Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Brief History of Jokes I Wrote*

First Grade (maybe third): The first joke I ever wrote (probably recalled with better construction than it actually had)
A man sitting on the ground having a picnic farts. Nearby a snake sings, "Feel those good vibrations!"
That's right, my first joke ever was a fart joke. You can't say I haven't always aimed high.

Junior High: Written while I was in the shower (which will become evident)
What do you call a whale with a bowel problem? Shampoo! 
High School: No jokes. Too busy banging chicks! (talking to friends on AIM)

Undergrad: No jokes. Too busy banging chicks (talking to friends on AIM) and gettin' DRUNK! (watching movies) 

The Geologist Years: No jokes. Soul crushed by job.

Graduate School: The birth of the non-joke
Two men walk into a bar. One orders a gin and tonic and the other says, "I'll have what he's having."
Your mama's so fat... I'm really concerned about her health. 
A priest, a rabbi, and an atheist are stranded at sea. The priest and rabbi set aside their differences and pray together for rescue. The atheist says, "I, too, hope for our rescue, though I'll refrain from joining you in prayer."
The Portland Years: The culmination of years of practice.
I'm so good at Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I could do it blindfolded!
If I was lying, you'd know it!
Verily, I'm the voice of a generation. It's a wonder I'm not touring the county (not a misprint) packing them in by the dozens .

*Those worth remembering, at least.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Useless Exploration

I really hate articles based on false premises. The writers who do this must realize that they are reaching. Maybe they do it to try to get readers by talking about something that's currently popular. That's the only excuse for writing an article with a headline like this:

Why 'Hunger' soared; 'Carter' bombed

Is it not obvious? What more is there to say aside from the fact that The Hunger Games is a movie based on insanely popular books with a rabid fan-base that crosses both gender and age divides while John Carter is based on novels from the early 20th century that I'm sure most people are unfamiliar with (I know I was)?

There's no need to write more than that. There's no need to write any of that because it should be clear to all parties that The Hunger Games was going to be huge and that John Carter was a risk. Do we need to explore why the Twilight movies are popular? How about Harry Potter? The only people I know who were familiar with John Carter before the movie's release are massive sci-fi geeks.

This is not a mystery.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

CNN, Sexism, and Chocolate

I bring you this quote from a CNN Health article without comment:

It's every woman's dream: could chocolate, the substance that cures everything from PMS to heartbreak,  also make you skinnier?
If true, there's got to be a catch, right?

OK, one comment: Women be lovin' chocolate!

OK, another one: Does Jacques Wilson get his notions of gender identities from the funny pages? There is so much that annoys me about the above quote, that I don't know if I have the patience to delve into it. But I will say that chocolate is always good and both genders enjoy it, whether medicinally (as Wilson suggests) or recreationally.

Jacques Wilson, you're a douche and I'm sat that you're being paid by CNN to write such ignorant stuff.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I'm Not Quite as Disappointed in The Walking Dead Anymore

There will be Walking Dead spoilers ahead (for the show and comic). Enter at your own risk.

Season Two of The Walking Dead has been almost universally criticized. In fact, the only show I can think of that got more criticism was the most recent season of Dexter (I'm not counting outright shitty shows, just those that people expect to be good or at least entertaining). The criticism of The Walking Dead couldn't be more appropriate. The show got stuck in the mud that is Hershel's farm and struggled mightily to release itself (and it only took until the last three episodes to get any sort of traction. The characters are paper thin and, in an ensemble this big, you'd think someone might have a character arc over  nineteen episodes. In place of characters, the writers stuck in plot devices to act as conflict producers to create tension regardless as to whether any of it makes sense for the show or the characters (and I recognize the irony in complaining about undefined characters in one sentence and saying the show doesn't stay true to these same people in the next, but one would think the writers would recognize that the two are related. Stronger characters equals stronger conflict. Stronger conflict [should] equal character defining moments).  Instead, we end up with Lori telling Rick to kill Shane in one scene and getting mad at Rick for doing just that a few episodes later.

There is a huge amount of potential in having a television show about a the zombie apocalypse. Endless scenarios and relationships can be examined in this medium than can't be in a movie. That The Walking Dead is content to have characters snipe at each other for now reason is not only disappointing, but a waste of the idea. I hold out little hope of anyone tackling the subject matter again and doing it in a competent way. In the hopes of getting more of what I was looking, I borrowed Compendium One of The Walking Dead comic which features the first eight chapters of the story. Having finished it, I'm not certain The Walking Dead could have ever made a satisfying television series both in terms of what we've seen and what I hoped for.

