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Friday, March 31, 2006

Baseball



I have been a baseball fan for as long as I remember. My father was (and still is, to a certain extent) a fan, my grandfather was a fan, and my grandmother, at 91, still watches all the games. However, my interest in the game has waned somewhat, and I am troubled, like most fans, about certain trends.

When I was a kid, I was consumed by it. I collected baseball cards, went to as many games as I could, and knew who all the players were. Demands of living an adult life cut back some of the knowledge and enthusiasm, but over the years I have still managed to keep up with the game, particularly rooting for my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. But for the past few seasons, I've grown more and more disgusted.

I have no problem with players making as much money as they can get. I side with them on most labor issues. But let's face it, baseball would be a more enjoyable sport to follow if there were some sort of salary cap. Teams with lower payrolls can win--the Yankees have not won a World Series in five years. But there are some teams that just have no shot from the very beginning. The Florida Marlins will have a payroll that is less than Alex Rodriguez's salary. That just doesn't sit right.

And now we have the steroids cloud. Barry Bonds could conceivably break the most cherished record in sports if he hits 48 home runs this season. But, aside from the most naive fans, this will not be celebrated, it will be viewed with sneering skepticicsm. Bonds is under a heavy cloud of suspicion for using steroids, and like many other sluggers of the past ten years, his records seem meaningless.

My love for baseball is more in the abstract, of what it could be. I like going to Cooperstown every July for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where baseball is celebrated as an ideal. If only the real thing could live up to that ideal.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Year in Multiplex Hell



A year ago some financial constraints due to a whopping IRS bill required me to find a second job. I hit the area malls, filling out applications like I hadn't since high school. I even took the bizarre personality test that Borders Books gives, wondering exactly what they were looking for.

The only fish I managed to hook was at the local cinema, a ten-plex just outside Princeton. I had gone there hundreds of times as a customer, and figured it would be a good second job. I turned out to be right, to a point.

I was practically hired on the spot, and began as an usher, working my way up to concessionist and then box office. Working nights and weekends for $6.75 an hour, it paid for my IRS payments, and covered my car payment, as well. I also got some interesting life experience.

If I were a teenager, it would have been a great job, seeing movies for free (a job at a bookstore would have given me a discount, but not freebies) and getting a pretty flexible schedule. As an adult, though, it certainly had it's downside, particularly on days when I worked both jobs, pretty much working non-stop from 8 am to close to midnight. I felt kind of degraded by the whole thing, thinking I had certainly lived long enough to have avoided this kind of drudgery. Of course, it was a situation that I had created.

The theater where I work is owned by Regal Entertainment, a corporate monolith that is typically bureaucratic and fascistic. Though the employees are paid very little, they are treated in a crushingly dehumanizing fashion. Though the profits on concessions are astronomical, we are urged to get customers to upsize, changing their small soda, which is already too much for one normal person, into a larger one, that would comfortably accommodate a family of four. Visits by the regional manager, a humorless henchman, are like raids by the gestapo. Instead of warmly thanking the menial laborers who fund his bonus, he scowls like Scrooge, looking for misdemeanors.

Those that I work with are an interesting bunch, in a Dickensian sort of way. Most are high school or college kids, with the adults those that are somewhat in society's margin, needing two jobs to get by. Those that I got to know best include a guy with cerebral palsy who describes in great details the sex he has with girls he meets on the Internet, and a guy who is fascinated by serial killers, and may become one himself one day. I was stunned the other day to learn that he knew who Squeaky Fromme was, but not Gerald Ford.

The managers were all a pleasure to work with, minus one, a woman who was such a bizarre sociopath that she could have tied up a psychologist's couch for years. A few months ago, though, she was transferred, which had the same effect on our theater that Dorothy's house had on Munchkinland. The other managers, all guys who are on their way somewhere else, do the best they can, managing kids and disgruntled adults. They don't make nearly enough money, either.

My last day at the theater is on Saturday. I will look back on this time with a little shudder, but also some laughs, and hope that what I learned there can be put to good use in the future.

Saturday



Last night I finished Saturday, by Ian McEwan. I have now read two books by this author, and am eager to read more. Previously I read Atonement, which was brilliant, and while Saturday wasn't as fulfilling, it was still an outstanding work.

