Saturday December 31, 2016
Goodbye to All That
I planned on leaving 2016 on a high note—or highish note—by hiking this morning with my friends Andy and Erika and one of Erika's friends. We planned on meeting at the trailhead to Poo Poo Point (yes, that's the name) at 7:30 AM.
Andy let me know around 6 AM that he had a cold and couldn't make it. I got everything ready—backpack, food, layers of clothes—and headed out to get the car at the new parking garage we use since there's so much construction in our First Hill neighborhood. But I stopped short when I saw the garage gates closed and locked. I read the sign: closed until 6 AM on weekdays and 8 AM on weekends. I stared a good long while, then called Erika and let her know I wouldn't make it, either; then, since I was primed to move, I walked through downtown Seattle to the Sculpture Garden. It wasn't bad but it was hardly a mountain.
A fitting end to this shitty year. It wouldn't even let me get to Poo Poo Point.
See you on the other side.
Tuesday June 17, 2014
Breaking Away for a Bit
I'll be taking a break from the blog for a bit to recharge my batteries. Ciao, bellissima! See you on the other side.
Thursday June 20, 2013
James Gandolfini (1961-2013)
The video below has been making the rounds since the news came of James Gandolfini's death in Rome, Italy, yesterday, at the age of 51. Patricia and I watched a bit of it last night. One of my favorite parts, for obvious reasons, comes at 19:20:
Lipton: When you're choosing film projects what are the most important factors for you, Jim? What comes first?
Gandoflini: The writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing.
Even better is Gandolfini on why Tony Soprano is an everyman:
Lipton: How did you see Tony in the beginning? What did you see in Tony that you could identify with, that you felt you could play?
Gandolfini: It says a lot about a lot of people. It's man's struggle. He doesn't have a religion, he doesn't believe in the government, he doesn't believe in anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor is all going to shit. So he has nothing left. He's got nothing left. And he's looking around. And it was that searching that I think a lot of America does half the time. You know. You can go buy things, you can do whatever, but it's that he has no center left. I really identified with that.
I remember that lost look. I also remember the small, malicious smile that implied he was about to do harm to someone and enjoy it. Scared the shit out of me.
It's fascinating how uncomfortable he is onstage as himself. At the same time, as much as to Lipton, he talks to the students in the audience, telling them what they need to do to make it worth it.
- The New York Times: Mr. Chase, in a statement, called Mr. Gandolfini “one of the greatest actors of this or any time,” and said, “A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.” He added: “I remember telling him many times: ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone.”
- Jeffrey Wells: Gandolfini knew from anger. As one who has fed at the trough of my own anger for decades, I don’t believe he ever lost that basic fuel for his Tony arias. But he was mainly a sensitive X-factor guy, I felt. Rivers of sadness and aloneness within. He spoke with such elegance ... and seemed so perceptive and gentle and (from what I’ve been told by friends and colleagues) so gracious and kind.
- David Remnick: He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him. In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano—lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal—more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television.
Feel free to add links and thoughts below.
Thursday February 14, 2013
The Valentine's Day Posts
- It's a Twitter meme right now: #CandyHeartRejects. I came up with my own last year: the less-romantic movie-themed candy hearts. For the rest of us.
- Dramatically speaking, the point of the story isn't to bring the lovers together but to keep them apart. We need to stretch this out to two hours, after all. Or two seasons. Or 10. If the couple gets together? Nobody cares. So find some way to keep them apart. Which means if you're alone on V Day, you're the point of the story.
- A poem from Leigh Hunt.
- Have you gone to Google's Valentine's Day Images page? Prepare to be blinded by red and crap.
- Seven years ago, for MSNBC, I wrote a piece sorting Hollywood kisses into several categories: the desperate kiss, in the rain, the manhandle, the woman takes charge, and the wow kiss. It's still not bad. Not wow but not bad.
- ABC News picked up on this piece a few years ago but ... Well, here. With a little Elvis Costello thrown in.
- For all the marshmallow valentines out there:
Sorry for the denture smell.
Monday December 31, 2012
The final sunset of 2012 over Puget Sound, as viewed from Evan's office in lower Queen Anne. I'd say “Auf wiedersehen” to the year but I've just seen "Django Unchained' and know better.
Tuesday August 28, 2012
Movie Review: Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
I wonder if it’s more fun making these things than watching them. I hope so.
Roarke, AKA the Devil, bestrides the Earth again in the guise of another actor (Ciarán Hinds, replacing Peter Fonda), and he wants his son, Danny (Fergus Riordan, the best thing in the movie), back from his mama, Nadya (Violante Placido), and thus sends a team or mercenaries, led by pretty-boy Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), to retrieve him.
