Monday, August 20, 2007

Oh, the Horror!

I have arranged a horror triple-feature. I watched "Vacancy" and "Disturbia," and now I'm starring in a horror flick of my own, called "Packing for a Business Trip." I have just discovered that a) I have forgotten my computer power cord AGAIN at the office and b) I also forgot to charge my blackberry. Yeah. I'm gonna be SO useful over the next couple of days. We're gonna be recording requirements the old-fashioned way. Hell, if I misplace my pen, we may be using stone tablets.

"Vacancy" was a pleasant surprise. As far as casting is concerned, I was excited about one of the two main characters. Luke Wilson is welcome in any movie for any reason (the episode of "X-Files" where he played the bucktoothed weirdo/devlishly handsome vampire was one of my all-time favorites). Kate Beckinsale...well, I'm not her key demographic. She's a lot more fun to watch with a randy 30-something-year-old man. Especially if no actual Kate Beckinsale is available when the lights go on after the movie. (What? It's not technically "leftovers" if the guest of honor never showed up. It's a boon! Say it with me girls: "Boon!")

"Vacancy" falls into the "snuff films are real" sub-genre that's basically making me afraid to stay anywhere other than a five-star hotel (see how that works out?). If these films are to be believed every motel that's more than a block from mainstream civilization is a deathtrap, so naturally the motel where our characters end up is running a successful snuff film business out of the honeymoon suite.

"Vacancy" exercises tasteful restraint in following a formula recently redefined (and not in a good way) by "Hostel" and "Hostel II." The Hostel movies are of the "ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag" school of violence. In "Vacancy," we get enough glimpses to get that horrible sinking feeling of "typical domestic scene goes bad" (the core of a lot of good horror), but for the most part the violence is offscreen, wide-shot, or seen from behind something or someone (saves me the trouble of putting my hands over my eyes) and does not look like it required an advanced anatomy class for the special effects team. It's also (gasp) advancing the plot rather than merely hiking up the body count. Refreshing, no?

The other endearing part of the movie is the bickering between the Kate/Luke couple, who are this close to signing divorce papers after a tragic accident claimed their toddler. Oh, yes...finding out you're starring in a snuff film is THE way to fix a marriage. Everyone should try it. I see a themed marriage boot camp with an ironclad waiver. The insults and the tension and the nasty end-of-marriage dynamic are a great way to make you care that little bit extra about the characters--everyone in the audience is bound to identify with one of them. You almost hope they both survive, just because you just know that argument about the apple doesn't look that important any more, plus, what a teambuilding exercise! ("There's no `i' in `team'--now RUN!")

You can't see a horror movie without exercising your willing suspension of disbelief (well, you could, but you'd be annoying). As far as those things go, "Vacancy" isn't too taxing, and most of the victims in the movie are smarter than your average teeny-bopper-victim. No one spends precious minutes thinking maybe they just can't shoot someone while the killer giggles and gains some precious advantage. We don't spend a whole lot of time losing characters to the "stop kidding around" gambit that you learn not to employ if you survive Victim 101. These main characters aren't virgins, but by God, they're making that extra effort to survive. My favorite part is when Luke Wilson's character starts reviewing the snuff films like Kyle Chandler running game tapes on "Friday Night Lights." Because information is the most powerful weapon of all! (Why do I hear the G. I. Joe theme?)

"Disturbia" was probably a little more satisfying. It's from the "Rear Window Rip-Off" school of suspense (is the neighbor a killer, or have I just been in this house for too damn long?), but it's "Rear Window" set inside a John Hughes movie. Kale is a tortured soul. Since he's a teenaged tortured soul, he acts out and gets sentenced to house arrest. His mother cuts the plug off the television, so Kale is reduced to spying on his neighbors for entertainment, and he begins to suspect that one of them is a prolific serial killer. The house arrest is a neat premise, because he's more mobile than Jimmy Stewart AND he gets to give a nice shout out to Martha Stewart. He's also kitted out with some pretty slick video gear, a sexy girl next door, and a goofy friend named Ronnie ("Disturbia"'s answer to Thelma Ritter--although I'm not sure how much common sense Ronnie has). All these characters are perky and plucky and sweet and reasonable. There are moments when Shia LaBeouf as Kale seems to be channeling John Cusak circa "Better off Dead."

