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

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.)