Saturday, June 14, 2008

Me First

I'm so annoyed going to the grocery store on Saturday mornings. Everyone is always in such a hurry, so rude and pushy. They always want to jump on and use the self-checkout before you've even completed using it. Everyone's in such a goddamn mood.

This is typified by something I saw this morning that just kind of pissed me off. To get onto the road that leads into the grocery store, you have to pass two small bodies of water, one on each side of the road. This time of year, there are Canadian geese crossing the road from one side to the other as their offspring get bigger and bigger. So it's just kind of accepted here that you may have to stop or slow down for a moment to let the geese cross. No big deal, I think. That's just part of living in an area with wildlife.

Today, as I was pulling in, I slowed down because a van in front of me had gradually stopped to let two geese pass. Again, no big deal. It's a part of life. But then, this car comes racing up behind me and impatiently rushes past me, sending the geese screeching in all directions, so she could get into Lowe's. She was in my lane and went around me and the van, honking as she did so. It's not like she didn't see the geese; the van and I were both far enough ahead on the road that she had plenty of time to see what was going on and slow down. She was just in a hurry because, you know, everywhere she had to be was more important than anything else.

That could be an oversimplification, but really, that's the attitude. And it's a casual and arrogant sort of cruelty that I really cannot understand. I can get short with people who are in my way at the store, but that's because they're not paying attention to the area around them and being incredibly discourteous. This woman just couldn't afford to wait because she just had to get to Lowe's right now, and apparently it didn't matter what she had to kill to get there. "Screw anything living, I have to hang up my bathroom mirror before my parents come to visit." Give me a fucking break.

You see enough incidents like that in one day and you're really not surprised at all the trouble we're in.

A Very Brief Primer on The Happening

In an interview, M. Night Shyamalan warned the potential audience for his new movie: "If something happens during the movie and you think, 'That's dumb,' it'll be because whatever happened was actually too amazing for you to fully understand, or possibly a metaphor for something really crazy and cool."

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Even before The Happening was released yesterday, Shyamalan wanted you to be prepared that his new movie is so great that people might not even understand how great it really is. In other words, pre-emptively, he wanted everyone to know that they weren't smart enough to get his killer plant movie. So, he's not even going to wait for the criticism, like he did on Lady in the Water, and he's just going right to assuming there's bad word of mouth and justifying it by saying he's too smart for the audience to understand.

Here's the thing (and if you're going to see the movie, don't bother reading this, because it's a spoiler): the movie is about killer plants. It's about how all of the trees and shrubs and grass in the world suddenly, consciously, decide they're tired of being exploited and polluted by mankind, so they adapt and start emitting a toxin that gets inside peoples' brains and makes them want to commit suicide. That's the whole plot right there. And, apparently, Marky Mark's solution to the problem is to run deeper and deeper into the country. So, what, the plants all got together at some kind of plant UN conference or town hall meeting and decided that, after thousands of years, the humans had finally gone too far? How long do you suppose it took them to organize. Were their soil nutrient snacks? Were the weeds allowed in, or were they treated like a third world nation? Give me a fucking break. Spoiler over.

This is pure M. Night dipshittery. Take a plot that's so stupid even George Pal wouldn't have touched it, treat it like it's super serious, play it earnestly, and act like it's Highbrow and Important filmmaking. And this is the guy people referred to as the next Spielberg? At least Spielberg never told you flat out that you were too stupid to understand his genius.

Of course, Shyamalan is the same guy who honestly said in an interview a few years ago that he thought the "sudden" proliferation of profitable horror films was a direct result of The Sixth Sense and Signs being so successful. So, no one can really accuse him of any sort of modesty. Or even of having a realistic picture of himself.

(The picture at the top is of Zooey Deschanel because I love her and hate that there's a movie I refuse to see her in; another picture of M. Night Shyamalan and my blog might've taken a conscious form and caused me to kill myself. Sometimes you can only push non-sentient things too far.)

Tim Russert Died

What I liked about Tim Russert, even though he could be a little too smug and aggravating for me, is that he really seemed like he gave a shit about politics. And since you don't see that on news programs very much anymore, that was refreshing.

That said, are there other stories we could talk about now? I mean, I'm sure this is hard on his family and friends, and I'm very sorry for them, but the news networks have come to a standstill discussing Russert's death and his place in history as though he were Edward R. Murrow. Is Iowa dry now? Did McSame stop lying? It's sad when people die, but this isn't exactly a head of state here. Let's move on now and let the family mourn in private.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Throwdown 6/13

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Katherine Heigl just never fails to act like a huge, self-important bitch. She’s now pulled herself out of the running for the Emmys because she didn’t think Grey’s Anatomy delivered Emmy-worthy material. Which is basically telling the writers and producers of the show (in public) to go fuck themselves because they couldn’t come up with something worthy of her immense talent. Not that her ingratitude and bitchery is surprising; this is the same woman who has slagged off Knocked Up, the film that made her a viable movie star, every chance she could. And she’s slagged off Grey’s Anatomy before. I really think she’s in for the cold slap of reality when it turns out producers aren’t willing to work with her anymore because she’s so full of herself and so willing to knock everything she’s in. What a bitch.