The film's is-he-or-isn't-he villain is played with very little ambiguity by David Morse. Morse has come a long way since St. Elsewhere, and I think he's spent the entire intervening time practicing his threatening face in the mirror. He takes his "cop with grudge" character from "House" and turns the threat factor up to 11. Yeah, maybe a little OTT, but we can't all be Raymond Burr. The one device I wish they'd ripped off from "Rear Window" is the part where Stewart falls asleep and we see Burr and "Mrs. Thorwald" leave their apartment. There's one obvious place to apply it in "Disturbia," but since it's the weakest point in the plot, the screenplay wisely opts not to draw our attention to it that way.

There are some things that don't go anywhere, and there are far more characters than are, strictly speaking, necessary (probably only obvious because "Vacancy" is so cunningly spare--or, some might say, "cheap"). But I love "Rear Window" a lot, so the movie gets lots of points for stealing just enough to prove it's stealing out of love. And extra points for any film where someone has to hop to safety. People are always spending precious time and energy loosing their bonds. Hop, damn you! Hop for your life! When you're in mortal danger, is your dignity really that important?

Speaking of dignity, I think I left that at the office, too. I'm not sure what I have left to pack, but it's gonna be a long night.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

No Sense of Proportion Required

Just when I was feeling guilty about replacing my threadbare green silk purse with something (okay, several somethings--I had trouble choosing) more hard-wearing and squashable, it's the NY Times to the rescue! Today's style section has a feature on affordable foreign fashion. But "affordable" is in the eye of the beholder, with the feature's author blithely declaring that you "won't have to skip your morning latte" to buy a $154 t-shirt or a $170 pair of jeans.

I just have one question. How much does your latte cost?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Tuned In Makes Me Sad

I still read Tuned In every day, even though I don't have a television. Every once in a while I'm able to follow through on something that intrigues me (yay ABC, NBC!) but lots of the time the thing I'm interested in isn't posted by the networks (boo CBS, which posts a few select shows and removes them after a week, and double-boo FX--what the hell do you have against online airings of Damages and Rescue Me?).

But it's the posts like this one that edge me closer to finally picking up the phone and ordering cable. Especially now that I've actually washed the dishes and read most of the newspapers on my coffee table. I'm not a hipster, and the odds aren't good that I ever will be, but I've got to say, this looks hysterical. Of course, if it makes me wish I had cable, it also makes me understand why people do drugs. Some situations just appear to call for it. (You know, like election coverage.)

Of course, first I'll need cable. And before that, I'll need a TV that obeys my commands. (My current TV has staged a big fat hissy fit and now only allows me to view DVD's and won't turn off unless I unplug it. And if that stops happening I won't need cable, because I'll be living in the Twilight Zone.)

Hell yes

Steve McQueen is still cool. I can't possibly be that old.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sushi and Kyle Chandler's Hair

In a desperate bid to keep myself awake until 9, I ordered sushi and sat down with reruns of "Friday Night Lights." I would not normally watch a show like this. There is football. There is praying. There are characters who think this is how life is. (Actual exchange between characters: "Do you think God likes football?" "I think everybody likes football.")

I'm not big on the football. I'm not big on many sports, but of all of them, football is the one that earns my ire the most. Why? Universities all over this great nation spend more on athletics than on education. Education? You know, the MISSION of the university? Yeah. Apparently the mission of the university is to have a football team, and the classes are an unsightly byproduct. And don't even get me started on the salaries we pay to coaches (or the fact that we sometimes pay them obscene figures to go away because they don't win football games--God, do I want a job where I get paid millions of dollars for fucking it up).

Then there's the praying. I left the Catholic church a long time ago, but by the time I left I had pretty much done my time with the praying. Organized religion is...well, it's not my cup of tea. And kids praying spontaneously? I want to get them into a deprogramming lab as soon as possible.

But I love this show. I love almost all the characters (except for one cheerleader, who could yet redeem herself if she'd just grow up a little). I love the coach's marriage, which is one of mutual respect, sexual attraction and a credible handful of that insane frustration that only a spouse can produce. I love the sharply observed detail in every scene. I love the fact that the phrase "identity politics" finally means something fresh and entertaining and, for the most part, roundly portrayed. I love the humor, which is way smarter than a show whose premise is football (the giant bake sale that actually siphons money AWAY from education) deserves.

It has its faults. The paralyzed quarterback can see the football field from his hospital bed (come ON!). Lyla is that cheerleader we all avoided in high school, and honestly, why would we want to spend time with her now? The show falls prey to some of the cliches endemic to its genre (the big game, the athletes running in the rain, the inspirational pep talk that comes not a moment too soon). And, as critics have pointed out, the show "tackles" racism (I couldn't resist), but the Texas town is a little black and white--chicano culture is suspiciously absent. But it's a quibble, really. It's the kind of quibble you come up with when a show is daring you not to love it.

