Thursday, October 02, 2008

indescribable unparalleled magic

NYFF geek? That could be me. And I love their trailer: Just like AJM, it gives me chills.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

michael cera's film career just isn't as promising as he thinks it is

Oh, Michael Cera. Just a nubile 20 years old and already you're counting on surfing bland Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist-type roles for the rest of your career. Schmucky late-teens fare is your genre, kid. In fact, it's a genre that's practically being catered to you. What a joy it must be to have a plum schmucky role in an Oscar-friendly juggernaut like Juno. Why not ride that wave while you can, right?

God forbid you pay thanks to that which hath launched your career.

Perhaps it doesn't occur to Michael Cera that all these nerd-as-cool movie parts coming his way are all very much linked to his work in "Arrested Development". In fact, all these nerd-as-cool movie parts are all very much variations on a theme of his "Arrested Development" character, George Michael Bluth. Michael Cera hasn't burst out of this box, and why bother? It's how he's marketable.... and I'm guessing his agent is counting on that. He can just keep playing Superbad until he's thirty. Right?

In this vapid interview, Michael Cera just wants to have a career, you know? A career, that is, that doesn't involve "Arrested Development".... and certainly not an Arrested Development movie. Despite all the internet buzz and proof-positive "yes-it's-happening" rumblings from Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor about Arrested-Development-the-movie, Michael Cera just seems a bit queasy to sign on to the rumor. This is the second instance that I can remember reading about his unenthusiasm. But why not, Michael? Smart people (yes, me included) loved that show, and they even loved you in it. It's pretty widely accepted that "Arrested Development" was a preeminent and tightly-stitched comedy that's going to be hard to top, despite it's low ratings and Best Comedy Series Emmy win. These smart people, in turn, let you ride that wave of goodwill all the way to the Judd Apatow machine-made comedy Superbad last year. A role that, hey, let you play a version of George Michael Bluth! So you could relax, you could play on home turf.

And, hey, Juno let you do the same.

And, judging by the trailers, Nick and Nora should be a slamdunk, right?

Dear Michael Cera, did you have a lot of acting prep to do when tackling such a layered and complicated teenage anti-hero role like that in your forthcoming inspirationless titled Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist? [Author's note: had this film been pitched in the late 1970s, substitute "playlist" for "eight-tracks"; for late 1980s, substitute playlist for "mix-tapes"; for late 1990s, substitute "playlist" for "burned CDs"] Do you honestly think that by poo-pooing the possiblity of an "Arrested Development" movie, you can distance yourself enough so that you can keep getting these kaleidoscopically varied late-teen/early-20-something roles? Because, you know, they're really testing your acting chops. Who remembers George Michael Bluth anyway, right?

Oh wait, I do. Everytime I see your face.

So, why aren't you jumping at the chance to reunite with the gang and at least be positive about the possibility of a movie? Why not return to something so beloved and held dear? Why are you quoted more than once about your unease at the idea of an Arrested Development movie? Is it because you're leaning on your agent to make sure that the script for Nick and Nora 2 has already been picked up?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

film fest this

Tomorrow opens the 46th New York Film Festival (with a film slate that looks like this), and it appears to me the more I write about it the more I feel like I've been bought by them. It's not the truth! I just like to brag.

The festival's opening screening is The Class [Entre les murs], the first of a pretty sizable lineup of French films making their way through the festival circuit. Apparently there's gonna be a red carpet, people are gonna be dressed nice (which in turn means I'm gonna have to don the suit), there's a hobnobby get-together afterward. I've arranged my screening schedule so that I won't be seeing anything that made its way through the Telluride Film Festival earlier this month, though I am disappointed that David Fincher (he who stood up his audience at Telluride when supposed to introduce the director's cut of Zodiac) didn't pony up and get a print of his forthcoming The Curious Case of Benjamin Button out to the festivals any sooner. The twenty piecemeal minutes I saw at Telluride after a dead-on-arrival interview of Fincher weren't all that impressive to begin with. I think I just don't like Brad Pitt.

So, the question remains, how much of a starf*cker am I allowed to be when technically a NYFF correspondent? Perhaps I should take on the guise of jaded journalist. Except I'll have my cell phone camera on standby at all times.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NYFF dispatch #2: la pierre de famille

Perhaps I'm not the first person to run and ask about the manners and mannerisms of contemporary French society. I don't know jack about the French, and certainly the French language is a mystery to me when spoken.... I don't speak a lick of it, and it never sounds to me how it is spelled. These are digressions though: what's up with French humor? Is it so deadpan and lackluster that the laughter comes from the heart of cynicism? Suddenly these sound like my kind of people.

I posit this, only because I was struck by the kind of deadpan atmosphere of comedy fostered by the Vuillon family in A Christmas Tale [Un conte de Noël], part of the main slate of the 46th New York Film Festival as put on by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, starting this Friday. I'm a fan of French cinema new and old, but I can't say I've seen many French comedies. A Christmas Tale isn't exactly a comedy (actually, no.... this movie is drama all the way), but it has a stunning scene between Vuillon family matriarch Junon (played by Catherine Deneuve, ravishing forever this woman is) and her crackpot adult son Henri (the guy from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, aka The Sea Inside) as they sit together in the snowy backyard of the family's homestead. They talk almost off-handedly about how neither of them like each other very much (he a bad son, she a bad mother), yet the venom is drained out of their words. Are they joking with each other? They're not smirking. I'd want to believe yes, except the scene is played so non-chalantly that it feels like they're only discussing the boring truth they've both known forever. But they love each other. It's there.