Saturday is somewhat a Mrs. Dalloway for the 21st century. Like the Woolf book, Saturday depicts one day in the life of its protagonist. This time it's Henry Perowne, a middle-aged neurosurgeon living in London. The book bathes in the minutae of Perowne's day off: waking early, a game of squash, a fender-bender with some thugs, watching his son play in a blues band, shopping for dinner. All the while, though, there is a sense of menace. Perowne has witnessed a plane on fire landing at Heathrow, and follows the news of this event all day, and there is a protest against the Iraq war. This allows McEwan to introduce the precarious state of the modern world into Perowne's hum-drum daily life.

The book reaches a heart-pounding climax that though inevitable is also surprising. As with many of McEwan's books, it turns on a moral choice. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary fiction.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Remembering Madge

On January 25th of this year, my great-aunt, Madge Manning, passed away at the age of 87. She was my paternal grandmother's sister. Because she never married or had children, she was like an extra grandmother. When I was a kid she worked as a secretary for the legal department at Ford Motor Company, and lived with my great-grandparents in Dearborn, Michigan. After my grandmother was widowed, she and Madge were roomies, and lived together for 29 years. My grandmother is aged 91 and is still in pretty good health.

Madge was, as some might say, a hoot. She had a very caustic sense of humor, and loved to judge people. She also played favorites. My father, being the oldest, was a favorite of hers, and I, being the oldest, was also a favorite. Of course, I spent more time witht them than my brother and sisters. I tried to visit at least once a year, and sat with them on the porch at the house on North Martha, or in the living room of their condo, and listened to the same old stories over and over again. As they got older the visits were more difficult to endure, as their hearing went and we would shout over the blasting TV. But I enjoyed time with them, and they clearly enjoyed my visits.

When Madge died, and I went to Dearborn for the funeral, I wondered if she was satisfied with her life. Did she regret not having a family of her own? Who knows?

As she lay on her deathbed, my father told me that I was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. That check came this week, and I'm waiting for it to clear. Little did she know, but that little act of kindness is going to really change my life. I have already given notice at the movie theater, so I will now have only one job for the first time in a year. I will also be in the black in my checking account for the first time since I can't remember. I can actually pay bills when they come in, and not live paycheck to paycheck. I still have debt, so I can't have a wild spending spree, but this money will let me breathe a little.

And so, Madge, wherever you are, I thank you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hustle and Flow



My expectations regarding hip-hop/rap music are constantly confounded. I told myself a long time that I don't like it, and I'm still cool on it, but mostly because of the culture that ties into it. I'm resistant to the baggy-pantsed, sideway-cap wearing, grill-toothed youngsters that have gotten a grip on the mainstream. I don't own any rap or hip-hop albums, and I don't plan on buying any, because the music does not speak to me.

So I was pleasantly surprised to like Hustle and Flow a great deal. But I think this is in spite of the music. The story was old when Mickey Rooney was in short pants: a guy who has a dream to make it as an entertainer, to rise up from the squalor in which he lives. The only difference is that in this case, we have a 35-year-old pimp. Now, I have no idea what pimps are like, I have yet to meet one, but it would seem that Terrence Howard's DJay is an extraordinary one. He's a philosopher pimp, discoursing on the differences of the nature of man as an animal or as a spiritual being in an opening monologue. He's not the Huggy Bear kind of pimp, he barely makes ends meet, and has only one a handful of girls, one of whom is out of action due to pregnancy. And he wants to be a rap star, and when he by chance runs into a friend from high school who is now a recording engineer, his dream spreads. Also by chance, a local kid who has become a rap star will be visiting his old neighborhood on the Fourth of July, so DJay endeavors to make a demo that he can hand out.

What I liked most about this film was the performance by Howard, as written by Craig Brewer. He seems educated, though it would be hard to believe he is well read. But he is witty, and his words are well chosen. He is a hustler, after all, a kind of salesman.

As for the music, well, I'm not rushing out to buy any "crunk," which seems to be the term for the style of music that is made. But the Oscar-winning song, "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," is damn catchy.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ask the Dust



I saw Ask the Dust yesterday. Had heard mixed things about it, but it interested me. I was mostly unimpressed, and give it a C-.

