Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alas, Poor Lem
Let's just get this out of the way first.   Yes, I do have tickets to the midnight screening of Cowboys & Aliens.  I've been waiting a year for this film and I didn't want to have to wait another day.  Hell, last night I dreamed Shane Vendrell was a Jedi and was flying around the galexy with Obi Wan (Ewan McGregor--it's the one part of my Star Wars roots I just can't seem to stay true to, sorry) on a quest to avenge Lem's death.  Oh, and Jedi Shane was in love with me.  I dream in really bad fanfiction.

Point is, I'm staying up past my bedtime, and I even have a snap-front western shirt I fashioned into a dress to wear.  Liz Ellis over at The Insatiable Critic kindly agreed to host my review, so I'll post an update and you all can duck over there when that goes up.  Liz is awesome.

* * *

I wasted way too much time reading The AV Club's Silly Little Showbiz Book Club yesterday, (that is, before I realized it was by my arch-nemesis Nathan Rabin) but in reading Nathan Rabin hate on Chris Farley for being Catholic and tearing off melodramatic, angst-ridden prose like sheets of cheap toilet paper in the Taco Bell bathroom, I had a breakthrough of clarity and realized that my Creative NonFiction mentor Jaed Coffin had been right--snarky prose is for douchebags.

Rabin's style consists of, if I may borrow mentor Coffin's wise words, shitting all over everybody and everything.  He hates Catholics,  he hates people who don't know who Belle and Sebastian are, he hates everyone who isn't as smug or as darling or as bald as he is.

And I used to write much the same way.  I was better than everyone, smarter than everyone, smug and pretty to boot.  You can see it in some of the prose I have over on the sidelines there.  And even though I resented being called out on it the first time (figuring that he was just not as good/smart/smug/pretty as me) I realized later, especially listening to Jaed talk about respecting the stories and the people you're interviewing, that a guy we called "Brospringer" behind his back was actually right.  And he was not only right, he was a genius for bringing honesty and respect and not being a privilaged douchebag back to CNF.

When you're writing CNF, you are basically saying to the audience, "I have something important to tell you about myself.  My life is so important that you have to listen to me."  Whether you're writing about your parents dying or your drug addiction or going to the movies or listening to records, you are already being kind of a dick by expecting that peole care about what you have to say.  If you're good, like Kevin Murphy, you make your stunt into something universal, something all the readers can connect with.  If you're a dick, like, say, Dave Eggars, the audience is chained helplessly to their chairs, forced to listen to you scream in their face MY PARENTS DIED AND THAT MAKES ME SPECIAL!!!!!  I SHOULD BE ON MTV!!!!  LOOK AT ME!!!! 

It is my goal now, as I write this blog and as I write essays, to step away from the snark that gets me laughs and look at the subjects of my essays, whether they're myself or my ex-boyfriends or my wacky family, with the kind of respect that makes my readers say, "wow, she has rendered that in a way that I can relate to."  I'm just sick of being a jerk to my readers--they don't deserve to have all that negativity thrown at them.  I want to learn to tell them a multi-facited story so they can decide for themselves if my ex-boyfriend is a dope without having me screaming HE WAS A JUNKIE OTAKU LOSER, CAN'T YOU SEE THAT?!?

That isn't to say I won't still be snarky.  I'm not perfect.  I will probably still say sarcastic things about my mother and my ex-boyfriend and Nathan Rabin.  But my goal is no longer to be the smartest/smuggest/prettiest girl at the dance.  Mr. Rabin already has that covered.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Praise of Beautiful Film

I almost never see modern films I would consider "beautiful."  Let's face it, these days I'm pretty much stuck seeing movies because they either have Ewan McGregor or Walton Goggins in them, and that's about as beautiful as I get.  As I've noted before, going to the movies has become just something we all do, crammed into icebox cattle-car theaters, jamming salty snacks into our gaping maws as a means of escaping our pitiful, empty lives for two hours.

Which is why seeing Beginners at the Alamo Drafthouse was such a life-affirming experience.

