Friday, July 31, 2009

POSSIBLY THE MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM I'VE EVER SEEN IN THE THEATER


i will not even dignify THE COLLECTOR with a review. the concept was great; the execution was disastrous and unnecessary.

0.3 foreboding spider profiles out of 5. do NOT see this film.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

DID ANYONE ELSE THINK THAT THE CONSTANT MENTION OF CHEKHOV'S "THE LADY AND THE LITTLE DOG" ACTUALLY REFERRED TO KATE SHAGGING THE BOY? JUST WONDERING.


latonya and i watched this entire film tonight. i hit stop on the remote one time so that we could shimmy downstairs and scoop a bit more of latonya's come-and-take-it texas style taco salad. then we finished watching the film. watched the whole thing. from minute one to minute 124. from the first blazing nipple to the last big toe . . . . . . . . and that's really all i've got to say about THE READER.

1.2 adult literacy programs out of 5. 

Monday, July 27, 2009

MAKING FRIENDS WITH THE INTERESTS, UTILITIES, AND VALUES OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON WHILE TRYING TO COME OUT ALIVE ON THE OTHER SIDE

i work in a college writing center. during the summer, while we wait for students to tutor in writing, we have been asked to read and respond to various articles from certain college english journals. the following is a response i recently jotted. several of my close friends have thought it humorous, at one time or another, to get two or three beers down me and then ask my opinions on hunter s. thompson. from what i understand, they think it's funny to watch me get so riled up about one man and his books. well, this was written all under the influence of french roast coffee and flourescent lights. and some of this was written with an adopted air of thompsonian irrerevance. read with a light-heart and fire-side humor. and enjoy.

*************************

Stiles, Stefani, and Randy Harris. “Keeping Curious Company: Wayne C. Booth’s Friendship Model of Criticism and the Work of Hunter S. Thompson.” College English 71.4 (2009): 313-337. Print.

I found Stiles and Harris’ (2009) article exploring the possible textual-friendship between literary critic Wayne Booth and journalistic sociopath Hunter S. Thompson vastly entertaining on several levels. First of all, the authors spend a great deal of time explicating Wayne Booth’s definitions of literary friendship, which I found interesting because literary friendships are not really any different that regular friendships except that literary friends are ethereal and real life friends are anatomical. Or so I thought. Booth had way more to say about literary friendships than I ever imagined could be said. And Stiles and Harris also said way more about all the way-more Booth said than I figured necessary. While I found this bit of the article interesting, I thought Stiles and Harris junked-up the over-jargon just to say “literary friends are like pen-pals you’ve never met, and who don’t actually return your personal letters.” Wouldn’t that have been sufficient? Of course not, because art, while it does imitate life, also requires way more words than real life demands. In real life, I might be tempted to say, “Hunter S. Thompson was my friend, even though I never met him, because we both like Bloody Mary mornings, cuss words and gold-plated lesbians”; however, such basic commonalities in art merely click the razorblade on the dusted mirror because, as Booth attests, there is much more available to the willing literary friend.

According to Booth, three categories of literary friendship exist: “those based on shared pleasures or interests; those based on utility; and the third, the most perfect kind, ‘complete friendships,’ which may begin in one or both of these other kinds of friendships, but which are complete only by virtue of deeply shared values” (Stiles and Harris, 316). In my example of literary friendship with Thompson, it appears that I shallowly rested at Booth’s first criteria for friendship (even though I don’t actually like Bloody Mary mornings or cuss words) by simply equating my pleasures and interests with Thompson’s. Luckily, Stiles and Harris have now craned Booth over my literary shoulder and charged me, through Booth’s voice, to give Thompson’s utilities and values a quick glance. I can only reply to such a charge: say what? The man leaped on his friend’s back to avoid stepping in a pool of pterodactyl blood, and he considered such caution a viable way of life! What values could we possibly share?