2. Michael Poryes, one of the Disney Channel’s big producers and the co-creator of Hannah Montana, says that Miley Cyrus shouldn’t have to deal with so much media attention at such a young age, and that she should be allowed to be a kid. Interesting talk coming from the guy who put her in front of the media in the first place with a TV show, then albums, then a couple of tours, now a movie, and apparently a third season of her series. Considering how good a job Disney or Billy Ray or someone has been doing releasing “racy” photos of her every time she’s almost out of the American consciousness, the media’s actually been extremely easy on her. So, I’m not buying that Michael Poryes wants his little meal ticket to get no media attention and have a normal life. It’s not like he’s about to let her stop touring, quit the show, and just go to high school.

3. Do you suppose Chancellor Merkel just wishes she could scream at this idiot to keep his fucking hands to himself without causing an international incident? Seriously, the chimp should fucking know better. I’m just embarrassed for America every time I look at him.

4. In Geelong, Victoria, Australia, a man sent a video of himself masturbating to a woman he was stalking. The video came through to her cell phone just as she was in the local police station making a complaint about him. Guys, if she won’t go out with you, just let her go… I do love how my generation (and our children) seems to never tire of making documentaries out of their stupidity.

5. Fake psychic James Van Praagh was blathering on to People magazine recently about how he’s seeing Heath Ledger all over the place and really needs to talk to Michelle Williams about it. If I didn’t find Van Praagh to be a distasteful charlatan beforehand, this would cinch it. I know his whole life is predicated on the idea of preying on people while they’re at their weakest and most vulnerable for pretending to talk to dead people, but this somehow seems extra-scummy for him. To go into a tabloid and basically say “Hey, I’m seeing Michelle Williams’s dead ex everywhere, I sure hope she calls me and gives me money so I can make up some stuff about it.”

6. Danielle Fishel, the girl who will always be Topanga, the hot girl from one of the stupidest sitcoms in the history of stupid sitcoms, has had a DUI and seen pictures of her tonguing a chick at a bar emerge online. So now, like so many people who want to protect their failing careers, she’s made sure people know that she’s clean now, the pictures were stolen, she knows she did something wrong (?), and she’s accepted Jesus into her life. I still don’t see why loving Jesus and making out with chicks have to be mutually exclusive, honestly…

7. According to Tila Tequila, California gays have her to thank for the ban on gay marriage being lifted, because her show, A Shot of Penicillin Because of a Badly-Tattooed Slut Midget, made the people “a little apprehensive” about gay relationships realize “everyone is really into this stuff, and it is fine.” Uh-huh. Because people who are “a little apprehensive” about gay relationships actually watch you pretend you’re single and a bisexual on MTV. Reality check: making out with another chick in a hot tub is not a same sex relationship; porno movies have been doing it for decades before you started famewhoring, honey, and there wasn’t an overturn because of that. And way more people watch porno than pay attention to you, I hope.

8. Here’s an obvious plot twist: M. Night Shyamalan is a giant ass. Now that his killer plant movie has opened, here’s a look back at what a douche he was while out pushing his awful self-deification flick, Lady in the Water, a movie he now claims failed because it was “too innocent for the times or whatever” instead of “too obviously crappy in every aspect.”

9. Speaking of movies, The Incredible Hulk opens today. Even though it stars my beloved Liv Tyler, I don’t feel the need to go see it, in large part because the commercials have given away apparently every surprise (as if the plot itself was going to be that different from every other comic book movie). But also, I still kind of hate the way Marvel and Universal are treating the first film as though it didn’t exist. Personally, I loved The Hulk. It was unusual for a comic book movie. It was really about something; about anger and fear and things I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with. I have an enormous anger problem that that movie made me think about. It was an Ang Lee movie, not a Michael Bay flick, and it’s been unjustly labeled as a failure (it did $100 million over its budget, for crying out loud) when in fact it’s just terrible underrated. Well, more in my opinion than in fact. I remember one critic saying, and I really agree, that the worst thing you could say about The Hulk is that it’s too good for the typical comic book audience seeking a thrill ride. Bold words, but not far off. Most of the criticism I’ve seen over the last few months has to do with it being too talky and not action-oriented enough, or not enough like the comic books. (And by the way, for the people who complain that The Hulk didn’t have any of the comic book’s mostly crappy villains, Nick Nolte was supposed to be the Absorbing Man. Do you really need a colorful costume and the villain sneering to point the way for you?) I hear this movie, directed by the guy who made The Transporter 2, “got it right.” I don’t know, I thought making a good movie was more important…

