Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stephen King Is a Fucking Hypocrite

Why, Lord, why do I keep reading The Pop of King? I should know by now that Stephen King is long past the point of writing anything that could be considered good and should be avoided as potential reading material. And yet, I keep indulging in the frustrating world of this Master of Hackery's Entertainment Weekly column, and it keeps pissing me off! Why can't I stop hitting my thumb with that hammer?

This month, King once again picks an easy and strangely outdated target: Britney Spears. Specifically, long after everyone's stopped caring, he's decided that it is time for him to sound off on his personal feelings towards Matt Lauer's Dateline interview with the pop princess.

King starts off with his own apparently unique feeling that the paparazzi are scum. I'm not sure when the last time was that King had to deal with the paparazzi hounding him, and even he admits "I have been touched by them only peripherally, and it's been years since I really engaged their flea-like attention." He says he is especially incensed by the way they call out your first name, with a total lack of respect. He then goes on to condescendingly refer to Britney Spears as "Britney" or, with even more disrespect, "Poor Brit," through the entire column. So, no points for being consistent, I guess.

In fact, after admitting that he hates the paparazzi and their intrustions, he spends the rest of his column admonishing Britney for not being as good as her former friend Madonna at handling the media So, it's okay for King to hate the paparazzi, but Britney should accept it as a part of her existence? He ridicules her for going "on national TV in a low-cut see-through purple maternity blouse," and then ridicules her grasp of the English language, before telling her flat out that "we are looking at you, Brit, because we cannot yet look away."

So, according to King, Britney's problem is that she's dumb, helpless, and country. And yet, King often makes a point in his column of championing these very people as members of his reading public. When it comes to defending his fans, King is somehow louder and more ignorant than Larry the Cable Guy. He has made it a habit to refer to his fans as "real, ordinary Americans," those stereotypes who love to blow shit up on the Fourth of July and really carry the ideals of this country in their heart. He loves to fall back on flag-waving, people-championing ideals that only exist in the minds of hack poets like Walt Whitman, who fall back on idealism and political rhetoric as a substitute for actual thought--propaganda over individuality any day, apparently. According to all of the listed characteristics of a typical Stephen King reader, advanced forth by the man himself, Britney Spears should fall squarely into his self-described demographic. Why isn't he championing Ms. Spears? It is because she's too rich? Because she doesn't read?

King makes an unintended point when he details the decline in Britney's album sales, and says that "[Britney's] continued visibility--and, hence, popularity--seems to hinge on the very press that has sliced her up again and again these past few years." So, Britney should just accept the paparazzi presence in her life? But, Stephen, you know, Steve, you're really not one to talk, Stevie-Boy. Because you see, Steve, you're exactly like Ms. Spears. Every other month, Steve-O, you come out in the pages of EW and whine about how the American literati has yet to accept you as heartily as they've accepted good authors like Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and John Updike. You flash your important literary awards, and whine like the gum-smacking false eyelash-wearing tear-stained Britney you so deride, and you beg us all to take you and your uncreative hackery seriously. You look at the falling sales of your own books, Stevesy, and instead of accepting where we've put you--in the horror genre, in the discounted bestselling paperback bin, in the supermarket checkout aisles with the Harlequin Romances and the Louis L'Amour novels--you show us your awards and protest that you are more than what we've made you. Hell, Steve-Steve-bo-beve, banana-fanna-fo-feve, you even wrote an entire novel, Misery, blaming the fans for keeping you in horror fiction when you wanted to get out.

So if it's okay for you to want to be something more than just a creation of market forces and American reading tastes, Steve-a-leve, why is it wrong for "Poor Brit" to want to be something more than just a creation of the media and the prurient interest of men old enough to know better? Why is that inappropriate for Ms. Spears to wish, Steve?

At the end of his column, King tries to excuse his attitude by admitting that even he got caught up in the interview--"See!" he seems to say, "even I'm prone to playing the game!"--but he also says, rather sanctimoniously: "I felt bad for feeling even a little concerned about her problems, when hundreds of thousands of people are starving in Darfour." Please. This is the same man who scolded us in the pages of Entertainment goddamn Weekly for even being interested in the outcome of the Michael Jackson trial when there are more important things going on in the world. Apparently, King thinks his job is to make us feel bad for our interest in frivolous things like pop culture, pop music, and celebrities. I wonder if he includes cheap paperback thrillers? A strange sentiment coming from a man who spent a year of his life following the Boston Red Sox around so he could write a book about how important they are.

