Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 December 2009

Five Most Influential

My friend Michael Stablein Jr. asked me, for a lark, what I thought were the most influential forces in USAmerican theatre today. Michael's five were:
1. The Group
2. Eugene O'Neill
3. Richard Foreman
4. The Shubert Family
5. Robert Wilson
My list is a little more recent than Michael's, and I think a little less New-York-centric, but only because I didn't repeat any of Michael's in the interest of fun:
1. Tony Kushner
2. Jerzy Grotowski
3. Augusto Boal
4. Anna Deavere Smith
5. Theatre Communications Group
I sent the game to a couple of my friends and they came up with a few more fun names. Anne added:
1. Anne Bogart
2. Elizabeth LeCompte
3. The New York Times
Josh's five were:
1. BAM
2. Robert Wilson
3. Suzan-Lori Parks
4. Humana Festival
5. Stephen Sondheim
Liz liked all of our lists and had one additional name to throw into the pot:
1. Julie Taymor
And Mark rounded out the group with another four:
1. Adam Guettel
2. Sam Shepard
3. Music Theatre International
4. Little Theatre Movement
I think Adam Guettel is a bit of an exaggeration, personally, and it's a little ridiculous that no one has mentioned Paula Vogel. I am also not that big a fan of Parks and I think she is less influential than she appears to be, so I wouldn't have her on the list. What do YOU think, dear reader?

30 December 2009

2 1/2

If I am honest, I will tell you that I do not love all of Fellini's films. I am not crazy about Amarcord, really, and I couldn't really get into 8 1/2 even though it has some very cool stuff in it.

I have decided, however, that I do not like Rob Marshall's films. This evening I saw the newest one, Nine, and I was... well... in a word: bored.

And now, nine thoughts on Nine, because it seems fitting:

1. Rob Marshall is known for making musicals. He made the Best-picture-winning Chicago, which supposedly rehabilitated the movie musical. And yet, both that movie and his newest star-studded musical, are constantly apologizing for being musicals. The man is sold as the best thing to ever happen to the movie musical, but his films appear to wish that they were not musicals. Instead of happening in the stories of his movies, musical numbers in Marshall's films always happen in characters' imaginations. We are forced to leave behind the world of the film and enter into the hyper-make-believe world of the musical itself. So the films actively reinforce the idea that musicalness is phony, that emotions that could only be expressed in song are just too unrealistic to be a part of real life, and yet the film cannot seem to make the "real-life" scenes as realistic or as interesting as its musical numbers, and it seems to be ashamed of its stock-in-trade. We all came to see Nine, in fact (or stayed away, as the case may be), because it is a musical. Yet the film constantly tries to make us forget the fact.

2. I know this is cinema. I know that we need movie stars to make people come to the movies. But how about making a movie star out of someone who is also a great singer? The casting in Nine is very clever and very cosmopolitan (Australia, Spain, Italy, Britain, France, and the U.S. are all represented), the actresses are all fabulous. Honestly. But this movie needed singers. Bad. And that goes for Mr. Day-Lewis, as well.

3. Nicole Kidman is my favorite thing in the picture. She is gorgeous and she has a couple of really fabulous scenes where she talks about women in film, fantasy, and basically what it means to be an actress. It's really fascinating. It's intercut with a musical number, which kind of gets in the way, and it's really the first (and only time) where I was sorry there was a musical number to interrupt a real-life scene.

4. Marshall sort of teases the audience with Fellini references. Sometimes these are fun, and sometimes not that interesting. I really wished Nicole Kidman had gotten in the fountain and done an homage to La Dolce Vita.

5. Penélope Cruz is delightful. A great actress. She is engrossing and compelling in all of her scenes. The film isn't really all that interested in her in the end, but I was rather sorry it wasn't.

6. Dion Beebe knows how to light a movie, let me tell you. You probably already knew that, of course, but it bears repeating. The musical sequence after the screening room scene is absolutely extraordinary.

7. You cannot expect a love story to emerge out of nowhere. We are not going to be attached to Contini's wife if all she does is sit around and look sad and miss him and be angry that he missed her birthday. Particularly if the man's mistress is as much fun as Penélope Cruz is in this movie.

8. The best musical number in the film is Fergie's song "Be Italian." It's fun, it's sexy, and there's sand everywhere.

9. What is this movie about? Why is there singing and dancing? Does Contini (the main character) make musical films? Why isn't any of this explained? Is it because he loved the Folies-Bergère as a kid? I don't get it. Nine, more than anything else, is interested in the derrières of its female stars and extras. This is fine, certainly (Fellini was a breast man, of course, but that's just picking nits), but the movie--like the filmmaker the movie is about--cannot decide what its story is. Is it a movie about a man's love for his wife? Is it about his relationship with his mom? Is it a movie about movie-making (8 1/2 certainly was.)? Or is it a movie about buttocks? A movie about buttocks is a good idea, I think, but if Nine is about that, we need to dump all of the other baggage. For a film that seems to understand that female movie stars act as fantasies for male viewers, it spend a lot of time investing in those fantasies.

P.S. The title of this post is out of five.

27 December 2009

The Class

I finally saw last year's Cannes winner Entre les Murs (The Class). And I loved it.

The reason it took me so long to sit down and pop this DVD in is that I thought The Class was gonna be one of those good-white-teacher-comes-into-troubled-area-with-lots-of-urban-kids dramas that purport to be inspirational but are actually predictable, tiresome, clichéd, and almost always more than a little racist.

The Class isn't any of those things. In fact, The Class is profound. It's about education in France and the real struggles that teachers go through. It's also about the fundamental quandaries of education: like the power differential inherent in the very model of pedagogy, and the question of why students should learn the things we want to teach them.

This movie is totally fascinating. There are protracted sequences where we literally just watch François Bégaudeau teach a class of students about verb tenses or Anne Frank. And you might think these sequences would be boring. They're not. They are positively riveting. The teacher goes from question to question answering, helping, assisting the students in their own teaching. It's superb, really.

I know this movie is a year old and I am sorry it has taken me so long to get to it. I loved The Class so much that I am moving it to #4 on my list for 2008.

22 December 2009

Zac Efron and Orson Welles

I wasn't really bored by Me and Orson Welles so much as I am not quite sure what the whole thing was about.

As far as I can tell, Me and Orson Welles was one long theatre joke. The film is about a young aspiring performer who gets serendipitously cast as a minstrel in Welles' legendary 1937 modern-dress production of Julius Caesar. Christian McKay plays Welles, and actors play Joseph Cotton and John Houseman and all kinds of other famous people. In addition, about a billion names are dropped in the film. So many, in fact, that you'd have to be a theatre historian to get all of the references in Me and Orson Welles. I might be exaggerating a bit, but my point is that the film trades on theatre and movie in-jokes and does so with a wink.

(To be fair, one of my favorite moments in the movie is a reference to The Third Man where Joseph Cotton steps out of the shadows to give Zac Efron some advice.)

So, Zac Efron. I love him. The thing is, he is kinda... well... bad in this movie. I mean, he is cute, he steals focus, you always look at him when he is onscreen, even when he isn't in the center of the frame. But, he doesn't always know how to read his lines. And he doesn't quite know how to get a laugh. Oh, well. He is pretty, anyway.