Director Arnaud Desplechin (who I am unfamiliar with, though I'm told his films are always off-kilter) gives us a Christmas tale that volleys some pretty standard tropes about family Christmas movies: estranged siblings, loner grandchildren, sick but brave family elders. Although the pieces don't seem to be trumpeting anything new, I'd argue that Desplechin deploys them in ways that caught me off guard. His style could be described as jumpy; scenes are strung together by non-sequitirs, sometimes punctuated by distracting title cards for each "movement" of the film. The cast of characters have quite a lot going on, sometimes independent of many of those throughout the movie, and in order to balance things out, it feels as though Desplechin applies contrasting settings (the warm Vuillon family home, the cold hospital, the neon darkness of a discotheque in town). I think he's driving for something that appears fragmentary but has more connective tissue than meets the eye.... not unlike how families grow as the children return home as adults.

The Vuillons seem to be wrested at the hands of eldest daughter Elizabeth who seems to always want to be at the center of some power struggle no matter how much she has to create one. Her reasons for "banishing" Henri from her sight are shoddy at best.... she claims to be worn down by his screw-ups throughout his whole life, so she pays off his debts in one swoop and then announces she never wishes to interact with him again. Boy, does that make family get-togethers awkward. Instead of demanding answers or counseling her in any other way, the family sort of goes with it, and in effect Elizabeth has sealed herself off from anything jolly the family ever has a hand in. It's interesting how her trajectory plays, though, because she is absolutely convinced she has done the right thing.... and is blind to the fact that her consistent misery might have something to do with the fact that she's a heartless bitch.

But Henri's no angel.... we learn that mental instability runs in the family, and Henri is just jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe he's even faking it. Elizabeth's teenage son is starting to show signs of early schizophrenia, and apparently younger Vuillon son Ivan has been miraculously cured in adulthood of his similar teenage affliction. Henri makes some wild outbursts when home with the fam, and somehow his not-so-much-a-bombshell bombshell girlfriend sits back and politely laughs about it all. The family seems complacent in Henri's edginess, but that could just be denial talking. You'd think this was an American family.

To try to divulge all the inner workings of this family would take a good long while.... but why bother? Even if there's a shoehorned topsy-turvy love affair at the end, does that change our view of a family teetering on the edge? I left the film with only flatline words to describe it, like "weird" or "strange", but only in terms of subject matter.... to be hoenst, at face-value, it seems pretty straightforward.

The core of the story sits between Junon and Henri, and in some part with Elizabeth's son. Junon, recently diagnosed with a rare cancer, is in need of a bone marrow donor.... and both Henri and Elizabeth's son have the perfect matches. And here in lies the dilemma: Junon would be happy to accept either as a donor, but what does it mean to have the bone marrow of a schizophrenic teenager transplanted into you? What does it mean to have the bone marrow of a child how was unable to save a previous child from a similar death? How do each of these players feel about it?

The movie clocks in at 150 minutes, and it feels like a stretch. There's lots of interesting drama, but not much explanation of its roots; the viewer occupies the spot of Henri's bombshell (?) girlfriend here, the outsider thrust into this world without much background. I can't help but think of a handful of scenes (hell, subplots) that could have ended up on the cutting room floor, and perhaps some filling in of the blanks behind Elizabeth's and Henri's separate madnesses. Why not spend more time on the schizophrenic grandson's illness, why not pull his thoughts/fears/feelings to the forefront? Where are the connections between him and hius uncles? More coloring within the lines is needed. But this is a family drama, and unlike recent American family dramas I've seen of late (Christmas types no less.... The Family Stone, anyone?), this movie feels like it's aiming to strike deeper, and at least does the pick-axeing necessary to get started.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NYFF dispatch #1: harrowing pet stories and trains trains everywhere

Next week opens the 46th New York Film Festival, brought to you by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. And, like most fall-season film festivals, the selection list is crammed with movies both underground arty and fodder for Oscars. Like most fall-season film festivals, the selection list masquerades as premiere-worthy when in reality these films have seen small audiences earlier in the year. But, luckily for me, I've been tasked with writing festival dispatches for FilmLinc, and I have the rare opportunity to see a handful of the films offered by the NYFF.... and let my true opinions let out into the wild on this very blog you (yes, you!) are reading.

My first foray into the press screening experience? Wendy and Lucy, a hyper-minimal and very film-festival-friendly entry by director Kelly Reichardt (who wielded similar minimalism, I've read, with her previous film Old Joy).

Down-and-dirty plot summary: Wendy is homeless and jobless and headed to Alaska in her Honda for reliable work in the canneries. Her companion and roadtrip partner is her dog Lucy. Just outside of Portland, her car gives out; she's got $500 to her name and can't afford to fix it. She's run out of dog food. She shoplifts said dog food, gets arrested for it, and we're treated to a memorable and heartbreaking shot through the back windshield of the police car of Lucy tied to a bike rack and faithfully waiting at the door of the supermarket. Wendy's left with nowhere to go and no means to get anywhere, and without her dog she finds herself truly and undeniably lost.

