Friday, December 25, 2009

Favorite Song of the Year

I got lots of great music this year. The Avett Brothers new record is tops on that list, but my favorite song of this year was one that I didn't find until a couple of weeks ago. My good friend Lauren Tripp hooked me up with this little youtube video and, who'd a thunk it, I fell in love with these boys from London. Check it out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

ALEC BALDWIN RETURNS TRIUMPHANT

I have to announce that 30 Rock is quickly becoming my new favorite show I didn't catch the first time around. Alec Baldwin is unbelievable, and this show gouges all kinds of issues, particularly race. I mean, it skewers race issues in ways that no comedy I've ever seen has done. Take that, Cosby:



One of my professors led a seminar this Spring on race and theology that I hated to miss, including wonderful pieces by Cornel West, Spike Lee, Toni Morrison, bell hooks and others. And while there can be no substitute for critical, clear thinking, once again, I'm convinced that the comedic can be a great way to disarm people into talking honestly about that which scares us to death to talk about most of the time.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

THE FREAKING AWKWARDNESS OF FAITH: A HAMSTERIAN REACTION TO JESUS CAMP


alright, let's just get one thing straight up front: JESUS CAMP is a freaking weird little film. actually, "freaking awkward" may be a better descriptor. yes, let's say that JESUS CAMP is a freaking awkward little film that unsettles viewers at nearly every angle of viewing. admittedly, it's freaking awkward to see people raising children to believe something you do not believe or, on the flip side, to believe something you personally hold dear but in drastically different ways. in either scenario - as a distanced outsider of non-christian belief or as a fellow participant of Gospel faith - JESUS CAMP is a freaking awkward little film. and i love freaking awkward little films.

one of the most freaking awkward aspects of choosing to believe in God / a god / a goddess / some gods / this totally unfeasible gospel of miraculous birth followed by an even more unfeasible miracle of continuous redemption and resurrection is that, by making the choice to believe one path, you nix every other possible road to Paradise. also, by choosing a particular Path to follow, you simultaneously choose to become tragically narrow-minded, socially disheveled, perpetually repentive, potentially offensive, and hypocritically incapable of upholding the statutes of your chosen faith. awkwardness and close-mindedness come with the faith territory. they're unavoidable. fervent belief in one thing leads one to firmly believe all other possibilities are not. and it's that last bit right there that really pisses people off.

me and latonya are narrow-minded believers of the Gospel of Jesus. all that immaculate conception, resurrection and ascension, gifts and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, authority of the Bible, communion of the saints, coming of the Kingdom, power of forgiveness and blessings, the tragic nature of christian music, we believe it all. and we are awkwardly narrow-minded enough to believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father, just like the freaking weirdos in JESUS CAMP. me and the wife have bought into this jacked-up and nonsensical Gospel of Jesus hook, line and sinker.

and we have also committed, like the weirdos in JESUS CAMP, that when we have children - all four of those little caramel skinned mulattoes - we will teach them what we believe. to skirt around the issue and not teach them what we believe would be a sure sign that we do not really believe what we say that we believe. and as narrow-minded and awkward as it may appear to raise little caramel skinned mulatto children on Bible verses, worship songs and hopeful prayers, it is what the wife and i agreed to the day we buckled and relinquished our common senses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

and God only knows what a documentary about our christian parenting would look like: little Social Distortion shirted half-black girls with bright purple clacker balls and skull-n-crossbone stockings praying cancer out of the neighbor lady "in the name of Jesus." they'll be locking us up one day for sure.

so, back to the documentary. obviously i viewed JESUS CAMP as a fellow participant rather than a distanced peruser. still, by the end of the film i felt a combination of great hope and great sadness. great hope because i personally find children desiring God a beautiful sight. great sadness because i personally do not believe the Gospel of Jesus is as melodramatic, difficult, busy, and militant as the adults in JESUS CAMP pressed upon these children. and while i enjoyed seeing children excited about scripture and loving Jesus, i also knew that the pressure of faith forced upon their youth would haunt them one day, and many of those children will have long painful paths of learning to forgive those who presented faith so harshly in the beginning.