Maybe he should write for Newsweek instead.

Old posts in which I hate Stephen King:
On Stephen King's anti-intellectualism
Stephen King misapplies zen
Stephen King whines about Hollywood

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Syd Barrett 1946-2006

"When I woke up today and you weren't there to play then I wanted to be with you,
When you showed me your eyes whispered love at the skies then I wanted to stay with you,
Inside me I feel alone and unreal
And the way you kiss will always be
A very special thing to me..."

Goodbye, Syd. Posted by Picasa

Film Week

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

I just don't like Fellini. I don't like him at all. I don't understand the reputation as one of the world's greatest filmmakers; I think if he had been American, no one would take him seriously at all. Fellini has a childish obsession with scatalogical humor, a penchant for large setpieces that make no narrative sense, and implements a symbology that is so heavy-handed and obvious he might as well have not embarrassed himself by putting it on display. But... what, he's foreign? I keep hearing his films are whimsical and deep, but I don't see it. Russ Meyer is the same way, but who's arguing that he's one of the medium's greats? Terry Gilliam is like the good version of Fellini... his movies make sense. This is, out of several tries, the only Fellini film I've made it all the way through (my interest in Casanova outweighed my disgust for Fellini). It starts off interestingly, but then it just meanders on and on and there's a giantess and midgets and a whale and then it just runs right off the rails. The only good thing in this film is Donald Sutherland, who plays Giacomo Casanova, and his performance is almost... almost... worth the hellish trip. Sutherland has been dubbed by an Italian actor, though, so we're really only getting half of his performance, which is a bit of a shame and makes his performance hard to judge. Still, it's a crappy movie that takes a long, long time to get to its deadeningly obvious point, and I can only give it ** stars.

Nick Broomfield's second documentary about Aileen Wournos; I haven't seen the first, the 1992 Aileen: The Selling of a Serial Killer, and I wish I had because they kept referring to it in this one. It's a complicated film; on the one hand, Aileen was a serial killer and it's hard to feel sympathy for her. But she also felt--and it's hard to disagree in a small way--that she was railroaded by people who were making money by selling the film rights to her story. It's hard to deny that everyone made money off of Aileen's decade-long stay on Death Row; except Aileen, of course. But when we see Aileen interviewed, we can see she's been crushed by the paranoia of her life; she talks about Jesus returning and death as an entryway to a space ship, and she talks about wanting to die and get it over with. She claims that the police knew she was killing from the first body on, and let her continue to help clean up the streets (and so they could make money selling her story). She blames society for putting her in a position where she was forced to live the kind of life she did. To some extent, society does put people into roles; Aileen tragically lacked the strength to fight against it. It's a troubling documentary about a person who is hard to grasp. Even the people who knew her can't seem to paint us a clear picture. Broomfield, as director, wisely does not try to tell us whether or not the death penalty is wrong, or whether Aileen is guilty. **** stars.

Ah, the long series of bikini movies. This one was lame. * star.

This one was better. Evan Stone is fucking hilarious. Nicole Sheridan is fucking hot. *** stars.

It's like the first movie. Exactly like the first movie. It takes a tight, fun 90-minute pirate story and turns it into a pretentious 150-minute epic. Where do I start? Okay, let's take the story (what there is of it). Again, like the first movie, there is a lot of running around in circles. It's very slow; there are entire sequences (in this case, the entire half-hour or so on the cannibal island) that could be dropped for pacing. The script, once again, doesn't know who the focus is. The only reason Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann are in the film is so the target audience of teenagers has an entry point into the film; Jack Sparrow and all that pirate stuff is what's supposed to be going on around them. But, since Will and Elizabeth are so dead-ass boring, the filmmakers find more interest in the piracy, and so you almost wonder why they bother with Will and Elizabeth in the first place. And do we really need a trilogy of three nearly three-hour movies? Director Gore Verbinski approaches his story as though he were making something really important, really stunning, and treats it all with a sense of seriousness (even the tongue-in-cheek moments like Jack flipping over while tied to a bamboo shoot are taken with utmost gravity) that makes the damn thing drag on and on and on in what feels like real time. In the end, as Merna pointed out, it feels like a long trailer for the third movie. And by the way, count the number of ways in which this movie rips off Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies, if not in actual content than in tone.