Me and Orson Welles is a weird Richard Linklater film. It is a whimsical little thing with very little substance. Watching Orson Welles chew scenery is fun, and theatre jokes are cute, but the whole thing had worn rather thin for me by the end.

I should mention, however, that James Tupper, who plays Joseph Cotton, gives a really great performance. He was my favorite thing in the movie.

18 December 2009

Book of Ours

I met my friend Tavi Gonzalez at the conference ReThinking Sex last March in Philadelphia.

And I was delighted to learn that he has published a chapbook of poetry entitled The Book of Ours. It is published through Momotombo Press.

I was particularly fond of parts two and three of the book. Part two begins with the passage:
my friend
whose tongue I've tasted
in every vernacular
One of my favorite poems in the book is one entitled Soliloquy #3 which contains the following:

the territorial arc of my arms
wrapped around you like a damp down
comforter. not even warm
much less—comfortable

tell me when does this language describe
an actual love affair...
Anyway, you should check out his book!

16 December 2009

Single Men

I really loved Tom Ford's first movie A Single Man. I have heard people say that it is too ponderous, too slow, too pretty, and (even) too gay, but I don't buy any of those criticisms. I found it totally engrossing, erotic, and beautiful. I think it is going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, actually.

I think it is important that we remember, also, that this is Tom Ford's first film. He is not a filmmaker, or at least, hasn't been one for long.

A Single Man is about a day in the life of a gay man (Colin Firth) who has lost his longterm boyfriend (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The film is about grief and loss, mostly, but also--and this is very important, A Single Man is about memory and the ways that memories surge up within the present, how the past is still alive as we interact in the present. We cannot escape memory, and absence, in this film, is as present as the moment in which the main character is currently living.

The film, then, spends a lot of time in memories, and in exploring specific perspectives--like staring at a woman's lips, or at a naked torso. Sometimes the character is simply overwhelmed with grief and the film attempts to capture only the sensation of drowning. It is a bold, fascinating experiment. And I loved it.

A Single Man is very gay. A part of its project is to explore the lack of validation our culture gives to longterm homosexual relationships. Much of the film is also about beauty and how beauty can give us a reason for living after we have suffered much grief. (So the film dwells on the blue of a child's dress for longer than we might think important, or slows down the exhalation of smoke from an attractive man's lips in order to explore the beauty of such an image and the power of that beauty as a reason for being.) This could, I suppose, be called a gay aesthetic--a Wildean aesthetic--but I did not find this a distraction from the movie. I thought, rather, that the film was about these moments in a very important way.

I want to also mention that the film contains two of the best performances of the year, by both Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Firth is just brilliant, and Moore gives a fierce, searing performance. She tears into her role and what she comes up with is really extraordinary. To go back to Firth for a moment, the film is with him for almost its entirety, and we get so much from him, understand so much about him, that even when he is silent and brooding and not telling us what he is thinking, we understand.

If you haven't seen the documentary Chris & Don: a Love Story about Christopher Isherwood (who wrote the novel A Single Man) and his lover Don Bachardy, the films go very well together, and Ford's film reflects Isherwood's philosophies beautifully.

At any rate, I loved this film, and plan repeat viewings. I won't see it again this month--too many movies to see!--but I will definitely be watching A Single Man again.

And I really hope Tom Ford makes another film or two. This one is superb. And it is one of the most visually striking, inventive, and consistent first films I have ever seen.

15 December 2009

When Academia Is Silly

Aaron: I found the word that corporealize wishes it were: incarnate. Do the two differ? I love incarnate's blatant etymological associations with meat.
Tim: You may be right. *Sigh* All I wanted for Christmas was a justifiable neologism in my name.

Anne: But corporealize gives us this opportunity: (corpo)realize.
Tim: True, Anne! And that's way better than the weakly post-colonial (Inca)rnate.

13 December 2009

Big Eden (Insert Size-Queen Joke Here)

I really like Big Eden. This doesn't mean that I think it is a good movie. I do not. But, there are so few gay romantic comedies that end happily, that when I watch one the sheer joy of watching a representation onscreen that includes me takes over and I can forgive almost anything.

Big Eden follows a successful New York artist with an unspeakably gorgeous apartment named Henry. He returns back home to Montana to take care of his ailing granddad. From here, hilarity and romance ensue. All of the people in the town conspire to hook Henry up with the Native American man who runs the corner store, Pike.
What Big Eden is smart about is that it contains a straight man in love with a gay man (although, of course, this love is inexplicable, as Henry is really rather boring and closety). My friend David and I talk about how sometimes a straight man falls in love with a gay man, but doesn't know what to do with that. David and I have both had this happen to us. And the both of us can love each other very much, and sometimes this can be very confusing. We are not taught, in our culture, how to be in love with people with whom we don't have sex. Anyway, Big Eden contains one of these relationships. Henry doesn't handle it well at all (it is, in fact, not an easy thing to handle) but then the film doesn't interrogate why he handles it poorly or how he could have handled it differently. Still, I was grateful for this storyline. (Chris Mason Johnson's The New Twenty tries to go toward this territory, but gets too involved in its interest in business machinations that no one cares about.)

The real nonsense of Big Eden, though, is that the film is really interested in telling us how great it is to live in a small town. There is literally no homophobia in Big Eden. Every single person, including the elderly, is completely accepting of gay people. And here is the rub, it is Henry himself who is not being honest about his sexuality. The small town is fine with gays, it is Henry who has (in this most accepting town in the universe) somehow internalized homophobia which forces him to hide his sexuality from his family and the rest of the town. Henry has to learn this lesson before he can truly accept himself, of course. He also has to learn the value of the small town, and how family is all that matters.

And I call bullshit. The reason we all move to the cities (and I know we don't all move to the cities, obviously) is because small town's aren't like Big Eden. Small town values, such as they are, consistently condemn difference of any kind, and gay people consistently tend to find community and family away from our biological families.

So Big Eden has an odd ideological project. I am not sure why Thomas Bezucha wants to convince us of how accepting small town USAmerica is. I mean, what good does that do? At any rate, I have no intention of abandoning urban life. Even if the love of my life is running the corner store in Clayton, New Mexico, I am never going to know because I am never going to live there. Make a note.

But please make more gay romantic comedies. I am starved for them. The more the better. I will see all of them. Even if they are ideologically insane.

12 December 2009


I have seen two absolutely great animated films in the last week. I actually don't have much to say about either movie, except that you need to see both of them

Fantastic Mr. Fox is the new Wes Anderson movie. It is also his best movie, if you ask me, since The Royal Tenenbaums. It is a tight little story, beautifully characterized. Jason Schwartzman is his typical anxious, delightful self--this time in the body of a young fox. The film is stop animation and is at times absolutely stunning, visually. It is also absolutely hilarious. It's frequently absurd, often bizarre, and at times completely nonsensical. I loved it.