Firstly, the characters are only slightly more defined than in the show. They still overreact and yell at each other at the drop of a hat. They still let their guard down at ridiculous times. And Lori, who is by far the most fortunate character in the entire series (well... to a point), is still ridiculously selfish and irrational. I don't mean to suggest that characters can't behave irrationally in an irrational world. It just happens way to frequently and Lori, whose husband found her against all odds and still has her son AND has a baby without a doctor or complications, is the worst. On the flip-side, Rick (an antihero in the comic and going that way in the show), Andrea (a sharpshooting non-harpie), Carol (younger and not tied to Sophia all the time), and even Carl (who knows better than to wander around a zombie wasteland alone all the time) are much more interesting. Add to that Tyreese who's not in the show, but kicks all kinds of ass (seriously, why couldn't T-Dog be him?), and the pool of characters is tolerable. They may not be deep, but they don't piss me off so much (sorely missing, though, is Daryl who is the only person on the show worth a damn).

In terms of plotting and momentum, the comic has almost the opposite problem as the TV show. I'm not sure if it's related to the fact that I've only read three graphic novels in my life and don't know how to pace myself, but the story moves along WAY to fast most of the time (at least until they get the prison where it drags to a halt). I enjoyed spending a bit of time with Morgan and Duane (the black father and son) in the show and the interaction in the comic feels like it's done in a matter of minutes. These are the first people Rick meets. You'd think he'd want to hang around them a bit more to get used to this new world he's awoken to. And I know I complained about how long the show got stuck at Hershel's farm, but that comic blows through that, too. it acts merely as an excuse to get some extra characters around so the main characters can exist a bit longer without having to be killed (Hershel's family doesn't last long in the comic). 

The more I read of these familiar moments in the comic, the more I appreciated aspects of the show. No, I didn't need to spend an entire season on the farm (and you can blame the budget if you like, I blame the writers for not overcoming the setting and creating interesting characters), but there are many aspects I enjoyed about the location. And that false sense of security could be used to examine group dynamics in a meaningful way (not that it did). In my perfect world, the first half of season two would have ended with them leaving the farm and finding the jail, which all happened at the very end of the season. That gives us time at the farm, but moves things along so the story doesn't get so stale. And new environs means new obstacles means less time to get bogged down in poorly executed interpersonal drama.

Having already seen the show, I was pleased to discover there are still plenty of surprises in the comic. I don't know if fans of the comic felt the same way about the show (though I know one person who liked what they did with Shane on the show). Often, the differences from the show to the book wouldn't be a step up or down, but a parallel approach that offers interesting ideas, at the very least. I keep coming back to this, but the limitation of these ideas is solely in the horribly underdeveloped characters (this applies to both incarnations).

The one thing about the comic that prevents me from saying that it is absolutely better than the show (and I should note that I really enjoyed the first season) is that it devolves into comic book territory. Is it unreasonable for me to say that about a comic book focusing on the zombie apocalypse? I don't think so. If we're to get invested in the situation facing the protagonists, we must believe in their danger. Moving into the hyper-real arena loses that investment in reality. For me, that happened with the introduction of The Governor. The man is too cartoony to be believed. I don't deny that there will be bad people who take advantage of the people's fear (we can look at Land of the Dead for that), but there is no need for the man to keep zombie heads in aquariums, have his zombie daughter chained up, unrepentantly rape a prisoner, hack off Rick's hand, surviving having the shit beat out of him, his arm and penis cut off, and his eye gouged out (all with the resident doctor dead). This is a super-villain origin story and it feels intensely out of place. Maybe this is also my personal preference for more subtle villains like Mags from Justified.

I don't think The Walking Dead could ever have been what I wanted in a television show about the zombie apocalypse. Neither the show or the comic have shown the sort of psychology I'm interested. However, talking to the person who loaned me the compendium and his enthusiasm for The Walking Dead as an unending stream of horrifying events to make Rick and his son lunatics, I'm intrigued. If this is the case, I wish it hadn't taken the form of an ensemble-based piece of entertainment. In light of the comic, I'm somewhat mollified that The Walking Dead wasn't blowing it's immense potential by shear ineptness, but because the source is similarly lacking in many ways.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breakdowns of...

I just learned these existed today and I want actual prints of them all. Warner Brothers assembled year end blooper reels from it's releases. It's especially strange watching the flubs because the people portrayed in the '30s and '40s were always so proper or tough that it's really jarring when the actors and actresses break character. Also, the "you louse..." quip from the 1936 collection cracks me up. There are tons more on Youtube where those came from. I'm going to try not to spend all day watching them.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/21/12: An Eventful Day

Both our midwifes and those at the childbirth class emphasized that what you see in movies in regards to water breaking amounts to little more than lies. It's not a sign that you need to panic and run around like a fool collecting your overnight bags and driving recklessly to the hospital. Many women don't even experience it until they are well into active labor. It just means that, yeah, you'll probably be giving birth in the next 24 hours or so. Water breaking isn't necessarily revealed with a splash like the term suggests (I tend to picture a damn bursting). In Andrea's case, she sprung a leak.