The writer and director is Robert Towne, best known for Chinatown, another film set in 30s L.A. He clearly in enraptured with the time and place, as the evocative setting is the strongest thing about the film. Colin Farrell is Arturo Bandini, an Italian-American from Colorado, who has come to L.A. with $150 and a copies of H.L. Mencken's magazine, American Mercury, with one of his stories published inside. When we begin the story, he's down to his last nickel, and he has orange rinds on his desk.

Eventually Bandini meets Camilla, a waitress at the local bar/buffet. She's in the classic Mexican spit-fire mode. Things begin rockily between them--Bandini is disgusted by the coffee, so he pours it all over the table. The two will continue to bicker and insult each other throughout their relationship and love affair. This is the crux of the film, and the crux of the problem with the film, as the two characters never seem to naturally mesh. Hayek's character, in particular, seems badly drawn, behaving to suit the script, rather than the other way around.

Farrell is fine. He's become something of a joke lately, what with Alexander and a sex tape, but he is believable as the cocky, struggling writer. I admired how he completely got rid of his Irish brogue. But the star of this film is the set design. Bandini's boarding house, a beach house in Laguna, a shack in the desert, and all of the other locations give the viewer almost tactile sensations of what the period was like. I just wish the story were that intriguing.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Charlize Theron



After watching the DVD of North Country last night, I've been thinking about Charlize Theron. The film was an acceptable if overwrought tale of a woman who brought a sexual harassment case against a mining company. I have no doubt that women were treated in the horrible ways depicted here, but it's the kind of film that the participants cite as "important," which to me raises a red flag. I mean, is there anyone seeing this film that takes the opposing viewpoint?

Anyway, Theron's work is very self-conscious, and she's turned into an actress that I am learning to mistrust. Certainly her story is interesting. She started by playing eye-candy, most notably in Two Days in the Valley, and quickly made many more pictures playing the beautiful girl: That Thing You Do, The Cider House Rules, The Astronaut's Wife, Trapped, and to me, one of her best performances, The Devil's Advocate. She is without a doubt one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood, albeit with a kind of icy, sexually distant beauty.

That she has been able to transcend that beauty and become a major Hollywood player is admirable, and she did this largely by hiding her looks and playing a serial killer in Monster, which won her an Oscar. I thought her performance in Monster was mannered and self-conscious. It did the job, but it reaked of "model-flexing-her-acting-chops." Not to be insulting, but it's kind of like when an adult-film actress like Jenna Jameson gives herself a scene in which she has to cry or get angry, as if to prove she's a real actress.

I got the same impression of Theron in North Country. Though she doesn't hag herself nearly as much as she did in Monster, instead just keeping the makeup at a minimum, her hair in a messy shag, and circles under her eyes, Theron nevertheless bends over backwards to play a downtrodden single mother. I'm sorry to say, but Theron's glamour can't be kept out of the role, and I simply saw an actress slumming. As Jon Stewart's gag during the Oscar ceremony said, she should quit doing this. Accept her beauty, and play beautiful people. I'd love to see her in a screwball comedy as the girl that every guy wants.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why Go-Go-Rama?


As I now have at least one reader of this blog, I thought I'd explain the title. Go-Go-Rama is a strip joint, or, as they say, "Gentleman's Club," in Laurence Harbor, New Jersey. I find the name to be jaunty and welcoming, and found it to be a good choice for this blog. As it also happens, I have for many years trolled through the demimonde of sex. Mom, if you're reading, stop now.

It all started with my father's Playboys. I used to read them when I was about 13, and I haven't stopped. Like marijuana leading to heroin, I advanced to porn, strip clubs and hookers. I even turned it into a career--in 1987 I was hired by Penthouse Variations, a digest-sized magazine devoted to alternative sexual practices, published by the Penthouse media group. For over ten years I was an editor there, and it was great. I loved my job. It was ideal for me. There wasn't a hell a lot of work--we were a monthly, and there was nothing about the material that was timely, so deadlines weren't an issue. I could zip out of my office and be on a train home in five minutes. There was no need for overtime. And I know what good erotica is. I ended up writing close to a hundred different stories, and knew how to write good captions, pull quotes, titles, etc.