And, quite unexpectedly, I love Kyle Chandler's hair. I had never really noticed it, but when Drunken Bee started recapping Friday Night Lights on Television Without Pity, she started ascribing motives and feelings and misgivings to Kyle Chandler's hair, and I have to say, it's improved my experience of the show immensely.
I swear, in every scene, his hair is emoting, vying for an Emmy. When he's frustrated with the A/C, his hair is all, "I could NOT care less, man," when he's at the car dealership opening, his hair is all "Ciao!!"
It becomes quite the narrative flourish. Kyle Chandler's hair offers folks hamburgers. Kyle Chandler's hair protests that it forgot its daughter's dance recital because it's undercaffeinated. I find myself reading the recaps with quite the crush on Kyle Chandler's hair. It's so dreamy. What will it say or do next?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Relationship Analysis Power Point

Courtesy of "Getting Drunk in First Class," which has some of the funniest and also most truly appalling content I've ever read, this Power Point presentation is hysterical. It's also a grave warning to me not to spend too much time on those venn diagrams, even though they're so seductive.

Gandalf or Superman?

Parents will stop at nothing to make their children's lives a living hell. Just ask Gandalf, Superman, or Arsenal (nothing says love like naming your kid after the team).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Eddie the Eagle

I used to watch the winter Olympics just to see Eddie. He's sort of my hero, because I hate competing in things where I have absolutely no chance of winning, and I wish I were more like him. And I'm so glad they're making a movie about him.

And also, Steve Coogan? Who could do it better?

Eco-Forward Fashion

I have to admit I don't see what's so great about the "I am not a plastic bag" bag. I kind of hate it when people come along and take something that people have been doing for years and "discover" it, making it trendy and exciting. But I guess whatever gets people to do the bag thing is a good idea. Just...geez, people. It's a bag. A bag is basically a blank canvas with handles. You, too, can find some creative expression--a mere 5 minutes with Google produces:

The peace tote.
The classic string bag (popular before Oprah featured it--no, really).
Along the same lines, a mesh bag is eensy beensy in your purse, too, but won't let small objects poke out like a string bag.
B Happybags for the woman who shops, but only because she has this cute bag.
I like these, just because they have some personality. Seriously, 15 pages of bags with real individuality.

Who'd give up the fun of choosing one to some chick whose bag looks like a 70's iron-on?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Raining Fat People

Well, no, not exactly. But it's raining, and fat people are on ABC.

I've been out of town for a couple of days, so thankfully I wasn't around this morning when rain brought New York's mass transit to its knees. Or, possibly, left it in a puddle of its own puke in the gutter. I did read a story where New Yorkers had posted a couple hundred comments, and I have one thing to say to New York. Grow the fuck up. You HAVE a mass transit system, and it works. Okay, yes, I understand that you think it should continue to work in rain and other foul weather, and maybe you're right. But nothing underscores the "we're awesome and we take it for granted" hubris of New York like the enraged reactions to the news that the subways weren't running this morning.

The comments I read that made sense to me were the comments about how the MTA and its employees generally failed to inform people of what was and wasn't running for most of the morning. I will grant you, that is slovenly and inexcusable. But as I have said before, if you use mass transit to get around in Phoenix, you will be waiting for a long time. Actually, you'll be waiting for as long as it takes to build it. New York has subways that are obviously reliable enough that, by your own admission, it's unthinkable that you wouldn't be able to use them to get to work for One Single Day. That's a pretty good thing you've got going there, people. Suck it up.

Meanwhile, there was nothing quite like getting home this evening. I had a darling cabbie who explained to me that although mass transit was down, today it had sucked to be a cabbie (apparently you picked up one fare and then spent an hour or more stuck in traffic, whereupon the fare either left to walk back home or called someone on their cell phone to complain loudly about how much you suck). And the city smelled clean for once in its life, no mean feat, and probably an illusion caused by homesickness.

(I haven't been homesick since 1993. It's a good feeling.)

In other news, I have just discovered "Fat March," a shameless piece of reality programming wherein fat people march from Boston to Washington, D.C., where they will be given some money. There's a slightly more complicated premise involving voting and cash (isn't there always?), but frankly, no one cares.

Is it wrong to call them fat? Watch them weigh in and ask again. I think most of them would agree. In fact, one of the show's few distinguishing features is the point-blank frankness of the contestants. Usually on a show like this, you have a "designated frank person." But I don't think a single walker got through the pilot without airing a good home truth or two--even the comedian, who might have seized the opportunity to deliver some comic relief, seemed perfectly candid about her desire to improve her sex life. The sex and the money--can I get an amen?