10. Not only are Crocs the stupidest trendy shoe today, they’re also dangerous. A 3 year-old nearly lost her foot last week when her Crocs got stuck in the escalator. Apparently it was only the latest of 77 incidents since January 2006 involving the ugly footwear getting trapped in escalators. So, you know, stop buying them for your kids. And men, you should never be wearing them at all. Not even you, President Duh. And I’ve seen you wearing them.

11. McCain said he’d love to have Cheney in his administration. But remember, he’s a maverick who represents change.

12. Bush’s next great idea in the Middle East is to support Saudi Arabia building nuclear plants. So, Iran nuclear power = bad, but Saudi nuclear power = good. I mean, they said they wouldn’t develop uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing, and if they pwomise the president that’s good enough for America, apparently. Just wait; within 20 years the Saudis will be out of oil and we’ll stab them in the back and proclaim them a rogue nation ruled by terrorists, just like we do to every dictatorship we prop up for short term gain. Never forget: Saudi Arabia, home of the 9/11 terrorists.

13. Speaking of Bush in the Middle East, someone got up at an Obama rally in Wisconsin and asked that, when Obama’s president, he appoint George W. Bush ambassador to Iraq. Obama practically spit out his water and then said, pricelessly, “Honestly, we need someone really good in that job.” I love this guy more and more. He also took on McCain’s assertion that the length of time American soldiers spend in Iraq is “not too important.” Obama just came right out and said that McSame wasn’t considering the burden of families with loved ones at war, or about the money taxpayers spend on the war. Nice to see Obama go for it, even in his usual smart, dignified way. He hasn’t risen to the bait, he just makes good points.

14. Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, and lots of people are laughing at him because of it. I will say this: there’s no way it’s going to succeed. It’s going to die in committee. Not because it’s a stupid idea, but because there aren’t enough people in Congress with the guts to take their ideals to their logical conclusion. If they have any ideals. So, yes, Kucinich’s articles of impeachment will get shot down. But that’s not the point. The point is that there’s someone in Congress with the guts to do what needs to be done. The fact that this story is underreported and, when it is reported, is done so in a way to make Kucinich look like a crackpot, just throws more light on how cowardly Congress and the media really are.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Loyalty Oath

I've been having a hard time with this article, in which a pissed off mother complains about how the fifth-grade graduation ceremony (they have a ceremony for everything a kid does now, don't they?) at her kid's school replaced the Pledge of Allegiance for the ceremony with the kids singing the preamble to the Constitution.

I have to say, I don't see the big deal. I really don't. And if it were up to me, I'd just do away with the loyalty oath in schools. I taught at the same school for two months, and every day they'd say the Pledge. Well, every day when they remembered to. They didn't always. Some days they'd do it in the afternoon because they forgot to do it in the morning. So, obviously, this is very important.

And they'd build on it with other stuff. They'd add on the preamble, and then the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and then "My Country 'Tis of Thee." By Friday, the whole damn worship session for a nationalistic icon that was probably made in China was nearly 20 damn minutes.

But here's the thing: it's all meaningless to kids. They haven't thought of what the words mean. They only know it's something they need to recite each day, out of habit. You think a first-grader understands what the words "domestic tranquility" mean? Give me a break.

I know a lot of people in this country get very attached to superficial shows of loyalty to this nationalistic idea, and they're easily offended when someone doesn't think it's such a big deal. But you know what? It's not a big deal. And those people can't even fathom that someone might not be a Christian and might not think pledging allegience to America-as-under-God sounds all that spectacular. I know we're supposed to feel like we're lucky to be here, but I don't assign such motives to accidents of biology.

Get over the loyalty oath, America. To your kids, it's meaningless. To your government, the Constitution's meaningless. Some people are deciding who's fit to lead based on who wears a brass-plated pin made in China bearing a picture of our flag.

Can we stop going through the motions and fix the real problems, please?

President Sociopath

I want to second a lot of what FranIAm says on this post, which has a link to an excerpt from Vincent Bugliosi's book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. She points out that, like Charles Manson (whom Bugliosi famously prosecuted and wrote about), Bush has no conscience about what he's done. And she's absolutely right. The man does not care. After all, as the Bugliosi excerpt points out (and you really, really should read it), how could George W. Bush continue to spend more time on vacation than any president in history, play golf, work out, and live a generally happy, fulfilled life if the deaths of thousands of Americans really bothered him?