Better yet, it gave me access to the world I felt most comfortable in. I came to know nude models, strippers, porn stars, dominatrixes, and prostitutes. I was fascinated by them and liked them as people. Sure, some of them fit the stereotype--women with little self-esteem, perhaps battered or abused. But most of them seemed as emotionally healthy as anyone else I knew. In my eyes, they were performing a service for the many socially inept men who would otherwise be completely alone. In my own way, I put them on pedestals.

During the nineties I burned quite a swath through this world. I must have been to every strip club in New York, and dropped a lot of dough there. Even now, the exterior of a strip club, with the neon lights, and the punny name, gives me a little chill. Walking into one is even more intoxicating. The pounding music, the lighting, the smell of the perfume of the dancers--it's bliss! But I finally wised up. After bottoming out financially, I realized that this was a complete waste of time and money. Strippers, bless their hearts, are paid to be nice to guys like me. As I am a romantic, deep down I was expecting something more fulfilling that what they offer. At least with a prostitute you get what you pay for.

In January 1999 my cushy job came to an abrupt end. Working for Penthouse was like negotiating a mine field. Every few years, due to mismanagement and the changing landscape of the porno business, Penthouse would absorb huge hits, and staff would be let go. My turn finally came and in a matter of hours I was on the train home, my belongings in tow. I still have some connections to porn--I write film reviews for Adam Film World. I won't mince words--I love watching pornography. I watch it every day. It gives me pleasure, and like I said, I've met a lot of people in the business. They're not doing it with a gun to their head. I don't find anything degrading or humiliating about it, and those who condemn it, either for religious or feminist principles, are full of it.

Am I addicted to porn? It's a good question. I think that if I were in a sexual relationship with someone my interest in porn would wane dramatically. I'm not so twisted as to think porn is preferable to actual sex. But right now I'm the Single Guy, so I have my trusty DVDs, magazines and what have you to keep me company.

Back to the Go-Go-Rama. I was there only once. My friend, Micky Lynn (probably the only porn star who lives in New Jersey) used to dance there occasionally. She invited me down for a visit. It was like going into the Emerald City. This particular establishment sells no alcohol (the term is juice bar), thus allowing the dancers to perform nude. A stage is ringed by the bar, so a guy can sit there and sip his Coke while watching the gyrations. While this goes on, dancers who are not on stage walk from patron to patron. If you tip them a buck, you are allowed to fondle their breasts. In the private dance area, guys pay twenty bucks to sit in what looks like a barber chair. His girl of choice will then climb in his lap, topless, and dry hump him to glory.

I haven't been back, and I haven't been to any strip club in about five years. The last time I went for was my step-brother's bachelor party, at a Goldfinger's in Fort Lauderdale. I went, but wasn't going to spend any money. Well, a sweet young thing who kind of looked like Julia Stiles caught my eye. She wasn't one of the over made-up sharks circling the club, looking for chum. I ended up spending a few hours in her company and dropped 100 bucks. That's why a romantic should never set foot in a strip club--it's too easy to fall in love.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

V for Vendetta



It starts with the mask. V, the caped crusader who fights the British fascist government, as well as avenging those who made him what he is, wears a Guy Fawkes mask, after the would-be bomber of 1605. The mask gives him a permanent look of whimsy that has echoes of the Joker. Whenever he was on screen, I was focused on him, as his look is that magnetic.

But this film is more than the look. In a post 9/11 world, the destruction of buildings for a cause is certainly a touchy subject. I suppose that V destroys buildings that are empty of people is some comfort, but he has no aversion to killing those in authority. As his plan to carry out Fawkes original plot--the destruction of Parliament, comes close, there's a line about it just being a building, and sometimes the destruction of a building gives people hope. That's certainly not a safe statement to make, considering the times we live in.

Set in London in 2020, with the United States in civil war, the Brits live in comfort in a fascist dictatorship, under the leadership of a Big Brother-ish John Hurt. The goverment spins the media (hmm, seems familiar) and dissent is not tolerated. Violators are taken away in the night, black bags over their heads. A young woman, a child of dissidents, but now a simple cog in the machine, Evy Hammond (Natalie Portman) is saved from rape by policeman by V. She returns the favor when he storms the television network where he works and broadcasts his intentions. A police inspector, played perfectly by Stephen Rea, endeavors to catch V, but as he investigates he uncovers troubling information. Evy, who for a time is held prisoner in V's Bat-Caveish lair, doubts his motives, and escapes, but is then caught by the police and undergoes a hellish torture. But even then she can't be sure who her tormenters are.