The Princess and the Frog
is the new film from Ron Clements and John Musker, the guys who gave us Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Treasure Planet, and Hercules. I love all of their previous collaborations, obviously, and I loved this one too.
The Princess and the Frog is, of course, notable for several reasons: It is the first Disney princess movie with a black girl at its center. It also breaks from the Disney princess tradition of absent mothers. Tiana's mom is alive and well, and tells fun stories (and is played by, um, Oprah [!])
Another thing I loved about Princess/Frog was its constant attention to money. The film does not only extol the value of hard work, it steers clear of the sentimental trope of awarding money to two young people simply because they are in love. Tiana and Naveen get jobs after they fall in love and get married. They are a prince and a princess but they work, y'all.
Princess/Frog is really, really funny, too. The actor who plays Prince Naveen, Bruno Campos, has excellent timing, and he is hilarious throughout. Anika Noni Rose (who plays Tiana) has a fabulous voice, obviously (you should remember her from Caroline, or Change--for which girlfriend won the Tony--and the film version of Dreamgirls.) Randy Newman has written some delightful songs, and she sings them beautifully. The hand-drawn animation is gorgeous. The side characters are funny. The large amount of jazz in the score is fun, danceable, and always upbeat. The villain is Keith David!
I could go on and on about Princess/Frog, actually. I thought it was great. And I really hope Disney has already started on their next animated film with a black protagonist; Tiana is good enough that she deserves a little company.

When Life Gives You Lemons

Aaron: Ugh. Why did they do this to me? I feel like Precious right now.
Meghan: Want me to throw a television at you?

When My Friends I Are Mean and Filthy at the Same Time

Liz: She is terrified of you.
Aaron: She loves me and is terrified of me.
Liz: She fetishizes you.
Aaron: She masturbates with a giant black dildo while thinking about me.
Liz: She has a fleshlight for her microphallus.

07 December 2009

Summing Up 2009

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
Worked out every single day for several months.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did. See above. And I will for next year too. I have a good feeling about 2010.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My nephew, Cruz Antonio Thomas, turns one year old on December 13th. That is not really answering the question, but I felt it was worth noting. I have pregnant friends, but no more nephews or nieces yet!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. My best friend from college took his own life in June. He was the love of my life. I don't know how else to put it. His death has really messed me up in a lot of ways. I miss him like crazy.

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A published article. Can somebody work that out for me? Thanks.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Saying goodbye to all of the graduates from my class at FSU in May was a rough, rough time. Those four or five days were killer.

The best day of 2009 was probably August 10th. I was in New York, and Ryan and I took the subway from midtown to the upper west side and met Vanya, Dave, Joe, Gretchen, Maria, Rick, Julie, Herman, Jaime, Kate, Rob, and Becky for dinner and drinks. We had THE BEST time. And I was with people I miss like a piece of my heart. New York was completely magical this year. I stayed with Wahima and Becca, Elizabeth visited while I was there, I ran into Brian at a random diner in Queens, I was reunited with my ATHE queers, I got to visit with Stinkylulu, I finally saw John again after 2 years, I went to the Stonewall Inn with Alison and Brent and Ryan and Liz and Cassidy, I saw a show and drank lots of beer with Julie. It was amazing.

I also spent a weekend in Seattle and a weekend in Lynchburg, Virginia this summer. Both were wonderful reunions with friends and fun road-trips.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Probably my production of Sarah Kane's Crave.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Keeping in better touch with my dearest friends.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes. I was completely depressed for the months of July, August, September, and October. It had probably been a long time coming. It has to do with my anxiety about my schooling and career, obviously, but I also think it had a lot to do with figuring out how to process Andy's death. I think I have moved out of that depression now, but I don't really have any idea how that happened.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My roommates Mark and Meghan; I am probably being oversentimental but they are just wonderful and I love living with them.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The voters in Maine and the New York State Senate. I continue to be uninterested in fighting for gay marriage rights (it's just so bourgeois!), but whenever someone actually votes against gay marriage I get really pissed off. I continue to be baffled, interested, and confused by homophobia.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books. And I am happy about that.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Crave. P90X. Dada (again).

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Iron & Wine's "The Trapeze Swinger." I also listened endlessly to Nico Muhly's score for The Reader, and Philip Glass's The Concerto Project. The obvious (and gay) answer to this question, however, is Whitney Houston's "Million Dollar Bill."

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner
c) richer or poorer? Poorer, but two out of three ain't bad. Especially considering last year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Watching movies. Traveling. Reading interesting theory.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Thinking about my work for Kris Salata. Reading theory about which I do not care.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With my family in their new giant house in Monrovia CA, with my friends at Anna's new condo in Corona CA, with my friends at Linda and Matt's house in Culver City CA, and with my friends at Ashley and Danny's house in Echo Park CA.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
No way, man.

22. How many one-night stands?
Depending on the definition of the term, 2 or 3.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The Wire. No question.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Oh yes. But I get new students every year, and inevitably one of them pisses me off to a point beyond redemption.

25. What was the best book you read?
I have a bunch for this year:
Lee Edelman: No Future
Lauren Berlant: The Female Complaint
David Savran: Taking It Like a Man
Pat Califia: Public Sex

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Is it weird that I don't really follow music at all? I guess I listened to a lot of Teddy Thompson this year. I am tentatively revisiting country music.

27. What was the best piece of theatre you saw?
A brilliant production of Pericles entitled Pericles Redux directed by John Farmanesh Bocca.
A genius reworking of ALW and Time Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar by Louis St. Louis and Darryl Jovan Williams entitled Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL, which played at the Alliance in Atlanta.
Also my friend Ryan did an adaptation/reimagining of Lear that I almost didn't have words for because it was so fucking good. (I found words, obviously, after a bit. But there was a while there where I could only just stare at people with my mouth open.)

28. What did you want and get?
A trip to Atlanta to see Kate and a trip to Virginia to see Michael and Natalie.

29. What did you want and not get?
A new car. Can someone get me one, please?

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
The year is far from over, but so far it is Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. Have you seen it yet?

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Most everyone was out of town for Spring Break, but Liz and Ryan took me to Clusters & Hops and made sure that a whole bunch of my friends were there, and it was really fun. I also made my own birthday cake (always a good idea.) I turned 28.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having more free time to spend with Jaime and John at their wedding.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
The only criterion for choosing a shirt is: Does it show off my new biceps?

34. What kept you sane?
Um, I didn't stay sane, so this question is not really applicable. But thank the Jesus for Pot Psychology. And David, Catie, John, Anthony, Ruth, Lane, and Andrés this summer.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?Eli Roth. He is hot.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

37. Who did you miss?
Michael Fatica. Michael Stablein. Catie. Kate. Linda. Elizabeth. Ashley. Justin. Wahima. Danny. Rebecca. Jill. Jaime. Derek. Sarah. Anna. John. Joe. Julie. Ryan. Carrie Sandahl. Christina & Isaac. Greg.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Courtney Ward and Jeff Paden.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
Hope doesn't always fulfill its promises; the future rarely falls out the way I see it in my head. But it doesn't matter, really. We must always choose hope. There is no point in living without it.

When Friends are Bad Influences

Catie: Again, I can always rely on you to call her a dumb/fat bitch and him a fat fuck. Or dumb fuck.
Aaron: You bring out the cruelty in me. Which is weird because you are nice.
Catie: You bring out the vulgar in me. Which is weird because you are classy.
Aaron: Hahaha.
Catie: What a team.