This is a kind of road-film, but I like that it opens in a way where Wendy is ultimately caught in a feedback-loop odyssey; this is a road film without any roading. It's probably too reductive to say that the movie is about Wendy's search for Lucy, because that's only one piece to the puzzle. Down to its bones, this is an atmospheric and behavioral film rather than one that adheres to Aristotelian rules of story and structure; every little scene that highlights Wendy's impending collision course with rock-bottom is as much what the movie is about as it is about trying to find her lost companion.

Nary a shot goes by without Michelle Williams, she of “Dawson's Creek” and Jack-nasty, who carries this entire film on her shoulders. Unfortunately, she's saddled with an awkward Mary-Martin-goes-goth haircut. I think the jury's still out for me on whether I think Williams is a high-caliber actress, and part of me thinks that she approaches the role about as well as any unknown-but-reasonably-talented actress would. Wendy is, after all, awfully destitute, but not to the point of going a bit wacky (unlike a small troupe of tattooed drifters she meets near the film's opening). Her performance is quiet and even-keeled, but she approaches each situation of Wendy's as dead-eyed and helpless.... What doesn't move me into full-fledged sympathy for Wendy, especially after losing Lucy, is that fact that Williams treats Lucy dead-eyed and helpless as well. A movie that is titled Wendy and Lucy, after all, must require some degree of chemistry between the title characters.... and I never quite feel it.

Still, movies that involve pets separated from their loving families always tug at my heart strings. How can they not? They highlight that gray area where humans and their pets simply can't communicate in the way that says “stay close to me”.... any amount of unforeseen difficulties, even worse when they're accidental, can separate a pet from its owner, and each one of these difficulties always ends in helpless loss. Of course, most media on the subject isn't so heartless that owner-and-pet end up separated forever, but the fear still lingers. Suffice it to say, after watching Wendy and Lucy, I wanted nothing more than to go straight home and snuggle with my cat, whether he wanted to snuggle or not.

Kelly Reichardt, the director, came to the press screening and answered a few questions from the audience after the film was over. The film is based on the short story “Train Choir” by Portland-native Jonathan Raymond (whose work Reichardt had previously drawn from for Old Joy), shot over 20 days on location around Portland, and self-edited in her apartment in New York City. Reichardt’s vision of Wendy translates to film quite well, and she proves herself to be a director of startling control in crafting Wendy’s awareness of the day-to-day, veering away from the “big picture” because, in the end, Wendy can’t afford to cast her net so wide. I did find some nagging things unforgivably problematic, though: The way this film “resolves” between Wendy and Lucy feels like much was left on the cutting room floor, though I got the impression from Reichardt that this wasn't the case. If Wendy decides that Lucy would be much better off to live in the backyard of some old guy's house outside of Portland, we're gonna need a lot more convincing of this fact than just a fence-enclosed yard and the old guy owning a Prius. For Wendy to decide that Lucy has found a better home, I would also need a little bit more work done on Wendy's part (and not the filmmaker's) of reflexively understanding that her life is bare-bones to the point that she'd be doing the dog a favor by leaving her behind. Even though this point is made clear in the big picture of things, I never get the sense of that coming from Wendy herself.... and, I dunno, I feel like that's something integral to the story if this is the movie's closing statement.

There is another element to the film that seemed almost hyper-aware and heavy-handed, and I'm quite surprised none of the people who asked questions during the Q&A brought it up. I'll bet someone a cookie that not one minute of outdoor screentime goes past without the occurrence of the sound of a train. Seriously. Whistles, horns, squealing tracks, ratcheting. It's everywhere. Some of the time is forgivable, sure, but all of the time is the filmmaker stepping in and bitch-slapping the audience. I'm totally willing to go with it when trains are on screen, even some of the time off screen, but these train noises are at all hours. My careful and studied detective skills find that maybe the inspiring short story “Train Choir” might have something to do with that. The last shot of the movie is of Wendy staring out into the night woods from the open car of a freight train. Lots of train sounds. I am a lover of trains and they've been known to pop up from time to time in my own short fiction.... I suppose trains-as-symbol in Wendy and Lucy highlights the transience of Wendy's predicament.... but there's just too much. Maybe some subtlety should be in order.

Monday, September 08, 2008

necrophilia for all

Although in recent years I've turned into a voracious reader, it only happens once or twice a year that I find a work of literary fiction that grabs me by the lapels and pulls me to the end in a breathless flurry of page-turning. This year’s most recent recipient of this honor: Waste by Eugene Marten.

Marten seems to be one of those underground lit writers who have little attention paid to them yet develop a small but excitable and loyal cult following. Think Gary Lutz or Dawn Raffel. Like both Lutz and Raffel, Marten is a "disciple" of Gordon Lish (he who launched Raymond Carver’s career, and he who can be tied by one degree of separation to (ballpark) 75% of the best contemporary literary fiction writers out there).... although I don’t believe that Marten was taught or schooled by Lish. To hear Lish’s raves in the blurbs he’s given to Marten for both Waste and his previously published novel In the Blind, it sounds as though Marten is more of a Lish discovery than a Lish student. Not much is publicly known about the guy (google searches don’t turn up much).... what little digging I’ve managed to do makes it sound like Waste was self-published first, followed by Lish’s championing to get In the Blind sold to an actual publishing house. Waste finally got its professional publishing treatment just last month. With this guy’s first two (and only two) novels, I'm a rabid fan.