Andrea woke up on Tuesday morning with a light trickle dripping down her leg. Because the baby rests much of its weigh atop the bladder, she wasn't sure if it was amniotic fluid or a little pee that'd been pushed out (pregnancy really helps both parties getter over their embarrassment/squeamishness in regards to bodily fluids. Good prep for the baby). Fortunately, we had an appointment with the midwife's that day anyway, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

The midwifes did a little cotton swab test and, sure enough, amniotic fluid. Nothing too serious. We knew we still had a fair amount of time since their weren't any huge contractions along with the rupture, but if we wanted a home birth (as we did), we'd have be a little more active in getting labor to start. The risk being that with the amniotic sac leaking, the baby (and mother) are more susceptible to infections and the need of hospital care (with their superior resources and technology). For Andrea, this meant drinking castor oil (mixed in a root beer float!) Wednesday morning and starting a regimen of herbs that encourage cramping. All of this would get her muscles contracting and moving things along. For me, this meant that we had a few more errands to run before we could get home to watch Parks and Recreation on Netflix. And calling my coworker to let him know that he'd have to cover for me on Wednesday.

The night passed with little to note. I stayed up until 1 AM reading believing with bravado and bluster that Oliver would be born the next day at a reasonable hour. Andrea's water had already broken, so it was only a matter of time. Andrea woke up before me to eat some food so she could start her inducement procedures. When I finally ("finally" meaning at 9 AM) got out of bed, she told me the deluge came. Being the old pro at this that I am, I just go ahead and assume that that means the sac had still mostly been protected and the risk of infection up until that point was minimal, so even though it had already been 24 hours since the first signs of amniotic fluid, I wasn't very concerned.

Andrea and I decided it would be best to take Shasta (our dog) to a friend's house given how excited she was (and for how long) the last time the midwifes were over. I spent a little longer talking to the friend than I intended, but the friend rules and we had lots to talk about. I left Shasta with another dog's chew toy in her mouth and returned to Andrea walking around timing contractions. My how much things changed! She said that she talked to our midwife, Laura, who asked about contractions. Andrea said that they weren't that bad or frequent. Ten minutes after hanging up, they were. Fortunately, the midwife was on the way. At some point, I put the cat, Roxy, outside so she wouldn't try to lay on Andrea during a contraction (may have happened after the midwife showed up).

Most of the time spent waiting for the midwife was in deep concentration for Andrea, who was coping with contractions. I was kind of milling around feeling slightly bad about not being in pain and not knowing exactly what I can do for her (our classes stressed that the birth partner shouldn't ask a lot of questions during the process, which can be frustrating since I want to make sure I get her exactly what she wants. Alas...). Eventually, Laura gets there, but mostly fills out paperwork and observes. She lets me know a few things I could do, which helps me for the rest of the night, though my primary worry is when to fill up the birth pool. Laura also checks some vital signs and takes a blood sample to make sure Andrea's white blood cells are up to snuff. There's little concern of Andrea going into active labor any time soon and there are warnings that if she doesn't have the child by 8 PM, we should go to the hospital. Laura leaves to take the blood to the lab and says she'll be back in two to three hours, telling me that sometimes women progress better without the watchful of a midwife on her.

Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later (mistyped initially as "labor"), having moved Andrea to the bed, the contractions became so intense that Andrea told me she needs to start pushing. The thought of this terrifies me because I'm alone, unqualified, and childbirth is icky (I should note that less than one week earlier, I had a dream in which the midwifes didn't arrive in time and I had to deliver Oliver. I was successful, but his umbilical cord went into the back of his head). I call Laura and tell her that Andrea feels the need to push (in my head I'm thinking that Andrea doesn't really know what she's talking about because she's never done this before and obviously Laura wouldn't have said two or three hours if it wasn't going to be at least that long for the baby to start coming) and I can sense a hesitation in Laura's voice when she says she's turning around now (later, I ask if she had even made it to the lab and Laura said she was four minutes away and trying to figure out if she should make the delivery or turn around immediately. She made the delivery. The labs came back fine). Roxy takes her recurring place outside of our bedroom window, head visible from the nose up, meowing incessantly to come inside.Meanwhile, Andrea's grunts of agony are getting more intense and I'm simply getting more tense. I don't want to do this alone. And should I fill up the tub now?

Laura returned after about twenty to thirty minutes and I was relieved that I wasn't going to have to look at the baby crowning. I took my place as Andrea's primary water giver and marveled at the apparent nonchalance of Laura walking around the house during Andrea's contractions. Surely these were signs that the baby was going to shoot out at any moment. Laura told me that it would be a good time to fill the tub (YES!) and I go about showing off my prowess at turning on the shower (there was a hose attached [by ME!] from where the shower head goes to the tub) and maintaining a nice temperature in the tub. I now had two jobs: comfort Andrea and monitor the tub.