Therefore, and secondly, the article interested me because Thompson was the kind of man who would leap on his friend’s back to avoid stepping in a pool of pterodactyl blood. Though I fear Hunter S. Thompson (and loathe his writing) I cannot help harboring an intense fascination with all things “Gonzo.” In fact, two nights ago I picked up a four pack of Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, and I stared long at Ralph Steadman’s illustration on the beer’s label of Thompson’s skull biting a cigarette holder. It was classic “Gonzo” paraphernalia, filling me all at once with both wonder and the willies. In the title of their article, Stiles and Harris refer to literary friendship with Hunter S. Thompson as “Keeping Curious Company.” Curious company? I’m shocked any of us leave Thompson’s literary finales in a single piece: ethereally or anatomically speaking.

Finally, and going back to the article, I found it interesting that Stiles and Harris strayed so far in the end from their original thesis. What began as an exploration of Wayne Booth’s critical ideas concerning literary friendship quickly dissolved into a near whimpering mess of teenage angst and buzz-kill academic-party fouls. Stiles and Harris write with a chip on their shoulders. Somebody in the English department obviously mocked their Ralph Steadman tattoos. Somebody in the History department actually appreciates Nixon. Someone in the journalism department wrote a wicked good report on the Kentucky Derby that never mentioned photographers vomiting on rich ladies’ shoes. Stiles and Harris walked into this paper with a cheese tray of invitation and enlightenment, but flipped it all over to reveal blazing guns and jilted fists. In the next to final paragraph, Stiles and Harris declare:

The central intelligence orchestrating the characters, events, and commentaries reveals the weakness, delusions, and self-absorption that doom all who cannot put Thompson’s manic surface narrator into the appropriate perspective and draw the deeper lessons he offers for living well. The selves that we become as we read the best of Thompson’s work, finding nuance and clarity alongside scramble and chaos, are people who are more capable of understanding the world, our place in it, and the direction in which we need to move, always, to make it better. (335)

From literary critics to eighth graders pissy they can’t wear My Chemical Romance t-shirts to church youth group, Stiles and Harris lose the brilliance of their Booth presentation in a last ditch effort to blow their Gonzo cannons. I appreciated Stiles and Harris’ thesis, as well as my introduction to Wayne Booth; however, I also appreciate my own caution and unwillingness to award Hunter S. Thompson any golden thrones in American letters. Likewise, I do not consider myself weak, deluded, or self-absorbed for tightly holding to such a reading of Thompson. He was a fascinating figure, like a beetle sporting unnatural color patterns, but the directions he suggested in which we need to move, always, went no where better. He feared the nuance of actuality and loathed the clarity of sober relationship, so Thompson hid behind words, drugs, alcohol, and his own self-destructive prophecies. And it was from this place that he eventually dissolved himself altogether, fulfilling his own dream of the ultimate deconstructive act.

Perhaps, in some ways, Thompson strikes too close to home. Perhaps, like any good artist should, Thompson holds up a mirror rather than a window to his reader’s face. If that be the case, through reading Thompson I have watched myself leap on a friend’s back to avoid stepping in pterodactyl blood. I would not be surprised. However, if such a revelation holds the introductory ground where I met Thompson, I choose, as opposed to embracing Thompson, to run the other direction quickly. Thompson is not the one to seek for counsel out of such places. So while I thank Thompson for the literary mirror, I’ll be looking for other windows to escape such fates.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Name is Ash, umm... Bruce!


I come from a long line. A tradition, if you will. I am but one of many who, at a young age, underwent a ritual of sorts. I don't remember where it happened, exactly. But I do remember this: the lights went down, the voices hushed. The assembled crowd had been initiated before. I said, "What's going on?" Someone answered, "Oh, this must be your first time. Dude. We're gonna watch EVIL DEAD!"

You show EVIL DEAD to a 35 year old guy, and you'd probably get a healthy dose of ho-hum. But show it to a prepubescent young man, and it's world changing. You've never seen anything like this before, I promise. It redefines what movies can be. It allows you to love a film that has nothing to commend it. No matter how bad the production values, the acting, the special effects, it's still reall great. That being said, EVIL DEAD II is way better - and Bruce Campbell puts a freaking chainsaw on his stump after he loses his hand. ARMY OF DARKNESS, the next one, is pretty good too, but it's hard to top EVIL DEAD and it's sequel/remake/reboot/whatever.