Both novels provide a very close-up perspective on two lonely, disaffected men. Both novels give the reader an inside view of these two men’s occupations (the former of a locksmith, the latter of a skyscraper janitor) and beautifully illuminates the minutiae of these jobs into something almost symphonic.... and once we're able to see past the details and fixations on these jobs, the greater character study comes into play.

Where In the Blind provides more historical context to allow us to see how the protagonist evolves into the person he is, Waste plays all its cards at once. I'd hate to get categorical, but Waste seems to follow directly in the footsteps of the Southern Gothic tradition (language-wise, certainly.... think William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy). I don't have a truckload of literary criticism to back this up, but let's just say that our protagonist loner also has an affinity for necrophilia.

What is it about having sex with dead people that is so fascinating to writers of this oeuvre? Hell, it's fascinating to readers like me, so clearly there's a market. And this isn't a rare occurrence: think McCarthy's Child of God (you get a whole cavern full of dead girls there), think William Gay's recent novel Twilight (undertaker takes advantage of his clientèle, so to speak), think Faulkner's short story classic "A Rose for Emily" (with gender roles reversed, this woman keeps her lover in her bed years long after he's expired). Even outside of the Southern Gothic box you can point to examples of classic British literature: In Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, you've got one of the main characters digging up his beloved and having his way with the exhumed body. Of course, with a more Victorian sensibility the prose is subtle as hell to describe his actions.... but oh yes, he's having sex with a corpse.

Marten takes a cue from McCarthy's book of tricks and just goes for the gusto. I'm certainly the kind of reader who goes crazy for imagery (minimalism be damned!), and despite how graphic and unsettling it is, the quality of the writing is so elevated and beautiful that you can only help but tag along. Why bother shrouding necrophilia in innuendo when you can just come out and tell it like it is? Both protagonists of Waste and Child of God first happen to stumble upon their deceased sex objects by accident: one in a dumpster, the other in an abandoned car. Perhaps it's this idea that the characters are so helpless to their hidden urges that the fact they accidentally come across the bodies makes them more identifiable? Identity with the protagonists, at least in terms of what turns them on, isn't what concerns us readers: I'm sure we're in it in part for the lurid show of it all, but I think there's a bit of acknowledgment of the curiosity that desperation can engender as well.

It's interesting, though, how literary fiction as "art" with regards to something this heinous can get away with this.... but the "art" applied to film may not be so forgiving. I can't imagine fare such as Child of God or Twilight or Waste translating to film without seriously compromising the integrity of the story. I mean, how exactly could you film something like that? [side note: I have similar concerns about the forthcoming film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winner The Road. Although no dead people are sexually exploited, the subject matter of the novel is pitch black and awfully bleak (cannibalism among one of the more sensational topics), and I'll be interested to see how audiences respond to something like that.... also interested to see if the filmmakers dare to inject some levity in there somewhere.]

Necrophilia aside, Eugene Marten is a fantastic literary talent who deserves a broader audience so that he can stand aside heavyweights like McCarthy. I'm just hoping he's got another finished novel out there he's ready to kick into distribution.....

sometimes blogger

I took the summer off! And traveled from coast to coast.... quite a few times.

But still, damn it, the blog calls for me to air my opinions. Despite the Election '08! crap that is spewed on every minute of every news program, I WILL NOT be writing about politics. Never. It only inspires ire on the part of all parties involved.

But I have read a few good books. And saw a few good movies, thanks to the 35th Telluride Film Festival, where I was a volunteer.

And, I ask all two of you, aren't you excited to hear more?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

a few (grudgingly relented) words on the unholy mess of the 2008 presidential race

I suppose it can't be ignored. I finally have to write about the damn 2008 race for president.

Major gripes (to get them out of the way):

***1*** There is such an obscene amount of attention paid to this Democratic Party nomination mumbo-jumbo, you can't get through ten minutes of ANY newscast without it popping up. Is it because Hillary Clinton is a woman? Is it because Barack Obama is black? Is it because the race of delegates is so close the media is itching to declare one or the other dead? How about the real agenda: let's take the news off the war in Iraq!

***2*** About the itch to declare one of the potential nominees dead: The media's been chomping at the bit to toss the first fistful of dirt onto Hillary Clinton's coffin for months. But she's the motherfucking Energizer Bunny and she's not going anywhere until it is a done deal. I don't quite imagine her taking this to a 2004-Manchurian Candidate level (as JJ posits), but she's not stepping aside that easily.

***3*** Exit polls. At this stage the odds may be against Clinton, but they're not impossible. And yet people are screaming for her to get out of the race? If people seem so convinced by exit polls, then why bother with an election in the first place? The political pundits (who become more and more disgusting the more I see them.... I'm talking to you, George Stephanopoulos) appear literally offended by the idea that Clinton will take this race all the way to the convention. God forbid.... but wait. Isn't that the point of a political party convention? To announce the candidate?

***4*** Polarizing the Democractic party. Why are people so so so willing to spew vitriol about whether Obama or Clinton is a better candidate? To this day I still don't see much of a difference between the two.... they both would make fine presidents. Their policies are so much the same that one would really have to nitpick to get to anything resembling a marked difference. That said, there are people in this world who would rant and rave to their dying day that this isn't the case. One has to be better than the other, right? Or maybe that's just what the news is trying to make you think.