The characters/actors are the sort of generic quirkiness we've come to expect from Hollywood movies nowadays. It creates a problem, as the movie adds four new major characters (Davy Jones, Bootstrap Bill Turner, Lord Beckett, Tia Dalma), a few minor ones, and a lot of side distractions. Orlando Bloom is as bland and humorless as ever, and Keira Knightley still just juts out her lower jaw like a brown bear when she thinks she's emoting. Johnny Depp is less good as Captain Jack Sparrow this time, but it's not really his fault; the great thing about Jack in the first movie is that he was the character who would take the self-important piss out of the proceedings. Now they've made him part of the self-important piss, as the screenwriters (the usually reliable Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, here indulging a supremely cynical bent) wrongly decide that they need to make the ending spin on Sparrow's attempt to become honorable. It's only then that you realize Sparrow was never a three-dimensional character; he was the inexplicable comic relief, like a fool in a Shakespeare play. To try and make Sparrow three-dimensional is ridiculous. And then the screenplay also tries to cram in nearly every single character from the first film (Pintel and Ragetti are welcome comic relief, and Kevin McNally does what he can to make Gibbs fun, but they probably could have dropped Governor Swann and Norrington altogether just to get the fucking thing moving--the only reason for Norrington's return is so the filmmakers can contrive their way into a third movie).

As if things weren't crowded enough, we have the new characters. Lord Beckett makes no impression; his motivation is unclear, he has no story or purpose, and he's played by something called a Tom Hollander, whom--looking at the Internet Movie Database--I've apparently seen in five movies. And I can't remember him in a single one. Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma is a stereotypical swamp witch, but she at least seems to be having fun with it. Stellan Skarsgard as Bootstrap Bill is a sad waste; Skarsgard continues to be one of the worst non-actors I've ever seen, and, as always, all he does here is stand stock still and shamble about with a dazed expression, as though it were a huge effort to stand or even speak. Bill Nighy as Davy Jones is very good, because he's Bill Nighy and he's incapable of being anything else. He plays Davy Jones as interestingly and unexpectedly as Depp plays Sparrow; rather than portentous and intoned, Nighy as Jones is bitter and weary. Nighy does the best he can with a role that is 100 percent an unveiled rewrite of Jules Verne's Captain Nemo (right down to the pipe organ). The special effects on Jones are very good, too. A little busy, which makes it distraction, but you can still see Nighy's eyes, mannerisms, and expressions through the CGI, which is a nice touch.

The rest of the special effects are pretty awful. Davy Jones's crewmen are all mutated to look like sea creatures, and seeing them all together makes for a pretty static sight. They're overdrawn, as it were, with no rhyme or reason except, apparently, to try and make them look cool. In actuality, they all run together in one unimaginitive, gray-green soup, not sharply defined enough--or even different enough from one another--for the eye to see clearly. The overall affect is unpleasant at best, nauseating at worst. The entire film is like that; we've seen it all before, and this one is pretty generic with a few bright spots of actual acting here and there. Otherwise... well, if you liked The Curse of the Black Pearl, you'll maybe like this one; it's more of the same, but slightly bigger. The film even manages to trick you into liking it at the end, the same way the first one did: it ends with something I didn't expect, and the music comes up big, and the credits come in, and you get carried off in the sudden excitment, ready for more. The first film ended with Jack Sparrow in search of more treasure. This one ends with something that equally promises more. The thrill is momentary, but real. And then you realize that, after two films that were unable to tell a story, now we're in for another arse-numbing special effects ride. Oh, shit. **1/2 stars.