I tell all of this to convey that I am a Bruce Campbell fan. I've seen most everything - from the sublime THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. to the tepid MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN to the rollicking greatness of BUBBA HO-TEP. Therefore, I am the target audience for MY NAME IS BRUCE.

Campbell directed himself in this one. He also plays himself. He also makes fun of himself. And his fans. And the movies he's been in. And it's a whole lot of fun.

The basic plot is this: Bruce is shooting a typical Bruce flick - CAVE ALIEN II - when he is abducted by his biggest fan. Said fan, who lives in a town called Gold Lick, is a little fuzzy on the whole "fictional" concept, and believes that Bruce is the best person to help rid the town of Guan-Di, an ancient Chinese God who has come back to wreak havoc on the citizens of Gold Lick. Bruce, who is a boozer and a loser, thinks that the town has hired him to act (shades of THE THREE AMIGOS here) in some sort of indie film. Once he figures out that Guan-Di is real, he tosses a little old lady out of her car and makes a run for it. In typical film fashion, he comes to his senses. I won't ruin the ending for you, of course.

You have to understand that this movie has nothing to do with a quality script, good acting, passable special effects, or even good continuity. It's got none of that stuff and it's still boss. MY NAME IS BRUCE is about one thing: Bruce. And it's absolutely crawling with Bruce. Bruce is all over MY NAME IS BRUCE and for that reason, I loved it.

Are you going to love it? Well, let me ask you something. Do you love Bruce? If so, then yes. If not, then go rent EVIL DEAD, invite your closest friends over, turn off all the lights, and watch. 'Cause there's only two kinds of people in this world. People who love Bruce, and people who are going to love Bruce.

MY NAME IS BRUCE gets four burning copies of Fangoria out of five.

Friday, July 24, 2009

STEPHEN KING AIN'T NO WHERE CLOSE TO "THE END"


if you had asked me two years ago to name my favorite writer, i would have said, without blinking a single eye, stephen king. 

however, i've broadened my reading these past two years. writers like annie dillard, flannery o' connor, raymond carver, billy collins, donald ray pollock, amber haines, joyce carol oates, and jonathon safron foer are reinventing the limits of my language. they just do. and they did. consequently, i now read stephen king under a new lamp. 

let's get one thing straight: stephen king is a good storyteller, and only a fool would deny his campfire mystique. and it is without shame that i confess still curling my toes near the bed and second guessing sleep sans light while thinking of stories like "the nightflier," "popsy," "the raft," "the mist," "i am the doorway," and "the boogeyman." not to mention, i learned the value of physical text-structure while reading the bachman novel, the long walk. and i still esteem  carrie and  salem's lot among the greatest novels i have read. plus i am haunted daily, sometimes more, by king's advice to young authors in his book on writing, titled on writing. stephen king is a great storyteller. he's a visionary, a plush garden crop of odd characters and dark wonder. and the man deserves every decibel of protesting baptist voice that he's ever received - praise God, he surely has.

and, if nothing else, stephen king has afforded a plethora of films fit for a site just like this. he's every hockey mask incorporated reviewers dream come true.

however, my beef with stephen king resides directly in his key charm: he is so overly prolific. all joking aside, the man has produced more work since announcing retirement than many writers produce during their careers. meanwhile, dedicated king readers have admitted to me that most king novels stretch 200 pages too long. likewise, many of king's short stories bulge 15-20 pages over the belt-line of good reason. when the man writes, he writes. and when he produces plot, he often produces more than we may need.

unfortunately, this level of abundance often steals from king's pacing, his tension, his ability to pull me taut and pluck me thin. he still hits all the minor keys. he still punches the light switch and makes the rabbits howl, but i find that he rarely devastates me the way i want literature to devastate me. and i want literature to devastate me. one way or the other - overjoyed or overkilled - i want to be devastated by art. 