I wanted to add to her post something I just read in Kurt Vonnegut's book A Man Without a Country. In one passage, he laments that C-students from Yale have taken over everything in America, and talks about Bush as a genuine psychopathic personality (or PP): "the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences." He describes it thus, chillingly and with horrible accuracy:

"PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

"And what syndrome better describes so many executive at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.

"So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

"They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't."

Makes sense to me. In fact, if you look up the classic personality symptoms that describe a sociopath, you get a pretty clear picture. A sociopath:

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance. (I think that's pretty on the nose; he's our first president to appear to the American people in military dress, much like Castro or any other military dictator did.)

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love. (Again, seems accurate to me. That's why he speaks in such grandiose terms as "good" and "evil" and refers, rather childishly, to our enemies as "evildoers" instead of, say, "terrorists" or "enemies.")

3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique. (Do I even need to say it? This is a guy whose whole campaign for the presidency was predicated on the notion of it being his "turn.")

4. requires excessive admiration. (What the hell else was Mission Accomplished all about? Not only that, but there's also what I find to be the most distasteful aspect of his public speaking, which is the constant, theatrical pauses for emphasis and/or applause. I know he took acting lessons; apparently he took acting lessons to act like Tom Cruise as president.)

5. has a sense of entitlement. (That's just too easy.)

6. is interpersonally exploitative. (Why is he always touching everyone? He's so overly familiar with people, and it really bugs me. There was another picture this week of him putting his arm around Chancellor Merkel in Germany. Keep your fucking hands to yourself!)

7. lacks empathy. (Again, see the Bugliosi excerpt.)

8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her. ("They hate us for our freedom.")

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes. (Cue alienating the rest of the world with high-handed behavior.)

Hmmm... it just all makes sense, doesn't it? And the shitty part is, it's always made sense. We knew it was going to go bad. We knew he was going to be an awful president. And we didn't really do anything about it. American Idol was on, or something.

Kurt Vonnegut ends his meditation on psychopathic personalities with a final summation on Bush and his types, and the major flaw with the leadership of this country: "Only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president."

Are we going to avoid it this time around, or what?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hey, Hollywood

I thought I told you not to do this.

I believe I was quite clear. Just stop it. Stop it now.

Stop Yelling at Me!

I never thought I'd miss this guy.

I used to hate seeing this stupid ad mascot. He would literally fill me with anger as I watched yet another cliche in motion: the old man acting like a kid.

But after a couple of weeks of seeing the new Six Flags ads, with the disembodied head smiling smugly while screaming at the top of his lungs "More flags! More fun!" in a stupid mockery of a million Japanese commercials (because there's always that one guy who is just starting his condescentive love of all things Asian, opining that there just isn't enough loud, obnoxious shit in America already), I really miss the dancing oldster. I wish he was back, because even at his worst he was never as fucking annoying as the head is. The head literally fills me with rage and makes me want to hurt people. The old guy was just some dude who couldn't dance in pounds of old age makeup.

Six Flags: stop fucking yelling at me. You still suck, no matter how loud you are. As I get older, I have less and less patience for this shit.

Ruin the Surprise

So, I'm going to bitch about the commercials for The Incredible Hulk, and this could be very, very spoilery.

So, I've been hearing for a while now that Robert Downey Jr. may have a cameo as Tony Stark in The Incredible Hulk. That it's another step in setting up an Avengers movie. And I was looking forward to seeing how they handled that.

Sadly, the latest commercials for the film give that one away. There I was, watching Hell's Kitchen last night, and there's a commercial for The Incredible Hulk with Robert Downey Jr. on it.

Why the hell would you make that poor marketing decision?

There weren't Iron Man commercials giving away the surprise cameo in that film. It was a great surprise for Marvel fans and for people who weren't too impatient to flee the theater the second the credits started. I love being rewarded with that kind of thing, and if I'd known about it going in, it would've been a lot less exciting.

So why, why would Marvel ruin another great surprise for Marvel fans (and people who liked the Iron Man movie) by throwing this commercial on the air?

Damn, man, I remember a time when films were advertised in a way that made you interested in what things were going to look like. You didn't see E.T. on the commercials for a long, long time. Or the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. You had to go and see the movies themselves. Now we've got the Hulk running around in the trailer, doing incredible things. And now, besides that, we've got a fun cameo that would've been a neat surprise completely ruined by advertising.

Honestly, I'm disappointed. I wasn't even sure I was going to go see this movie. Now I wonder what the point is if it's all in the commercials.