Oh, if only it weren't for that ending... The story deals with journalism major Andrea Sachs, who finds herself working as the second assistant to Miranda Priestly, the not-at-all-Anna Wintour-like editrix of Runway, a fashion magazine that is not-at-all like Vogue. Miranda is, of course, a nightmare to work for, but as Andrea opens herself up to experiencing the job and the fashion world, she comes to understand and even respect Miranda. Meryl Streep is so good in this movie, she gave me chills; it's always so thrilling to see her act when she really buries herself in a part. Anne Hathaway, whom you know I adore, is wonderful, giving a performance that perfectly coexists with Streep's and returns it in kind. They work better together than Hathaway and Julie Andrews did; Hathaway is, in my own opinion, one of the two best actresses of her generation, and her acting keeps getting better. And the costumes! Every time I thought to myself this is the sexiest top Anne Hathaway has ever worn, an even sexier one would come along! I was enjoying the hell out of this movie... and then the last five minutes let the performances of Hathaway and Streep down completely. Here's what I'm so fucking sick of seeing in American movies: women getting punished for being good at their jobs. Why does our society still say men are supposed to kill themselves as they overwork to achieve their dreams and provide for their families, but women aren't supposed to? It was predictable enough that Andrea was going to lose her friends and her boyfriend once she started becoming successful. No one in her life took a moment to try and understand why she was doing it and what she hoped to gain. Her artist friend seemed to be jealous of Andrea's success; her boyfriend (played by the useless Adrian Grenier, who should really stick to just posing on Entourage, since that's all he can do) was a prick for not supporting her. At the end of the movie, Andrea makes a choice that I found totally unbelievable and disappointing; after everything that's happened, she needs the forgiveness of the boyfriend who treated her that way? Why are women so scared that someone is going to think they're a bitch? Men know you have to be ruthless to find success; but when women do it, men and other women get jealous and feel threatened. The last five minutes of this movie take two strong characters and two amazingly strong performances, and then does them a disservice by forcing them to act in a way that is not dramatically believable, but is at least palatable to the American audience, which is apparently in constant need of reassuring and finds comfort in never being challenged by anything realistic. For that reason, I'm giving this movie *** stars. It could have been four, but the fimmakers lost their nerve in the end.

Why do I have to be so devoted to Dina Meyer? I end up watching crappy made-for-TV movies with predictable twists. Maybe it's time to let her go. No stars.

I adore Buster Keaton, but his sound comedies are pretty lame. The studio really second guessed his ability to be funny with words, and they stuck him in some pretty wretched movies with pretty wretched stars. Too often, as in this one, they put him opposite Jimmy Durante--I understand there is a following, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever been nor will ever be able to convince me that Jimmy Durante is remotely funny. At least this one has Thelma Todd in it, but it's completely unmemorable and pointless. Buster does have a great last line, though. * star.

No. Lionel Barrymore is just okay in yet another early-thirties movie about rich people and their boring existential problems. No more! * star.

I find Maggie Smith pretty tiresome, and this movie is no different. Well... maybe she's more tiresome than usual. No stars.

Mother of God! Jamie Lee Curtis should have her smarmy children's books taken out of print for being in this over-the-top exploitative garbage. I'd like to say that Vanessa Redgrave should know better, but... well, you've seen her films. No stars.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Have a Pathetic Life

Last night, Pee Wee's Playhouse began re-running on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. I wanted to get to bed early, so I was planning on hitting the sack after having rubbernecked the awful World Series of Pop Culture on VH1 (talk about boring! and easy!). I got caught up in the first few minutes of Pee Wee's capering about, however, and ended up watching the first five or six minutes with Becca.

BECCA (obviously intent on going to bed): I haven't watched this in years. I don't think I could sit and watch it again, though.

ME (just staring at the trippiness): Hey, reach into your art supplies basket and hand me one of those Sanford Mr. Sketch scented markers.

BECCA:... um, are you serious, or are you just kidding?

Long pause.

ME:... No... Fine, I guess I have other things I should do besides get high and watch Pee Wee's Playhouse.

BECCA (through laughs): You have a pathetic life!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, Jessica Simpson

The Queen of My Heart turns 26 today. She's a year younger than my oldest sister. I turn 30 next Monday. But she was married to an older guy, so I'm sure it won't be a sticking point. If only... Posted by Picasa

What a Twist

Are people still saying M. Night Shyamalan is a genius? Last night I saw the theatrical trailer for his new movie, Lady in the Water, and after The Village turned out to be such a load, I'm surprised to see them still selling Shyamalan on the mystery aspects. Especially since, in each and every case, his movies have been so predictable (once again, I figured out the twist in The Sixth Sense from the trailers, and didn't even see the movie until it came out on video). He's so preoccupied with manipulating his audience and surprising them, he forgets to tell a story about characters. Ooh, a twist ending! And... nothing else, really. Once you know the twist, who cares? What's left? Well, in a good film, a story would be left, one that worked even if you know what's coming. I still remember the real horror of The Village--not monsters or anything, but guessing the "revelation" of the movie in the first few minutes and waiting, bored off my ass, to see if I was right and Shyamalan had made his big reveal something so lame. And... he did.

