Monday, June 30, 2008
Sentential Links #144
:: Ok, maybe I also thought how nice it must be, to be out on a date on a warm summer night, making out with your sweetheart while listening to Abba and that I was a little jealous too.
:: She seems so tiny and fragile. I’m just about as nervous and worried as a new parent.
:: And here I am, going to come in and review this thing like I’m covering new ground. It’s crazy, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
:: Oh, and it wouldn't be a Utah attraction if there wasn't some element of cheesiness to it: all the employees have been given "diner names." Oy. What is it with this state anyway? It's like people just can't help but find some way of being cutesy.
:: I love books that piss people off. I love books that certain types of people think that none of us should be allowed to read. I love them on principle. I love books that make people tremble about "the children" and what will happen if "the children (tm)" read it? You want to make me read a book? Have some self-righteous nitwad pontificate about why I "shouldn't" read it. Book sold.
:: No one in a pocket of hip, not even two 50 something businessmen in suits embracing their inner cool, would ever say cool beans.
:: And this is why people get upset with politics. Wes Clark makes a perfectly legitimate statement and can't find a single national Democrat to back him up because they're all a bunch of scared little kittens. (This is the first time the Obama campaign has really disappointed me.)
:: Of course, one has to have real Christian values, such as looking out for the greater good, rather than just for his or her cronies. One does not profess to be a Christian, or indeed, a member of any faith, to achieve this; conversely, public piety does not Christian values prove (see Bush, George W.)
All for this week.
Unidentified Earth 44
OK, so there are the hints. Time for a new entry:
Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, if you have any....
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
:: It's weird in the sense that it doesn't happen often: a baseball team wins (in this case, the LA Dodgers) despite having no hits in the game. Wow.
One oddity here is that official MLB rules indicate that for a game to qualify as an official no-hitter, the team pitching the no-no must pitch nine innings; since the Dodgers were the home team and thus carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth, they didn't bat at all in the ninth, and therefore the Angels' pitchers only three eight innings and thus this game is not an official no-hitter. I've found this rule silly ever since they imposed it. If the game goes nine innings, it should be a no-hitter. (Now, I'm on board with not considering rain-shortened six-inning games as no-hitters if it happens. But this, to me, is a no-hitter.)
:: I, for one, would love to have "WTF" on my license plate. Maybe I'll get vanity plates that read "W TEE EFF".
:: A Star Trek/Monty Python mash-up. What scares me is that I actually know which episodes nearly every one of those Trek clips comes from. I have got to get myself a life.
Boom de yada!
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Sign me up! Sign me up!!!
But then I read this xkcd installment, and, finding it amusing but wondering what it means, follow the link at the top of the page, I find what is surely the greatest commercial in teevee history.
I don't remember a single commercial that filled me with more desire to buy what's being sold than this one. I'm serious, I've got a MONSTER hankering to sign up for cable right now. Here's a commercial that has two astronauts doing the "terrorist fist bump" and Stephen Hawking saying "boom de yada".
Yeah, I love the whole world too. Boom de yada!
(Of course, my lack of cable means that likely every one of my readers has already seen this ad and is now thinking, "Wow, doesn't our boy Jaquandor need to get out more often." Guilty as charged, I suppose.)
Friday, June 27, 2008
1.Pulp Fiction (1994) (Wouldn't be my best, but I'm not going to quibble.)
2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)
3. Titanic (1997)
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
5. Toy Story (1995) (Come now. It isn't even the best Pixar movie; this is absurdly high to put this movie.)
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998) (Again: come on, now. It's just not that good a movie once the Normandy stuff is past. And with all due respect to T & C, the film's construction seems to strongly imply that we're dipping into Ryan's memories. The whole bit at the beginning with him walking through the graveyard isn't even necessary; nor is the coda.)
7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) (I consider it a great film; a lot of its atmospherics set the stage for horror filmmaking in the 90s and beyond.)
9. Die Hard (1988) (One of the iconic action movies, obviously. I haven't seen it in a long time.)
10. Moulin Rouge (2001)
11. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) (I can't believe this is almost twenty-five years old.)
12. The Matrix (1999) (Meh. It was really cool the first time I saw it, but I liked it less each time I watched it after that. I tried once to watch The Matrix Reloaded and I fell asleep.)
13. GoodFellas (1990) (I really do think this is overrated, and that it wasn't robbed at the Oscars.)
14. Crumb (1995) (This looks fascinating; I'd love to see it.)
15. Edward Scissorhands (1990) (A sentimental choice for me, since this movie was what The Girl I Thought Was Cute saw on our first date. She would later become The Girlfriend, then The Fiancee, and then The Wife.)
16. Boogie Nights (1997)
17. Jerry Maguire (1996) (I heart Cameron Crowe, as I've long established. I may have mentioned this before, but I saw this movie in a theater in Buffalo, and since it came out just a handful of years after the Cowboys beat the Bills in two straight Super Bowls, the shot during the big game at the end of the Cowboys coach glowering actually got a cheer from the audience.)
18. Do the Right Thing (1989)
19. Casino Royale (2006) (This seems a bit quick to anoint as a classic, but it's such a good movie that I'm not going to complain.)
20. The Lion King (1994) (I know, I just said this the other day, but I'm starting to suspect this movie of being wildly overrated.)
21. Schindler's List (1993) (Superior to Saving Private Ryan in every way.)
22. Rushmore (1998)
23. Memento (2001)
24. A Room With a View (1986) (I think this is the only Merchant-and-Ivory movie I've seen. I watched it during the last week of summer vacation before my junior year of high school, after a guy I'd met at music camp two weeks before had told me that this movie "made him want to fall in love". And yeah, it did. Haven't seen it in years, though.)