We spent a week in Austin, TX with our good friend Sterling and he insisted that we go to the Alamo Drafthouse cinema.  I know you all think we picked this movie just went becaue Ewan McGregor was in it, but in fact, we only went because nothing else interesting was playing.  For starters, you order food at the Alamo Drafthouse.  Not crappy Applebees quality microwaved crap, but really good food for decent prices.  I had a steak sandwich with fries and green tea, with a Harry Potter-themed caramel apple cake for dessert.  Sterling got some sort of vegetarian sandwich and Ian got a pizza.  $6.50 got you unlimited popcorn with real butter.  They treat you like a human being, a real person, at this theater, not just some faceless consumer.  Kudos to the staff of the Alamo Drafthouse, and my only complaint is that you're not here in Upstate New York (and that you were showing The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai the day I left the state).

After our orders were placed, we were treated to the Alamo's famous Pre-Show, a series of short films, old ads and a crazy PSA about talking and txting in the theater.  Here's one of the shorts; watch and be terrified:

Simply put, it was the ultimate movie going experience.  But even if I had to sit in a tin box with no food, drink or AC (it averaged about 103 on the trip) it would have been worth it to see Beginners.  It's the most beautiful film I've ever seen.  Not just because of Ewan McGregor, with his quirky romance and his charmingly baggy sweaters, but because the visuals were so intense, the colors so vibrant and the images so carefully chosen that I wanted to cry from the beauty of it all. 

By Charles Bremer
There's one shot, a single shot of his father's white tea cup with a green caterpiller crawling on the saucer, all set on top of a red book, and it just struck me as this delicate, tender, wonderful thing.  As McGregor narrates the differences between 1950 and 2005, still-frame images of the night sky and photographs and objects, set against a stark black background (very reminiscent of Charlie Bremer paintings) appear.  It's a very unique way to set up a film, and a gamble as to not appear too quirky, but it worked. 

And when we all walked out of that theater, bellies full, into the hot still air of late-night Austin, we felt as though we'd been part of something.  That we'd seen a glimpse into the lives of real people . . . and for crying out loud, that's what cinema, what art, is supposed to be about.  It doesn't matter if those people are sitting in a cafe or are being attacked by robots or flying around in space.  We have to care about them, we have to see their lives, if we're going to want to spend all that time with them. 

I, for one, could have spent the rest of the night with those characters.  Even though the film opens with Christopher Plummer dying, I still got misty eyed when the hospice nurse shook Ewan McGregor awake at the table and said, "He's gone."  Because through visuals and clever writing and good acting, I was lead to believe that those people on the screen were real.  I cared about what became of them, how their lives turned out, whether or not they got what they wanted. 

And really, isn't that what makes cinema (and art) so wonderful?  Not special effects, not fart jokes or pop culture references or Steve Carell running around screaming, but the lives of people . . . people we know, people we love, people who may or may not be a part of us.  We like music because of how we can relate to it, how it makes us feel--isn't it time we start asking the same thing of our movies?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Stuck in Hell With Katy Perry

Pictured: Katy Perry in Concert
Am I the only person on Earth who thinks Katy Perry sounds like a braying ass when she "sings"? (I use the term loosely)  I tend to avoid autotuned pop garbage, but when you're sitting in a Waffle House in Tennessee (State Motto: "Welcome to Hell!  Now Starring Elvis!") and "Firework" comes on, well, the victim cannot be blamed for the assault.  You can just hear the autotune straining to keep her screaming to a banshee minimum so as not to cause mass ear drum explosions.

I know a lot of stupid songsA lot of them.  But wow, this one takes the cake for utter and supreme awfulness.  Not just because it's generic feel-good "you are so special and everybody loves you" garbage designed to make ugly, pimply-faced adolescents attain a sense of superiority they haven't earned and will never deserve, not because it's pre-Glee-a-fied for high school show choirs to sing at graduation (like they did at my sister Beth's graduation last month), but because it's actually factually wrong.  A sample:

Just own the night
Like the Fourth of July
Cause baby you're a firework
Come on show 'em what you're worth

Oh, Snap!
For starters, People Who Write Katy Perry's "songs" (again, I use the term loosely) For Her, the commonly vernacular is "fireworks"--the singular has been phased out.  You don't buy a single "firework," even if you buy one single solitary Black Cat from a tin shack along the highway outside of Purcell, Oklahoma, it's still fireworks, plural, unless you want to sound like a moron. 

Here's the thing about fireworks.  They're pretty for a second and then they burn out almost instantly.  They have no substance, nothing memorable, just a loud noise and some sparkly lights and then blackness and silence.  Not exactly a metaphor for being super-ultra-special . . . more like a metaphor for Russell Brand's career as an American movie star.