In their way? Moreau (Idris Elba), a French, motorcycle-riding priest with a taste for wine, who, as the film opens, warns priests that Danny isn’t safe at their monastery. They dismiss his fears. They’re wrong, of course, get theirs, but Nadya and Danny, distrusting Moreau all the while, make their escape. Moreau decides he needs more help. He needs the Rider.
They always call him “The Rider” in these things. Is “Ghost” too silly? Did it not sample well? Is the term too associated with a ridiculous 1970s-era Marvel Comics character with a flaming skull and a flaming motorcycle who sells his soul to the Devil, then fights the Devil, even as he eats souls ostensibly for the Devil? I never did get this guy.
And where is the Rider, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), these days? The All-American white-trash hero is holed up in Europe, lingering in the shadows, and clutching his right hand to let us know he’s tortured. He offers lines like the following in tortured, sotto voce narration: “It likes the dark places. The Rider.”
When Moreau shows up, he and Johnny have the following conversation:
Moreau: You will save [Danny].
Johnny B: I don’t ... save ... people.
Until he does.
Just when Ray Carrigan and company have Danny and Nadya cornered in a junkyard, here comes the Rider, flying into action on his flaming motorcycle. But he’s distracted by eating again (souls), gets blasted, and the bad guys get Danny. The Rider wakes up in a hospital and Nic Cage gets to do crazy Nic Cage shit: asking for morphine and pills and yadda yaddas. When he and Nadya hook up, Nic Cage gets to say a few crazy Nic Cage lines: “No, I get it. You’re the devil’s baby mama.”
To be honest, there’s not enough of this. Nic Cage has built the second-half of his career around intentionally stupid shit (example), and some of that would’ve been preferable to the paint-by-numbers plotline we get here. At a diner, for example, after he and Nadya rescue Danny, and after seeing a father and son bonding at the diner for a few seconds, Johnny decides he wants to bond with Danny, too. His need is so palpable that Danny tells him, “Dude. You’re way cooler than the guys she hangs out with.” This, sadly, pleases Johnny. Is there anything worse than an adult who need the approval of a child? Who want to be cool in the eyes of children?
But then Danny is more grown-up than the overacting adults around him. He actually raises the question we’re all wondering. Aren’t I the Devil’s son? Isn’t that bad? To which Johnny tells him:
The power we have comes from a dark place. but it doesn’t mean we’re bad. We can do good. We can help people.
I thought the Rider didn’t ... help ... people? Oh right, that was a half-hour before.
“Ghost Rider 2” keeps doing this. We’re told that Roarke isn’t powerful walking the Earth; he only has the power of the deal. But we never see him make a good deal. He turns Johnny into the Rider to do his bidding, but the Rider never does his bidding. Ray actually reneges on his deal with the Devil, asking for more dough, and gets no comeuppance. Instead, after the Rider kills him, the Devil revives Ray as Blackout, a demon with the power of “de-CAY.” At the same time, at a far-out monastery with bald dudes with spirograph tattoos on their faces (head dude: Chris Lambert), the Devil is finally exorcised from Johnny. He’s himself again! Ah crap. Just when Danny needs him.
You see, the priests have this crazy idea to kill Danny, since he’s the Devil’s son; but then Blackout shows up, kills them, and takes Danny back to Roarke, who plans to transfer his soul into Danny’s body, effectively killing Danny and making himself stronger than ever.
So how do these three—the devil’s baby mama, a French alcoholic priest and a white-trash stunt rider without powers—save the boy from this coven of chanting yadda yaddas? Danny, who has the same power as his father, gives Johnny his power back, and, in a lengthy car-truck chase down European highways, Ghost Rider kills Blackout, growls “Road kill,” then lifts Roarke high in the air and sends him crashing through the earth. “Go home,” he growls.
It’s not cool, it’s not gloriously stupid. It’s just way, way tired.
So isn’t Johnny in the same place he was in the beginning? Clutching his right hand and bemoaning the dark places? You would think! But apparently the Rider was originally an angel named Blah-Blah and Johnny now feels that angel and so yadda yadda. He’s not yellow-flamed anymore but blue-flamed, and that’s good. Mother and Damien are reunited. The Rider is a hero. Or at least better. Or at least he doesn’t have to clutch his right hand.
“Ghost Rider 2” got made because the first, awful “Ghost Rider” grossed $115 million domestic, $228 worldwide, back in 2007. Never mind that in the U.S. it barely grossed twice its opening weekend total ($45 mil), indicating either a puny fanbase or lousy word-of-mouth. The studio thought it had a hit. It didn’t. This one grossed $22 million opening, $55 million total. Road kill.
Friday June 01, 2012
Movie Review: A Checkout Girl's Big Adventure (Les tribulations d'une caissière) (2011)
“A Checkout Girl’s Big Adventure” is hardly a cashier du cinema.