25. Shrek (2001)
26. Hoop Dreams (1994)
27. Aliens (1986) (Meh. Again, The Abyss is a much better movie.)
28. Wings of Desire (1988)
29. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
30. When Harry Met Sally... (1989) (A favorite of mine.)
31. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
32. Fight Club (1999) (I don't like this movie, but I can't find anything wrong with it. It's simply not my cup of tea.)
33. The Breakfast Club (1985) (This was a staple in college.)
34. Fargo (1996)
35. The Incredibles (2004) (I don't grok this as much as some others, but it's a fine, fine film.)
36. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
37. Pretty Woman (1990) (Really? Last time I watched it, I came away a bit disappointed.)
38. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (Ah, yes. I need to watch it again.)
39. The Sixth Sense (1999) (I figured out the "twist" halfway through, but mainly I suspect because of an unplanned intermission when the film broke and I had five minutes to think it through.)
40. Speed (1994) (Or The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down....)
41. Dazed and Confused (1993) (I need to see this.)
42. Clueless (1995)
43. Gladiator (2000) (I want to see this, kinda-sorta. I loved Kingdom of Heaven.)
44. The Player (1992)
45. Rain Man (1988)
46. Children of Men (2006)
47. Men in Black (1997) (Really? It was a clever enough comedy, but was it that good?)
48. Scarface (1983) (I see this on a lot of "great movie" lists, and everyone I've met who has watched it tells me it stinks. Odd.)
49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) (Wow, I need to watch this all the way through one of these days.)
50. The Piano (1993)
51. There Will Be Blood (2007)
52. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
53. The Truman Show (1998)
54. Fatal Attraction (1987)
55. Risky Business (1983)
56. The Lives of Others (2006)
57. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
58. Ghostbusters (1984)
59. L.A. Confidential (1997)
60. Scream (1996) (One of the more disappointing movies I've seen. It can't be taken seriously as horror, and it's not funny enough to rise to the level of clever spoof.)
61. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
62. sex, lies and videotape (1989) (Wow, did this movie ever flummox the small-town Lutherans I watched it with in college!)
63. Big (1988) (OK, when did this become a classic? I bet nobody remembers this movie if not for the "Chopsticks" scene.)
64. No Country For Old Men (2007)
65. Dirty Dancing (1987) (I've seen parts. Meh.)
66. Natural Born Killers (1994) (I saw this and admired it, but I'm not sure it's a classic or anything. It's not even the best Oliver Stone movie from this period, and none of those appear on this list.)
67. Donnie Brasco (1997)
68. Witness (1985) (Should be higher. I hope Harrison Ford finds this level of inspiration again one day.)
69. All About My Mother (1999)
70. Broadcast News (1987) (I haven't seen this in far too long! I really loved it.)
71. Unforgiven (1992)
72. Thelma & Louise (1991)
73. Office Space (1999) (They said I could play my radio at a reasonable volume.)
74. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
75. Out of Africa (1985)
76. The Departed (2006)
77. Sid and Nancy (1986)
78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
79. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
80. Michael Clayton (2007)
81. Moonstruck (1987)
82. Lost in Translation (2003)
83. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
84. Sideways (2004)
85. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005) (The Bollywood ending had me on the floor.)
86. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
87. Swingers (1996)
88. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) (A friend at work and I like to express our mutual frustration by quoting this movie. "Come on, people! Throw me a frickin' bone here!")
89. Breaking the Waves (1996)
90. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
91. Back to the Future (1985)
92. Menace II Society (1993)
93. Ed Wood (1994)
94. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
95. In the Mood for Love (2001)
96. Far From Heaven (2002) (I just checked this out of the library, and will report back.)
97. Glory (1989)
98. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
99. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
100. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)
So, there are the movies. Omissions? I'm not sure what I'd knock off, but I'd include Apollo 13, Braveheart, The Shawshank Redemption, The Karate Kid, The Abyss, The Iron Giant, Stand By Me, Misery, Platoon, JFK, Nixon, and the in-my-opinion-criminally-underrated Dolores Claiborne.
As for the books:
1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000) (Sorry, but Prisoner of Azkaban is the better book.)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991) (Sheer genius.)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87) (What else is there to say?)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000) (Liked it but didn't quite get the fuss.)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000) (God, yes. What a book. I've worn mine out and need to get a new one.)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003) (Another wonderful work; I like that EW is open to graphic novels.)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000) (Only the first book; I'm not sure I'll ever make it a sufficient priority to read the second and third. Nothing against Pullman's message, but that first book just didn't excite me to the point that I want to read the rest of the trilogy.)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996) (I haven't read the entire thing yet.)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000) (I thought this was wondrous from start to finish.)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000) (Gotta read this – I've owned it for six years now.)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) (It told me what I already knew, but too many people don't know and worse, don't care.)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995) (I just read this last week!)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999) (I've read one of the stories within this collection, and I'll write about that story sometime soon.)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001) (I have a feeling this would also tell me what I already know.)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)
Not much to say there, I suppose. I need to read more, obviously. But from what I've heard, The Da Vinci Code isn't actually a good book, so why is it here? Just because it was the mega-bestseller of the year back when? I obviously haven't read enough of these to offer serious criticisms of this list, but one book I'd have in my list is Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. Come to that, no great SF or fantasy has been written in the last twenty-five years? I think not.
And with that, I think I'm caught up on lists for now. Bring on the quiz-things!
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Something for Thursday
So here's "True Blue".
Ah, those wild whacky 80s...how I loved them so....
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Movies of Lists, Lists of Movies....
So, here are their lists. I've bolded the ones I've seen and sprinkled my own comment throughout.
Well, right off the bat we've got a bit of a problem. "Animation" isn't a genre, really; it's a film medium. Within the confines of animation you can do SF, romance, fantasy, anything. But we can still talk about the best animated movies, right?
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
I won't quibble with the placement, although I personally wouldn't call it the best animated movie ever. But it's just as iconic as this placement suggests, and it's interesting to watch it now and try to imagine Disney today doing something quite as dark as Snow White. (Yes, it's a dark film. There's some very disturbing stuff in there, amongst the funny stuff with dwarves and the Handsome Princes and whatnot.)