Of course, we ran out of hot water (that tub is big) and the water temperature dropped to something slightly higher than temperate. I asked if I should put some big pots on the boil to which Laura replied something life, "brilliant! It's clear to me now why Andrea loves you so." The unfortunate flip-side to this lightning bolt of genius is that now my mind is thinking of the pots boiling over while I'm in with Andrea. But it's for her comfort, so I'm certain she'll appreciate it. And if you're wondering what Andrea is doing during this time, it's basically the same thing she was doing while we were alone together: grunting, groaning, intense pain, and mild relaxation between.

Eventually two more midwife's, Linda and Lisa (a student), showed up and we crowd around Andrea. They monitor the baby's heart rate during and after contractions. Everything is going fine. The head starts to crown. Lisa calls me back. Inside, I reject the offer without hesitation. In reality, I accept because there's an audience and I don't want them to think me uncaring about the birth of my child. Peer pressure is rough...

I go back to look and a head starts poking it's way out. Much as I suspect (and remember from some videos from the childbirth class) it's weird. Shockingly, though, from then on I secretly want to watch the baby push his way out. Instead of focusing entirely on Andrea's face, I try to peer down to check the status of the head and get mildly frustrated when there's a midwife arm in my way. Top-side, Andrea is doing well, but struggling a little (it turns out, Oliver had a hand next to his face during the process). Even in light of the effort, she is the most polite person I've ever encountered. She says "thank you" (unnecessarily) to encouragement and refuses to swear (even using some old-timey curse substitutes that I've been kicking myself for forgetting). Aside from wanting to watch the head pop out, the other thing I wasn't prepared for was how much I enjoyed watching Andrea's reactions. I never wanted to record the childbirth, but if I could've just focus the camera on her face, that would've be amazing (the only other photo I really wanted to take was from the wall's perspective with the three midwifes watching Andrea push and Roxy's head peering through the window in the background. That image will stick with me forever). Prior to the labor, I always assumed that seeing her in pain was going to make me feel sad for her. But it didn't. Because she rocked it out.

Oliver was born at 5:45 PM on March 21, 2012. He weighed 8 lbs 13 oz (beating my birthweight by 5 oz) and was 20.5 inches long. The entire labor lasted about 5.5 hours. Unfortunately, Andrea had more bleeding than normal and she was hooked up to IV drips two separate times to rehydrate and I quickly thawed some beef and cooked burgers and chard to get her iron back up. Linda ran around for about an hour collecting supplies from various places around town to avoid having to go to the hospital for what might have been a torn cervix. Fortunately, with the aid of better lighting, everything looked good. The aftermath of the birth took nearly as long as the labor, which seems like it was due since Andrea will admit that her pregnancy had been pretty easy up to that point. Andrea never used the birth pool.

So, I was right to be cocky. I went to bed around the same time I normally do. The day was just spent a little differently. I can't express how nice it was to be home instead of having to come home. And it wouldn't be life with a baby if I wasn't immediately annoyed at it's incessant 4 AM crying fit (if only my reaction could have been more like Shasta's, which was out of curiosity instead of sleep deprivation). Fortunately, we wound up getting plenty of sleep. It'd just been a long day (bonus: so far the baby doesn't cry when I hold him!).

(One thing that surprised me was how many household utilities we used. Hot water to fill the tub, stove on to heat the water, we frequently needed more lights turned on, washers and dryers running routinely,
everyone cooking food to avoid starvation. I'd love to see a day-to-day breakdown on my bills to see if things spiked.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Michael Ian Black Is My Comedy Idol

I'm not cool enough to have liked Michael Ian Black going all the way back to The State and I'm barely cool enough to have enjoyed his antics on Viva Variety (DVD release, please). The series that really made me a fan of MIB was Ed and from that point on, I was his. I actively avoided the I Love the '80s series until I was flipping through the channels and saw MIB's talking head (note: I hate the '80s). The man can do no wrong in my book (OK, one wrong, but he totally makes up for it).

Most people know Michael Ian Black for his snarky, sarcastic persona. And rightly so, as he does it so well. But what really made me his acolyte were his moments of stark honesty (there are actually more appropriate example of this, one of which is the skydiving story available on his album Very Famous and the other is about his first experience with pot and can be found on the Education episode [39] of The RISK! Podcast). Well, that and, aside from the "one wrong" link above, we share very similar ideas (I'm also in awe of his ability to self-promote. From LeWar to his efforts to be Taco Bell's spokesman). 