when i look into the Gospels, there are images of Jesus gathering up the children, calling them to Himself, speaking blessings over them. there is a tenderness that woos the children to Jesus, one so light that it caused the disciples to envy and rebuke the children. that tenderness and wooing was not evident in this film. far from it, in fact. and that lack tenderness, that absence of necessary wooing, i fear, could scar any child raised beneath a viciously aggressive Gospel.

the Gospel of Jesus is one that promises peace and blessing but has been revealed prominently by a history of war and division. for this reason, the film also looks at the militant Gospel training of young people through the eyes of fundamentalist political power and uber-conservative republican doctrine. the political talk in JESUS CAMP feels out of place until the viewer realizes that the way we view our authority - ie. our God/god - is the way we view our powers. and the way we view our powers decides how we treat our neighbors, our friends, our enemies. this is where, i suppose, the lack of tenderness in training children to believe in an all-powerful God becomes more scary than sad.

overall, i give JESUS CAMP four dc talk cassette tapes out of five. for all the film's awkwardness (and there's loads of it), and in spite of my personal reactions (which were flaming fierce), JESUS CAMP does capture an earnestness in faith that is phenomenally more pure than its expression. this purity is difficult to see in the midst of so much holy-rolling oddity, but it's there, bedrocked beneath the surface, deep down under a whole heap of human weirdness. and perhaps that's the beauty, rather than the horror, of the whole affair. after all, at the end of the day, i trust my righteousness to be determined far more by my faith than by my ridiculously failed attempts and approaches.

Lord God in Christ, i'm banking on it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A MEDITATION ON FORBIDDEN LOVE

Kelly's great review below begs the question: What does it mean that love is forbidden? Can we rightly compare ROMEO AND JULIET with TWILIGHT? Are they talking about the same thing?
To this end, a little brief, historical comparison...

****

Let's go medieval for a moment, with A KNIGHT'S TALE. Having re-watched this with the folks recently, I was struck by the ways in which, once again, this is a tale of forbidden love--a humble thatcher masquerading as a knight to gain the love of the royal maiden. Heath Ledger does a good job portraying William Thatcher, the knight-to-be, to Shanynn Sossaman's lady. BTW, whatever happened to her?


Anyway, the tension in this one exists because of societal boundaries: there's a fairly rigid 'caste' system of sorts, codified because of divine right of kings and centuries of tradition, such that people are what they are. However, in Chaucer's day, these rules are breaking down; knights are rising up to nobility; merchants are moving up into a new middle-class; royalty are no longer respected as royalty if they're total pricks. But the point is this: what makes the love between Heath and Shanynn 'forbidden' is a global device, a societal vision which is, in a sense, totalizing. There is no other Europe other than the one they live in, and so, if you're going to fall in love, you have to fall in love according to the rules of Europe, which means "no love across class lines".

Heath and Shanynn, thus, have to pursue their love, not in spite of the rules of society, but deceptively through the rules of society. Their love comes to completion only as Ledger ascends to knighthood and joins the ranks of nobility, and some sense, making their love no longer forbidden.
**

Fast forward a couple of centuries past Chaucer, and we come to the Grand Maul Seizure of forbidden love: ROMEO AND JULIET. Say what you want about the 1968 Zefirelli version; I thought the Baz Luhrman version with DiCaprio and Danes was phenomenal. But in any event, let's examine what it means here for love to be 'forbidden'.


The emphasis of R&J is on the family role of 'forbidden love'. These star-crossed lovers are kept apart, not by societal lines, as this is the 16th century; societal boundaries are really fluid; monarchies are dying off left and right, and the middle-classes are making their case to be the new nobilities. See Shakespeare's OTHELLO for the ultimate example of societal movement during this time. In R&J, what keeps the lovers apart is not societal regulation, but family regulation. In the absence of a firm, uniform world as in the Middle Ages, families become the new boundaries within which 'forbiddenness' can be established, more or less. In any other circumstances, barring the names of 'Montague' and 'Capulet', we have a comedy, but because of the regulation of love by family contraints, this one turns into tragedy.

