Saturday, April 15, 2006

My Sexual Icons, Part 3

Celebrating more of the women who helped a suburban boy discover the wondrousness of woman.
















Friday, April 14, 2006

Congratulations, Carl!

I see that you and Maggie Gyllenhaal are engaged. Which is a surprise, actually, because for some reason I thought you had broken up with Maggie and were dating Chloe Sevigny. But, hey, congratulations all the same, Maggie's cute. You know, ish. She's grown into her face somewhat, and Secretary had its (brief) moments. And even though she looks like she's prematurely 70, I'm sure you guys will have some fun; I mean, you did knock her up, so at least you'll have the kids. Jeez, listen to me, I'm being so rude. Good luck to you and Maggie, my friend.

Now... would it be impertinent of me to ask for an introduction to Chloe Sevigny? Posted by Picasa

A Friendship Lasts a Lifetime

Speaking of Carl, I immediately thought about him the second I saw this, the 80th anniversary Pooh collectible with the above title. Carl is one of many people I've known who champion the classic, Ernest Shepard-illustrated Pooh over the commercial Disney creation. And, what, this is meant to appease people like him? Maybe I'm imagining this, but it subtly seems to put Classic Pooh in a subordinate position to Disney Pooh. What are they whispering about? Perhaps Disney Pooh is trying to convince Classic Pooh that he's just a rumor, and that Disney Pooh is the real one. Carl, thoughts? Posted by Picasa

Thursday, April 13, 2006

One Hour Photo

For some reason, Becca and I were talking recently about the film One Hour Photo, where Robin Williams plays a photo developer who stalks a family, apparently for years. I was railing about the logic leaps in the movie: Williams's character appears to have been making himself extra sets of Connie Nielsen's family photos for what appear to be several years (at least through the lifespan of her, I don't know, eight or ten year old kid--I can't remember how old he was). And he's been pasting the photos in this giant, psychotic collage on his apartment wall. And then, when he discovers friction within the family he's stalking, he goes insane because, as Josh Becker felt, the movie seems to be saying that all unmarried, childless men over 40 are really insane, creepy psychopaths. So, the logic leap for me is this--he takes copies of each photo set, never pays for them, and only ten or so years later does the store management notice? How often do these people report the numbers?

Anyway, when I see a movie I think doesn't work, I try to imagine it from other perspectives. And I came up with this: say the creepy old photo guy was played by someone who was just the tiniest bit frail physically (or could at least act it) like Harry Dean Stanton or Christopher Lee. And he has no family--never has--and so he buys an extra set of photos every time Connie Nielsen has some developed. And then he puts them in a photo album, and watches the development of the family over time, watching the boy grow up and the family grow old together. Then people would call it a sweet, sad movie about an old man who, from a distance, latched on to a family who was nice to him when they came into the store, and--completely unbknownst to them--made them his own family. Because he had no one, see, so he tempered the loneliness of his later life by creating his own family. Ah, the tragedy.

See how easy that is? Now you understand why it becomes so hard for me to like a lot of movies. If they really and truly suck, I end up imagining a much better one, so it becomes all the more disappointing.

Next, I'll tell you about how Melville's Bartleby is really an alien...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Film Week

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

Joe Eszterhas bends over backward to make infidelity both inevitable and ignoble. I didn't really care what the point was, but at least I saw Ming-Na's tits. There's a lioness in that body; she has the best ridiculous line in the movie--as her husband takes her from behind and tells her to be quiet, she yells out, in all her sweaty, naked glory: "Fuck the kids, I'm coming!" *1/2 stars.

The Three Stooges try to mine gold. Surprisingly unfunny. ** stars.

As excellent and riveting as Shakespeare in Love is frivolous and idiotic, this movie deals with the very real controversy of allowing women to play women's roles on the stages of England. Billy Crudup stars as Ned Kynaston, an actor who specializes in playing women; when Charles II (a very droll but very focused Rupert Everett) proclaims that women should play women, he finds himself out of work and forced to help the woman who took his job. This woman is played to the hilt by a surprisingly passionate Claire Danes, who is much better at this sort of thing than boring junk like Terminator 3. Other great actors: Tom Wilkinson, Richard Griffiths, Edward Fox, a surprisingly good Ben Chaplin, and someone named Zoe Tapper who is perfectly wonderful as Nellie Gwynn. An excellent film with one of the best performances of Desdemona's death scene in Othello that I've ever seen. **** stars.