There are plot points that defy credulity. At one point V ships copies of his mask to 700,000 people. Either he has a mask-stamping machine in his basement, or there are shipping records the police don't follow up on. And wouldn't it raise some eyebrows for a private citizen to order that much fertilizer? These are the types of problems that are frequently found in superhero comics (the source of this film is a graphic novel) so can be overlooked, particularly because the rest of the film is so strong.

I would love to see this again, and will certainly add the DVD to my collection.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Lincoln Lawyer



The Lincoln Laywer, by Michael Connelly, has nothing to do with Honest Abe. Instead, it is a legal thriller involving a defense attorney who operates out of the back of a Lincoln Town Car. He handles mostly guilty clients, getting them off on legal technicalities or creating just enough shadow of a doubt, or he gets them the best deal he can. He's the kind of lawyer that cops hate, but anyone with a knowledge of our justice system knows he's important, because everyone is entitled to a defense.

This is the latest book in the list of Stephen King's top books of 2005 that I'm reading. I liked it, particularly in the second half, when Connelly's main character, Mickey Haller, is drawn into a web of deceit by his client. There are some nice twists and legal high-wire maneuvers, and from what I know it has a ring of authenticity, although I'm not positive, particularly on discovery issues. A good legal thriller is to be savored, especially because there are a lot of bad ones.

Natalie Portman



I've been crushin' on Natalie Portman lately. Nothing unusual there, as she is the apple of the eye of many socially-inept males, although that I'm twice her age certainly sends the needle on the creep-meter dancing. What can I say, my taste in women is the same as when I was in my twenties.

Anyhoo, Natalie is all over the media these days in conjunction with her role in V for Vendetta, which I plan on seeing tonight and will review here tomorrow. She's an intriguing presence--extremely enigmatic, but with a lack of pretension. I read a recent Vanity Fair profile that mentions she never wears leather and wore three-dollar earrings to some awards show. However, according to the same article, she can seem extremely aloof, as she didn't seem to overwhelm her Harvard classmates with warmth. But judging celebrities in this matter isn't fair. You piss one person off by not signing an autograph and they bad-mouth you forever.

Looking at Natalie's filmography, she must have first entered my view with Heat, as Al Pacino's daughter. I may have been aware of The Professional (or Leon), which was her first starring role, but I don't recall seeing the film all the way through, and she was only 11 for that film (my dirty-old-man-ness knows some lines). I certainly knew who she was for Everyone Says I Love You and Mars Attacks, and by then had probably noted when her 18th birthday would be. I have still not seen Anywhere But Here or the movie, the title of which escapes me at the moment, where she plays a white-trash teen who gives birth in a Wal-Mart.

She achieved superduper stardom with her roles in the second Star Wars trilogy, and I admire her for actually surviving them. She was given some of the most ham-fisted dialogue ever written, and she manages to speak it without giggling. She has countered that bubble-gum stuff with films like Garden State and Closer. I was iffy on both films (Closer I really didn't like at all), but her performances gave me new appreciation of her ability to create a character. In Garden State, despite her beauty, she was able to convince me that she was actually someone who had trouble connecting with people. As for Closer, her strip-club scene with Clive Owen was brilliant. Though she played a stripper giving a private dance, the sexuality was completely removed. I've had moments like that with strippers.

She's gone back to the blockbuster with V for Vendetta, though it certainly seems to be more thought-provoking than Star Wars. More on that later.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Tsotsi



NOTE: SPOILER ALERT!

Redemption is an oft-used and powerful theme in motion pictures, and I'm a sucker for it. My favorite example is Casablanca, about a man who has ceased caring about anything but himself who finally realizes there is a greater good. Redemption is also the theme of Tsotsi, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. Set in South Africa, it is the story of a vicious thief, who is called Tsotsi (a word meaning thug or delinquent), who undergoes a life-changing experience when he carjacks a woman and ends up kidnapping her baby.