So, obviously, I bought his book You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations and it has delivered those honest moments along with lots of hilarity (the pot story is also in this book). The book is particularly appropriate for me since he discusses getting married and having children, both of which I'll be doing this year. Of course, if it wasn't written by Michael Ian Black, I wouldn't care because it's not that different from anyone else writing about marriage and kids (I love Bill Cosby, but have no desire to read his books on the same subject). But here's a microcosm of what I think sets MIB apart:

So yeah... Michael Ian Black rules and you should all read his book(s). I'll leave you with this to get you started:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Randomize Netflix

The more I talk to people about Netflix and their experiences, the more I realize that my approach is different. Several people I know have dropped the disc service because they let movies sit around for weeks at a time (at least) whereas I refuse to wait more than three days and watch them in the order in which they arrive (I have the two disc/unlimited streaming plan). I rarely monkey with my queue to push movies to the top that I'd rather watch because I know there are certain films I would never pick in the face of other options that I still have an interest in seeing (anything by John Cassevetes falls into this category). Of course, most people I know don't have over 300 movies on their queue, so shifting things around makes more sense for them.

Because of my particular approach to Netflix, I've always wished that they'd add a "Randomize Queue" button where the entire list of movies gets shuffled. That way, every few weeks I can hit the button and reshape which movies come. I tend to ascribe human emotions to inanimate things and feel bad for the movies that have to wait a year just to be seen. Also, it helps to mix in the movies I add when I go on one of my genre-hunting excursions. Finally, I added the Queue Sorter extension since I realized Netflix has stopped working in the best interest of its customers. Here's what it looks like:
Ooooo... so diverse...
It's pretty cool to use and I kind of want to hit the shuffle button every day (I'm going to be watching all of Nicolas Winding Refn's films here soon, hence the "only 7 throught 330" indication. That's not a default setting). Once again, though, I felt bad for the movies that had gotten so close to the top but were scattered throughout the queue when I hit "Shuffle." They'd been so patient (especially you, Brother From Another Planet). I only really have use for the shuffle button, but who knows what may develop? The only real problem is that it doesn't keep television series or multi-volume collections together. It's easy enough to deal with, but that would be a nice feature. Still, I'm pretty stoked on the whole thing and since I want to see everything on my queue, it's exciting to watch what rises to the top.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Waiting Is... A... Hard Part

I didn't feel comfortable going all out with the Tom Petty reference as I don't feel it's my place to determine what the hardest part of pregnancy is. But the waiting is pretty hard.

For 3/4 of a year now, Andrea and I have known that our lives will be changing forever. It was an inevitability, but in the future. Now, the due date approaches and we're well within the window of acceptability for a home birth (37 to 42 weeks). People are continually asking when the baby is due (understandably: see picture) and we keep saying that it could be any day now, which is incredibly frustrating.

As someone who likes to block out his day accordingly (go climbing at this time, this much time to watch a movie, do some writing next, etc), the unexpected nature of this eventuality gently mocks me. I can totally see why people schedule C-sections even if I think it's ridiculous. Not only can't I plan my day without wondering if Andrea will go into labor, I can't even know when the labor will happen!

At least with each passing day, the odds go up that that will be the day Andrea goes into labor. Unfortunately, we still have something like two or three weeks for that to happen. We've been waiting for this day for so long (and I can only imagine how ready Andrea must be). I'm ready to start the next phase of life. The anticipation is palpable (it doesn't help that the last time I called home, my mom answered asking if Oliver was here).

But if he could just hold off until after Thursday so we can kick some ass at trivia, that would be terrific.

Where I Get to the Bottom of My Dislike of John Cassevetes (Director): Faces

My plan was to write reviews of all the movies I watched for the first time. This was going to replace the Netflix Round-up which was always a struggle since it was sometimes two weeks since I'd seen the earliest films. I quickly discovered that not every movie cries out for lengthy comment. I've already skipped over a Harold Lloyd collection (whose persona I really like, but whose films run hot and cold from scene to scene), In the Soup (which stars Steve Buscemi and is one of those wank-fests about being an artist and making movies [though heightened] which Buscemi did better years later in Living in Oblivion), and Army of Shadows (which is a good Jean-Pierre Melville movie that I couldn't come up with an interesting angle to write about). All this is to say that I'm only going to write about things that draw something out of me during the viewing experience. It's only natural that a film by John Cassevetes, whose films I've spoken of before, gives me something to say.

The films in question is Faces (a film that has caused a former professor of mine some stress) and it helped me finally pinpoint what it is about Cassevetes' directorial work that I find so off-putting. I used to think that it was the intimacy and intensity of the personal drama unspooling on screen. Additionally, the films were largely aimless. There's no driving plot. Everything is about the characters and the minute and/or significant changes that happen in each scene or throughout the film. Often, the characters are dealing with their lives falling apart. I always thought it was my inability to empathize with these heightened emotions and, to my mind, the ridiculous and unproductive conflicts that stemmed from the emotions. The answer is so much simpler: I hate the characters in John Cassevetes' films.