Symbolist junk about a woman's search for fulfilliment. Potentially interesting, but the problem is, the erotic scenes aren't erotic and the dramatic scenes aren't dramatic. It's too cool, to removed from emotional attachment; there's no fire here. It's like a Peter Greenaway film; and I fucking hate Peter Greenaway. A mostly-good cast is wasted, though Tilda Swinton (whom I have a bizarre but deep physical passion for) comes off better than everyone else. Marcia Cross has a small, naked role that I appreciated. **1/2 stars.

I have problems with this play, but I am surprised and delighted to report that this film adaptation gave me some new perspective on it. I'm always so focused on the racism and Portia's high-handedness, I've never really though about the reason Portia impersonates a judge and ruins Shylock--it really comes about because she makes a decision to assert her marriage and take control of her own destiny. For that alone, I appreciate this movie. It manages to be watchable and well-paced without being over-serious, and a couple of the actors are quite good. Especially worth mention are Heather Goldenhersh as a matter-of-fact Nerissa, an under-utilized Kris Marshall as Gratiano, the always-good Mackenzie Crook as Launcelot Gobbo (even though he takes some of the joy out of the character), and John Sessions as Salerio, just because he's John Sessions. Jeremy Irons is a little too mopey to be interesting, Al Pacino is good (though his Jackie Mason-lite accent is a little distracting) and only falls into shouting once, and Joseph Fiennes is... well, he's Joseph Fiennes, isn't he? The real tour-de-force here is Lynn Collins, who plays Portia so radiantly, with such divine beauty and grace, with such focused intelligence and such quick wit, that I was transfixed by a role that I have previously found pointless and easy to dismiss. Because of her excellent performance, I was able to approach The Merchant of Venice through Portia's eyes, and I feel like I understand the play much more fully than I did before. We need a lot less Keira Knightley and a lot more Lynn Collins in movies. ***1/2 stars.

It is a little overly slick, isn't it? It doesn't connect emotionally in a fully satisfying way, but I did enjoy it. James Mangold actually managed to use his potential for a change; I've never liked his other films (Heavy, Copland, Girl Interrupted, Kate & Leopold). Joaquin Phoenix was the key here for me; his performance was excellent. Where was the Oscar here? He was much better than Jamie Foxx in Ray; Foxx was good, but his performance was mostly an impersonation. Phoenix managed to carry the film through acting, rather than trying to look like or sound like Johnny Cash. Reese Witherspoon was actually good, I'll admit; it's rare for me to like her as an actor, but here she was quite good. Excellent use of music. It's a very good movie, I just wish it had let us inside the characters a little more instead of just showing us what happened. ***1/2 stars.

Easily one of the best movies I've ever seen. David Cronenberg's major theme has always been that evil comes from inside of us, either through our own making or through bodily invasion (can there be a more heavy-handed symbol of this than James Woods pulling a gun out of his own stomach in Videodrome?), and in this film, he makes that point gracefully. This riveting film stars Viggo Mortensen as a man who may or may not be a former mob killer. The plot is almost beside the point, though, because what the film is really about is the state of civilized man. It's an old philosophical argument: is civilization the natural state of man, or has it simply repressed the primitive brutality that is inside all of us, waiting to be let out? Cronenberg doesn't make the argument an easy one; in the film, violence begets violence, and brutality freed creates an energy that feeds into everyone. He seems to see civilization as a choice, but he also seems to see violence as a choice; in the end, the one character who has everything our civilization offers as a prize may also be the most brutal creature. This is no less than a rumination on the nature of man and how that nature surfaces in times of madness. An incredible film, **** stars.