2. Pinocchio (1940)
Again, a movie with lots of darkness. (Hardwick's metamorphosis into a donkey is as horrific a scene as you'll find in a movie.) I've always loved Pinocchio.
3. Bambi (1942)
OK. I love this movie too.
4. The Lion King (1994)
Unlike SamuraiFrog, I like this movie a little bit less each time I see it. Oh, it's definitely very good, but there are things about it that don't hold up well for me. I don't care for Matthew Broderick's voice work, I find a lot of the climax contrived, and some of the exposition stuff at the beginning is pretty dull. There isn't a subtle moment in this film, and there are moments that could have benefited from a less heavy hand.
5. Fantasia (1940)
Yes, it's a mixed bag, but I really do love it. The main weak part is the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony.
6. Toy Story (1995)
Yes, it's a really good movie. And it launched Pixar as a force to be reckoned with. But still, I don't think it's the best Pixar film, so putting it here, ahead of them all?
7. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This is the best film of Disney's Silver Age, in my opinion. It's far better than The Lion King.
8. Shrek (2001)
Hmmmmm. See, I really like this movie. I also really like its first sequel, and I didn't hate its second sequel (although that one was, admittedly, a pretty tired film). I guess I'm OK with it being here, with its riffs on fairy tales and legends.
9. Cinderella (1950)
I love this movie; I just love it. The animation is some of the best to ever come out of Disney (the bit where singing Cinderella is mirrored in the soap bubbles is visual invention of the highest order, and to animate those mini-Cinderellas so they're identical is great). But you know what? I love Peter Pan more.
10. Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar's best film, for me. I'm not sure I can name anything wrong with it. (Well, OK, Disney couldn't pony up to license the Bobby Darin version of "Beyond the Sea", choosing instead a cover version that's the same anyway? There, I found fault with Finding Nemo.)
What's missing, then? Well, the most glaring omission is clearly The Iron Giant. I'll second SamuraiFrog's nomination of The Secret of NIMH, and I'll throw in The Last Unicorn, to boot. And really, I'm not one to completely slag a lot of Disney's non-Pixar output after The Lion King. Some of it isn't terribly good, but I still think that The Emperor's New Groove is an absolute classic.
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
I loved this movie as a kid. And then, as a more jaded teenaged dork, I hated it. And then as a college dork getting in touch with my inner kid again, I loved it again. And there I've stayed ever since. It really is a terrific film, terribly wise in its outlook and full of humor and imagination. (I quoted one of the Wizard's lines in my written eulogy for Little Quinn.)
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Now, I have to ask something here. The AFI's lists salute American films, but by what standard is LOTR an American effort? Because New Line's an American company? That's pretty weak tea, if you ask me. If we can consider LOTR, then the entire animation category has to thrown open to Hayao Miyazaki and the rest of the anime geniuses. But fine.
Anyway, why not do the right thing here and consider the trilogy as a whole? (Although, if I have to pick a stand-alone, I'd go with The Two Towers. But I wouldn't pick a stand-alone.)
3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Meh. I'm not a fan of this movie.
4. King Kong (1933)
Yeah, it's quite good. 'Nuff said.
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I'm cheating a bit by including this: the one time I saw it I was in second grade and I don't remember much about it at all.
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
Oh, hell yes. No explanations for the strange events in Ray Kinsella's corn field, just total complete faith in it all. It's a great movie. (By the way, it wasn't made into a movie, but in a similar vein is W.P. Kinsella's novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which posits an exhibition game in 1908 between the Chicago Cubs and a semi-pro Iowa team that lasted something like a hundred innings and was the longest baseball game ever played – except that nobody remembers it ever happening.)
7. Harvey (1950)
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
Yes, it's fantasy. And yes, it's a terrific movie.
9. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
I've never seen the silent one. The one from the 1940s with Sabu is wonderful, though.
10. Big (1988)
Gahhhh. Didn't like this movie. I suspect that if you take out the bit with the piano keyboard on the floor, the movie isn't remembered nearly as well.
So what would I consider for the Fantasy list? Well, since we're including movies of questionable country of origin (not that the countries are questionable, just the notion of what makes an "American" film or not), I'd include Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Princess Bride is pure fantasy. And some superhero movies may fall into this category, no? Superman or Spiderman 2 are fantasies, in my book. Excalibur (not American, but then, we're stretching the definition of an "American" movie already).
Of course, with these two categories, we end up in the classic old debate about what the dividing line is between SF and fantasy. Enough ink, both real and cyber, has been dropped on this topic over the years that I'm not about to add anything earthshaking about it, except to reiterate my view that the best definition of SF is probably "SF is whatever I point at when I say, SF".
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
I'd have it on the list. Best ever? For me, that would be...
2. Star Wars (1977)
Oh yeah! Without this movie I wouldn't be me. (Which might not be the worst thing in the world, but still.) I admit that I'm rather horrified by the notion gradually mustering around this movie -- that it stinks too, and that only TESB is any good at all.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Lots of people these days gripe on Spielberg for "Daddy issues". I personally don't care. This is a great movie.
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Meh. It's not my cup of tea.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Great stuff, really. I like this movie a lot. I haven't seen it in a long time – I should rectify that soon.
6. Blade Runner (1982)
As with SamuraiFrog, I say Meh. I wrote about Blade Runner some time ago, if you really want to know my thoughts on the film.
7. Alien (1979)
Sorry, but I hate the Alien franchise. SamuraiFrog makes the interesting point that he sees it more as a horror film than an SF film, but it's really both. SF's kind of like "animation": it's such a widely defined thing that you can do anything in it at all, really. But as for this movie, I hated it. And its first two sequels. I never bothered with anything Alien related after that.
8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
I love both Terminator movies, really. (No, there was no third. That's a ridiculous notion.)