Granted, 'family' depends in part on where in society they fall. Had Romeo, for example, been a commoner, Juliet's family would have objected for other reasons; thus, Paris is the perfect match in their eyes for Juliet, as he's the bachelor-of-the-month (played by a young Paul Rudd in Luhrman's version). But what I want to point out here is that the guiding rubric for 'forbidenness' is that of the family; the family has imbibed their understanding of acceptable love from society, to be sure, but as far as who adjudicates the boundaries of right love--this falls to the family and not society at large.
***

Moving on to the modern-day CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, one of the understated gems of the early 90s, we find the endgame of 'forbiddenness': the forbidden love posited by and against one's self. Whereas in KNIGHT'S TALE and ROMEO AND JULIET, love is forbidden by forces or persons external to the individual, by modern-day, the rules for true or forbidden are posited by the individual themselves, apart from family or societal considerations. Notice, for example, that you never see the main character's families in CHW....


God bless Jennifer Love Hewitt. In this film, both positively and negatively, the 'right' love is that which is given the character by themselves: Amanda, despite her societal standing, rejects the tool Mike Dexter in search of the real deal; Preston Meyers decides that Kurt Vonnegut is awesome literature and pursues the dream girl that he knows is the true love of his life, Amanda Beckett. The two are drawn together in spite of who? Not society, which they defy, nor in spite of families, which do not exist in this film, but in spite of themselves. Both Amanda and Preston struggle to hold faith to an ideal which exists outside their vision, and to deny the tendency to choose that which is before them, in pursuit of that which is beyond them. In other words, their greatest fight is the one that they have with themselves, to pursue love which they know is ridiculous, but which they desire anyway. Maybe a better example of this would be the Seth Green scenario in which he winds up with his ultimate nemesis, the wankster falling in love with the literature nerd, two souls finding each other, despite themselves.
***

I submit that NEW MOON is of this last kind, the great postmodern forbidden love story, in which the true oppressor is not society, not family, but ourselves. Granted, the stakes are slightly higher here: should love conquer the self, somebody's getting a brand new set of glittery skin for Christmas. But in the end, the lovers in NEW MOON have only themselves to answer to and to overcome in order to achieve their 'forbidden love'.

Monday, December 7, 2009

NEW MOON AND THE PEPTO BISMOL SCHOOL OF ACTING: A GUEST REVIEW BY KELLY RIAD



“Here, here will I remain with worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here will I set up my everlasting rest; and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-wearied flesh.”

There’s a reason Shakespeare has endured the ever-changing map of humanity. The man (or men, depending on whichever conspiracy theory you subscribe to) could write. His mastery of words painted pictures so beautiful, that he invoked emotions the heart knew not it had. His plays have been recreated on stage and screen; either left alone or twisted and transformed to adapt to the current state of society.

Those words above came from his decidedly most famous play, “Romeo and Juliet.” It was said by author, Stephenie Meyer, that the play had inspired the second novel in her best-selling The Twilight Saga series, NEW MOON.

Let’s just start there—Saga. The word means any narrative or legend of heroic exploits.

Against two warring families and age-old mutinies, two teenagers found love, lost loved ones and each other, and yet despite all their obstacles, not even death could keep them apart.

It’s brazen, at best, to compare NEW MOON to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Despite the lack of heroics, what’s really at loss? The soul? The humanity? Fortunately both were safe since I didn’t see either in this movie. What I did see was young Hollywood’s attempt to be taken seriously and falling far from the mark.