54 (1998)
Stuff happens, and then it ends. There is an interesting movie to be made about Steve Rubell and Studio 54, but this ain't it. Salma Hayek's good in it, though, and I always adore Heather Matarazzo. Mike Myers is actually excellent as Rubell; too bad they wasted him on such a mediocre film. ** stars.

This is one of those films where the sexual politics are so dated that it's almost offensive. Spencer Tracy is a sports columnist who falls in love with Katharine Hepburn, who plays a smart, witty political columnist. They get married, but Tracy is constantly threatened by how busy and important she is (at one point, he calls her a man). He's just so pissy and so unwilling to give everthing a chance and be more accomodating, and it just grates after a while. Kitty Hepburn, at her most brilliant, tries to become a real wife, too. In the end, the right decision is made, but getting there can at times be a challenge. It's not as outright offensive as Adam's Rib, but this was the work of George Stevens, who is an artist. ***1/2 stars.

Must This Show Go On?

Freddie Mercury Posted by Picasa

There are a few figures in rock music that I harbor a great devotion towards. David Bowie, obviously. Brian Wilson, certainly. Prince, Johnny Cash, Todd Rundgren, Mick & Keith, John Lennon. And Freddie Mercury. I love, LOVE the music of Queen, and the vocals of Freddie Mercury never fail to blow me away. "Somebody to Love" gives me chills no matter how many times I hear it. So it was with some trepidation that I watched last night's episode of American Idol. The night they raped Queen.

This episode was a good indication of the problem with these themed episode of Idol. Rather than playing with the arrangement and finding a way to fit the song into their singing style (which is what they are supposed to be doing), most contestants just pick a song they like regardless of whether they can sing it, and then try to imitate the singer. And there are few better rock singers than Freddie Mercury, so this episode was just stacking the deck. Is the point of this show to grow a pop singer, or to just set everyone up to fail and then see how hard they do?

Everyone knows that, of the Top 12, there are usually only 3 or so who can really sing. Last week, one of those 3 was voted off, so there was less to look forward to on this week's episode. Here's my own opinions on this week's mangling of Queen:

* How many weeks does America need to figure out that Fucky Covington can't sing at all? "Fat Bottomed Girls" is a great rock song, and as always, he's off-key, off-beat, and can barely be understood. When he talks, I only hear pops and buzzes. He always has that creepy, open smile of a person untroubled by the dark spectre of intelligence and reasoning, and I just hate hearing him do that thing he does which is, I guess, a primitive approximation of speaking.

* How badly do you want to punch pretty boy Ace Young in the teeth? He's trying so hard, I guess because he knows he can't sing and figures personality and prettiness will get him through. Sad thing is, he's probably right. They should have called his song "We Will Rock You (To Sleep)." That was the most pathetic, gentle, singalong version of an anthemic classic I'd ever heard.

* Kellie Pickler needs to shut the fuck up, right now. I'm sick of her forced, affected "I'm just a simple little Southern girl, I don't know how to talk like y'all, what does 'ballsy' mean" shtick. It's not cute, it's just disgusting. You need a modicum of grace to pull that shit off, and she just ain't doing it. Her off-key, strangled, nasal rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a violence to the ear that can hear and discern music. No one should ever be allowed to sing that song; you can't get any more perfect than Queen did.

* Chris Daughtry... well, at least he picked "Innuendo," which is not really an overly-familiar song these days. I liked him at first, but now I'm just sick of him. Every song he does is perverted into that low-middlebrow quiet-but-overproduced self-important Tool/Fuel/Lit/Nickelback range of lame growl rock that is too wimpy to truly rock and too rocking to put you entirely to sleep. If I want music to get dental work by, I can buy a Creed album or something, alright? Do you have a range, or are you just going to pretend to be Bon Jovi for the rest of your life?

* Here's a shallow opinion: Katharine McPhee sucks, but she's hot so I always want her to be better than she is. And she never is. She can almost kind of sing, and she really should have gone with her first choice, "Don't Stop Me Now," which is a fun rocker, instead of "Who Wants to Live Forever," which is a hard song to sing unless you can go as high as Sarah Brightman. And the way she either cried or pretended to cry was lame and embarrassing. I think she could maybe actually sorta kinda somewhat sing, but that's her problem--she can't just sing.