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
10. Back to the Future (1985)
I love this movie too, although I'm not sure I'd put it in the Top Ten SF movies. For one thing, I'm not sure it's SF. Sure, it's got a mad scientist and lots of made-up technobabble about how the time travel works, but that's complete BS, isn't it? The main working definition here seems to be: "It's fantasy when you wave your hand to make something impossible to happen, and SF if you push a button to make something impossible happen." (Which still doesn't help in the case of Star Wars, where both happen.
So what didn't make the cut here? Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a glaring omission. Twelve Monkeys is great SF. I'd include The Abyss, which always gets unfairly overshadowed by the overrated Aliens. Forbidden Planet and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Total Recall, and, yes, Robocop. (Hell, make it a Peter Weller two-fer and throw in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.)
(SamuraiFrog suggests The Right Stuff, but that's not SF at all. It's a historical film about the early days of the American space program.)
1. Raging Bull (1980)
2. Rocky (1976)
Yes, it's a great movie. The second one's OK. It all goes downhill after that. (I never saw the sixth one, though.)
3. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
4. Hoosiers (1986)
Yes, it's good. I'm not sure it's that good, but it's really good. (Its score is wildly overrated, though -- the Goldsmith freaks out there tend to worship this one, but to me, it's just pleasant Americana.)
5. Bull Durham (1988)
One of my favorite movies ever. I love the dialogue, the humor, the little baseball touches. (And to me, the only acceptable response to hearing someone talk about what they're going to get someone for a wedding gift is: "Well, candlesticks always make a nice gift. Or we could find out where they're registered and get 'em a place setting or two. Alright, let's get two!")
6. The Hustler (1961)
Didn't see it, although I did see the sequel (The Color of Money), which I liked. I was never offended that the sequel ends before the big confrontation match; I didn't think it mattered.
7. Caddyshack (1980)
Well, duh! Great comedy (if only tangentially a sports movie). I got to make a reference to this movie once at The Store: we found a large beehive in the ground underneath one of our shrubs, and a manager suggested that we blow it up with a stick of M-80. I countered, "I am not re-enacting Caddyshack with a bunch of bees!" Luckily, he got the reference.
8. Breaking Away (1979)
I've seen it, but not in many years – more than twenty – and I don't remember much about it at all.
9. National Velvet (1944)
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Yes, the movie holds up very well – in fact, with the money and personality cults in sports getting more and more prevalent, it's even more relevant now.
What else is there? Well, I personally loved Tin Cup, although all the golfers I know are unanimous in their hatred of it. There's White Men Can't Jump, which finally clarified for me why I don't like watching basketball: the game looks better in slow motion. I've always found Major League really funny, and I loved how Will Ferrel's Blades of Glory skewered figure skating. And while it might be stretching the concept of "sport" a bit, Searching for Bobby Fischer is a magnificent film.
1. The Searchers (1956)
Yes, it's a great movie. But I don't want to see it again.
2. High Noon (1952)
3. Shane (1953)
4. Unforgiven (1992)
This was when I realized that Clint Eastwood is a genius. It really is a great film.
5. Red River (1948)
6. The Wild Bunch (1969)
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
One of the great first hours in movie history. Unfortunately, it's followed by a second hour that's pretty much "Meh" until the very last scene.
8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
9. Stagecoach (1939)
My parents dragged me to see this in a revival when I was in high school. I owe them for that, as I would probably never have seen it otherwise. It's great.
10. Cat Ballou (1965)
Crikey, I need to see more Westerns. I'm still unapologetic in my love for Dances With Wolves (more here). Silverado's good. Legends of the Fall is a Western, isn't it? I think it is, although that might stretch the definition a bit. And I'm not sure it's a good movie, but The Quick and the Dead is fun to watch.
Well, here's a genre of films that doesn't typically excite me. I just don't care for Mob stories in general.
1. The Godfather (1972)
One of these years I need to watch this all the way through so I can see what the fuss is about. But I keep not making it a big priority. (I like SamuraiFrog's assertion that the only reason the AFI did a Gangster category was so that they could talk about The Godfather again. It does get mentioned every year, doesn't it? Maybe next year's show should be "100 Years, 100 Whackings" and be done with it.)
2. Goodfellas (1990)
One of filmdom's great Shibboleths of recent years is that this movie got robbed at the Oscars (it lost to Dances With Wolves). Personally, I don't see it. Yes, it's a very good movie, but I don't share the enthusiasm about it that everybody else feels. I watched it once, I liked it a lot, and...we're done.
3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
4. White Heat (1949)
5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
6. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)
7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
One of my favorite movies ever. Unlike SamuraiFrog, I do think it's a gangster movie; the gangsters are different types, that's all, and the point-of-view is restricted to those who have to carry out the gangster's bidding.
8. The Public Enemy (1931)
9. Little Caesar (1931)
10. Scarface (1983)
I haven't even heard of Numbers 8 or 9 above. Is Michael Mann's Heat a "gangster" movie? Maybe they should call this the "crime" genre? In that case we could include Dirty Harry. I dunno; I'm just not that into this whole genre.
1. Vertigo (1958)
It annoys me that I haven't seen this. The score is amazing, though.
2. Chinatown (1974)
Sure. Terrific movie.
3. Rear Window (1954)
Another one my parents dragged me to in a revival in the 1980s. Another one I owe them. What a movie this is! I watched it on teevee with The Wife last Thanksgiving, if I recall correctly. It's still awesome.
4. Laura (1944)
5. The Third Man (1949)
On first glance I thought this said The Thin Man, the first in that series of wonderful mystery-comedies featuring Nick and Nora. And then I read the title correctly, and realized, no, I haven't actually seen this.
6. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Nothing I can say. Great stuff.
7. North by Northwest (1959)
Almost my favorite Hitchcock movie.
8. Blue Velvet (1986)
9. Dial M for Murder (1954)
This actually is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I think it's absolutely terrific.