Tsotsi gives those who do not live in Africa an interesting look at a culture. The kids who live in the township, which is really a shanytown of glorified shacks (some children live in pipes, which Tsotsi also did for a time) wander into the gentrified city. Tsotsi and his gang enter the city like animals in search of prey. There are four members of the gang: Tsotsi; Boston, who is educated but an alcoholic; Butcher, who is blood-thirsty, and Aap, who does whatever Tsotsi tells him to do.

Though this setting is exotic to Westerners, the film's director, Gavin Hood, who adapted the tale from a novel by Athol Fugard, has made a very conventional picture. Once Tsotsi has kidnapped the baby, he starts to change. He sees a crippled beggar in a new light. He looks at the mobiles by a neighbor woman and seems to understand a bit about art. He even goes so far as to apologize to someone whom he did wrong.

Then, finally, he makes the ultimate sacrifice for redemption, his freedom. In the final scene he has shucked his black leather jacket and wears a bright white shirt, something a thief in the night would never wear, and his final gesture he appears almost angelic.

The actor who plays Tsotsi, Presley Chweneyagae, acts mostly with his eyes. In the beginning of the film they are dead, the eyes of a killer. But soon they start to soften. It's an intuitive, admirable performance. I just thought the transformation came too quickly and too easily. Perhaps in the novel there is more chance for this change to take place naturally, but in the film the change is fairly abrupt. In a flashback, we see that Tsotsi's father was cruel, and that he does not want to become his father, so bearing responsibility for a baby triggers emotions from Tsotsi that he did know he had. But this ends up being very pat and routine.

The action is intercut with the police investigation (an echo of the larger South Africa is that one of the detectives is white) and the anguish of the baby's parents, an upper-class black family. The actor who plays the father is particularly affecting.

Tsotsi is a well-made film that tugs on all the right places, I just found it surprisingly conventional. Perhaps that is why a film about young hoodlums could actually win the Foreign Language award, which usually goes to square movies.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Erin Go Bragh



On this day many of us think of Ireland. As far as I know, I don't have a drop of Irish blood, but I have long been fascinated with the Emerald Isle. Just recently, knowing I have a bit of windfall coming as a result of my aunt's death, I thought about planning a trip there. I picked up a guidebook and did what I have done many times--made imaginary trips.

Everything about Ireland seems interesting. I love the mythology, the history, the scenery, the literature, the music. I even like the way the women look--I'm a sucker for a freckled redhead. I like their accents. We have a woman who works in our San Francisco office with as heavy a brogue as you're liking to hear, and I could listen to her talk for hours.

A few obstacles arise when I think about a trip to Ireland, though. I wouldn't want to be on one of those guided tours. I'd end up on a bus with retirees, and I don't like having a set itinerary. On the other hand, I don't want to rent a car, either. I'm afraid of driving on the wrong side of the road, and most of the cars there are manual transmission. Yeah, I'm a pussy.

I think the ideal thing would be a trip to Dublin, with a few guided sidetrips. I wouldn't get to see much of the country, but Dublin seems like a solid four or so days worthy of site-seeing.

The money I'm going to get, sadly, is not probably enough to pay for this excursion. It would probably be better put to use working on eliminating my debt. But one never knows. I've done precious little traveling in my life--only about half of the 50 states, and one trip abroad (a great trip to England). It saddens me to think I'll never get to all the places I want to go, unless I strike it rich soon. But a trip to Ireland is definitely in the cards, I think.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Robert Altman



I manipulate my Netflix queue as if it were a chessboard. I am constantly creating mini-film festivals for an audience of one. After the news came that Robert Altman was being awarded an honorary Oscar, I assembled a list of his films that I have not seen or not seen recently and bumped them up to the top of the queue. So far, I have watched The Player, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, California Split, and The Company. Sitting at home waiting for viewing are Nashville and 3 Women, while Short Cuts and Buffalo Bill and the Indians are still in the queue. I own M*A*S*H*, which I will be watching again soon (perhaps tonight). I saw Gosford Park somewhat recently, so it is fairly fresh in my memory.