* Elliott "Sloth Love Chunk" Yamin continues to be as middle-of-the-road as one can get. "Somebody to Love" is a great song that he can't even come close to singing. He's fucking boring, I hate having to look at him, and if there were a button I could press to erase him from ever having appeared on my television, I wouldn't think twice about it. His dogged determination to be absolutely mediocre without committing to either trying harder or being truly awful pisses me off.

* Taylor Hicks is my boy. I love this guy; he can sing, he's fun, he doesn't take himself overly seriously. He's not trying to be a great singer (although he could be one day), he's just trying to, in the words of the D, rock the fucking house and kick some ass. He was the first person in the history of American Idol to sing "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" without looking like a total asshole. He at least made it his instead of imitating Freddie Mercury. If he doesn't win... well, it'll be typical of American Idol, actually, since the right person hasn't won since the first go-round. No one else seems to be enjoying performing as much.

* Paris Bennett was really good when the show started, but she gets less and less so every week. She's sliding into some kind of weird, complacent worthlessness. "The Show Must Go On" is an excellent song, but far too big for her little voice. Easy to ignore; too bad. The ability is there, what she doesn't have is the energy to find it.

Too bad no one did "Seven Seas of Rhye" or "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy." Underrated songs, both of them. I won't be watching the results tonight for two reasons. First, who needs to watch Ryan Seacrest pretend he's culturally relevant (seriously, he seems to think he's the key to Idol's success) for 58 minutes just to get down to the two minutes worth of information the show is for? And second, Lost is new. But if anyone other than Ace is voted off, it'll be a crime against pretend singers.

Now will you guys please leave Queen alone?

More About Crossword Puzzles

After yesterday's post on the plural of nova, someone shot me a copy of an editorial in the Chicago Tribune from a week ago, 5 April, that they thought I might find interesting. The editorial is headlined: "Crossword fans make us feel we haven't a clue." It was written by Mary Schmich. And I did indeed find it interesting.

Ms. Schmich begins her little diatribe by ridiculing what she calls "crossword puzzlers" and their "monastic detachment" from the world. "Oh," she lamely laments, "to have their skill and Buddha calm in the face of the unknown and difficult." She speaks as though people who enjoy crossword puzzles are an alien race, or some kind of religious order that has infiltrated the American public.

She goes on to admit that crossword puzzles make her feel "ashamed to lack an ability that is so common." After making a lame case that crossword puzzles are a national pastime ("as much as baseball is"), and after whining that she feels inferior and considers herself a word person, Ms. Schmich goes on to try and complete the crossword in the Tribune.

What she doesn't seem to realize is that crossword puzzles are as much about trivia as they are about words. She got stuck on the 14-letter name of a Norman Greenbaum hit. The answer is, of course, "Spirit in the Sky" (it was Greenbaum's only hit, and that sublime song is the only reason anyone would know his name), and just because she doesn't know that it doesn't make her an idiot. But she takes it so damn personally that she has to go and search for the answer on Google.

And there was my problem with the editorial. She goes on to Google to look up the answers. And she's weighted the scales in such a way that we're supposed to either laugh or be understanding. But the real fun of a crossword puzzle is in testing how far you can go at the time. Why look in a dictionary or online? It's cheating yourself; the whole point is to be challenged by what you do or do not know, not what you can look up. Gimme a break, it's just a crossword puzzle, not military tactics or physics formulae. They're not asking you to guess the secret recipe for Coca-Cola, they just want to see if you know what ciliated means. And if you don't know it means "with eyelashes," that doesn't make you inferior; it's just something you don't know. Who is keeping score on your crossword puzzle that is making you feel ashamed?

Do people do crossword puzzles to feel smart? I'm seriously asking, I don't know. That's not why I do them; I think they're fun. If Ms. Schmich wants to feel like an intellectual superior, there is always the crossword in People magazine with clues like "1991 film: Beauty ___ the Beast." If you're going to get all bent out of shape about being smart, stick to something unchallenging.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Today's Language Peeve

I sit and do the crossword puzzle every morning before my linguistics class begins. The puzzle's in the school paper, The Northern Star, and it's a nice diversion for the half-hour I wait. This morning I got really pissed because the clue was "stellar blasts" and the answer was novas. With an s, just like that. The plural of nova is novae. I almost wrote a letter. How can I be too smart for a crossword puzzle?