10. The Usual Suspects (1995)
Yuck. I hate this movie. It could have told a fascinating story about interesting criminal characters brought together for a heist and played off those characters in neat ways, but instead, we got the colossally stupid "Who is Keyser Soze?" bullshit. Since I figured out who Soze was within two minutes of first hearing the name mentioned, I spent the rest of the movie glowering at the screen.
Again, what's a "mystery" and what isn't? Is The Silence of the Lambs a mystery? Maybe, maybe not. The Fugitive is a mystery, at least in part.
1. City Lights (1931)
2. Annie Hall (1977)
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. Roman Holiday (1953)
5. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
There's something wrong with this movie. I just have no idea at all what it is. Maybe it's too good? Yeah, that's it! (Loved it.)
6. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)
One of my favorite movies ever. Crackling dialogue, and it gets its job done in ninety minutes without any filler. (And if you want to see how essential good editing can be, watch the deleted scenes, which are awful.)
7. Adam's Rib (1949)
8. Moonstruck (1987)
9. Harold and Maude (1971)
10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
OK, yeah, I love this movie. I don't think it belongs on this top ten, though; a really great movie would have figured out a way to have the Bill Pullman character not get, you know, screwed on Valentine's Day. But still, I don't think Meg Ryan has ever been more beautiful than she is here. So there.
Odd that I consider romantic comedies to be one of my favorite genres, and yet, I've seen so few of the films the AFI listed here. I have my work cut out for me, obviously, but by way of other suggestions, I really love Cousins. Roxanne is wonderful, and they're probably not eligible because they're British, but I really adore Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Absolutely. (Note to self: re-read the book.)
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
3. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
4. The Verdict (1982)
5. A Few Good Men (1992)
I love this movie, although I do concede the point that Roger Ebert made that the film shouldn't have told us right before the big courtroom scene what Tom Cruise's strategy was for questioning Jack Nicholson.
6. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
7. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
8. In Cold Blood (1967)
9. A Cry in the Dark (1988)
10. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
SamuraiFrog mentions Inherit the Wind, and I concur. I'd also add in The People vs. Larry Flint and JFK for consideration.
I'm not sure what an "epic" is; apparently they're long and have lots of spectacle. That said:
1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I really need to get off my arse and watch the entire thing. I've seen half of it. Ugh. I suck.
2. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ahhhh! What a great movie. I love this movie. Love love love it.
3. Schindler's List (1993)
Both SamuraiFrog and Tom the Dog seem to question its epic status, but why not? It tells a pretty big story, involving lots of people, with a good deal of sweep and large set pieces. It's an epic, in my opinion. (It's also one of the very greatest films ever made.)
4. Gone with the Wind (1939)
I don't like it. Sorry, but it's dull and ponderous; all of the performances are overwrought; I watch the film in utter failure to understand why so many people are hanging on Scarlett's every word; and I don't fetishize the South as this movie does.
5. Spartacus (1960)
Another one I need to watch. (By the way, this is probably the single greatest unreleased film score in existence.)
6. Titanic (1997)
If Schindler's List isn't an epic, how is this? Its story takes place in less time and in a single location. But yes, it's an epic. It's also a great movie. Sod off, Titanic haters.
7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
An amazing sequence (Normandy) that's followed by two-plus hours of pedestrian crap. Sorry, but I really think the only reason this movie is so beloved is because it happened to come out right when "Greatest Generation" nostalgia was hitting its stride. (William Goldman's critique is pretty much an exact statement of how I feel about this movie, except that I don't even think the journey to Private Ryan is great stuff.)
9. Reds (1981)
10. The Ten Commandments (1956)
I've never much liked this movie. It's overlong, overstuffed, overwritten, overwrought, and just plain over.
What "epics" did they miss? Braveheart is an obvious one, I think. And it probably doesn't merit "Top Ten" status, but I really dig The Vikings.
And, as always, there we have it. Thanks, AFI!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Recent Movie Watching
:: It's taken me a while to figure out how I feel about Juno, and I'm still not entirely sure what I make of it. Juno is exactly what everybody has already said it is: a feel-good flick about teen pregnancy. I'm not sure what it means that we can now make feel-good movies on that topic, but then, I'm not anywhere near a teenager anymore; twice as many years have now elapsed since I was a teenager than I spent as a teenager, and to my knowledge, there weren't any teen moms in my school anyway when I was a teenager, so I can't claim to have any great perspective on this topic. It's shaped, mostly, by those awful "After School Special" movies we often had to watch on the subject, in which teenage girls who became pregnant somehow became social pariahs who would never again fit in or live any kind of normal life. The topic of teen pregnancy, in my time, was always discussed with a major subtext of "If it happens to you, it's GAME OVER!".
So along comes Juno, a movie where a teenage girl gets pregnant by her boyfriend, decides to give the baby up for adoption, spends time with the adoptive parents and gets to know the husband better than she should, fights with her boyfriend a bit, watches as the adoptive family's marriage collapses, gives the baby up to the mother anyway, makes up with her boyfriend, and then presumably returns to the relatively normal life she's enjoyed all along. No major dramatic histrionics can be found in Juno. Her boyfriend is not some jerk jock type who is only looking to get in some girl's pants; in fact, the sex isn't even completely his idea in the first place. Juno doesn't lose all of her friends during her pregnancy, nor does she become a miserable waif shunned by her peers. Her best friend sticks by her the whole way. Her parents are supportive and accepting. I watched Juno thinking the film was terribly unrealistic, but then I wondered against myself: how unrealistic is it, anyway?
Parts of the film made me a bit uncomfortable. During the scenes where Juno forms a bond with the father-to-be, I found myself wanting to warn her away from this guy, who is clearly an overgrown child. However, the screenplay (written by Diablo Cody, which is the best name for a screenwriter ever) knows its characters, and in the end, it turns out that Juno has enough insight and awareness to recognize this man for what he is, despite all the ways she is able to connect with him and not with the mother. The other scene that made me wince was when the ultrasound technician makes some kind of judgmental comment about Juno's pregnancy, and then gets berated by Juno's stepmother (Alison Janney). This was the only part of the film that felt in any way reminiscent of a "Very Special Episode of Blossom", and it stood out to me as both contrary to the general tone of the film and to my general experience with people in that line of work in the first place. I found it very hard to believe that any person working in a perinatal field would make such a comment to a pregnant woman, no matter what her circumstance.