Film Week

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

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934)
What a potboiler. Again, Hitchcock's artistry is let down by ponderous, dull pacing. This first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much has many of the same plot elements as the better-known remake (one of Hitchcock's best films, I think), but it takes place on a somewhat lesser scale. It's good for what it is, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't grab you and pull you in the way so many of Hitchcock's best do. Always great to see Peter Lorre, though, and so relaxed as the villain. *** stars.

THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922)
An American GI has the good fortune to marry Anna May Wong overseas and then abandons her on his return to America. Lots of pretty scenery and Wong is always exquisitely beautiful, but it's kind of predictable. **1/2 stars.

OLD SAN FRANCISCO (1927)
Rather dull movie about shady dealings in the days leading up to the San Francisco 1906 earthquake. Great production values, not much of a story. ** stars.

CASSANDRA'S DREAM (2007)
Woody Allen is exploring familiar territory again, which isn't always that exciting to watch. I like his films more often than not, but after two of his best films in years (Match Point and Scoop) this is a little bit of a disappointment. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play two London brothers who are asked to kill somebody by their uncle in exchange for money they need to save their lives. They both wrestle with the decision in their own ways, and that's really the drama of the movie. It's basically an expansion on the third act of Match Point, which is why it seems so familiar. The actors are good (especially Farrell, which is a surprise indeed), and I usually like Allen's pictures, but this isn't one of his best. It's solid, but not much else. Beautiful to look at, though, with Vilmos Zsigmond's photography highlighting some beautiful London locations, and an interesting Philip Glass score. *** stars.

SEMI-PRO (2008)
Meh. It's got some cute moments, but it's a real misfire. The movie doesn't realize that Will Ferrell's Jackie Moon is really a side character, like Phil Hartman on NewsRadio, and that its main character is really Woody Harrelson. Not unpleasant by any means, but instantly forgettable. ** stars.

AN AMERICAN CRIME (2007)
Very tough to watch. This is based on an actual incident in Indiana in 1965, in which a woman (Catherine Keener) offered to take in two teenage girls as borders, and ended up torturing one to death (Ellen Page). It's horrifying and cruel, and somehow fascinating. Catherine Keener is excellent in a performance of total detachment, playing a person who thinks that their horrible lot in life gives them the right--the obligation, even--to be cruel to others for the smallest perceived slights. Page is very good, too, though she has less to do. It's a sad, sad picture, but riveting. ***1/2 stars.

THE GODDESS (1934)
Ruan Ling-yu plays a prostitute hounded by bullies and cops, but she's doing it all to give her son a chance at a better life. There's not much more to it than that, but Ruan's performance is everything here. She symbolically suffers for China, a woman reduced to immorality in order to provide for her family. She's excellent, once again. ***1/2 stars.

THE WICKER MAN (2006)
A little advice to filmmakers: when taking a classic film and turning it into a cartoonish outlet for misogyny, try and hire a writer who knows a little something about paganism, nature, women, and policework. Otherwise your childishly woman-fearing diatribe will just look completely ridiculous. Basically, this is The Wicker Man for people who felt the original film wasn't shitty enough and needed every bit of its subtle wonderfulness translated into the most thudding, obvious terms. Pure shit. No stars.

You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Bright Room Called Day

Kids made me sick again and the reading stops. Oy....

I finally managed to sit down and read this text of a 1985 Tony Kushner play. I had been a big fan of his Angels in America, having written a paper on it, and just happened across this at the library and picked it up. It highlights the lives of a few "decadent" friends--artists, radicals, filmmakers, etc.--in the closing days of Weimar Germany, just as Hitler and the Nazi Party are consolidating their power. It takes place over just six months, but for the main characters, life's changes are dramatic and swift.

The entire play takes place in Agnes's apartment. As it begins, Agnes is naturally kind and loyal, a gracious woman enjoying life among her friends and flirting with the Communist Party. Kushner presents the Communist Party as a sort of disorganized, abstract idea. Agnes isn't a practicing communist, but she shares some of their ideals and finds them somehow comforting in a time when things are getting dangerous and equality is threatened. As time goes on, her friends one by one decide what they will do to survive, most of them leaving Germany for their own safety (one of her friends is openly gay, another is an exiled hero of the Hungarian revolution). Agnes becomes more afraid to act, less of a communist, clinging to the material things in her life and smally hoping she can somehow weather the change by ignoring it. Even if this means pushing her friends away.

These main scenes are punctuated by the appearance of Zillah, a woman in the eighties who has been exiled from America and writes hate mail to President Reagan comparing him to Hitler. What's really scary is how much, in just twenty years, A Bright Room Called Day has become prescient in its comparison of fascism and American absolutism. He doesn't force the comparison between Reagan or Hitler, of course, but does see a connection in the way a criminal ruling class can be fed and strengthened by complacency and the comfort of routine.