This is the problem with the lack of originality of so many new filmmakers. They're film literate (generally), and their interest in storytelling has led them to read a lot and watch a lot of movies and television. But I have also read a lot and seen a lot of movies and TV, and I've seen all of the stuff that the new filmmakers like to rip off, er, "quote from." For example, SCIFI Channel ran a three-day marathon of The Twilight Zone over the Fourth of July. I set my TiVo to record a number of episodes that I had never seen before but which sounded interesting. And every time, I saw the twist ending coming a mile away. They've been quoted on sitcoms and talked about and have become such a part of our cultural heritage that the show doesn't hold very many surprises. But there are episodes that still work, despite the predictable twist, because the stories are interesting. I'm not sure what wonders Shyamalan's story about a "narf" (NARF!) and an inordinate amount of wet Paul Giamatti is going to hold. And given his track record, I don't think I care.

What's going on with movies these days? Seriously, I used to see almost everything. Now, I don't think there's a point in bothering. CGI cartoons? I don't want to sit through another movie where pop culture references are used as substitutes for actual wit and humor, and celebrity voices are substitutes for writing actual characters. Horror movies? Thanks, but if I want to read a detailed torture manual, I'll contact the US government. Remakes? Why bother? They copy more than they actually remake (as in to make again). Why is it called plagiarism in the literary world, but "homage" in the film medium? If Gus Van Sant had taken Robert Bloch's novel Psycho and copied it word for word and asked them to publish it as "an homage," they'd have thrown him in jail. Everything looks like crap. A preview started last night with the Mars Rover crashing, and my first thought was: "I feel like I've seen this a number of times already." Then it turned out to be a teaser for Transformers, and Becca and I both laughed. Loudly. For a long time. Are people really this stupid that this is all they expect from movies?

Roger Ebert was right. Every generation gets the movies it deserves. Why wasn't I born in 1883?

Electronic Umbilical Cords

This may sound strange for a blogger who has a TiVo and a DSL and a big collection of DVDs and CDs (and desperately wants an MP3 player for his birthday, in case my mom is reading this), but I'm not really a slave to technology. I mean, I like my stuff, but I'm not so attached to it that I can't get by in life without plugging into the internet at every moment just to check and see if anyone emailed me. Which is why I find cellular phones especially irritating.

I bring this up because Becca and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean last night, which is the first time I've been in a theater so jam packed since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And before the movie started (and in a number of cases, after) there was the periodic lighting up of somone flipping open their cell phone to check the time, check email, check whatever the fuck is so important. Now, I understand that people hate other human beings so much that they want to be able to take all of the distractions and anaesthetics and real life-shielding stuff they have at home and take it out into the world as a way of a) not having to be alone with their own thoughts and b) having to have as little human interaction as possible, but doesn't anyone, like, wear a watch anymore? It's so obnoxious to see these people and their I'm-so-incredibly-important attitude that dictates they take a communication device with them everywhere they go. I can understand its use in a car, or when you're hiking in the woods and may have an emergency. But going to the movies (one guy answered his cell during the movie and walked out to take the call)? Eating in a restaurant? Grocery shopping? Why, because you're so important that you might miss a call from the president? Kirk might need you to beam back up and help him fix something? What's the worst thing that will happen if you have to, like, call someone back?

And kids today are the worst. I can't think of what situation deems it important that anyone under the age of 17 really needs one of these things, especially in school. It's like kids are born with an umbilical cord and an electronic link-up (horrible thought: give it a few years, and people are going to think tiny cell phones are too inconvenient, and start thinking cybernetic implants are a great idea, so they can always be attached to the internet). The funny thing is, no one seems to be able to use the damn things; I've been a college student since September 2001. I've taken 53 classes, and in every single one, there's been at least one (but usually three or five) occasions where someone's cell phone rang during class. Which is enough of a taboo that professors are putting warnings on their syllabi about turning them off before class (I even had one incident where somebody answered their phone during class). Okay, dude, it's not 1987 and cell phones are an unheard-of novelty, alright? It's 2006 now, and you've been living with cell phones your entire life, you know how to turn them off.

Seriously, people, turn off the phone, take a walk, and eat some fruit. And don't come back.