As I grow older, the less enamored I am with the news media. Of course I still somewhat fetishize local news anchors, but that doesn't change the fact that the media becomes so much more transparent with each passing month about trying to inform your opinion of just about anything. And nothing like a presidential race to get them all warm and tingly inside. The race for the Democratic nominee is not (and never was) locked up tight, so it just seems that by piling on the attention to it they want you to polarize. They want you to have strong feelings about one or the other. They want you to put aside your feelings on whether or not Clinton or Obama will actually be good at the job. They want you to develop your gut instinct. They want to get dirty.

As I grow older, I also hate politics more and more. I hate getting in political conversations with people because it's the perfect place for people to feel comfortable to at last voice their opinion. And oh the opinions people have. I have my own opinions (opinions are like assholes.... everybody's got one), and I don't care enough about them to get into a neck-straining argument with someone over it. I just don't care that much. Maybe I'm the perfect example of a jaded American who thinks they can't make a difference.... because that's the way I feel. Picking Obama or Clinton, in the long run, isn't going to make a bit of difference; they probably would make the same plans and do the same things. They both campaign on their promise of change (a tactically sneaky docket to be on, considering of course the flagrant display of dick-measuring the Bush administration has forced on the world), but somehow someone warped that into Obama as the only one seeking change. Obama talks and talks and talks about how he won't pander to all the special interest groups that use our government like marionettes, in hopes that you'll believe that Clinton is someone that would. The ugly truth is that Obama is (or will be) just as entangled with special interest groups as he claims Clinton already is. That's just how things work. In fact, EVERY presidential candidate, on both sides of the aisle, pontificate versions of this down-with-special-interests campaign. They really do. Find me one presidential candidate who hasn't.

All that said, I really don't care who becomes the Democratic nominee. I really don't. Just get it over with and be done with it already. I've come to the point where I just won't watch or read or listen to anything involving the 2008 presidential race. I turn off the TV. The talk and talk and talk has been so cloying and so predictive and so nauseatingly similar that I just can't have that shit in my head. No thanks.

I suppose I have my reasons why I prefer Clinton over Obama, and for that matter why I prefer Obama over Clinton, but they're not enough to get riled up about. I don't have one of those flaky "I just don't like him/her" arguments that the news loves to sneak in there with their on-the-street interviews. That's just not good enough. The things that Obama and Clinton say are not their own words.... they're the words of careful campaign planning set at a steady simmer. They'll say whatever they have to say to get your vote. Is Obama really that good of a speaker? I don't think so, but that's what everyone wants you to think. Is Clinton really that much of a doer? Probably not, because that woman's got a lot of baggage in the way. Besides, I think Obama AND Clinton, whoever ends up as the nominee, have such an uphill battle in the way of the crap that's left behind in the White House, neither of them can really flip everything around.

And so that leads me to a few words about John McCain. If there's somebody's sincerity I believe, it's his. Certainly his over Obama's or Clinton's. The problem is.... I really don't like what he's got planned. Perpetuating the cancer of the Bush administration on our country and our planet is really really really not what I'm going for, so unless he plans on completely changing his strategy, he will not be getting my vote. I'd like to say something less substantial like "Oh, he's too old", but that's a fickle argument. That didn't bother people who voted for Ronald Reagan, who was well on his way to La-La-Land even in his first term. It didn't bother people who voted for Bush with Dick Cheney, he of brimstone smile and occluded arteries. Even if it is cute to poke fun of McCain's age, at say this blog for instance (the Golden Gate Bridge! ha!), it's not that big of a reason to vote against him. Unless of course he chooses a real whack-job for a vice president, who would take charge in the event McCain dies in office.

I'd like for one of these three candidates, honestly, to address the fascist slum den that the United States government has become. I want them to address the fact that someone has neutered both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I want them to address that "checks and balances" has kicked the Supreme Court out of the car a hundred miles back at some abandoned gas station. I want them to address the fact that somehow the title of President has allowed a horrifying perversion of executive-branch power. I want them to address the people who are guilty of these crimes, and I want them to address the fact that these people are accountable for those crimes.

And that'll get my vote.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

papal choice awards

Pope Benedict XVI is coming to the United States today for the first time in his papal career. The news here in New York City just can't enough of it. The plane the dude is on hasn't even touched American soil and everyone is atwitter.

(Bonus info: The Pope's plane is called Shepherd 1. Shepherd 1!? Isn't that hilarious? And those news casters don't even crack a smile! I'm also quite amused that it is commonplace to refer to the Pope's motorcade as the "Popemobile".)

I'm not sure what all the hulabaloo is about. Is it because the Pope is going to visit President Bush? If I were coming to the United States for the first time as Pope, I'd find better things to do than visit that whackjob. Once the Pope comes up to New York, apparently he's going to hang out with a bunch of rabbis at a synagogue for a few hours. And during Passover, wouldn't you know. Why is this news? Is it all that shocking that leaders of different faiths talk to each other? People, it's not the Crusades anymore.