I suppose like most film aficianados, my opinion of Altman is hit-or-miss. M*A*S*H* is one of my favorite films of all time, reinforced by the way it makes me think of my father, who is also a big fan of the movie. We are always quoting favorite lines from it to each other, especially the line that Henry Blake says to Spearchucker: "We need some plays." The Player is also a hoot. But there's some head-scratching work in the oeuvre as well, as Altman is not a man who just wants to churn out crowd-pleasing pablum. After watching some of his films back to back, and either listening to commentary or watching interviews in the featurettes, it is clear that he is all about confounding the viewer. This is most famously accomplished by his use of over-lapping dialogue. But it happens in other ways, too. He is not interested in story, he says, he sees filmmaking as painting. Thus we get a detective story (Gosford Park) which is interested in the whodunit, or a film about a ballet company (The Company) that has little conflict, other than that the ballet takes place or not. M*A*S*H*, for all it's rebellious charm, does not really have a plot, either, just one episode after another.


Altman seems to have dedicated his career to taking genres and turning them inside out. Whether it's the Western, the war film, the mystery, film noir, or what have you, Altman assembles actors and lets them improvise while he re-invents, painting pictures that are thought provoking, occasionally moving, occasionally head-scratching, but rarely boring.

He has had some turkeys, such as Popeye, Quintet (which was sci-fi), Pret-a-Porter (I saw that in a theater, and have no wish to see it again), and O.C. and Stiggs. But even in his eighties he continues to work, and I look forward to his next film, Prairie Home Companion. And, judging from his persona in interviews and commentaries, I think he'd be a cool guy to hang out with.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Queen



My good friend Lora McQueen has written me about attending a Queen concert last night. Of course, Freddie Mercury is long gone, so the vocalist is former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers. But her email has me thinking about Queen songs, and I realize that they are touchstones to my adolescence.

I can distinctly remember the first time I heard Bohemian Rhapsody. I was in our living room in the house on Cherry Hill. We had a stereo/radio and I was listening to the countdown of the top hits, probably on CKLW, which was a station out of Windsor, Ontario. I remember hearing the song and being quite excited about it, as I hadn't heard anything like it before. I was a big Beatles fan, but even the Beatles hadn't combined operatic vocals with heavy metal. At that time I didn't own too many rock albums, but I remember going to the record store, where new releases were piled onto a table in front, and there was the white cover of A Night at the Opera.

The album was great, and Queen never exceeded it, but they came close. A Day at the Races, the follow-up, was one of the first records I bought after moving to New Jersey. I think I heard Somebody to Love for the first time on a juke box at the Super Scooper, a long defunct ice-cream parlor in Ringwood.

News of the World was a highly anticipated album for me and my brother. I remember the first time I heard We Will Rock You/We are the Champions. I was listening to WPLJ while lying in bed at night. I was half-asleep, and upon awakening thought I dreampt it. The DJ had mentioned the album title, News of the World, but that was kind of a title that I could have made up in my subconscious. Sure enough, that was the title.

Jazz was Queen's next album, which I think I received for Christmas in 1978, when we were visiting my grandparents in Florida (my brother might have received it). It had a couple of memorable songs, such as Bicycle Race and Fat-Bottomed Girls, but it wasn't the same anymore. Queen slipped out of my roster of favorite bands. But gosh some of their songs do take me back. Everybody in my junior high liked Bohemian Rhapsody, even the head-bangers. I remember talking to someone who said, "Even Harline likes it," referring to David Hartline, a brutish kid who favored heavy metal. How could anyone dislike it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Hot Kid



Just finished The Hot Kid, by Elmore Leonard. My fiction reading, for the past couple of months, has been Stephen King's top ten list of 2005, which he compiled in his Entertainment Weekly column in December. I find King's tastes run similar to mine, so armed with an Amazon gift certificate, I bought eight of the books (one was the Harry Potter novel, which I'll get to in time, and another has not been published yet). The latest in the pile was The Hot Kid.

It's a story of bank robbers in depression-era Oklahoma, meant to recall tales of Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde (all of whom are mentioned here). It's the fictional tale of U.S. Marshall Carl Webster, who guns down bad guys with calm precision. As usual with Leonard (and many other writers of this genre) the bad guys are dumb and usually die hoisted on their own petards.