with that said, imagine my surprise when king's newest story - "morality" - completely devastated me. 

published in the july 2009 issue of esquire, "morality" is a huge story. and it's huge because it's scope is so small, so precise, so taut and plucked thin. also, as myles and i have already discussed, king achieves a new understanding of violence with "morality" - perhaps a more theologically significant violence - than he has ever explored before. sure, i love the cell-phone infused zombies of cell, the shepherding shape-shifter of the cycle of the werewolf, the soul-slurping gas-guzzler in christine, and the crazy-lady with the riding lawnmower in misery; however, the monsters in "morality", as well as their broken retributions, are damn near biblical. 

consider this post a "5 dying favors out of 5" recommendation to follow the link for a free-reading of "morality" on the esquire website. i'm not sure how long the link will last, so brew a fresh pot and get there soon. if "morality" is any indication of king's future, retirement may be the best season of his career thus far.

ps. thanks to slayer and testament and fat tire amber ale for seeing me through this review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BURN AFTER READING? EH...RETURN AFTER RENTING


Netflix has been one of the best things I've done in a long while. Aside from getting married. Getting married tops all contenders for the foreseeable future. But Netflix was pretty much a great idea from the word 'Go'. We decided on the two-at-a-time deal, so that she could rent a musical and I could rent a badass documentary and all would be well with the world. Mutual enrichment, broadening of our collective consciousnesses and all that.

BURN AFTER READING is not the Cohen Brothers best outing. Above this one, I'd put NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, RAISING ARIZONA, and probably FARGO (though I've never really had a taste for it personally--this is purely political placement to to pacify all our readers who'll give me the 'Fargo was effing brilliant!' Sure it had William H. Macy, but it didn't do much for me, Steve Buceimi aside.)

The movie centers around Malkovich's character, a mid-level CIA spook, who has been canned, and endeavors to write a memoir about his experience. Madcap antics ensue, and two gym employees (Pitt and McDormand) come into possession of it, endeavoring then to blackmail Malkovich with it. Throw in George Clooney as a philandering government agent who meets McDormand through an online service, and you've got the making of yet another Cohen film rife with unexpected violence and dark, sick, and shocking humor. Like I say, not their best, but on a scale of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN to THE DA VINCI CODE, this one warrants a rating of DUDE WHERES MY CAR--good concept, funny moments, pretty okay execution.

But this film had its moments of pure genius.

Genius Moment #1: the casting of Brad Pitt as a really bubbleheaded personal trainer. This move was brilliant. If you've not seen it, I won't spoil the film, but Pitt's final moments on screen was the most shocking of the entire movie, and perfectly played.

Genius Moment #2: George Clooney as a neurotic, sex-obsessed government drone who smiles way too much. The more I see Clooney, the more I like him. His turn in Michael Clayton was really good, and his character here reminded me of his time as Ulysses Everett McGill in another Cohen Brothers outing. (Addendum: O Brother Where Art Thou? was better than this one).

Frances McDormand's character got a little old for me. I feel like she plays the same character in every Cohen film, and thus, she was almost a liability, except for the fact that she, like Pitt, is completely vapid and perfectly cast. The plot was sufficiently interesting, but not really that gripping. John Malkovich, who I generally like, was angry most of the time. Again, the funniest thing is the violence, and the Cohen Brothers' ability to use horrific violence where slapstick would go in another film, and with shocking effect. It's like they've been hanging out with Chuck Pahluniak, though for my money, the Cohens know how to pull the 'violence-for-dark-comedic--effect" off way better than the aforementioned novelist.