It's very possible that social gatherings were very much as Cassevetes depicts in his films at the time he shot them, or that these gatherings were indicative of what life was like amongst the creative, artistic crowd, but they seem like all the most annoying nights of my life rolled into one. Everyone is fighting for attention, dancing and singing ridiculous songs, drinking too much, and being generally disingenuous (this last "criticism" is probably the point of many of these scenes to show that these seemingly "happy" people are pretty miserable in later scenes. It doesn't change the fact that I find their overcompensation tiresome and irritating and only serves to fuel my disdain for the characters). I acknowledge that my description of these parties probably doesn't sound so bad, but watching it is excruciating, especially since the scenes always go on for... ev... er.

Faces opens with two men at a prostitute's apartment acting the fool. Things get heated between the prostitute and one of the men, so the other, Richard, steps in and the night ends abruptly, but not before a big kiss for Richard. Richard goes home to his wife, Maria, and they seem to have legitimate affection for each other, except that Richard exhibits a brutal contempt and disrespect for his wife (men do not come off well in this film). This is the only legitimately moving part of Faces for me and it gave me hope that I would finally connect with Cassevetes approach. But while the moment is affecting, it doesn't hold much weight because all we know about Richard is that he spent a night with a prostitute. We have a sense of the conflict that lies within his marriage, but that stems more from him being an ass. Richard just comes as fickle. I acknowledge that that's not necessarily a bad thing for the character, but for me, it removes me from any investment in the character's journey after he asks for a divorce. If Richard's contempt for his wife didn't seem to come from out of no where, the scene would be a lot stronger.

I don't mean to suggest that characters in films need to be likable or relatable, but one should understand their actions. Faces exemplifies my issues with Cassevetes' work as a whole. Where others see raw emotion on screen (and the performances he get are almost always uniformly powerful), I see unmotivated conflict. That there are deeper wounds that the audience isn't privy to. The audience shouldn't have to supply their own narrative in order to makes sense of character's actions.

And yes, the characters are all loud, obnoxious, selfish assholes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

On Watching Horror Movies

Listen or download Midnight, The Stars And You for free on Prostopleer

Not long ago, I went to see a 35mm print of The Shining at the Academy Theater with some friends. When I invited people to come along, I assumed that everyone had seen it before, especially since I've probably watched it at least once a year since I was fifteen (easier way to say that: "since I've seen it at least fifteen times). The Shining has moved beyond being scary for me, which allows me to get sucked in by the terrific Steadicam work and anticipate my favorite moments. Since I no longer view The Shining as scary, I forget that that is it's main purpose (aside from just being awesome). When I came to learn that one of my friends hadn't seen it before (he of the 30+ age group), I took for granted my own point of view and hoped that he'd like the movie. That's about it.

You know how when you sit right next to someone watching a movie, you can kind of feel their energy? There's a sense that the person is way into the experience or rejecting it entirely. Sometimes you feed off of that energy and sometimes it's distracting. I remember watching Eastern Promises with a friend in Boston and neither of us were digging on the film and we could sense that. About the time some characters were blowing up balloons and throwing them in a net above the table, we checked out and started whispering snarky comments to each other (it was a nearly empty theater). Well, that didn't happen during The Shining because I love the movie, but I definitely felt my friends energy and it wasn't good. When you're not into a movie, it's bad, but when you're not into a 142 minute movie that started at 9 PM, well that's torture.

Finally, the lights come up, we leave the theater, and I get to talk with him about the experience. It turns out, The Shining wasn't boring him, he was deeply disturbed by it. Something about The Shining shook him and, at that moment, I was intensely jealous (still am, actually). I spend so much time watching horror movies looking for something that will unsettle me and failing that I've forgotten what watching many of the classics for the first time was like (of course, most of the classics I didn't get to see in a packed theater for the first time, either). My friend may not have had a good time (I still don't know if he liked The Shining), but he had a legitimate Experience. That's part of the reason I love the horror genre. It plays at a heightened level that allows for the outlandish and unexpected to happen in a real setting. It's also why I don't understand people who don't like horror movies. They may make you squirm and give you a bad dream or an uneasy night's rest, but it's something that sticks with you and will most likely turn into an interesting anecdote.

Personally, it was a lot of fun to see my friend react that way so what I'm basically saying to all of you is that, if you ever want to watch a horror movie (especially one you haven't seen) give me a call. It's practically what I do anyway.

Also, dig on this blog. It rules.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Character and Kill List

Kill List is broken down into three fairly distinct parts. The first features a domestic life that is anything but serene and becomes the spine of the film. The second is a story of hitmen who are also friends. The third shall remain a secret, but there are hints to this conclusion throughout Kill List. This last segment is by far the most interesting and dynamic part of the movie, but even though we go out on a high note, it's not particularly resonant because little is done to make any of the characters believable. As a result, the finale falls short and everything leading up to it is a drag. Basically, the ending exists to make the audience say, "whoa," and never think of the movie again.