I've read quite a bit of Leonard, starting with LaBrava about twenty years ago. I suppose the books I enjoyed most were Out of Sight and Get Shorty. I also enjoyed Tishimingo Blues. But some of his books, though easy reads, are the equivalent of fast food, in that there is little nourishment. They appear to be written quickly, as if he has to be somewhere. I could have used a little more detail, and a bit more subtlety. The dialogue is funny, as usual, but I would have liked more about the setting and the time period.

The thirties era outlaws and G-men is pretty fascinating, but this didn't capture my imagination the same way the Larry McMurtry novel Pretty Boy Floyd did, or the movie Bonnie and Clyde. The Hot Kid is just too sketchy.

Monday, March 13, 2006

This says it all



This was John Lydon's reponse when the Sex Pistols were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They won't be attending. Can't say as I blame him. Gotta love them!

Princeton season coming to close


The Princeton women's ice hockey season is nearing the end. The Tigers, who are a peculiar obsession of mine, went to the ECAC finals for the first time in three years. I would have like to have gone, but it was in Canton, NY, a seven or eight hour drive, and besides I didn't want to take another weekend off from the movie theater. This decision spared me some heartbreak, as Princeton lost a game to Brown, 1-0, when they outshot the opposition by a 4-1 margin.

Next up is the NCAA semis, a first for Princeton. They will play at Minnesota, again ruling out my attendance. I doubt they will win, but it's possible.

This is the sixth year I've watched these kids. It all started in November 2000, when I attended a game on a lark. Something about it hooked me, and I have missed only two home games since then (and none in the last three seasons). It's kind of a weird thing, because I've never been a particularly big hockey fan (I still don't know all of the intricacies of the game, but I learn more all the time). I suppose it's a mixture of my interest in sports combined with a soupcon of sex--the girls are college age, after all, and more attractive than one might expect. The past few years I've gotten to know them through my association with USCHO.


My favorite player this year was Sarah Butsch, who is graduating. A couple of years ago, during an autograph signing, she spoke to me in a manner I found refreshing, recognizing that the fans are important. She also plays a hell-bent style that is a joy to watch. She didn't miss one game in her college career, and had a ton of clutch goals, including one last week against Colgate to win the first round of the playoffs.




My new favorite player is Mariesa Mason. She didn't play much this year, but she went out of her way in kindness this year, even going so far as to give me a Christmas card and present. I hope she gets to play a lot next year.



So, congratulations to the Tigers for there best season ever (21 wins) and I hope you do well in Minnesota!

Friday, March 10, 2006

What I'm reading now


This year is the centenary of Samuel Beckett's birth, and I realized I didn't know that much about him, which is sad because I was a theater major in college and supposedly well-read. In my freshman drama class we read Krapp's Last Tape, and I had never heard of him (I believe at the time I got him confused with Samuel Jonson, which is only four-hundred years off).

As a junior I finally read Waiting for Godot, but I was resistant to it. I had a bug up my ass about "avant-garde" work. My professor, Carol Rosen, was crazy about Beckett. She showed us his film, titled "Film," and starring Buster Keaton, but I was obstinate.

Years later I saw the Lincoln Center production of Godot, with Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and I finally was able to appreciate it. Perhaps Godot is one of those plays that has to be seen.






Now I'm reading a biography of him called Damned to Fame. What with working two jobs, I'm getting through it slowly, but I'm enjoying it. The author had permission, and interviewed Beckett extensively before his death.

Beckett wrote something that is sticking with me, and if I die tomorrow I want it on my tombstone:

I must go on, I can't go on, I will go on.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My favorite film of 2005



I've finally made up my mind--my favorite film of 2005 is Capote. We got it at the multiplex I work at (just before it comes out on DVD!) and I ducked in to watch most of it the other night. Just about every scene draws me on, and it was difficulty to run back out to attend to usher duties. I love the way the screenplay is constructed, and I loved little things that Bennett Miller did, such as shooting scenes through windows. I'll probably end up buying the DVD.

My favorite picture lately



This picture has been haunting me. I'm a subscriber to VF, and after hearing it about it I finally got my copy the other day. Everyone weighed in on it, saying the girls look too pasty, what is the guy doing there, etc. etc. I love it. These two are among my favorites, and to see them like that just gives me goosebumps.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And so now I'm a blogger, too

With no illusion than anyone other than myself will read this, I will nonetheless put things here when there is down time at work.