03 December 2009

When the Movie of Your Life Embarrasses You

Aaron: All of my roommates are having sex and I'm downstairs reading a play.
Mark: Oh, god. It's like A Home at the End of the World.
Aaron: Haha. I love that book. Have you read it?
Mark: I saw the movie.
Aaron: Ugh. It's awful.
Mark: It's a terrible movie. Terrible.
Aaron: Yeah. It really is bad. The book is so good, though.
Mark: That movie is so bad I'm pretty sure I stayed in the closet at least a year longer than I would have if I hadn't seen it.

30 November 2009

Time Travel and the Worst Childhood Ever

As time-travel movies go, I have to say I didn't really buy The Butterfly Effect. Anyway, I watched the movie for the prison rape scene(s) in it. (I am currently writing a long, epic chapter/article/something-or-other on representations of prison rape in cinema, so I am watching all of the films that I can think of or find.)

The Butterfly Effect is not really about prison rape, though. It is about time travel. Well, no, to be accurate, it wants to be a film about time travel and madness, but instead it is a film about filmmakers, by which I mean that The Butterfly Effect is really a movie where the directors and screenwriters threw a whole bunch of stuff at the wall and then figured out how to make a movie out of it. The film attempts to be clever throughout its entirety, and it is clever, but this cleverness never really works in its favor and the main character becomes more and more impossible to root for as the plot becomes less and less believable and the lives of the people in the movie become more and more horrifying.

By the time it was over I was really happy about the main character's suicide. It all made a sort of cinematic sense in the world of the film. The trouble is, it doesn't actually make sense at all, and to make a film that is a really good justification for suicide seems a rather odd task.

It made me wonder about time-travel movies that I like. I am not sure if there are any. I don't think I've ever thought about it before, really. I remember really liking Frequency, but I can't really remember any other ones that I've loved. Frequency is a father-son narrative, anyway. I am a sucker for those.

29 November 2009

Destroying Lives

Since all I do is teach and write, I might as well post about teaching and writing...

Last week, I sent my students an email to extend their paper deadline in one of the classes I teach. Now, usually, I would just tell them their deadline was extended and move on, but I must've been feeling a little punchy because I asked them to email me back responses. I have nineteen people in the class and I got ten responses in three and a half hours! Here is the email, followed by their ridiculous responses.

Would it destroy anyone's life if I extended the deadline for this paper a week? Email me back with thoughts.
And let's remember to discuss this tomorrow morning.

1. My life would not be destroyed.

2. I just want to make sure I am reading this correctly. This would make the due date Sunday Nov. 29th at noon, right? That would be really great. Can you please email me after it is decided.

3. If you extended it a week I think I would be a happy child and not go bald....

4. Destroy?! It would make my life because I would actually have the time to thoroughly work on it this weekend! And I am already running into a million questions about my topic.

5. It would not destroy my life and I think it would be a great idea!!!

6. i would be eternally grateful.

7. It would destroy my life if you DID NOT extend the deadline. I will bring in homemade cookies Monday morning if you extend it :)

8. Dear Aaron,
From the bottom of my heart, I am beseeching you to please please extend this paper deadline. I will bake you so many brownies and cookies and whatevers if you do this. Since I won't be there tomorrow, I'm telling you now I will hug you a thousand times over if this goes down!

9. I encourage this extension!!! =D

10. Oh my "god" I'll make a shrine in your honor and sacrifice virgins to you... if I'm going to find any in this town I better start looking now.
Thank you Thank you Thank you....

24 October 2009

Poem for Today

I have a friend who is a poet. His name is Gregory Sherl and I pretty much love his work. He has a new poem up over at Night Train Magazine called Sexy Sexy. You should visit and see if you like it.

13 September 2009

Beautiful Stranger

A friend of mine posted as his facebook status today:
Was curious about a cute and talented young actor in a movie I'm watching. Googled. He killed himself in February. RIP, beautiful stranger.
Turns out the beautiful stranger was Andy and my friend was watching The New Twenty. I of course chatted with him about it and my friend remarked that it was a small world. A small, sad world indeed.

03 September 2009

The Brothers Bloom

That you will like Brick director Rian Johnson's new film The Brothers Bloom less than you liked his first film is inevitable. (I take for granted that you liked Brick's formal devices and witty screenplay quite a bit.) Still, there is lots to recommend about The Brothers Bloom, and while I didn't like the film all that much, it is quite funny for most of its running time and very clever if not always unpredictable.

The Brothers Bloom is a crime-caper-con-artist buddy-comedy which stars Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as con-artist brothers who have become the best of their profession. They pull off long-con schemes conceived by Ruffalo's character Stephen. In these schemes, Brody's character Bloom is the lead actor and he seduces the mark and becomes the protagonist in the dramas Stephen pens. These dramas all have poetry and narrative beauty and are composed by Stephen in order to give Bloom the life that Stephen thinks he wants. So far so good.

Early on in the film (but not early enough in the film) the important con of The Brothers Bloom begins and Stephen and Bloom (and their sidekick Bang Bang, who is played hilariously by Rinko Kikuchi of Babel fame) take on an absurdly wealthy heiress played by Rachel Weisz. Bloom and the heiress fall in love and the rest of the film is a meditation about whether or not what we do and feel are real, how we script our lives, and whether or not living inside of a narrative has value in and of itself.

The film is fun and whimsical. It is often very funny. Kikuchi provides lots of the humor (she doesn't speak throughout and so a single glance from her or a raised eyebrow is wonderfully loaded with meaning.) But Johnson's script also contains some delightful displays of wit. During a very smart sequence at the beginning of the movie, Bloom tells Stephen that he wants to live a life that Stephen hasn't composed for him. He wants to play a character that comes from himself, to do something that he hasn't been told to do by his brother. "I want..." Bloom says. "An unwritten life?" Stephen asks. And there is a pause. And then Bloom repeats his brother: "an unwritten life." This kind of very intelligent writing that contains its own ironies is where Rian Johnson excels.

The caper fake-out trickster stuff—of which movie-makers are lately so fond—is much less successful in The Brothers Bloom. The whimsical treatment of the film's first act continues through the second and third acts, but the whimsy wore thin when real danger was threatened, and it became hard for me to take anything in the film seriously when I was pretty sure that what I was watching was a con (the characters conning each other and the filmmaker conning me.)

So the film starts out delightfully: very funny, very clever, but Johnson doesn't quite know where to go with his plot as the film progresses and so he cannot escape his own formal strictures. Thus, the world of The Brothers Bloom becomes rather mired in its own cleverness and never achieves either the emotional levels it attempts or the fake-out wizardry of a really good caper film.

29 August 2009


I will try to post my Inglourious Basterds review—along with a review of (500) Days of Summer tomorrow.

The school year has started again, you see, and I am very busy taking a literature course, a history course, and a course in criminology theory and racial inequalities.

And teaching both a history course and a play analysis course.

And working out for 75 minutes every day.

22 August 2009

Two New Ones

If you care about movies, and you do, you know you do, you need to see District 9, the new film from South African director Neill Blomkamp.

It is, of course, important to remember that District 9 is kind of gross. In fact, it's actually pretty disgusting. I went with my roommates and both of them thought they would need to get up and leave the theatre at different parts of the film. District 9 is not for the weak-stomached.