The brilliance of A Bright Room Called Day is that, despite its political center, it isn't a vilification of specific political systems. Kushner instead reminds us of the need to be committed to our ideals and not fear the night.

Originally posted at the Spring Reading Challenge (2008).

The Health Report, Year 2: Week 26

Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no, but--stop giving me evils!

I'm doing better. Cautiously so, but better. I don't feel remotely sick anymore; my problem now is that I've still got a bit of the cough and there's a sort of wet rumble if I breathe very deeply. I'm hoping this is on its way out. I also have a lot of lingering pain from all of the coughing, especially in my back and side. Sleeping on the couch didn't help the pain, either. And weighing as much as I do.

That's my biggest problem right now; the sickness just wiped away all of the strength I had left and now I feel very weak, but I weigh over 300 pounds. I'm trying to even myself out with the food I'm eating now, trying to put myself back on a schedule of healthy foods so that, as I'm building my strength back up, I'm not doing it by eating a lot of crap. I lost some weight while I was sick and I'd like to keep losing weight, and if the easiest way to kick that off is by eating lots of delicious chicken, then things aren't so bad.

I'm sorry I had to miss the last week of school--not to mention the pay for the last week of school--and now I'm even sorrier that I've got nothing going again until late August. I need to find something to do all summer long, because I can already feel that boredom setting in. I at least need to get some more books.

I'm just glad I lived through the last couple of weeks. There were a few times last week when I honestly wasn't sure I would, or that I wanted to. I felt so awful. And I was worried for a while that it was something worse than a bad flu or a mild bronchitis or whatever the hell it was. The wonderful fun of being poor and uninsured in America...

More Random Words I Love the Sound Of

perihelion
tembo
tantor
Baraboo
flintlock
labyrinthine
Mesozoic
pixie
arpeggio
vulcanize
conquistador
leviathan
quim

26 Today

Happy Birthday, Leelee Sobieski

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Song of the Week: "Private Dancer"

Tina Turner, 1984. This was the only song not guessed on my Lyrics Master yesterday. Is it already so forgotten? It was a big song, I remember, and it's a very good one (famously written by Mark Knopfler). It's a nice tune to get lost in. I saw her do this on one of the concerts they aired on HBO, back in the mid-nineties (just after she'd done the "Goldeneye" single, because she performed it there), and they really extended the sexy middle section with lots of sax. I don't know, it was cool. I've always loved Tina Turner.

80s Revisited: The Monster Squad

An occasional series in which I watch those films from long ago with the eyes of a grown-up.

The Monster Squad (1987)
Directed by Fred Dekker; written by Shane Black & Fred Dekker; produced by Keith Barish, Rob Cohen and Jonathan A. Zimbert.

Ah, the eighties. The days when the kids swore. I remember between movies like this and The Goonies and even Stand By Me (which didn't even take place in the eighties), there was a time when kids in movies could swear realistically. And by realistically I mean in a very, very over-the-top way. Which is, of course, how kids swear. Do you remember discovering swear words? How old were you? Wasn't there a strange thrill to being able to swear, in secret, alone with your friends? It sounds silly now to a man of 31, but there seemed to be some sort of power in knowing words that were completely forbidden, and in keeping that knowledge secret from your parents. And there were a couple of movies in the eighties that acknowledged that young kids, kids who've just learned to swear, swear like no sailor ever has.

It's one of the many things about The Monster Squad that makes me nostalgic. But there's so much more to it. The plot, which is nicely straightforward, deals with a group of kids who are obsessed with old monster movies. Luckily or unluckily for them, Count Dracula has returned and happened to land in their town and raised up a group of cronies -- the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Gill Man, and Frankenstein's Monster -- to help him search for an amulet that will make him all-powerful or some such. It's not really important; it's just what sets this Little Rascals vs. Universal Monsters ride in motion.

That's the real appeal, I think. Like The Goonies, it's about a bunch of kids (from the same era as my own childhood) having an impossible adventure. And on the other hand, it's House of Frankenstein, with all of the classic Universal monsters pulled together in a film for no real reason at all except for the excitement of having them all together in one film (back when that sort of thing used to be exciting--thanks for nothing, Van Helsing). Stan Winston did the makeup effects for the monsters, by the way, which look great.

What I especially liked as a kid (and still like) was Tom Noonan's portrayal of Frankenstein's monster and the way he turns into a good guy. It just sort of has to be that way, doesn't it?

And then there's Fat Kid. Ah, poor Fat Kid. Brent Chalem, who plays Fat Kid (aka Horace), died in 1997 at the age of 22. Pneumonia. That makes me sad. I always liked Fat Kid when I was a kid. Go figure, I sympathized with the fat kids. I loved Fat Kid and I loved Chunk. I felt for those guys. They were my boys.