But they cannot solely be to blame. Some, if not a lot, of the fault lies within the pages of the books themselves. Let me say this. I was a faithful follower, preaching the gospel of TWILIGHT to any who would listen. Passing the books around, I might as well have been wearing a white, short-sleeved button up dress shirt with a black tie, riding a bike from house to house. The first movie cured me of this madness. The second was like trying to smoke a cigarette after years of having quit—it just made me gag and left a terrible taste in my mouth.

My friend, Aubrey, and I decided to make a day of our NEW MOON watching experience. We took a half-day at work, had lunch at this great burger joint called Twisted Root, where you’re given a character’s name to pick up your order. She was Cindy Lauper. I was given Bella Swan. It was kismet.

The matinee of NEW MOON could otherwise be known as the Walk of Shame showing. The patrons were all older, there were a few couples. Even in the darkened theater, you could see the guilt on their faces. We staked our seats in the middle, propped up our feet on the chairs in front, and huddled in for worst.

Simply the opening had me rolling my eyes. Aubrey and I giggled, snickered and snorted (well, I snorted) through most of the movie. On more than one occasion, I felt the urge to call an ambulance for Kristen Stewart’s eye-fluttering, nostril-flaring, heavy-breathing, epileptic histrionics. While this story is supposed to be about pure, passionate love, if someone looked at me with the twisted, constipated face Robert Pattinson’s Edward looks upon Bella, I wouldn’t shed a tear to see him walk away.

And then there’s Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black—well, at least he made eye contact while delivering his lines.

The scenes of tortured dreams Bella suffers after Edward’s leaving apparently translated into sounds of actual torture on the screen, with Stewart sounding more like she was in labor, then love’s labour’s lost. And somewhere in all of this, was the complete lack of emotion. The “Ouch. Paper cut” acting depicting a tale that has prompted a maelstrom of emotion from its readers, to the point where women tattoo the words on their bodies, girlfriends dump their boyfriends, and people are divided into “teams,” and yet the characters move from scene to scene with little more than a blip on the emotional radar.

This has already been said, but it’s one of the few things worth noting about the movie. The Volturi were the lone beacon in this dark, moonless night. Michael Sheen is mesmerizing. His very small amount of time on screen is the only break you receive where you can actually get lost in the story, where you forget you’re watching a bunch of twenty-somethings play make-believe. Dakota Fanning, with few lines but much more spoken in the simple expressions on her face, restored faith in the future of Hollywood and entertainment. You watch her and sigh, thinking, “Thank God, she will endure.”

The movie ended with Aubrey and me standing up and nearly bolting for the exit. We usually linger awhile in our seats, enjoying the music of the end credits, letting the whole experience sink in before we leave the movie world and re-enter reality.

I honestly don’t know what it is about the books that has made them literary crack. The characters are flawed, and not in a way that makes them endearing or relatable. Bella is boring, somewhat psychotic, and completely submissive. Edward is possessive, controlling, and melodramatic. Jacob is manipulative and inconsiderate. The story’s been done before—even Meyer’s admitted the books that inspired her. There’s no real sacrifice. Should our hearts break for Bella because her high school boyfriend dumped her? And yet we couldn’t get enough of the books. We couldn’t, until we saw the movies.

I give NEW MOON 1 Kristen Stewart lower lip bite out of 5. NEW MOON is the girl you pick up in a bar you thought was hot—you get hammered and go home with the book; you wake up sober with the movie.

Friday, December 4, 2009

THE CROWNING JEWEL OF THE JUDD APATOW CANON AND THE REKINDLING OF JOHN HUGHES' TORCH


this film has come to me on skyscraper high recommendations from nearly every angle of my community. still, and somehow, i have only just now gotten around to seeing this film last night. it's silly and preposterous that i have waited this long, and i walked away from the film wondering what good i have accomplished with my life, and what other great jewels i've deprived myself of, these past few years.

i'm with myles: judd apatow delivers the hits. and, ironically, even though his movies have the expected apatow crassness and blushing humor, they also tackle unique struggles in my generation's need for maturity. 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN taunted our obsession with sexuality. SUPERBAD grabbed high school by the poop-mouth dirty tongue and jangled our notions of identity. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS smoked our dependencies on medication while also defining solid friendships. and TALLEDEGA NIGHTS (which apatow produced) reminded us that applebee's is a 5 star joint if you live a 2 star existence.