But man is it good! Blomkamp's film follows a man who is working for a governmental coalition who is trying to move a group of aliens who have settled in a slum in Johannesburg. The movie begins by following this guy (who's kind of a loser) on his errands through the alien slum. Then, weird stuff starts to happen. I am not going to spoil this for any of you who haven't seen it, but for my money District 9 is the most intriguing, visually compelling, consistently inventive science fiction film since Danny Boyle's Sunshine.

Now, I have heard a lot of talk about how District 9 is a social commentary about (variably) racism, the third world, poverty, and government corruption. For me the film doesn't have much to say, really, about any of these topics. The aliens in District 9 are fundamentally (by which I mean essentially) different from the humans in the movie. They do not share DNA patterns. In this way, of course, the differences between aliens and humans cannot be likened to differences between humans of different races. I mean, white people are not biologically different from people of color. I guess for me District 9 doesn't need to be "about" anything. It is just a kick-ass film, filled with suspense and tension, interesting characters, loads of surprises, and an inventive plot.

I also saw the new Miyazaki film, Ponyo and was underwhelmed. Comparing Ponyo to Miyazaki's previous work is, I realize, setting the movie to a very high standard, but Ponyo just doesn't hold up. It is, of course, visually stunning, but the plot of the new film is basically Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. It differs here and there, but not by much, and I just never really dropped into it.

19 August 2009

Another from My New Favorite Poet

This Tony Hoagland poem is called "Fire".

The rock band set off fireworks as part of their show—
the ceiling tile of the nightclub smoldered and flared up
over the heads of all those dancing bodies below—

then they churned and burned against the exit doors,
doors someone had chained shut to prevent the would-be sneakers-in—
so 95 party people died that night,

and two days later the weeping girl at the televised funeral
says of her dead friend David,
God must have needed some good rock and roll in heaven.

On earth, God must have needed some good clichés, too,
and weeping riot girls with runny mascara and spiderweb tattoos.
He must have needed the entertainment of dueling insurance companies

calculating the liability per body bag,
and the rock band and nightclub owner pointing fingers at each other like guns
and pulling the blame-trigger, blam blam blam,

because death is something that always has to be enclosed
by an elaborate set of explanations.
It is an ancient litigation,

this turning of horror into stories,
and it is a lonely piece of work,
trying to turn the stories back into horror,

but somebody has to do it

—especially now that God
has reverted to a state of fire.

16 August 2009

My New Favorite Poet

So I finally broke down and bought Tony Hoagland's collection of poems entitled What Narcissism Means to Me. After reading the collection, Hoagland has jumped from one of my favorite poets to my absolute favorite poet.

Hoagland's poetry is wry, knowing, and wise. He captures both the sadness and the incomparable beauty of being alive in ways that no other poet I know can do. His work is mature, self-reflexive, and he has a delicious sense of humor about himself. In a way he is very serious, but he manages not to take himself seriously at all. I recommend this collection to everyone. It is a wonderful book.

At any rate, I will probably share a couple of his poems in the next couple of days. This is one of my favorites from the collection:

Suicide Song

But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself
Though I would still like to jump off a high bridge

At midnight, or paddle a kayak out to sea
Until I turn into a speck, or wear a necktie made of knotted rope

But people would squirm, it would hurt them in some way,
And I am too knowledgeable now to hurt people imprecisely.

No longer do I live by the law of me,
No longer having the excuse of youth or craziness,

And dying you know shows a serious ingratitude
For sunsets and beehive hairdos and the precious green corrugated

Pickles they place at the edge of your plate.
Killing yourself is wasteful, like spilling oil

At sea or not recycling all the kisses you've been given,
And anyway, who has clothes nice enough to be caught dead in?

Not me. You stay alive you stupid asshole
Because you haven't been excused,

You haven't finished though it takes a mulish stubbornness
To chew this food.

It is a stone, it is an inconvenience, it is an innocence,
And I turn against it like a record

Turns against the needle
That makes it play.

It Is So Hot!

05 August 2009

Apatow #3

The main problem with Funny People is that it really isn't all that funny. Let's get that out of the way first.

Many years ago in the eighteenth century a moralist named Sir Richard Steele decided to promote a genre of comedy which later came to be known as Sentimental Comedy. Steele famously argued that his was a genre "too exquisite for laughter," which meant that it was comedy without jokes.

Many comedies from the eighteenth century—so the traditional story goes (and I mostly believe it)—followed in Steele's mode of comedy-without-laughter. The twentieth century children of these old-school comedies are any movies that don't really make us laugh so much as they make us smile mildly and feel a little better when we leave the theater. I am thinking of movies such as, say, City Slickers or My Cousin Vinny. You get the idea: not really that funny, but we have a sort of general pleasant feeling after watching it. The good guys win; the bad guys are vanquished; all is right with the world; and the hero learns his lesson. Nearly any romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock falls under this category, as well.

Funny People is one of those kinds of movies. It isn't even really trying to be funny. Its only real goal is toward sentiment: to say a few words about "true" friendship (something it doesn't know much about), the importance of living one's life to the fullest (thanks, guys, I already saw American Beauty), and the way that money (and this is a lie told by rich people, of course) doesn't give a person true happiness. Funny People is so full of feelings it drove me crazy.

To be fair, all of the stuff with Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill works really well.

And Eric Bana is stellar. Fantastic, actually. This is mostly because he is the funniest character in the film.

Which is odd—don't you think?—with Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, and Leslie Mann headlining?

I want to say one more thing about Funny People and that is about sex. This will get a little spoilerish, so don't read on if you don't want me to spoil it. I wasn't the biggest fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin, but what I love about that movie is how sex-positive it is. I mean, think about it: the weirdo in that movie is the virgin. The strange person, the one who needs to learn a lesson, is the man who is afraid of sex, afraid of himself as a sexual being, the man who has mythologized sex to a place where he doesn't even want to masturbate. But then came Knocked Up, which is decidedly a sex-negative picture. The main girl gets pregnant and then never considers abortion, even though she is a television reporter. We are made to feel that the mother who counsels her to have an abortion is some kind of soulless witch. Then the girl tries to have a real relationship with this loser whose baby she is carrying simply because she is carrying his baby and—what?—the kid ought to have a mother and a father who love one another like our imagined conceptualization of the 1950s? For me, Funny People is as sex-negative as Knocked Up, though not in quite as offensive a way. To spoil things a bit, Leslie Mann cheats on her husband (Bana) with Adam Sandler, but then decides to stay with the husband for a variety of very (it seemed to me) good reasons. None of these reasons is given in the film, however; instead, Mann looks at Sandler and says "he's my husband" as if that's a reason to stay with someone you don't love.

Of course, this comes near the end of the movie. And the last 45 minutes of the film are terrible and feel tacked on to an otherwise fairly decent film. All of the critics are saying this and they are right, but what is important to emphasize here is that sometimes relationships don't work; sometimes we cheat on people; sometimes we love the people we cheat on but just make stupid decisions. But we should all be trying to be happy. Staying with someone because "we're married" is the dumbest reason I've ever heard for staying in a relationship. Even (straight) married people have a right to be happy.