No one ever really remembers a fireworks display.  You remember that they happened and that maybe you scored behind the bleachers during them, but you can't exactly remember what each one looked like as it went off.  It's a group effort (after all, a lone firework would be really, really dull), and after awhile, they all look the same, like girls who shop at Hot Topic, or scenes in a Michael Bay movie.  So much for being super-ultra-unique and individual.

Additionally, fireworks irritate people, they frighten children and make people with Hyperacusis cry out in pain.  So Katy Perry's singing about herself, I assume.
Fireworks aren't worth much.  Again, they burn out quickly, leaving only some smoke and charred cardboard.  They cost almost nothing and can be bought at every gas station and roadside shack from Pennsylvania to New Mexico (can you tell who just took a road trip?) so they have no real value in trade or economic worth.  So the line "show them what your worth" is actually a horrible insult--you are worth nothing, kid, and you will be forgotten almost instantly after you explode and burn.

We can only hope the same holds true for Katy Perry . . . she's such a pathetic case, clearly a Lady GaGa knock-off without any of the charm, uniqueness or talent. Quite possibly, she's not even human.  My friend Matthew is convinced she's just a sex doll with a bad voice box attached.  She is, in essence, a firework--destined to burn out quickly and be forgotten like every other pop star. . . .but not quickly enough.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Finally, Walton Goggins NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY!!!  About freakin' time!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

From the Vault--Shameful 90's Edition

There's a burger joint on St. Mark's Place that I take everyone who's company I enjoy--I discovered it while out with my friend Eeon, and then we took Pete (also of Canned Laser), and last weekend, I took Matthew to thank him for driving eight hours to see me in The Odd Couple.  It's an awesome place, a tiny, cramped little joint with sliders topped with carmelized onions, 3 beers on tap and Guiness milkshakes, pecan pie and the best fries on Planet Earth.

But this time, for some reason, they'd set the satellight radio to the 90's station, and it got progressively worse as our meal went on.  It started off promising enough, "Allison Road" by the Gin Blossoms (I have an unabashed love for the Gin Blossoms that Matthew claims he will never understand) and "No Rain" by Blind Melon (which I'm trying to decide whether or not it's an inanely stupid song or a bright bit of pop genius, like "Brian Wilson" by the Barenaked Ladies) . . . but then the unthinkable happened.

Whether it was because lunch hour was over and everyone else with normal hours and normal cubical jobs was dragging themselves back to another half a day of soul-crushing work, the tone of the radio turned from nostalgia to the Toaster-In-The-Bathtub Hour.  It started with Semisonic's "Closing Time," which I have hated since it spawned (my ex-friend Caitlin maudlinly used the lyric "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" as her senior quote . . . in 2001) and then went to the Verve Pipe's "Bittersweet Symphony" and then "Desperatly Wanting" by Better than Ezra.

Audrey Hepburn does
not endorse Deep Blue
. . . and then, in case you weren't already about to stick your genitals in the deep fryer, came Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

I know a lot of bad songs.  A lot of them.  But "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was the "Hey Soul Sister" of the 90's.  It's inane, it's whiny, it's really, really dumb from a band with a faux-intellectual name.  And you just know at least one guy in the band was a lit major with bad facial hair. 

A sample of the brilliantly crafted lyrics:

"So what now?
it's plain to see we're over
and I hate when things are over"

That is easily the most crybaby lyric in history.  Here's the chorus, won't you?

"And I said
what about
Breakfast at Tiffany's
She said, I think I
remember the film
and as I recall, I think
we both kind of liked it
and I said, well that's
the one thing we've got"

They're sticking together because of a film they can't remember whether or not they liked?  I guess there are only two things left to do.

1) Netflix Breakfast at Tiffany's and watch again to see if maybe this time you can be sure whether or not you liked it.  I had to watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension three times before I could say that I liked it.

2) Break up.  This girl sounds like a moron if she can't remember whether or not she liked a movie.  Then again, you're in Deep Blue Something, so it's not like you're going to do much better unless she's deaf.

The wonderful thing about "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is that you can make up lyrics really, really easily.  They don't have to rhyme or fit or anything!  It's plug-and-play songwriting, like

"And I said
what about
Buckaroo Banzai?
and he said
I think I remember the film
and as I recall
you fell asleep when we watched it
and I said, well I, tend to do that"


"And I said
\what about
Breakfast at Tiffany's?
and you said 
That's my favorite song
and I'm pretty sure
I left you in the parking lot
oh well, at least I
know all this now"