There's not really a whole heck of a lot I can say to defend this movie, I think. It's very, very silly and edges towards the ridiculous in more places than one. But who gives a damn? It's fun, and it's funny, and even seeing it now, 21 years later, it's still all of those things. Come on, it's Dracula fighting a bunch of kids over the fate of the universe. If you don't enjoy the idea, don't bother with it. If you do: welcome home.

Without this film, how we would ever know for sure that Wolf Man has nards?

Next time: John Carpenter's Starman

Sunday Hottie 175

CATE BLANCHETT

A Teary-Eyed (But Manfully So) Movie List

Another movie list to comment on for no real reason: the Sports Blawger's Top 20 Movies That Make Men Cry. I've never been afraid to admit that I'm an over-emotional goon at the movies; I've cried in more films than I can remember by this point. But I know, the cliche is that men are supposed to suppress their emotions, and every so often there's a list of movies it's "okay" for men to show feeling at. Here's this guy's, with my comments, just for the sake of having something to comment on.

20. It's a Wonderful Life
Great movie. It really is. I haven't seen it in years, though; ever since the rights issues were settled and it's only shown once a year at Christmastime, I don't watch it anymore. Because they show it on NBC, which means so much advertising and reminiscing by low-tier celebrities is thrown in that it takes something like five hours just to air the damn movie. I should do what my dad did and get my own copy on DVD, and then watch it at my convenience every Christmas. I have a lot of Christmas staples, anyway, there's always room for more.

Anyway, It's a Wonderful Life has never made me cry. It's got one of the happiest of happy endings, but it's never edged into tears for me.

19. Schindler's List
Yes. At the end, when Oskar Schindler and his wife are ready to flee, and his eyes widen and he says "I could have done more." His breakdown there, that sure feeling that all he's done has not been enough, is beautifully tragic. It could so easily have descended into Klaus Kinski levels of egomania, but Schindler is so genuinely mournful that it works. It's a little unfortunate that Spielberg takes an earned outpouring of emotion and stamps on it, though, by including that cloying funeral business at the end. We get it, Schindler es bueno.

18. Frequency
I don't remember much about this movie, but I do remember that I liked Dennis Quaid in it (I love Quaid in science fiction) and that I didn't cry at the end. I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell happened at the end of the movie. How did shooting the guy in the arm in the past kill him in the future? I just don't get it, dammit.

17. Dead Poets Society
I hate this stupid movie. It's certainly too stupid to cry at the meaningless end of the film (Ethan Hawke and the others have already been forced to betray their teacher, and he's already been fired, so what is this protest meant to prove?). It's a stupid, stupid, stupid movie. (Read Jaquandor's classic post on the film.)

16. Forrest Gump
The most right-wing movie ever to be extremely popular with audiences. It's a cute movie, and there are parts I get swept up in, but it never made me cry. Also, as a man I kind of resent how wonderful it's supposed to be that Forrest keeps his love for Jenny alive throughout the film, even though she treats him like total shit, uses him whenever she needs to, and never told him he had a son until she was basically forced to by AIDS. The only reason his blind, pandering love for her is forgivable is that, like everything in this movie, it's not genuine humanity so much as an allegory about how America responds to itself.

15. The Natural
Not this one, either. The Natural is very pretty to look at, has a wonderful score, has a very pretty and talented cast, and is complete and total bullshit (especially compared to the original Bernard Malamud novel, which is excellent). I hate it when movies can't build up any dramatic tension because they're so busy having it all ways instead of making dramatic choices. The end of this movie needs to make a dramatic choice. If Robert Redford is so sick at the final game that his ruined stomach is bleeding bright red blood through his skin and onto his shirt, there's no way he makes the final homer and runs all four bases. I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it. He either misses because he's in unbearable pain, or he makes the homer and drops dead. But the movie, like so many American movies, decides it has to have it all and makes the leap into unbelievable bullshit. Lots of people love movies about Jesus as a baseball player, but I don't.

14. The Shawshank Redemption
I cry twice in this movie. First, when Brooks hangs himself. That the guy spent his whole life in prison and couldn't adjust to life on the outside... it's tragic. I cry again at the very end, when Red hopes he'll see his friend again, and the walk on the beach... The ending of this movie is so great and happy because it's totally earned. You have to go through so much pain and shit and frustration and hell just to get to it. It's earned.

13. Big Fish
More father and son cliche nonsense. Tim Burton has declined so much in the new century. There is a lot to like in this movie, actually, but it doesn't invest enough in itself emotionally to earn any tears at the end.

12. Seabiscuit
I never saw this movie and frankly can't imagine myself seeing it. It's by the folks who made Pleasantville, which I thought was awful.