To Live and Die in Wal-Mart

I think Andy Warhol's prediction that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes needs to be modified. Make it three. There's a lot of turnover, it can happen to anyone for the stupidest reasons possible, and no one is ever interesting enough (and their achievements are almost never worthy enough) to fill the entire fifteen minutes.

Here's a case in point: some college kid (I won't mention his name, because he's a schmuck) in my birthplace of Des Moines, IA, decided it would be cool or an interesting experiment or fill some time before his lonely, unnoticed death to see if he could live in a Wal-Mart for one week. It's certainly possible--you just spend your time playing video games, watching DVDs on display, perusing magazines, or even reading books. If you're tired, you can sit down on a bench or a lawn chair or one of those great massage chair displays they have in the pharmacy. You can just walk around the store in an unbroken circle for half an hour when you want to exercise, and if you're hungry, buy some food and eat it or go to the Subway they always have by the deli. They have a restroom, so you're set there--you could always sleep in the stalls, I guess.

This little fuckwit got this idea, and since then, he's appeared on Good Morning, America, had his story printed in the papers, been interviewed on the radio, and New Line Cinema is even talking about making this into a movie. It must have been something to stay inside a Wal-Mart for an entire week, right?

Well, he wouldn't know. He could only hack it for 41 hours, just over a day and a half. Then he got, I don't know, "sooo sweepy" or something. This stupid kid was exhausted, and thought people were pointing fingers at him, so he called his mom for a ride home, or something. Seriously, this idiotic slacker set himself an idiotic slacker goal and he couldn't even do that. Dude, you felt like the weirdo at Wal-Mart, where people shop in their underwear and pyjamas? You stupid ass. What a dumb reason to quit.

But, this is a world where a guy can film himself eating McDonald's for 30 days to see if he can gain a measly 25 pounds, and then gets called a daring, courageous documentarian. I call him an idiot who can't handle his food (and, by the way, Super Size Me is not a documentary, it's an opportunistic character piece fueled by a bad reality-TV stunt). And I call this kid from Des Moines a halfwit shit-for-brains who shouldn't be out bragging about his failure to commit to complete stupidity.

This is a fun world where people can get famous just for half-assing insipid ideas, isn't it?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

For a Fourth Time, Co-Workers

Remembering the people I worked with way back when at Bums & Ignoble.

RAY... How do you describe Ray? Think of the worst, lamest, most pretentious, most two-faced, most disingenuous, most irresponsible asshole. Combine him with that one know-it-all hypocritical bastard that we all know. Now make him religious and moralizing, but only for other people. Add the guitar and the badly-written poetry. Now double it and give him a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoking habit. That only begins to be Ray, my arch-nemesis. My opposite half. A guy I actually shared an apartment with for a year. A guy who hastened my demotion because he wouldn't do anything I told him to do. A guy who weighed, like, 20 pounds because he smoked too much and only ate one meal a day (at McDonald's). I think he's dead. At least, I like to think he's dead. Otherwise, I still owe him, like, $500. You know Sawyer on Lost? He's exactly like Ray, only not as much of a prick. The worst human being I have ever met. I'll leave it at that.