But my favorite, and the only reason I would ever watch the show again, is Anthony. Anthony is billed as a "26-year-old virgin," and he's clever, articulate, and heartbreakingly telegenic. The first task is to walk the Boston Marathon and Anthony says, "I just envision that like, all these thin, small people are running from the big fat people that are walking behind them." Heh heh.

The challenges are dull, the trainers may as well be Barbie and Ken, and the voting--well, let's just say there's a reason that it's tough to get Americans to the polls. Voting, never sexy, has never been so dull. Yes, it's reality TV. Yes, I am apparently addicted to junk. Yes, it's awful and probably representative of the decline of Western civilization. But Anthony is charming, and I will at least follow his progress on TWOP.

(In other, other news, the Proclaimers continue to sell out, as "500 Miles" is used to promote "Fat March." Fair play to them.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

So That's How It's Gonna Be?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, once again, Steve Martin has decided not to marry me. But before you go picketing his house, I want you to know that I'm okay with it. Really.

We'd really grown apart. I can only remember 95% of the lines in "Roxanne" and "L.A. Story" and "Parenthood" now. And you know he's off writing books and plays and whatnot and I'm not even a project manager. So there was this distance, and it's been growing for some time. Plus I think I'm too old for him (his new wife is younger than I am).

It's okay, really. I'm...I think I'm ready to move on. I'm sure this is the beginning of a new chapter of my life where men actually show some interest in me. Because I know that's what's been holding y'all back--after all, Steve's some hot competition. Right? Right???

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sunday Evening Conclusions

  1. There should be a law against microwaving monkfish. My microwave dinner tonight brought the words "springy" and "fish" way too close together. Imagine dating a really bad chef. That'd be awful. I mean, make this sentence sexy: "Oh, Gareth. How do you get your fish so...rubbery?" Yeeeeeuch.
  2. Roxanne is an uber-comedy against which all comedies should be measured.
  3. Few things make me as happy as a really good comedy.
  4. A really good comedy augmented with red wine and raspberry sorbet is almost too good to be true.
  5. I love being an adult because I can throw the springy monkfish away and eat raspberry sorbet instead.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Audiobook Controversy

Apparently book clubs are fraught with controversy over whether listening to an audiobook counts as reading the book. Surprisingly little attention is paid in the article to whether the audiobooks in question are abridged--maybe this is not as big a deal as it used to be. I used to have a very difficult time finding unabridged versions of the books I wanted to buy. I remember getting a copy of Neverwhere that was abridged, and also a copy of Last Chance to See. It used to be insanely difficult to find unabridged audio versions of books, and back then when my eyesight got whole orders of magnitude worse every year, this worried me deeply. I assumed that I would someday be blind, and it drove me crazy to think of getting 30% fewer words by Neil Gaiman than a sighted person.

If the audiobook isn't abridged, I think it's probably a roughly equivalent experience. It's certainly not like reading the Cliff Notes, and it's millions of times better than not reading the book. For the average book club choice, my only quibble with an audiobook would be that I could read it faster.

Admittedly, an audio reading is definitely a performance, and a performance is an interpretation. If the person reading the book decides that Hermione is annoying or Snape is evil, that might color your experience of the book, which is probably why I would never, ever consider substituting an audiobook for the first reading of a book by one of my favorite authors. But then I'm also the kind of person who gets a lot of pleasure out of the tactile presence of books, and the kind of person who really savors a first reading of a good book. That's also why I don't like to talk about books by my favorite writers before I've read them.

For subsequent readings, even of favorite books, I often favor audio, and I've been known to listen to them until they just stop working (back when they were cassettes). Audiobooks I ran until the tapes broke included The World According to Garp, two of the Harry Potter novels, every Douglas Adams book and the Hitchhiker's Radio Series, and several James Herriott books. Juliet Stevenson's reading of Jane Austen is fantastic, and probably kept me from skipping bits that I would not have re-read if I had the book in front of me.

And finally, I know at least one person who's a horrible book snob who'd think it was a sin to "read" an audiobook. That's usually a sure sign that it's something enjoyable.

Rome Must Be Mighty Safe

because the cops are evidently so bored that they're prepared to arrest gay men for kissing. Share your secret to ridding the streets of actual crime, Roman police! Tour with a nice power point presentation and show us all how it's done, because clearly there is not once single thief, pickpocket, or scam artist in the whole city.

I hope someone posts film of the kiss-in.