What else to say about Juno? Well, I very much doubt that lightning can be caught in the bottle twice, but when the film ended, I genuinely wanted to know what became of these characters and what life held for them. So that helps.
:: A year or so ago I bought a couple of omnibus editions of the stories of Robert E. Howard, having never actually read any Howard before. (I still don't have them all, missing the tales of Kull the Conqueror and one of the Conan the Barbarian volumes.) Howard is one of those "founding fathers" of modern fantastic fiction, along with E.E. "Doc" Smith (space opera SF), HP Lovecraft (horror), Edgar Rice Burroughs (planetary romance SF), and other very early masters of literal pulp fiction. Howard's creations loom over epic fantasy and sword-and-sorcery tales, and yet, I still haven't actually read him (although that will be changing soon). I've read lots of stuff based on his creations, and seen the Conan movies, but the actual source material still awaits me.
I do know, however, that Howard was one of those geniuses who burned brightly for a short time and then was extinguished. He committed suicide when he was just thirty years old, never coming close to witnessing his legacy, and he never married. Those things I knew. What I didn't know is that he had a tumultuous friendship, sometimes crossing the line into romance, with a schoolteacher and aspiring writer named Novalyne Price. The film The Whole Wide World tells this story, and I found the film astonishingly good. How I've managed to have never heard of it before a friend sent me a copy of it is beyond me.
Featuring Vincent D'Onofrio as Howard and Renee Zelwegger as Novalyn, the film tightly focuses on their relationship, which begins warmly enough but soon begins to lurch back and forth into pain as Novalyn becomes more and more aware of Howard's unstable nature. The film is pretty slowly paced, which turns out to be its main virtue; eschewing the standard devices of film romances, The Whole Wide World instead allows us to get to know these characters pretty well, much moreso than in most other films of this type. We see that Novalyn's attraction to Bob Howard isn't merely sexual physical attraction; nor is it the hero worship of a neophyte writer for a published professional. Frequently throughout the film Bob becomes borderline – or just plain outright – abusive toward Novalyn, and she never gets weepy or bemoans her fate; she tends to stand right up to Bob and make her displeasure known.
The romance between Bob Howard and Novalyn Price is very complicated; it proceeds in fits and starts and, despite the film's slow pace, their romance seems over before it begins. Even when they finally kiss, in a moment that almost seems ripped from every romance film under the sun with the kiss taking place at sunset on top of a vista with a gorgeous view of the Texas wilderness, with the score swelling to great passion, the darkness that we've come to expect surfaces almost immediately.
In the end, as a matter of record, Bob and Novalyn do not get together, and Novalyn learns of Bob's suicide via a telegram. Her reaction to this news is one of the more heartbreaking moments I've seen in a movie recently: she immediately grabs paper and pen to write Bob an angry letter for having taken such an action. Only after she's written the salutation does she internalize what's happen, and that's when the grief hits her.
I should also make special note of the film's score, by Harry Gregson-Williams. Gregson-Williams has emerged as one of the more intriguing new voices in film music over the last ten years, and I suspect that he'll become a very fine composer indeed if we ever get past the current era of rigid adherence to the temp-track. On The Whole Wide World, Gregson-Williams has to provide music that often shifts in mood several times within the same scene, as the film delves from mundane matters into the often dark psyche of Robert Howard and back again. It's an impressive and powerful score for an impressive film.
:: Finally, a couple of weeks ago we watched Stardust, the 2007 film based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. The film was dumped into release late in the summer and vanished from the scene almost immediately, which seems to me a cruel fate for a film that's full of wit, charm, and good fun.
Stardust is one of those stories one finds often in contemporary fantasy that combines mythic elements that are as old as, well, the hills in ways that are fairly new and interesting, often times in a tongue-in-cheek way. In terms of mood, Stardust is much closer to The Princess Bride than The Lord of the Rings. It's been a long time since I read Gaiman's book, so I'd pretty much forgotten most of the story by the time we watched the film. I don't want to say too much about the plot, since the pleasure from watching it comes in seeing the way things unfold in unexpected ways, but it begins with an English village and the wall that runs through a field nearby, a wall that separates the mundane world from the magical one, and what happens when a curious youngster ventures to journey beyond the wall. What happens then is a terrific mish-mash involving a fallen star played by Claire Danes, a wandering Gypsy sorceress and her slave woman who seems to have powers of her own, a ship that flies through the air harvesting lightning, a group of princes who constantly plot against one another for the crown to their kingdom, a trio of witches (one of whom is played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who looks awfully radiant in the movie – for a while anyway), and of course, as in all such tales, Our Hero, a young lad who is unsure of his place in the world and who his true love actually is.
When Stardust came out, I read a number of reviews that basically said that it was either too light in tone, or not light enough. It's not a deep film at all, nor does it have a cynical bone in its body. I liked it a lot. (It has a good score, too, by Ilan Eshkeri, a composer I'd never heard of before.)
Monday, June 23, 2008
I'm going to forgo Sentential Links this week, in favor of a brief celebration of George Carlin. I loved his comedy dearly, even when it partially offended me, and even then, my offense was pretty mild anyway. Carlin was all about the language, and I loved him for that. So, here are some fine instances of Carlinia, taken from his book Napalm and Silly Putty. (I can't find my copy of Brian Droppings at the moment. It was just here a minute ago....)
(UPDATE: It just occurred to me that I now live in a world that has two George Bushes and zero George Carlins. As a state of affairs, I find this deeply disappointing.)
On the human colonization of space: Can't you just sense how eager the rest of the Universe is for us to show up?
So far, this is the oldest I've been.