Jay and Shel are married and unhappy. Shel wants Jay to get back to work after eight months and he's less inclined to do so. Money is tight and they have a son in front of whom they often fight. Guests come over for dinner and that turns for the worse. But, there are moments of happiness. Jay obviously loves his son and they all have fun play-acting some kind of medieval battle. This is supposed to set the stage for the rest of Kill List. Unfortunately, it plays as hitting all of the bullet points of creating a "real" domestic situation without convincing anyone. It's like a socially awkward person who tries to imitate the behavior of others to give the appearance of comfort, but fails miserably in the process.

Writer-director Ben Wheatley and his co-writer Amy Jump cobble together these moments as plot contrivances. While everything that happens in all movies is contrived, great movies make contrivance feel organic and like it's the only option available. In order to get away with having such poorly developed characters, Wheatley and Jump need to have a much better hook in their plot. Conversely, if the characters were stronger, the plot contrivances wouldn't be so glaring (see The Walking Dead for the most obvious example of this in the history of ever). As it stands, we don't care about Jay and Shel which destroys the impact of the ending since it relies on our involvement with said characters.

It's no surprise that the most affecting moment in Kill List comes from the hitmen and friends Jay and Gal (who is mind-blowingly the same actor who played Tyres in Spaced). There is a clear history, a sense of purpose, we understand their actions, and though they butt heads, there's not question why they are friends. If the level of care put into this relationship had been there for the husband-wife relationship, Kill List could have been something more than a dull movie with a pretty awesome (if empty) ending.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Cover-Man: Joe Cocker

Many years ago, I systematically pilfered my parents' record collection, taking the golden nuggets (or what I thought were golden nuggets at the time) from the river of mediocrity (nobody needs that many Bread records). Because I was much younger, my taste wasn't quite formed. Hence the presence of several Jim Croce and James Taylor records. Add to that the records my dad recommended, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and Aztec Two-Step, and I've been lugging around a bunch of records that I don't listen to from city to city. And records are heavy as hell.

In light of these ignored records, I decided to listen to every record I own. Mostly, I'm hoping to discover ignored records that I should be listening to, but it's also going to show me which records should remain untouched (sorry dad, but Aztec Two-Step is a little too "bland singer-songwriter-y" for me). I've only made it to the "C"'s so far (Leonard Cohen is playing now), but I learned something already. Something that I've suspected for a while, but was driven home hard: Joe Cocker is a glorified karaoke singer.

My parents have three Joe Cocker records (Joe Cocker!, With a Little Help from My Friends, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen) and while his voice is pretty awesome and the arrangements are terrific (though they aren't done by Cocker), the albums are filled with largely other people's songs. Joe Cocker! only has three songs of ten written by someone involved in the band and just one with Cocker's name attached. With a Little Help does slightly better, with four songs of ten. The live album Mad Dogs and Englishmen only features four out of seventeen songs that fit those criteria. In a world where people (including myself) rail against American Idol being a karaoke contest that requires little other than a "good" voice, it's hard to rationalize the ubiquity on oldies or classic rock radio of a man guilty of the same thing.

Good covers are just about one of my favorite things in music, but I've chastised other bands (The Ataris, Alien Ant Farm) for riding someone else's work to success. My feeling is that once you've established yourself as a creative force, then you can start with the covers released as singles. Cocker puts me in an awkward position because I actually enjoyed listening to his records, but he fits the mold of those I disparage. After thinking about it, whether or not Cocker is the creative force behind his albums doesn't matter because the songs themselves are eminently listenable whereas the bands mentioned above are uniformly uninteresting. Sure, it's a rationalization, but I can't not respect a man who performs like this (I love the moment when it looks like he collapses out of frame at 3:44):

PS -- If American Idol could get over his looks and bizarre performing style, I think Cocker would destroy on it.

PPS -- Air guitaring? Seriously?

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Naming a Human

The most recent mind-blowing revelation I had in regards to having a son is how Andrea and myself are naming someone whose identity is going to be tied into his name. I've spent loads of time thinking of all of the great names I could name my eventual children (I still can't believe Andrea won't give me Cheswick. The guy who played him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was in a scene from Alligator with her future name on the wall!).

If this isn't a sign, I don't know what is.
In these flights of fancy, I never really thought of the would-be child as an entity because, well, I hadn't gotten anyone pregnant. Now that little Oliver Henson Capp is almost here, I can't help but feel an unexpected pressure about the name.