it's easy to dismiss apatow's movies as nothing more than filthy bathroom and boy humor, never realizing that, despite the necessary hollywood hyperboles that overgeneralize gender and age stereotypes in apatow's films, the man has diligently catalouged a faithful history of our current generation. it's as if apatow picked up where john hughes left off, fast forwarding suburban white culture from the 80s and turning the camera on us again in the new millenium. in that sense, we could feasibly celebrate both filmmakers for their anthropological achievements alone.

not to mention the ways hughes and apatow both taught me to cuss and banter better.

with that said, KNOCKED-UP, in my opinion, is the crowning jewel of the apatow canon. as myles already beautifully stated, everything that apatow does well finds it's apex in KNOCKED-UP. the overly exaggerated boy humor and girl fretting. the blinding addiction to self. the adult bodies trapped in middle school mindsets. the larger than life crisis that forces everyone in the film to re-evaluate their own lives and their need for others. these are signature apatow moves just as much, if not more, than the autoerotic jokes and dookie references.

i do think KNOCKED UP is the funniest film in the bunch, far exceeding some of the cheaper laughs in SUPERBAD (i also peed a little in that one) and the dirty-for-dirtiness sake of 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN ("you know how i know you're gay?"); however, it's the film's heart and tenderness that stood out most to me.

for instance, i was completely taken off guard when we learn that pete's (paul rudd) actual infidelity with debbie (leslie mann) was a fantasy baseball league and solitary film nights. after the film, i told latonya that i believe the wayward desire in most married men is not for a bimbo as much as for a little return on that long lost bachelor freedom. in the film, pete did love his wife. he loved his kids. but there was that aching wanderlust that needed other men and some solitude from time to time. of course, the message here is that pete and debbie had dissolved into a place where pete's request for such personal time would translate to debbie as a call for divorce. we see this in her immediate assumption that pete's having an affair. debbie jumped to the conclusion that pete no longer wanted her, not even considering for a moment that maybe pete just wanted a bit more pete. i thought this scene was brilliant, and i tip my hat to apatow for not relying on the typical man-wants-other-woman scenario. it's moments like this (and there were several in KNOCKED UP) that illustrate apatow's ability to abuse and transcend his own signature stereotypes.

all in all, this is a great film. it's funny and warm and, like the great john hughes' films of yore, it reminds us that we all have a little growing up to do. as with myles, i cannot recommend KNOCKED UP highly enough. it definitely deserves 5 googled murder searches out of 5.

WOLFMAN

THE WOLFMAN

This looks incredible. I love Benicio del Toro. Pairing him with Anthony Hopkins is like putting awesome sauce on an awesome burger.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NO, I'M NOT USING THIS POST TO MAKE SOME BIG ANNOUNCEMENT

I've been a fan of Judd Apatow, well, since I saw Knocked Up. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie, aside from the fact that it was by the director of 40 Year-Old Virgin, which I saw and loved, but thought it was because 1) I was a virgin, and 2) I think Steve Carrell is hilarious even when he's playing a serious role. But once I saw this, and the more recent Pineapple Express, my tune changed, and I realized that--sure, there was probably some deep, latent identification going on with Steve Carrell, but more probable was the fact that Apatow and his rotating cast of awesome make some really hilarious movies.


So, what is it about Apatow's films that proves to be such a draw? Let's run down a few suspects.

1) DUDE COMEDY--I don't remember the last time I sat around making a joke about pubic hair or bongs. But I've got more than enough stories about getting stepped on in the middle of the night or getting hit in the unmentionables. I in no way resonate with any of Seth Rogen's friends, except that I've lived in my share of crappy houses with way too many guys, and confused a framed poster with high art on occasion. Case in point: I have a seven foot U2 Rattle and Hum poster sitting in the front foyer with absolutely no place to put it in our apartment. But I can't bear the thought of just throwing it out.