I think someone could make a lot of money if they set up a little stand at the Grand Canyon and sold Yo-Yos with 500-foot strings.
Road rage, air rage. Why should I be forced to divide my rage into separate categories? To me, it's just one big, all-around, everyday rage. I don't have time for fine distinctions. I'm busy screaming at people.
Sometimes they say the winds are calm. Well if they're calm, they're not really winds, are they?
I think a good title for a travel book would be Doorway to Norway.
When Britain returned Hong Kong to China there was a long, formal ceremony. The whole thing looked well-rehearsed, and I wondered how everyone knew exactly where to stand and what to do. After all, the event had never taken place before; how could there be a set of procedures? Do the British have a manual on returning colonies? If so, they won't be needing it much longer.
Sometimes people say, "Do you have the time?" And I say, "No, I don't believe I do. I certainly didn't have it this morning when I left the house. Could you possibly have left it somewhere? You know, now that you mention it, I believe the Navy has the time. In Washington. They keep it in an observatory or something, and they let a little of it out each day. Not too much, of course. Just enough. They wouldn't want to give us too much time; we might not use it wisely." Sometimes, in a playful mood, when asked if I have the time, I'll say, "Yes," and simply walk away.
On expressions he didn't like: "Fine and Dandy". That's an old-fashioned one, isn't it? You say to a guy, "How are ya?" He says, "Fine and dandy." Not me. I never say that. You know why? Because I'm never both of those things at the same time. Sometimes I'm fine, but I'm not dandy. I might be close to dandy. I might be approaching dandy. I might even be in the general vicinity of dandyhood. But not quite fully dandy. Other times, though, I might indeed be highly dandy – but not fine. One time, 1978, August. For about an hour, I was both fine and dandy at the same time. But nobody asked me how I was!
And "In your own words". You hear this in classrooms and courtrooms: "Tell us in your own words." Do you have your own words? Personally, I'm using the same ones everybody else is using! Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say "Nigflot blorny quando floon!"
By the way, next time you shop at a supermarket in a neighborhood that has a higher than average marijuana use, take a look at the cookie section. Combat zone. Half the packages have been opened, and all the really good cookies are gone.
"Where the hell are the Mallomars?"
"Oh, we can't get Mallomars into the store. Folks line up at the back dock for Mallomars."
There are always plenty of crappy cookies. You ever notice that? Shitty, low-priced cookies? Like "Jim's Home-style Cookies. Twenty-six varieties." I say, "Damn, Jim, if you can't make cookies in twenty-five tries, leave me out."
Who decides when the applause should die down? It seems like it's a group decision; everyone begins to say to themselves at the same time, "Well, okay, that's enough of that."
Geologists claim that although the world is running out of oil, there is still a two-hundred year supply of brake fluid.
The Nobel Prize in mathematics was awarded yesterday to a California professor who has discovered a new number. The number is "bleen", which he says belongs between six and seven.
According to astronomers, next week Wednesday will occur twice. They say such a thing happens only once every 60,000 years and although they don't know why it occurs, they're glad they have an extra day to figure it out.
I never take any personal precautions against germs. I don't shy away from people who sneeze and cough, I don't wipe off the telephone, I don't cover the toilet seat, and if I drop food on the floor, I pick it up and eat it.
Even if I'm at a sidewalk cafe.
The poor section.
On New Year's Eve during a soccer riot.
If a centipede wants to kick another centipede in the shins, does he do it one leg at a time? Or does he stand on fifty of his legs and kick with the other fifty?
Just for fun: call one of those How Am I Driving 800 numbers and complain about a particular driver. Tell them he was driving on the sidewalk, vomiting, giving the finger to old women, and dangling a baby out the window.
In restaurants where they serve frog's legs, what do they do with the rest of the frog? Do they just throw it away? You never see "frog torsos" on the menu. Is there actually a garbage can full of frog bodies in the alley? I wouldn't want to be the homeless guy looking for an unfinished cheeseburger and open the lid on that.
I never worry that all hell will break loose. My concern is that only part of hell will break loose and be much harder to detect.
Cats are very tactile; they love to rub against your leg. If you own a cat, and you have a leg, you've got a happy cat.
"Oh boy oh boy! I'm rubbing against his leg! How I love his leg!"
If you have two legs, you've got yourself a party.
"Oh boy oh boy, two legs! Now I can do the figure eight."
They love to do the figure eight: around one leg, in between, and then around the other.
"Oh boy oh boy, I'm doing the figure eight."
He'll rub against your legs even if you're not there yet. You might be twenty feet down the hall. As soon as he sees you coming he starts walking sideways. He doesn't want to miss a shot at your legs.
"Oh boy oh boy! Here he comes! Soon I'll be doing the figure eight!"
Why is it that when the two main characters in an action movie have their big climactic fight it always turns out that both of them are really good fighters? Just once, wouldn't you like to see a fight between two leading male characters where one of them gets the shit completely beat out of him in about eight seconds? Especially the hero.
All music is the blues. All of it.
Do you realize that somewhere in the world there exists a person who qualifies as the worst doctor? If you took the time, by process of elimination you could actually determine the worst doctor in the world. And the funny part is knowing that someone has an appointment to see him tomorrow.
I don't worry about the little things. Bees, threes, whales, snails: I don't worry about them. I think we're part of a much greater wisdom, greater than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you like. I call it The Big Electron.
The Big Electron.
It doesn't punish, it doesn't reward, and it doesn't judge. It just is. And so are we, for a little while.
Thanks for the memories, George.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
:: I don't remember where I got this, but it's a steampunk recumbent bicycle.
:: Aaron sent me this: a guy playing the Star Wars theme on bagpipes. Funny thing is, he's a pretty good piper.
:: Now you can make your own Star Wars crawl. (Via.) Have I made a few already? Yes. Am I posting them here? No. So there. If any of you want to make one and disseminate it, feel free to drop the link into comments.