CARL hated Ray, as any right-thinking human being would. Carl, of course, had been my best friend since junior high, so he was fun to work with. Well, usually--admit it, dude, you slacked off a bit. I did, too. I just got pissed off about yours because fucking Linda K. kept getting all pissy with me about why the boxes weren't gone yet (little did we know Randy bore the real blame for that one). Anyway, one awesome day, Carl was in a particularly bad mood. Now, Carl seems like a gentle soul, but, like me, there's a deep reservoir of primal, Hulk-like rage that is best left undisturbed before what the defense attorney will call "temporary insanity" occurs. And Carl was, at the time, a stocky guy with strong shoulders and a fist you didn't want to get in front of. And he was pissed about something or other. I was trying to joke around with Ray, and he made a comment, and I said something like: "Well, Carl would disagree with you there." And then Ray said, "I don't care what Carl thinks, because he's just a peon in my world." To which Carl, like a bull at a communist rally, exploded. "I'm a WHAT IN YOUR WHAT, RAY?" in the loudest voice I had ever heard him use. Time stood still. Plants stopped growing. They stared at each other. A tumbleweed blew across the receiving room. I stood there, gaping. Somewhere, for reasons he couldn't comprehend, a small child felt the tremulous shudder of the world on it's precipice and the precariousness of the cosmic dance and burst into tears. When I heard that deep, deep rage come out of Carl, I almost had a rectal prolapse. For a second, he seemed about to turn green. I fled, out the back door and into the open air. I waited a minute, caught my breath, and walked back in. To my disappointment, Carl was just stalking out of the room and into the store, a dark shape with balled fists. I was hoping that Carl had pasted Ray's head into the concrete floor and turned him into soup, and that I wouldn't have been a damning witness to it. Alas, the standoff had not ended in violence. But holy shit, don't mess with Carl.

STEVE had a fat ass that was accentuated by those khaki Dockers that show off how fat a white dude's ass is. Which is funny, because he was one of those workout guys, and he was really into Arnold Schwarzenegger; he was into fitness, but that ass...maybe he just got stung by bees every day. Or maybe his steatopygousness was, like his sloping forehead, beetle brow, and large front teeth, just an inherited trait from his unbroken lineage of Neanderthals. For some reason, he tended to look up to me. I think he got fired because he had a party in the store after hours (or it was at his next job, I wasn't working at B&N anymore, so I don't remember). He later complained to me that he tried to get a job at an office, but some "lousy skirt" took it. Dude, join us in the future, it's nice here. What I mostly remember about him are two things. First, that I called him "Troggy," as in troglodyte, but not to his face. And second, that he was always calling himself "Sven," but the managers wouldn't let him answer the phone that way because "it wasn't his name." That just seems like a lame reason; anyone can call themselves whatever, can't they? They never pulled that shit when Georgette called herself "Gigi" because she hated her name...

SARAH was a heavy woman, but she could be nice when she wasn't totally drunk. Otherwise, she could be really irritating. She went out with Steve for awhile, and somehow the story got around that she was going down on him once and was intoxicated and puked all over his wedding tackle. And then she kept going! And he let her! Both of them confirmed this on separate occasions (Steve seemed to have enjoyed it), so one of them must have talked about it. Ew. Dude, who wants the people they work with to look at them and know this happened?

CARINE was one of those girls with no personality and so-so looks but an amazingly, stiffeningly hot body. Hotness combined with zero charisma is a dangerous combination, though, because it sometimes makes a person think he/she is interesting. She went out on a date with Ray once, which shows how stupid she is. He was pissed about it later because they had gone to see Independence Day and she'd complained about the violence. She was real sensitive about that sort of thing. She used to cry and complain about her parents to the point where everyone got real, real sick of it.

BRIAN was like that weenie from Yes, Dear. I guess that's all I remember about him.

CLAUDIA was a nice, sweet girl. We used to take a fair bit; she worked on magazines a lot. She once told me she hated crafts and people who did them. I asked why, and she said: "Well, you're a writer. I'm an artist. And for me, the difference between building a craft and creating art is the difference for you between writing a novel and filling out Mad Libs." She was overheard by Pat, who was one of those craft ladies, and they got in a fight that I thought was fucking funny.

KATHLEEN was a know-it-all bitch who once had the temerity to ask me if I washed my hands after I masturbate. That's about all I remember.

And finally, here's a memory Carl asked me about. We used to duel with dowel rods, swashbuckling when there was no one around to waste time and make our lives slightly more bearable. A few times, I even put on the soundtrack from The Sea Hawk as we fought. As the pile of boxes grew, we would leap atop them, as though we were on a high castle battlement, and try to kill one another. The boxes got to be about 12 or 15 feet high. Damn, that was fun.