Three trick phalluses out of five.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

KATE AND LEO: NAMING THE CHINESE BEFORE GOING SINKING, SANK, SUNK


the first day of classes in a chinese university can be quite entertaining for the english language teachers. on the first day of class, the foreign teachers traditionally introduced themselves, telling the class about who they are and where they're from and what they do in their spare time, speaking slowly to acclimate students to the various american voices. afterwards, once the teacher had spoken, the students introduced themselves. in an effort to become immersed in english language and western ideas, students often chose english names for themselves, which they usually obtained from western films and books. occasionally some students missed the mark altogether (perhaps intentionally) and chose names like "stonebreaker" or "doodoo" or "pony." corey green once had a class that named themselves after the ingredients of a salad bar. he had a watermelon, an apple, a lettuce, a tomato, a celery, an orange, and so on and on. in these rare cases, teachers pulled students aside, inquired about their names and suggested possible changes. "stonebreaker" and "pony" kept their titles; however, i was able to talk "doodoo" into becoming "melissa", which she later changed to "hillary."

the two most popular names in our english department were jack and rose, as inspired by the love story in the film TITANIC. every class had one jack, and every class had at least a dozen girls who wanted to be rose. how the one rose in each class was determined, i'll never know, but they all wanted it. like ladies squabbling over the bouquet at the wedding, i imagined that they fought tooth and nail for the right to be named after kate winslet's hocker spitting heroine.

and who can blame them? i have only seen TITANIC the one time in the theatre, and i remember sitting in the back of the theatre weeping like an insulted child. but my tears had nothing to do with jack and rose. no, i was bent on all the images of old people nestling together in their bed while the water ascended in their cabin and the mother reading to her children as the flood levels reached their bunks and the musicians who all returned to the deck as they could go down playing music together. not that any of those images were true to history, mind you, but i'd just had the cancer, and i was delicate to the notion of facing death with a smirking glare.

i also thought kate winslet was smoking. so maybe there was some of that in my emotions as well.

fast forward to two weeks ago when the wife comes home with a copy of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD from the redbox machine (dear God, what a great invention). suffice it to say, i'm not much for the drama genre. i don't care for love stories or films about families deconstructing. if i want a good love story, i watch something by john hughes. if i need domestic deconstruction, i watch FAMILY GUY. but in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD we have the return of the power duo, the kenny rogers and dolly parton of the silver screen. and after biting my t-shirt in titanic agony once before watching kate and leo, i had to see what they were up to again.

for the most part, i do not suspect that many english teachers in china will have hordes of franks and aprils in their classes this fall. nor do i predict that rings of chinese girls will go to fisticuffs over kate winslet's new namesake. wherein TITANIC we watched the steaming, sweating love of jack and rose soar above a sinking ship, in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD frank and april's love is the sinking ship, and children and neighbors and real estate agents and schizophrenic friends all go down with them. this thing starts on a high plane and swan dives into a ridiculous depth of despair and marital mutilation. this film offers no opportunities to walk away with warm fuzzies, unless you call emotional nausea a "warm fuzzy."

still, there is something in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD that demands consideration. apart from the fact that both lead performers - kate and leo - totally upstage their entire careers up to this point, and besides the fact that the direction and music and narration are impeccably spot-on, the story here is uniquely surprising. to simply suggest that REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a film about one couple's marriage dissolving beneath its own self-propelled floodwaters is a short-sighted dismissal of the film's starkest claims, particularly what it speaks concerning traditional gendered roles. i don't want to say much more than that because the intricacies of frank and april's relationship, as unfolded through hopes wrought and hopes deferred, blew my mind. and i like when people go have their own minds blown. i don't want to steal that from anyone.

all in all, i give REVOLUTIONARY ROAD a 4 out of 5. as a person who prides myself on not being easily shaken by art, i was shocked by how hard this film ran me over, particularly the ending. this film gnawed at me for several days, and even this morning, two weeks later, i'm still grappling with the magnitude of where frank and april led one another. although it may not offer many chinese namesakes or win a spot on the AFI's top films of all times, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is definitely a vessel worth riding all the way to its relentlessly grimy bottom.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Requested by the New Hubby

Per Myles' request, here's the video I did for church this weekend. It's pretty self-explanatory.

video