Not only is the news jumping on the apparently sensational fact that this guy would actually speak to a Jew, they also keep "expecting" the Pope to address the sex abuse scandal that seems to be looming over the American Catholic church.... if the guy does have anything to say about it, it's not going to be terribly surprising that he'll condemn it. Does the press seriously expect him to support it? If anything, this is probably the best public opportunity of any importance to state that the United States is the master at demonstrating to the world to never underestimate the power of denial.

At least Benedict XVI is by no means as decrepit as John Paul II was. Despite how geriatric that guy got, he still paraded the planet like a Catholic rockstar.... no matter how much he grimaced in holy pain or how much baby food had to be spooned to him. The news keeps showing pictures of John Paul II hunched over and waving to people inside a bulletproof-glass box, like he's Eva Peron's corpse or something.

I'm curious though.... During the course of all this Pope-pourri on TV, it occurred to me that this guy goes by quite a number of titles:

--> Pope
--> Pontiff
--> Holy Father
--> His Holiness

....not to mention the endless Papal/Papacy conglomerates. How many synonymous titles does the Pope really need? In any case, the terms "papal" and "papacy" just make me think of the word papilla (which means something shaped like a nipple), or papule or pustule or pimple, or even polyp for that matter. I wonder if all these words have some sort of common etymological ancestor.

Maybe I should refer to the guy as His Papalness.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

naming convention

Let's talk Don DeLillo.

After being eviscerated by Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times (who, in a way, herself has become a cartoon character of vitriolic literary criticism) for his latest novel Falling Man in May 2007, I imagine he's probably working on another massive tome analyzing the trajectory of American culture in a (soon-to-be but not-soon-enough) post-George W. Bush United States. Considering nearly all of his novels are carefully sculpted studies of Americans and American perceptions (I've read six of his fifteen), I suppose this is what the DeLillo fan base is expecting.... The man has enough imagination to create a neverending list of varied events and characters in novels (all of them well-spoken and wont to deliver intricately woven self-aware monologues), so I always have faith that a DeLillo novel will not bore me.

That said, sometimes I get thrown off the wagon. Having just finished reading The Names, DeLillo's first novel to practically pitch him onto the literary scene as a household name and figure in many a Jeopardy answer, I'm stumbling upon a disappointing observation about the works of his that I've read. The Names was published in 1982 (his eighth novel at the time!) and was positioned in his literary career as the predecessor to White Noise. DeLillo certainly has a flair for setting and character, and his novels usually grab me without fail or without too much wriggling, but I reach a point somewhere in the last quarter of the book where I lose my footing. In The Names, for instance, I had been following the first-person narrator of an American journalist/writer-of-some-sort throughout his short time in Greece with his wife and child, to include his separation from that wife, to include his traveling about the Middle East and India, to include his fascination and subsequent investigation of a cult implicated in a serious of brutal murders based on typographical coinicidence.... and then suddenly I'm forced to focus in his 3rd person on a peripheral character who travails the Himalayan foothills of India. There's something about a lady going on a hunger strike too.

I finished The Names and considered it an okay read, but I was disappointed that the ending felt like a shoehorned non-sequitir. That said, I never lost confidence in DeLillo's intent on telling this story, despite pulling a ninety-degree turn on me.... I just kind of wanted him to finish telling me the story he started with. This is the same exact problem I ran into when I finished reading Running Dog, predecessor to The Names.... Running Dog had a much more playful story (it's about a porn/snuff film starring Adolf Hitler, yes, Adolf Hitler, and about the madcap crew of murdering underground art dealers that will do anything to get their hands on the footage), but the end seemed to trickle off with a seocndary character reenacting some kind of wartime training in the deserts of west Texas. Both Running Dog and The Names span a lot of locations, the former taking us from New York to Washington DC to Texas, the latter volleying between Greece and Jordan and India.... but neither novel has much of a commitment to circularity, oftentimes throwing us off the horse we rode in, in terms of both character and story. It seems what either of these novels is about, so to speak, doesn't really matter as the novel comes to a close.... they both seem to lift up into some existential ether that I'm not prepared for.

It's funny, because I can ascribe similar feelings to DeLillo's post-White Noise effort Mao II. Arguably a much easier read than the other three, Mao II seems to lose focus by switching between the dual lives of a Salinger/Pynchon-style hermit writer and his hidden passion for suicide-bomber-directing duties.

There's part of me that wishes that DeLillo would deliver on his promise from the get-go of his novels. Even the tail end of White Noise seems to derail into a meta-comic meditation not exactly congruent with the tone of the rest of the novel. He exhibits such control and a good sense of pacing, but it seems that somewhere around when the ending should appear, he gets bored or decides to ninja star his way through what he started and put us somewhere new. In the case of White Noise I'd say he's most successful.... and I'm not saying that because it's one of my favorite novels of all time. Terrorism, of all kinds, is an unarguable theme through the lot of DeLillo's work, but I think sometimes it gets the best of him.... whereas the world of White Noise is terrorized by a noxious cloud of gas, Running Dog and The Names and Mao II seem more apt to transport us from a world we know and are firmly established in for 200+ pages into a somewhat-sensational boobs-booze-'n'-bombs spyglass. For instance, when I start a novel about a reporter on the hunt to find a mythic Hitler porn film (already a plot description that sells for me all the way), I don't want to end the book crawling on hands and knees through sagebrush and in Texas with an black ops army trainee turned art broker turned terrorist trainee. There's something about that that I didn't sign up for.

