" that she likes to tear off on in interviews. At this point in the compilation, it’s a good assertion. Her voice sounds very computerized when she has to handle a note for too long.
Found On: The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement soundtrack
Defensive Lyric: "Gonna do it all and do too much, and if I mess the whole thing up, it’s my right."

Track Nineteen: "Speak"
This song, more than any other, sounds like it sums up everything Speak is supposed to be about; it’s a flipside, musically and lyrically, to "Anything But Me." Whereas before she felt like she was being turned into something she wasn’t, this song sounds a little more assured, a little stronger. She’s on the market, but not desperate and needy. This kind of strong close is a good way for the compilation to narrow towards its end. Thematically and musically, that is. It sounds like the end credits of a movie from, like, 1992. Ignore how bad her voice gets towards the end; she’s never sounded more like a child.
Found On: Speak
Defensive Lyric: "What makes you think that I won’t get your love tonight?"

Track Twenty: "Drama Queen (That Girl)"
Ah, the denouement. It’s pop music, after all, so most of it is a pose rather than "real" (an idiotic argument among today’s pop music fans). So, why not end with a wannabe-techno-pop dance number that basically asserts its innocent flirtation with identity? Not a bad song at all.
Found On: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen soundtrack
Defensive Lyric: "You’ll look back and you won’t believe that girl was me."

Track Twenty-One: "A Beautiful Life (La Bella Vita)"
The gentle closer from her newest album, which tries to be chick folk rock (right down to its oh-so-trendy-and-casual assertion that God is a woman) but is another one of her muddled attempts. It’s kind of a nice wind-down, though, and one of the few songs where it feels like you can almost, almost, see her bleed a little. It’s quite pretty.
Found On: A Little More Personal (RAW)
Defensive Lyric: "I talk in my sleep, I know that is the one place no one can hear me."

There you have it, an alternate version of Speak that omits one song from Speak (the useless "To Know Your Name") and seven songs from her disappointing sophomore slump (including her embarrassing covers of "I Want You to Want Me" and "Edge of Seventeen," neither of which she’s able to keep up with). It times at about 73 minutes and 14 seconds, and if you’re remotely interested in having a different, slightly better Lindsay Lohan album, there it is.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A SONG OF THE LEGIONS by Robert E. Howard

The crystal gong of the silence
Shivers in shattered shards;
And the marble hall re-echoes
To the tread of the crested guards.

Fingers pluck at the hangings,
White in the purple gloam;
Midnight lies with the sleepers
In the pulsing heart of Rome.

Rosy lips smile in slumber,
Arms nestle bodies white--
Rome in her silks and marbles
Sleeps through the soft-lipped night.

Echoing down the heather
The restless trumpets call,
Questioning each of the other
Down the line of the winding Wall.

Eyes strain hard in the darkness,
To the pulse of an echo blown--
Rome is of gold and iron
But a soldier is of flesh and bone.

Fires in the hills are burning,
To the far off throb of the drum;
Through the ghostly waving heather
What phantom figures come?

Shadows or painted warriors?
The death drums never cease.
Stand to your watches, legion,
That Rome may sleep in peace.

Beacons burn in the towers,
Eyes stinging hard beside,
Ears a-tune to the murmur,
The sigh of each changing tide.

Was that the shrill of a night bird
Where the waves are grey as steel,
Or the grind of a muffled oar-lock,
The wash of a prowling keel?

Drift wood or sword-fanged sea-wolves,
Not yours is rest or ease;
Stand to your watches, legion,
That Rome may sleep in peace. Posted by Picasa

Robert E. Howard 1906-1936

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Ervin Howard, one of the greatest pulp authors who ever lived. He created some of the greatest characters of all time: Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Cormac Mac Art, and Solomon Kane. A lot has been written about him over the years, ranging from those who think he was a misunderstood genius to those who think he was a crazy, mother-obsessed loon. I'm not going to comment either way, as it seems adherence to any one interpretation of the man brings down the wrath of many fans and scholars who just won't agree. But we all agree that he's never had the wide audience he deserved. He is among those writers who took the pulp and made it an art form; his name deserves to be mentioned with other luminaries of the fantasy genre. Some day, we hope, his work will be taken seriously as literature. Tragically, he took his own life at the age of 30. But we still remember him today. Posted by Picasa