02 August 2009

Scary Dream

Last night I dreamt I was acting in a show.

It has been a very long time since I did that.

I think it was a production of Ubu Roi. Funnily enough, I loved the show. I knew it was a totally brilliant show, but we hadn't had a single rehearsal and I didn't know even one of my lines. All of the other actors (including my friend Michael Stablein) knew all their lines and were performing the show fine, but I didn't know mine. It was like I had only read the script a single time and had no idea what I was supposed to say.

In the dream I was able to get through act one by faking it. And then it was intermission and I was searching everywhere backstage (the performance space was actually a kind of warehouse or something) for a script so that I could memorize my lines for act two.

I think the worst part of the dream was how disappointed in me my friend Michael was. While I was scrounging around backstage he wouldn't even look me in the eyes. It was kind of devastating.

In collaboration, and I guess in life in general, it is important that we do our own work and do it well. So many other people depend on the work that we do. So many other people depend on any one of us. We ought not to disappoint them.

(Of course, my dream is about performance anxiety and the fact that I am going to a conference to present a paper next week. I am obviously feeling like it is less than brilliant, or that I am not very smart, or something. Silly to worry about things like that, though. I just have to do my best.)

29 July 2009

This Is Hard

Last night I dreamt about Andrew again. I suppose this kind of thing doesn't really go away.

Losing him continues to hurt. It is hard for me to talk about, I guess, but I feel like everyone is sick of hearing about it anyway. Funny how that happens. But I am not over it. I am still seriously grieving.

I finally watched his movie The New Twenty, too, which I recommend if you knew Andrew (I don't recommend it if you didn't know him: it's kind of a mess).

23 July 2009


I recognize that a lot of popular film critics have commented that there are far too many feelings in the movie. But the problem with David Yates's Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince as I see it is that it spends far too little time on feelings that matter and too much time on nonsense.

The most important feelings (as I recall--and it's been awhile, so I could be screwing this up) in the book version of HP6 are Draco Malfoy's personal struggle with trying to get that transporting cabinet to work, his coping with being a failure etc. and the brilliantly written chapter of the book where Dumbledore and Harry go to destroy the locket/horcrux in the grotto. In the book Dumbledore begs Harry not to feed him any more of the liquid because he is in so much pain and Harry, despite his love for his teacher, uses trickery and deception to get Dumbledore to drink it. In other words, he knows that he is causing his father figure pain, but he pushes through it, at much psychic expense to himself. It is a thrilling, powerful sequence. In the book.

In the movie neither of these real emotional struggles is given much time. They don't seem that important to screenwriter Steve Kloves or director Yates. Michael Gambon doesn't even really step up his acting in this sequence.

Instead of interesting and complicated emotions, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince spends most of its time surveying the lovesick machinations and foibles of the teenage denizens of Hogwarts. HP6, of course, has nothing new to say about teenage love, and it isn't particularly interested in bringing a new perspective, anyway. Rather, it spends its time confirming everything we already know about adolescent emotional rollercoasters, and in making us all feel like we are so much wiser than the kids in the film. We smile at their lovesicknesses and absurdities because we have already emerged from this phase of our lives and into the "serious phase" where love has actual consequences. It's all very shallow.

Still, there is some good stuff in HP6. Jim Broadbent is a wonderful Professor Slughorn. And he is actually acting in the film (unlike Gambon). I also really like Nicholas Hooper's score. And I think that the three leads are becoming really delightful actors. Daniel Radcliffe has some moments as Harry that I would even venture to call inspired. (I thought the entire Liquid Luck sequence was fantastic). And I love me some Emma Watson.

22 July 2009

Bill O'Reilly on the Topic of White Men

I see his point. He's an idiot, but this is standard neo-conservative fare and no more racist than his usual nonsense. The new link to the video is here (YouTube took it down):

What I don't get is how he can say that the supreme court is not "stocked with white men" just because of Justices Ginsburg and Thomas. I mean, two justices of the current nine are not white men. And the entire history of this country's interpretation of the law (that is, 99 of the 101 justices prior to the Roberts court) were also white men. That means that ALL of the rulings of the supreme court for its ENTIRE HISTORY have been decided by a majority of white men. ALL. By which I mean Every. Single. One.

In other words: The law in the United States for the entire history of the United States has been written and interpreted by a majority of white men. This is not debatable.

The statement of these facts enrages powerful white men because they wish (like Senator Lindsey Graham) to pretend that questions of race do not influence their decisions. The truth is, of course, that these powerful white men know that race influences their decisions, otherwise they wouldn't be so worried about race possibly influencing one of Justice Sotomayor's decisions.

This racism is so blatant it is shocking. What do they think that Sotomayor is going to do when she gets on the court? I'll tell you what they think: they think she might somehow manage to infringe on the base of power that these white men have built for themselves. That is what threatens them. And this betrays just how white and male the power base already is.

Oh, the Internet.

Today, I was tagged in a facebook note in which José Esteban Muñoz, Ramón Rivera-Servera, and Jill Dolan were also tagged. Pretty nice company, I feel.

I recognize that this might not mean a lot to many people, but I am starstruck by important scholars like teenage girls who love Jesus are starstruck by the Jonas Brothers.

15 July 2009

Some More 2009 Movies from July

Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2009 so far. Easily. This movie is intense and moving and, well, just plain awesome. It's a movie about a bomb-defusing squad in Iraq (I know films about the Middle East are not popular with the USAmerican public, but there have been a couple of really good ones lately.) Bigelow's film is the most suspenseful movie I've seen in years, though. The bomb sequences are intense and crazy, and I found myself not breathing for pretty much the film's entire running time. At two points in the picture my jaw dropped at the The Hurt Locker's sheer audacity. This movie is incredible. Go see it. Unequivocally recommended.

Brüno is, as it turns out, a lot like Borat. Except that it doesn't work as well. The film, in fact, doesn't really work at all. Still, Brüno is a really funny movie and has some cracking good jokes. I laughed pretty much all the way through it. And I think the film is occasionally clever, too. It is certainly very clear about its stance on homophobia—Brüno is very scary in this respect, too: it shows just how unsafe it is to be queer in the mid-west United States. But Brüno also left me feeling empty. Its message isn't that interesting, and star Cohen and director Charles don't really uncover anything we didn't already know about middle America. I am not sure any of us realized how racist many people in the U.S. are, but we all know how homophobic everyone is, don't we?

At any rate, Brüno is missing something. Perhaps that something is likable characters, or perhaps that something is a real narrative for which one can root. But whatever it is, Brüno doesn't have it.

I thought Todd Phillips' The Hangover was pretty funny. I also thought it was homophobic and racist. But, then, I am surprised when various cultural products are not homophobic and/or racist.

The Hangover is also completely absurd. The stars of the film are less interesting than, say, the stars of Wedding Crashers or Dan in Real Life, but the situations in The Hangover are still pretty funny. Plus it's about Las Vegas. And, as you all know, I love me some Vegas.

More Sotomayor

Is it just me or is Senator Lindsey Graham a bit... well, dumb?