Monday, April 07, 2008

silver tranny ferocia

Perhaps one of the greatest SNL parodies in recent memory. The best way to skewer a cartoon character borne of a reality show is to play it as close to real life as possible.

Amy Poehler = comedic impression genius

Thursday, April 03, 2008

my television is still on

Instead of apologizing to my faithful readership of three about the infrequency of blog posts, instead I shall apologize for the lack of literary oomph that I wish I gave these infrequent rantings. By literary, I mean books. I'm reading all the time and never seem to comment much about it, usually reserving my soap box steam for how television shows are f-ing up the chance to actually do something worth quality.

But before I get to the books.... I might as well revel in my standard charms:

* I recently got turned on to the SciFi channel's "Battlestar Galactica".... I haven't heard one bad word about it in the midst of its current four year run, and now I see why. Having barely scraped the tip of the iceberg in Season 1, this show has all the tight writing and tricky reveals that I want without being overtly smug or unconfident. (Did you hear that, executives of "Lost"?) I want to fly up to speed on this show because the fourth season premiere is.... tomorrow, I believe.

* "Top Chef" has returned for a fourth season in a conspicuously summery Chicago, and although the game is the same (Padma predictably gorgeous, Colicchio predictably cranky, Gail Simmons predictably part-time, and Ted Allen predictably useless) I'm starting to see some cracks in its reality-competition facade. There is a small part of me that wants to believe that the judges actually do vote off those whose dishes don't come up to snuff, but the last two episodes have shown some blatant favoritism for those who have the potential to stir up drama down the road. Two weeks ago they voted off biker-with-a-heart-of-gold Erik in favor of Zoi, who composes 1/2 of the four-year-long lesbian relationship "Top Chef" threw in to stir the pot. And this week they dumped Manuel, who I guess came off as too boring on screen, in favor of Spike, who is a shit-eating-grin scruffy-faced bowler-hat-wearing douchebag.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

the 2008 oscars: my 1/50 of a U.S. dollar

So, it's been now just over a week since the Oscars have come and gone, and like I have most years, this year I holed up beside my TV with wine and white trash picnic food. The hullabaloo about "will there or won't there be an Oscars this year?!?" because of the increasingly self-indulgent WGA strike seemed like such a moot point. Like all things in the media (re: Clinton vs. Obama), it was being made a much bigger deal than it actually was. Once upon a time, the Oscars wasn't even televised at all, so why would there be concern? If actors threaten not to show up because of the strike.... then don't televise it! Let them have the damn ceremony anyway. It would be better than the embarrassing auto-fellatio of the Golden Globes "press conference" this year which announced the winners in lieu of the typical drinking party. I couldn't get past more than five minutes of that without my stomach turning.

But I'm beating a dead horse. These were all potential snags which in the end didn't happen. The Oscars was its usual slightly-boring self (hence the necessity for wine and frito pie). Everyone got prettied up, awards went to mostly everyone that was expected (bravo to you people who chose Tilda Swinton in your respective Oscar pools), the hosting and presentation of awards was unmemorable, blah blah blah.

And now, my belated thoughts on some of the movies that were nominated and awarded:

*** Cate Blanchett. It’s no secret I love her. That said, I thought I’m Not There was kind of slow, maybe too self-indulgent with it’s Bob-Dylan-but-wait-it’s-not-Bob-Dylan premise, and too much a blitz of ACTING!!! on behalf of each and every one of the main cast. So, I thought her performance in the film was more of a hat-trick (re: acting for the sake of acting) than something passionate and transcendent. Also: Why is everyone hating on Elizabeth: The Golden Age? The movie, folks, really wasn’t terrible at all, but people felt the need to beat up on it anyway. That, and Blanchett’s fiery performance plays as a nice evolution from the first Elizabeth and was certainly deserving of the nomination she got. (Oscar trivia: Three women over the last twenty-ish years to be nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the same year (Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, and this year Cate Blanchett) have had a three-for-three losing streak. All the men who’ve been nominated twice for acting in the Oscars' history, though, have won at least one of their categories.)

*** Juno. Cute movie. I quite liked it. Best Picture worthy? Hell no. I find it somewhat disturbing that when teenage pregnancy is depicted on film or television, it’s usually a cute romp (re: Saved!, Juno).... except that’s almost resolutely NOT how it happens in real life. I think it’d be a bigger challenge to show how teenage pregnancy actually plays, sans the usual sass-talking precocious teenager. I’m getting a little tired of too-wise-for-their-age acid-tongued teens in movies; I think they show up so much because that’s how writers and producers wished they were as teenagers, and not a reflection of how the vast majority of teenagers actually are. My marks against Juno are mostly about the quippy dialogue (aside from Dwight Schrute playing Dwight Schrute, a character that doesn’t even belong in the world that Juno establishes, and is one of the most derailing openings to a movie I have ever seen).... most reviled by me is the line “honest to blog”, which I have a hard time hearing aloud let alone allowing myself to believe that kids think that that’s cool to say. Also: Diablo Cody, writer of Juno, wins Best Original Screenplay, and accepts the award dressed like Pebbles Flintstone. Last week’s "Saturday Night Live" offered a brilliant parody during Ellen Page’s (star of Juno, host of last week’s "SNL") opening monologue, with Andy Samberg dressed in Diablo Cody drag. Samberg’s firing of the tiresome over-witty dialogue from Juno (including “honest to blog”) was pitch-perfect, and offered a much needed lambaste of a film whose detractors have been driven into hiding.