Here’s a scene three-quarters of the way through that exemplifies its monumental stupidity, its arc de stupid, its tour imbecile.
Our title character, Solweig (Déborah François), a cashier at a Target-like store, is being followed into the women’s locker room (cashiers have locker rooms in France?) by the creepy, petty floor manager, Mercier (Jean-Luc Couchard), who has just found out—ah ha!—that the mysterious blogger, misscheckingout.com, who has gotten over a million hits expounding on customer-service matters, and whose posts have led to the beginning of a nationwide strike by checkout girls in France (are there no checkout boys in France?), is, in fact ... Solweig! She’s the one who’s making the lives of management miserable! So what does he do with this information? How does he handle Solweig, who, he now knows, has the ear of the nation and a forum with which to talk to millions about every aspect of her day?
He sexually assaults her, of course. Wouldn’t anyone?
But wait! At that moment, passing by, is a young, handsome man dressed in a Santa Claus suit. (It’s Christmastime.) He’s named Charles (Nicolas Giraud), and he has a thing for Solweig, and she for him, because one night when it was snowing as prettily as it snows in snowglobes, she, in the midst of breaking up with a boyfriend we’ve never seen, slips in the snow and Charles emerges from a limo to help her up. Like in a fairy tale! He also gives her his phone number, which is subsequently besmirched and made illegible by her bratty 10-year-old brother, whom she is raising alone, so of course she can’t call and make a date and continue along the path of young love. Fortunately, he finds out about her, since her store ID card slips from her purse as she’s leaving a tutoring gig, where the tutee, another bratty thing who thinks it’s cool to talk in hip-hop slang, just happens to be ... wait for it ... Charles’ brother! So now he knows where she works. He can ask her out.
Except he delays. He’s wondering: Is she a teacher? Is she a cashier? What is she? And rather than ask, he dresses up as Santa Claus so he can spy on her without revealing himself. But when Mercier attempts to rape her, he reveals himself: he bursts in, head-butts Mercier, gapes at Solweig, then flees.
But wait! Our heroine, who is sweet, pretty and rather self-satisfied for someone with such a shitty job, has just been revealed as a hugely successful blogger, then assaulted by her scummy boss, then saved by the man of her dreams. What does she do? Why, she follows the man of her dreams into the parking lot to thank him. No no, I'm sorry, that would make too much sense. No, she follows him out into the parking lot ... to berate him for making her lose her job. Seriously. “Now I’ve lost my job!” she wails. “I’ve lost everything because of you!” Because of him? Because he saved her from rape? From her boss? She can get fired for that?
Besides, doesn’t she get it? A million hits. Talked about on the nightly news. Fomenting a national strike. How can she not see the upside of all of this? Surely it means a book deal. Maybe even a best-seller. Perhaps called, as this film is called, Les tribulations d'une caissière.
Because we can see it. We can see it a mile off.
“Checkout Girl” could’ve been good. Its topic is a relevant one. Many of us have been there. I worked as a cashier for a number of years at a bookstore in Seattle, and I too was driven crazy by the mindless, endless repetition, the sometime-nasty customers, the often insipid management. I once wrote a short story called “Bags” about a cashier who anthropomorphizes the bags he’s supposed to give away; who treats the bags as more human than the customers. It began:
The question about the bags was the penultimate part of an eight-step procedure Scott Widdershins repeated 240 times a day, 4800 times per month, or approximately 28,800 times in his first half year at the Pine Avenue branch of R & R Books. The procedure began with a greeting (“Hello”) and segued into a request for a form of payment (“Cash, check, or charge?”); then, while the purchases were being rung up, and though it was not recommended in The R & R Employees Handbook, Scott usually attempted some kind of conversation with the customer (about literature, or the local sports team, or, daringly, politics); afterwards, credit card slip signed, driver's license number confirmed, change given, Scott asked about the bags. “Would you like a bag?” he asked. There were five types at R & R Books--small, medium and large (paper), medium and large (plastic)--and if the answer was affirmative, and once a preference for paper or plastic was sorted out, Scott slipped their purchases into the properly-sized bag, thanked them, and turned to help the next customer coming down the line.
(Sorry about Widdershins.)
“Checkout Girl” has some of that. In her blog posts she writes about the weight of all the goods they scan every day: a ton, she says; an elephant’s worth of stuff. But her posts, at least translated into English, seem too general and obvious to garner any kind of attention, let alone a million hits, let alone the ear of the nation.
But of course it’s a fairy tale.