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Of course, I cry in all three of these movies. There are emotional scenes throughout. This one gets tears from me in many places, but there are three big ones. The first is the death of Theoden, which is very peaceful and beautiful. The second is the scene where Gandalf tells Pippin what the next step of the journey (i.e. heaven) is like; Pippin says "That doesn't sound so bad" and Gandalf wistfully answers "No, it doesn't." That's a personal connotation for me, really; it makes me cry because it reminds me of my sister who died. I'm not even sure why, but it does. And finally, at the Grey Havens. It made me cry in the book and in the movie, every single damn time, and I think it's the most easily tear-inducing line I've heard or read: "I will not say do not cry, for not all tears are an evil."

10. The Passion of the Christ
I had heard all of the rumors of church groups buying up showings, so I figured if I went early enough, I'd avoid the large crowds. Becca and I were interested because Mel Gibson directed the film, and we loved Braveheart and I liked The Man Without a Face. We went on opening night, Wednesday in February. Didn't realize it was Ash Wednesday and the place was packed. Every seat taken. Did the film make me cry? I don't remember. There's not really much of an emotional current to the film at all, unless of course you're a Christian and you're adding your own feelings to it. It's like an audience participation film; if you're non-religious, like me, it's a brutal snuff film with no plot, no characters, no point, and no message beyond "Man, that guy can take a lot of pain!" If I did cry, it was out of sheer exhaustion with the cruelty on display (oddly enough, Pokemon: The First Movie had the same effect on me).

9. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Of course this film makes me cry every time I see it. First because E.T. dies (and Elliott says "I don't know how to feel"), second because he's alive, and third because he leaves Elliott at the end ("I'll be right here"). The hug at the end destroys me every time.

8. The Green Mile
The Green Mile was like Frank Darabont took The Shawshank Redemption and pumped it full of hot air. There's a lot to like, to be sure, but it's precious sometimes and asks too blatantly to be liked. I was sad when Black Retarded Jesus was killed at the end, of course, but I don't remember crying.

7. Saving Private Ryan
Also total bullshit. And the framing device, the bit that everyone says is the real tearjerker, doesn't make any sense to me. Private Ryan is sitting in the cemetery remembering two hours of movie he wasn't even around for? And that cloying crap at the end, that "Tell me I've lived a good life" crap is Spielberg going over-the-top for an emotional climax the movie doesn't deserve. There's a good movie in there somewhere, but unfortunately for Spielberg it's only about 100 minutes long at most, and he can't edit himself anymore. If that great Normandy sequence weren't in the film, I think most people wouldn't remember it as something Important.

6. The Pride of the Yankees
Never saw it.

5. Rudy
Gods of all that is, was, and will be, save me from this movie. Everybody's always got to bring up Rudy. For me, it's really about a stubborn kid who wants to follow his father's dreams no matter what, even though he's completely inept as a football player. Wow, big triumph. Did you earn daddy's love now? Who cares?!

4. Braveheart
I've seen women have two reactions to the ending. Either like Becca, they get very emotional and cry, or like my mom, they're too horrified by the torture to get swept up. It makes sense to me after seeing The Passion of the Christ that Mel Gibson said the original cut of that scene was so graphic that women were running out of the theater during test screenings, and that it was toned down substantially. What an ass. Anyway, I love this movie, and I do cry at the end, especially when Wallace is being tortured and you see Hamish and Stephen crying for him.

3. Brian's Song
Come on, of course. That's a sad, sad movie. And it was made for television, but it's a classic film. The key is that it doesn't ask too much. It doesn't overreach and try to get cute. It's just a very honest story about the friendship of two men. And it's beautiful.

2. Old Yeller
I remember this movie made me cry when I was a kid, but I don't think I've seen it since at least 5th grade. I don't know. I guess we'll find out if it still makes me cry when I get to Evaluating Disney: 1957.

1. Field of Dreams
Yeah, it makes me cry. The tears pretty much flow through the last fifteen minutes. The father-son stuff at the end is what kills me, of course ("Hey, Dad? Want to have a catch?"), but what really starts me is when Moonlight Graham makes his choice, becomes a doctor again, and saves the little girl's life. "Oh my God, you can't go back." That he made that choice... what a great movie (and one of the few American movies where magic realism works).

It's an okay list, I think. Not my list, but not a bad one. But like I said, I've lost count of the movies I've cried over. I think this list is sorely missing The Iron Giant, which makes me sob. And so did Philadelphia, much more than either of the Tom Hanks movies on this list. Or the final, final moment of About Schmidt, which destroys me emotionally (but in a good way).

The last movies that really made me teary at the end were Local Hero and The Trip to Bountiful. What made you cry?