*** Tilda Swinton. Great actress. She looked like a cadaver.

*** No Country For Old Men. Great movie. Even greater book. Nice to see Cormac McCarthy in the audience be the first to stand and applaud for them.... because it’s his story, after all. Too bad the Coen Brothers won Best Adapted Screenplay.... the adaptation is so faithful they practically dropped McCarthy’s book into an automatic screenplay generator. I think another film deserved the award instead (Away From Her, anyone?).

*** Gary Busey kissed Jennifer Garner’s neck on the red carpet. Inappropriate: absolutely. Reflection of what we all deep-down wanted to do: absolutely.

In other news, I’m (hopefully) jumping back on the blog wagon after a hiatus to be a writer. Now the book is done, so I can turn my writerly hobby to more cynical pursuits.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the great american collection of short stories

....turns out I'm writing one, and it's due the first week in March.

Sorry to all those who were thinking this post would be about Flannery O'Connor. I've got my own writing to freak out about, lest I compare myself to the master herself.

Never fear. Hiatuses can be broken for my two cents about this year's oscars.

Monday, January 21, 2008

my guilty pleasure hath a name: American Gladiators

To my knowledge, the recently exhumed incarnation of "American Gladiators" has received some pretty crappy reviews. Those crappy reviews, however, don't keep me away from the show.... a show that (when I first heard the news of its resurrection) I couldn't wait to start.


Flashback to the early 1990s camp-a-thon "American Gladiators", where steroid-pumped failed actors with stage names like "Nitro" and "Thunder" kicked the shit out of everyday-American peons who thought that nerf jousting looked easier than it actually was. This show was very much a staple of my childhood primetime television lineup.

Now, with a re-jigged set and reality show makeover (instead of everyday peons fighting for a new car and a lot of cash, these new contestants fight for a position as Gladiator (stage name to be determined) and a lot of cash), "American Gladiators" is reaping the benefits of the WGA strike wasteland of non-scripted television. Hosted by Hulk Hogan (yes!) and Laila Ali (who?), this show is also reining in the viewers who loved WWF in the 1980s and 1990s on sheer Hulk love alone. I don't feel there's much to explain about my guilty pleasure drive to watch the show, just the fact that it's vapid entertainment that I can cheer along to the TV with. I usually can't stomach any form of reality show (except for my beloved "Top Chef", the 4th season of which is starting soon), but "Gladiators" kind of skirts that issue by reigniting the original cheez-fest with a late 2000s gloss and burying the whole prize-winning aspect beneath the timed tests of strength and agility.

Instead of swathed in comic book red-white-and-blue spandex, the new gladiators squeeze themselves into silver and black, and (thankfully) look less freakish than those in the early 1990s. Not all gladiators are the exception, though, including overactors "Wolf" (the picture at left should say it all) and "Toa" (right), who is trying much too hard to channel an Aztec warlord or something. The silvery loincloth he wears probably isn't helping. Bodybuilding women have never been an appealing set to me, so thankfully these gladiator girls are less muscle-pumped and a little more feminine, while still exuding the sexy allure of being able to kick your ass. Gladiator Hottie Award goes to "Crush" (left), whereas Gladiator Tranny Award goes to "Fury", with "Hellga" (both right, and needfully smaller-sized) being a runner-up. *shudder*

My favorite renovation of the show? ASSAULT, where the contestant attempts to dodge a tennis ball pitching machine wielded by a gladiator in hopes of hitting a bullseye above said gladiator's head. When the target is hit, the gladiator gets launched into a pool. How awesome is that?

In related news, I hope the writers' strike doesn't go on forever.

[Side note: Does anyone remember the episode of "Family Matters" where Urkel and Carl were contestants on "American Gladiators"? Filmed at the height of Gladiator popularity, that episode very well may have been the most effective cross-programmatic advertising for the sitcom-viewing set I have ever seen.]

Sunday, January 13, 2008

judging a movie by its inanely crappy title

Pardon my recent vacations. I've missed you all too.

Now onto more pressing concerns:

Can someone in Hollywood PLEASE stop greenlighting movies with shitty titles? Exhibit 1: Definitely, Maybe. Horrible premise, problematic casting, and an excruciatingly terribly title. Would you go to a movie called "Definitely, Maybe" on the title alone? What the hell are you supposed to know about a movie called that? Think even more baseline: would you bother picking up a book called "Definitely, Maybe"? A magazine? A free newspaper? Even if just for the crossword puzzle?

Let's not even get into the problems that this title runs into in the correct-English department. Is it too much to ask to have appropriately syntactic titles as well?

The movie looks to be a grotesque redemptive feel-good have-faith-in-families love story where no one ends up angry and characters who should end up hating others likely don't. Ryan Reynolds (who?) plays a single dad to young Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin. Wait a minute.... did this character have his daughter when he was 12? Ryan Reynolds looks about old enough to still get carded in bars. And he's sort of cross-eyed. Meanwhile, Breslin gets to play the precocious and too-smart-for-her-age little girl who has a better barometer for her father's well-being than he does. Reality check: are there any movies or TV shows anymore that don't have pre-teens who have a better handle on life than their elders?