2) PREGNANCY--Like I said, not trying to make a statement here. But like a friend of mine points out, babies are God's reminders that life is not controllable, that life gets through the cracks in our plans and poops on our shoes. I love the aspect of this movie which is an unseen actress who is the catalyst for all kinds of plot changes. Consider the fact that the baby is the one steering the ship of the entire plot, and we only see her in the last four minutes.

3) GUY GETS GIRL WAY OUT OF HIS LEAGUE--THIS I can resonate with, and I'll speak for the other bloggers here, that this is nearly categorically true. All men wind up with women who are way too good for them, and far prettier than us.

4) GOOFBALL TURNS INTO A GOOD GUY--Again, I resonate with this. One of the things I love about this film is that you have true moral development. Seth Rogen becomes a better person. He starts reading the baby books; he takes responsibility for his life and for other lives; he rises to the occasion. Does he still make awesome one-liners about bongs? Yes. Does he still deliever epithets about the gynecologist that make me rewind giggling? Yes. And in it all, he rises to the occasion.

This is a slam dunk. I can't recommend this movie enough except to give it 5 furry stuffed animals out of 5. It's tremendous.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS


the point i was trying to make in class today was this: facts alone are boring. straight, rigid, cold data is meaningless without the perspective of an expert or artist to help us know how (or maybe even why) to digest certain information. writers like Annie Dillard, Malcolm Gladwell, Natalie Angier, Jon Stewart, and all those folks at the Schoolhouse Rock have a boss way of looking at blank facts and asking the question, "what's the story here?" and the story these writers pull out of hard concrete data is nothing short of mesmerizing at times.

recently, i tipped my Hockey Mask to one such writer: Mary Roach. the literary tricks this woman performs with human cadavers are enough to make George Romero eat his own skin. not to mention the way she sent me to the bathroom with a mirror and flashlight to find my own clitoris. (it wasn't there, mind you.) nevertheless, these are examples i shy away from in my reading classes. you gotta be careful where you talk about your labia.

so as an example of life breathed into dead-knob data, i showed the trailer for THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (and i highly recommend watching the trailer immediately.)

for all purposes, based on sheer facts alone, this is the worst premise for a documentary film ever conceived. the bare-bone details declare:

- some dude named Billy Mitchell set a the world record score for Donkey Kong in 1982.
- that score went unchallenged for 20 years
- until a middle school science teacher named Steve Wiebe desired to excel at something: namely beating Mitchell's Donkey Kong score
- an arcade game database of official scores, Twin Galaxies, presided over the event and recorded the scores
- Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong world record was beat twice by Steve Wiebe

again, there is nothing in this premise that should send us to netflix with our queues in flux; however, the story created by the cameras and by the careful eye of the filmmakers, transforms the worst possible documentary scenario into one helluva great movie.

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS is not merely about video games and world record scores. it's a film about integrity. it's a film about strange obsessions. it's about the desire to succeed when every other attempt has failed. it's about a midlife crisis and a wife supporting her husband's need to see this one thing through. it's about the real life david brent, who needs to be put down like a gimp tongued family dog. and it's about a supporting cast of extremely awkward arcade fanatics.

THE KING OF KONG takes a depressing cache of facts and breathes a riveting narration of glorified geekdom into their gills. of course, just like Mary Roach writing about corpses and vaginas, these filmmakers hit the jackpot of jackasses with billy mitchell as a primary character. everytime this dude opens his mouth, i immediately cringed, even before he spoke a single word. and although the filmmakers never shied from their bias towards the underdog wiebe, the star of this film is billy mitchell's world record donkey kong sized ego. i'm already chomping at the bits for a sequel just so i can cringe at this guy some more.

i gladly give THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS 4.5 statue of liberty neckties out of 5. i can't think of a witty way to end this, so here's some free frogger.