The biggest part of the fairy tale? That she’s trapped in her job. She’s blonde, with movie-star looks, and a hugely popular forum. What can’t she do? Her checkout mates include a heavyset black woman with two jobs and too many kids; a peppy Muslim girl with two jobs, one kid and another on the way; and a middle-aged white journalist for a nefarious magazine who is trying to uncover misscheckingout.com. When she does, when she exposes Solweig as a star, she, in a sense, releases both white girls from the checkout-girl trap. They go on to better things. The colored girls remain behind. Your fairy tale isn’t everyone’s fairy tale.
“Les tribulations d'une caissière” was apparently recommended for the Seattle International Film Festival this year by a sponsor, the French embassy in San Francisco, and for that I’d like to thank them. Because it’s a movie that furthers cultural understanding. It reminds us that French films aren’t always as good as “L’Heure d’ete,” or “Un Prophete,” or “Des hommes et des dieux.” Some are as awful as the worst crap coming out of Hollywood.
Tuesday February 14, 2012
Valentine's Day: The Point of the Story
The point of the story is to keep the lovers apart. That’s where the drama is. That’s what we paid to see. We want to anticipate them being together, we want to hope for them to stay together, but once they do stay together they become a bit dull. They share a bathroom and go to work and come home and share a bathroom. They’re no longer lovers. They’re a couple. Who wants to watch that? Nobody. Not even the couple. Especially not the couple.
So the goal of the dramatist is to keep the lovers apart for as long as possible. How? However. Family hatreds, class issues, war. She’s married, he’s shallow, they’re gay. He doesn’t recognize true love, neither does she. Fiddle-dee-dee and lah-dee-dah and Play it again, Sam. Stella! Elaine! Adrian! Or the old standby: Please, we’re British.
Which is to say if you’re alone on this awful day of forced national celebration of what Gore Vidal once referred to as “love love love”? You’re the point of the story.
Thursday January 05, 2012
Happy New Year! Five Days Late
Happy New Year!
I know. I’ve had a cold.
Being in the publishing business, I’ve been living in 2012 for a while now (I’m up to July), but I like the idea of fresh starts and New Year’s resolutions, even though most of them go the way they go. There’s a great, small Danish bakery, Nielsen’s, a block from where I work, and one day in January, two or three years ago, in the depths of the Global Financial Meltdown, as I was waiting for my mid-afternoon latte and happy-hour nosh (most likely a custard-filled snitter), I asked the barista how business was going. I was worried about them, as I was worried about all small businesses in the area. She admitted that things were pretty slow. “But they should pick up around February,” she added. Februrary? I wondered. Had she heard something I hadn’t? “Why February?” I asked. “That’s when most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions,” she said.
We are what we are. But I still like the idea of resolutions even though I don’t write down the New Year’s variety. Maybe my resolution for next year is to write down my New Year’s resolutions.
The ones floating about my head for this year involve getting serious about French again, or Chinese, which is still better than my French, or writing this or that long unfinished project, or reviewing and ranking every superhero movie or baseball movie. They involve reading more, and reading more fiction, and traveling more, and...
Unfortunately, there’s only so much time in the day. In this way, the resolutions contradict one another. They jostle one another for my attention. Me! Choose me! I doubt I can do superhero movies and baseball movies. I can’t study French and Chinese. Things get left behind. Most things. Life sweeps us along.
It’s all about time and interest. I have too little free time and too many interests. I suppose I’ll worry the year when my interests become manageable. It’ll indicate a decided lack of interest in things.
So here’s to the New Year. Here’s to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.
Saturday January 08, 2011
Photo of the Day
Friday December 31, 2010
The Last Blog Post of 2010
I'm still in the process of seeing some of the big U.S. releases in December (“King's Speech”; “True Grit”), so I'm holding off on my Top 10 list until all that's done. If I can't promise punctuality I can promise thoroughness. Since I can't be the first out with a top 10 list, I hope to be the last.
In the meantime, here are the movies I've reviewed so far this year. “Un Prophete” and “Restrepo” are still tops for me.
What about you? Favorite movies from 2010?
Feel free to include favorite books and songs as well. I really need songs.
(And for anyone who thinks the conceptual video with great dancing is dead, please check out Janelle Monae's “Tightrope,” which I first came across via Time magazine's top 10 list. A sure sign you're old: when Time magazine is hipper than you.)
Good-bye, 2010. Skol, everyone.
Thursday August 20, 2009
Link of the Day
A piece on the joy of walking your dog, called "One Night in Dog Heaven," by my friend Jim Walsh. Not many writers are able to pull the eternal and the mystical from the quotidian as well as Jim. Excerpt:
Master, I know I am low on your priority list but please deliver me from this godforsaken prison of human stasis and let me run wild. You hold the key to me being the best I can be, the unbridled creature I was born to be. Let me hump a few friends and strangers, chase a few leaves I have mistaken for pheasants and overall be so in the moment that I make all the Zen people look like multi-taskers.