I was listening to a little of the Sotomayor hearings (I am in love with her, obviously) while I was driving around Los Angeles yesterday. First I heard Senator Schumer question her. He focused on demonstrating that Justice Sotomayor is not empathetic with anyone in a way that impedes her ability to decide questions of law based on the rule of law. The questioning was rather boring but it was pointed and intelligent (and had a very clear agenda.)

Then Senator Graham started questioning her. And I got confused. He seemed really upset that Justice Sotomayor was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (PRLDEF). What he seemed most upset about was that PRLDEF has said in briefs (evidently quite frequently) that to deny public funds for abortions for impoverished Latina mothers is a form of slavery. PRLDEF and its lawyers obviously were interested in advocating to gain access to funding for abortions for poor women of color.

Graham seemed to want to trap Sotomayor into saying that she actually believed that such a point of view was an accurate one. He is not intelligent enough to actually trap Justice Sotomayor into doing anything, but what I don't understand is the issue itself.

How is this not an important issue of race? Public funds are issued to help people who are out of work because of injuries, they are issued to help women and men who lose their spouses, they are issued to parents with children who have disabilities. But what we don't want to do is issue funds to a poor woman who doesn't wish to have a baby. These are the same men who complain about "welfare queens" sucking the state dry. Why shouldn't these women have access to healthcare? Because they are not white?

Am I simplifying this issue too much by seeing it simply as an issue of race? It is also, obviously, an issue about sex. (Discussions of race almost always involve discussions of sex, I find.) This white man is afraid of the sexuality of these young Latinas. And he is interested in controlling that sexuality, regulating it. Because young women of color cannot be trusted to regulate their own sexuality.

This is racist and misogynist. There is really no other way to put it.

It seems to me, though, that it would be nice for someone to call the Senator out on his racism and blatant misogyny. There is a lot of discussion of race at these hearings—as far as I can tell this is only because the white men who oppose her are bigots—but it seems to me that all of these gestures toward pluralism are very silly.

At some point Senator Schumer was asking Justice Sotomayor if she had empathy with some black policemen who sued because they were discriminated against because of race and I was thinking: doesn't everybody? The answer, of course, is NO. Everybody doesn't have empathy with people of color who suffer discrimination. Many people in this country do not believe that we have a problem with racism here.

These hearings are just another example of the fact that we indeed do have a race problem in the United States, and that many, many people actually still think it is okay to hate people of color.

Okay, I am depressed now.

06 July 2009

Pfeiffer Plays Courtesan

Stephen Frears' Chéri is an uneven romance set in Paris during the Belle Époque. The movie stars Michelle Pfeiffer as the courtesan Léa, Rupert Friend as her lover Fred (whose nickname Chéri provides the film with its title), as well as Kathy Bates and Harriet Walter. The film is based on two books by French novelist Colette.

I'll get right to it. The film doesn't work from the get-go and then continues unevenly for most of its remaining running time. I am calling Chéri uneven because it constantly aspires to be a better film than it is, and those flashes of hope appear every once in a while, making believe that underneath this film a really good movie was just waiting to come out. The writing is occasionally very clever, but more often than not it feels stilted and even awkward.

The acting doesn't always work either. Rupert Friend is very pretty, and that is his main job in the film (looking pretty is the character's primary vocation, as well), but his concept of the character is dour and moody, which left me constantly wishing he would crack a smile or give a wink every once in a while. The trouble here is that the audience needed to fall in love with Chéri, but instead we just wonder what he's thinking about that makes him so unhappy. We worry for him instead of adoring him. I wish Rupert Friend had taken a slightly more light-hearted approach. I understand that having everything that one wants in the world can be a little depressing, but it is certainly enjoyable on occasion, and, after all, a young man in love ought to at the very least get a modicum of pleasure out of the object of his affection.

The production design is kind of a mess, too. The costumes are beautiful, but the film is in the lower-budget range and, unfortunately, looks it. There are only about four exterior sequences and Paris looks very empty. Perhaps it seems distasteful to gripe about this, but much of the pleasure of a period piece, I think, is derived from viewing a series of ridiculously gorgeous costumes and eye-popping set pieces. Chéri's producers cannot really deliver on this, and the film suffers as a consequence.

Okay, I am saying a lot of bad things and I want to move on to the reason why this film—despite these problems—is going to be so high on my 2009 list.

Chéri's ending is superb. It's an awesome, bold, fantastic ending for this film. The end of the movie is so good that the more I think about Chéri the more I like it. I can't get the film's last minutes out of my head. I am not going to spoil it, but the finale somehow makes everything that led up to it worthwhile and sensible. An example of this is the voiceover narration that takes over at a couple of points in the movie. I found this slightly irksome during the picture itself, but the masterful ending needs the narration to work as well as it does, and so it justifies its use earlier in the picture.

Anyway, Chéri, to sum up, doesn't really work. And then it works. Really well.

04 July 2009

"I Love You." Works Every Time.

A few thoughts on Michael Bay's latest movie: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:

1. I must be honest about things and say that Revenge of the Fallen, unlike the original Transformers from 2007, is mostly coherent. I followed the plots just fine and they all (mostly) made sense.

2. Megan Fox is totally hot. Shia LaBeouf is very cute but not cute enough for her.

3. The hottest guy in the movie is actually Ramon Rodriguez who plays Shia's super-nerdy roommate Leo Spitz (he's supposed to be Jewish, I guess??). Leave it to a Hollywood blockbuster to cast an extremely hot guy as the dorky best friend. Rodriguez is very funny and does some nice work in this role.

4. The film was making sense to me until the end (I am spoiling things here but it doesn't really matter) when Shia almost dies and then sees a vision before coming back to life. This is what I don't get. Shia sees the vision of all of the dead Primes and they speak to him and they tell him things, to wit: you cannot find the Key of Whatever; you have to earn it. Okay, so I was like "how are the Primes still alive? Are they in some kind of alternate realm/universe space? Let's assume they are not. Let's assume that they only exist in Shia's vision: like a hallucination. So they aren't real, but that actually cannot be. Because then the Key is somehow materialized and becomes real! This means that the Primes (the Prime Council?) somehow made a decision that said that Shia earned the Key, right? And then they changed the Key from dust back into the Key. For me this is where the movie really goes off the rails. Even if I buy all the science fiction of this film, this is where the film itself actually stops playing by its own rules and starts peddling lunacy.

5. Julie White is wonderful. As usual. Her comedic scenes are all fabulous.

6. Why why why do all of the robots have different accents? How is this possible? Like, I understand that they are voiced by all different actors—Mark Cullen and Michael York (!) and Hugo Weaving and —but they are an alien race who (evidently) speak English on their home planet. Now, if they all speak English on their planet, why doesn't their English all at least sound similar? From whom did they learn English? Is it just picked up from humans on Earth? And if so, where?

7. In terms of visual effects the movie is really cool. I mean, all of this computer-generated business means I care less about what is happening, but they were cool to watch from a technical standpoint.

8. One of my biggest problems with the movie is the same problem I had with the first one, which is that I couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys and so I had trouble rooting during the battles. They're all just giant hunks of metal to me. How am I supposed to know who to root for while they punch one another?