It's almost surreal. When you name a pet, you can be as ridiculous or as ordinary as you like. They don't care. A pet will respond to anything if you call it that enough (a brief list of some of the pet names I've come up with: three yellow labs and a chocolate lab named after the Ghostbusters, an English bulldog named "Beef Wellington" with the nickname "Beefy," a mutt named PJ Bottoms, and any type of dog with jowls called "Jowly Roger"). While there's license to be creative with a child's name, there's a risk of mockery that isn't there in the animal kingdom. I've never been too concerned about mockery because any name can be cannibalized into something hurtful (or worse yet, personality traits), but one doesn't want one's child to resent the name he or she has been given.

Definitely the biggest mind-trip about naming the baby is that there's going to be an identity tied to the name. Oliver is going to grow up and become an individual. His name is going to conjure an image in people's minds, just as all of our names do. When people think of me, I'd imagine they think "tall, glasses, red hair." Probably some other things, but I won't go out on a limb for the less objective of facts about myself. People are going to be doing that with Oliver and I can't wrap my head around it (and I may not even be expressing it well, either). As much as I'd like to think one can do that with pets, one can really come up with a description that applies to any number of other pets.

What's really interesting to me is that the name Andrea and I have chosen is an expression of our tastes. We wouldn't pick a name we don't like. But it's also a nerdy kind of name and that may be less subconscious than I'd like to think. I can't wait to share Monty Python, King Kong, The Muppets, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and all sorts of other "nerdy" culture with Oliver (don't think I'm not tickled that he'll share a name with Oliver Hardy) and I hope that he connects with that stuff. Yeah, I can relate to nerds. On the other hand, I may end up with someone like Tom Hanks' son, and that's OK, too.

I seem to have lost the thread. But yeah, naming a child is weird.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Can't Wait for "The Making of 'The Making of Psycho'"

Hey look! Another dumb idea coming out of Hollywood! For those too lazy to click the link, Fox Searchlight is going to make a movie about the making of Psycho called "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" (maybe this will be the first film in a series in which Hitchcock is a wizard who uses his special powers to make movies and fight evil). My response, like so many of my responses to news out of Hollywood, is "why?" Why do we need a movie based on this? Christ, the Blu-ray already covers this in its special features:

  • The Making of 'Psycho' (SD; 1:34:12) is an incredibly excellent feature length documentary on virtually every aspect of the film's production;
  • 'Psycho' Sound (HD; 9:58) is an interesting look at the new technologies employed to isolate discrete elements of a mono sound stem to create a 5.1 experience;
  • In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy (SD; 25:58) offers some interesting comparisons of Hitchcock sequences with those in other films, and includes a wealth of interviews with directors like Martin Scorsese and John Carpenter who have been influenced by Hitch;
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut (Audio; 15:20), an interesting Psycho-centric snippet from their 1962 interview sessions;
  • Newsreel Footage: The Release of 'Psycho' (SD; 7:45) is somewhat misleadingly titled, as this is really a "pressbook on film" for exhibitors, describing the "no admittance after the film starts" policy that made Psycho's original roadshow exhibition such a sensation;
  • The Shower Scene (SD; 2:30), offers the iconic sequence with and without Herrmann's riveting score;
  • The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass (SD; 4:10), an interesting compendium of Bass sketches which helped Hitchcock to plan his setups for the sequence;
  • 'Psycho' Archives (SD; 7:48), a collection of publicity still;
  • Posters and 'Psycho' Ads (SD; 3:00), including some international versions;
  • Lobby Cards (SD; 1:30)
Do you think there will be a detailed account of the shower scene?
There's a feature length documentary already available on the subject! What more could you want? Some actors impersonating other actors trying to act? I'm not big on biopics to begin with, But I fail to see any way that Anthony Hopkins doesn't come off as portraying Hitchcock as anything but a caricature (his persona already portrayed him as such). Then you have Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh? Johansson has enough trouble playing one part, let alone a part within a part. 

The biggest issue is what's the story? Just making the movie? The controversial fallout? Since it's a movie about real events, the filmmakers are bound the fudge a little of the reality of what happened. Are they going to contrive obstacles to create tension? It's not a story like Ed Wood where we see an underdog trying anything to make movies. Hitchcock had already made Rear Window, Vertigo, and North by Northwest, not to mention at least ten other lauded films. Yeah, Psycho was independently produced, but Hitchcock had a bit of cache and wasn't hurting for cash himself.

And in the end, who is the market for a movie like this? People who love Psycho will already know the story and many will have seen the feature length documentary or even read the book on the making of Psycho (which happens to share a title with this movie). As the writer of the linked article notes, movies about movies seem to be gaining traction and Psycho has a high profile, so why not make a movie about it. There's no concern as to whether they should make a movie about it, it's just the easy thing to do. The least they could do is make a movie about the making of Apocalypse Now (which already has a very good documentary made about it) or, better yet, the making of Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie. That has everything. An overblown ego, drugs and alcohol, budget overruns. 

Or, instead of making movies about the making of (real) movies, let's just make movies.