9. Which leads me to the biggest problem I had with Revenge of the Fallen. This is, again, a problem I had with the first film. You're a technologically advanced robot alien who can jump and run and change into a car/truck/motorcycle in a matter of seconds and all you can think to do when you fight is throw a fucking punch?? This movie is better about that than the original, but still. By the end of the flick I was sick of these metal boxing matches. The last battle (which goes on forever) I will grant you, has a robot who inhales things, and that is pretty cool, and there is a cane which is used as a weapon, and another robot who uses some kind of heated sword thing, but mostly there is just a lot of pugilism. This alien race, I would imagine, would have invented more sophisticated and more interesting ways to fight one another—freeze rays and invisible shields and disabling energy blasts and I don't know: technologies a little more advanced than an old-fashioned left hook.

10. Overall, kinda boring (especially near the end) but not worthless. If you are into effects you will be into it. Revenge of the Fallen isn't always coherent and I didn't always know who was winning or who to root for, but if there's a dull moment, wait a couple minutes and something will explode and there will be action again.

11. I was gonna stop at 10 but then I thought of one more thing to say but now I've forgotten. Oh well. Ponder this: I feel like calling a movie "Revenge of the Fallen" was just asking for this joke. Transformers: ROTFL. In truth, Michael Bay and his co-producers probably are laughing. All the way to the bank. And into Transformers 3 which will be out in 2012.

28 June 2009

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1983

Please visit Stinkylulu's blog for The Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1983. I won't tell you who won, but my favorite performance in the field was Glenn Close in The Big Chill.

It's a rather queer field, really. Cher plays a lesbian, Glenn Close plays a cheating wife who asks her husband to sleep with her best friend so that she can have a baby, Alfre Woodard plays a devoted servant-pseudo-lesbian type (who isn't a lesbian, but still), Amy Madigan plays a woman who is married to Barbra Streisand (dressed as a man). Linda Hunt goes all the way and plays a Chinese man.

23 June 2009

The Big Chill, Revisited

I first saw The Big Chill in 2004 but I watched it again today in preparation for the Supporting Actress Smackdown on Sunday. Some impressions:

It has been five years but I always had the impression that all the characters were around thirty years old. Now that I am almost thirty, I don't think these guys look thirty at all. Kevin Kline and Glenn Close each look about thirty-five. The others too. Goldblum looks younger, but that could be because he is an idiot in this film. This may sound weird, but I think this perspective is because I felt like I had more in common with the people in this film five years ago than I do now. It's strange. I would think it would be just the reverse.

I am a big fan of Mary Kay Place still.

I always thought that Jeff Goldblum was really stupid in this movie, and I could never figure out why the other people in the movie had this idiot joker as their friend. This still makes no sense to me, but this time around I found myself really irritated in addition by Kevin Kline. I think the four women, Tom Berenger and William Hurt are fascinating in this movie, but Kline and Goldblum are, to me, almost completely lacking in interest.

William Hurt gives a brilliant performance in The Big Chill. Like, he is truly excellent in this picture. He would win an Oscar in '86 (three years later) for his flamboyant performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman, but his work in The Big Chill is subtle and nuanced and interesting.

This film is not about suicide.

...But I actually think there is something in the work that William Hurt does in the film that goes toward explaining their friend's suicide.

And I know everyone says this, but the soundtrack is still amazingly good. And the moment when JoBeth Williams plays the Rolling Stones on the organ is fabulous.

22 June 2009


Last week a group of really great students and I opened and closed our production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. The production was organized mainly as an educational venture: a fun little project for the actors and the designer and me to work on at the beginning of the summer.

The play is only about a 45-minute piece, but the writing is so complicated and difficult that the actors were fairly panicked from day one. Still, we spent the first week and a half of rehearsals without blocking, working instead on listening to the play's rhythms and doing movement experiments with pieces of text. Here is a brief example of Cane's writing in Crave from the middle of the play. The characters are C, M, B, and A:
C: I see no good in anyone any more.
B: Okay, I was, okay, I was, okay okay. I was, okay, two people, right?
A: Okay.
B: One of these days,
C: Soon very soon,
M: Now.
A: But looks aren't everything.
B: It's just not me.
At first glance the text could be the thoughts of one person, which are spoken by four people. It could also be two separate conversations. A's line "Okay" could be a response to B's "Okay, two people, right?" Similarly, A's line "But looks aren't everything" seems to me a response to C's "I see no good in anyone any more." The conversations, if they exist fold in and back on one another, never staying completely discrete. Characters intervene in other characters thoughts; occasionally there are very clear conversations; at other times, the characters seem to work together to produce streams of words that cohere. In short, the script is very difficult.
Above is a shot of the layout of the space we used for performance. I placed the audience on the stage of the theatre itself, so that we used what is essentially a proscenium theatre as though it were a black-box studio. The seats, you can see, function as an arena (theatre in the round) but there are two rows of seats, so that the actors perform in the center circle, but also between the first row and the second row—that is behind the audience in the first row—and also outside of the larger circle (behind everyone). As you can imagine, where you sat changed your perspective of the show: sometimes actors would be behind you for scenes; at other times they would be only a few feet in front of you; at others you would have a long-view perspective of a scene. The actors moved in out of this space constantly in any number of different (but, of course, carefully choreographed) configurations.The topic of the show is depression and madness, with those, Kane also deals heavily with rape, seduction, cheating, and love. The characters themselves, who are given only letters as monikers, constantly shift. So M is the mother but she is also the doctor, also the lover, also the daughter. B is a little boy, but also an addict, lover, friend, and eventually C herself. Crave, more than anything else though, is fundamentally a show about suicide, and the play ends with the woman killing herself.

The lighting designer's work on this part of the show was absolutely heartbreaking. In the scene the characters are talking about the warmth of the bright white light: moving towards the light. The designer had the stage grow slowly brighter and brighter until all the lights onstage were at full. In the show's final moments, as the woman commits suicide, the characters alternate, but the lines are "Happy. / So happy. / Happy and free." As C said the play's final line, our designer cut the lights in the show's only hard blackout. The effect was chilling and deeply moving. For the company and I the show had very little hope in it, some perhaps, but not very much. The idea behind the hard blackout at the show's end is that the woman kills herself, and she may feel happy, but she does so, there is nothing left, only the memories of the audience. There was no curtain call. We could in no way justify applause after the kind of show we had done, and the actors couldn't really manage to walk back onstage and smile and take a bow.

The responses to all this were very intriguing. At some performances, the mood of the audience was one of confused intrigue, not really understanding the show but respecting it. Sometimes there was no applause and the audience sat silent (at the first performance I swear we sat in silence for thirty seconds before anyone even moved.) At every performance, though, people came up to me—mainly students—to tell me how much they loved it, how much it moved them. I think the company and I are most proud that people came back to see the show more than once. Many people did this, and some came back to see the show a third time! The show definitely struck a chord.
I know the company and I are all very proud of the work we did with this show. It was certainly a labor of love on all of our parts. I don't know when I've been prouder of a show or of a group of actors. And it may seem odd, but we had a hilariously fun rehearsal process. The show is so intense, I think, that whenever we weren't working we spent our down-time laughing as much as possible. At any rate, I am not sure when I will direct again, but I wanted to share this very cool experience. Enjoy the photos!