Unidentified Earth 43
:: I knew last week's would be easy, and it was: UI 42 was the Brooklyn Bridge.
:: But still no guesses on UI 40 and UI 41? Come on, folks! Don't make me tape all of your buns together. And UI 41 is more famous for its proximity to an already famous location than for itself being famous.
OK, that out of the way, time for the new puzzler:
Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, folks!
Friday, June 20, 2008
Take a what of the who, now?
There's a church that I drive by every day on the way to and from The Store, and like most churches, it's got a reader-board out front on which they usually post some kind of short blurb like this, again, as most churches do these days. But this one has completely flummoxed me. I have NO idea what it means. Zero. If someone could explain it to me, I'd be grateful, because right now it reads to me like some kind of Engrish thing.
(It says the same thing on each side, and it's said this all week, so it's not like some prankster came along and changed the sign so it makes no sense.)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Something for Thursday
My problem is that I want to live in a world where this is how you woo a woman.
And a bonus Something for Thursday: Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse again, in the Broadway Melody Ballet from Singin' in the Rain. I think this number is vastly superior to the ballet from An American in Paris. It's in two parts; the first little bit here is from the film's opening credits, but when Gene shows up in the tux by himself, that's the ballet proper. It's well-worth the thirteen minutes, folks.
Amazing. Just amazing.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
As long as I'm writing about high school reminiscences, I remembered a few days ago that a sad anniversary came and went this past April. I don't remember the exact date, and I'm not even entirely sure it was in April and not May, but I'm fairly certain on that score. Anyway, it's been twenty years since Dustin Jae Fleming died.
That name very likely means nothing at all to those reading this. Dustin would have graduated in the Allegany Central School Class of 1988, one year ahead of me. Instead he was killed in a car crash two months before he would have "entered the real world". I don't remember all of the particulars, but he was out with some friends at night, and the car was going a bit too fast on a two-lane road that runs along the Allegany River in Olean, NY. I seem to recall that the car hit one tree, "became airborne" in the horrible parlance of accident reports, and then came to rest against a second tree, upside down. I don't remember if alcohol was involved, nor do I remember if Dustin was thrown from the car or crushed to death. Maybe I never knew those things at all.
Dustin was the musician of the class of '88. His big thing was the guitar; he was our school's "kid with his own rock band", and from all reports, he was actually a pretty good guitar player. I only heard him play once, in a "concert" that took place in the parking lot behind the school during homecoming week. I remember thinking he was OK, although I found it hard to judge him because he did a string of songs I don't particularly care for: "Twist and Shout", "Talk Dirty to Me". (Of all 80s hair bands, Poison was surely the worst.)
Dustin was extremely popular, virtually beloved by everybody. I genuinely don't recall anyone else in high school, and possibly college either, who was as beloved as he was. I didn't know him personally at all, but I will admit that I was rather in awe of his ability to be friends with anyone with a pulse. It was really pretty uncanny: Dustin Fleming was the kid to whom cliques not only didn't matter, they didn't even exist in his mind, from what I could see. In the space of sixty seconds walking down the hall, he'd joke with the school quarterback and the science brain in rapid succession, and flirt with three different girls while doing it. I was completely baffled by him. His girlfriend that year was a very beautiful exchange student from somewhere in Scandinavia.
On the last day he was alive, Dustin was present at a meeting I attended. The Social Studies department was making arrangements for the next year's senior class - my class – to participate in some kind of Civics program that involved weekly treks to the county seat. (I think it was a mock legislature or something of that nature.) Dustin was there was one of that year's participants. I doubt I'd remember this at all if he hadn't died that night, but he casually sat on the radiator against the windows, leaning back against a cinderblock pillar. He was wearing a long-sleeve white t-shirt with some band logo on it. (Or maybe it wasn't a band.) He didn't say much during that meeting; he just nodded and laughed occasionally.
The next morning, I was getting ready for school myself. We had the living room teevee tuned to the Today Show; at that time the Today Show would break away for about six minutes at the bottom of each hour so local stations could do weather and run down any big local news stories. (Maybe they still do this; I haven't watched the Today Show in years.) The guy on Channel 2 from Buffalo came on and said that the day would be warm and springlike, that someone in Buffalo had been arrested for something or other, that something else had happened someplace else, and that a fatal accident in the "town of Olean" had claimed a teenager. He gave a few details of the accident, and then the words: "Seventeen-year-old Dustin Fleming was killed." I remember exclaiming "What?!", just as my mother came out from her bedroom where she'd had the same station on and asked if I knew a Dustin Fleming.
That whole day was the most surreal day of my entire grade school career, and my grade school career spanned six schools. People everywhere were openly sobbing, or randomly breaking down at odd moments. I remember that they brought in grief counselors – or, I think they did. Basically the entire school shut down for the day; I don't think a single lesson got taught in a single classroom in any grade. Our principal, who had only been in that position for less than a year after many years teaching biology, looked when I saw him like he was about to throw up. (It frankly wouldn't surprise me if he did.) At every class I attended, every teacher basically said: Talk about him, or anything you want. If you need to go down to the auditorium (where the counselors were), go ahead. Do what you need to do. I was sitting in my history class reading when I glanced up to see my teacher go out into the hall, and when I shifted forward to see where he'd gone, I saw him tightly embracing a female student, who then turned around. It was Dustin's younger sister. (I don't remember her name.) How on Earth she came to school that day, I never understood until the day Little Quinn died and I went into The Store because I had to see the people I knew.
For me, the day after Dustin's death was a quiet day that I spent more as an observer than as a participant. I hadn't known him at all, as I noted to the one member of the senior class that I felt comfortable mentioning him to. That was a girl I quite liked at the time (the poor girl I'd inadvertently gotten in trouble a year before in trig class), although for some reason I never worked up the guts to ask her out. I asked her how she was doing, and she replied, "I'm awful."
"I never knew him," I replied.
"He was a great guy," she said.
"He must have been," I said. And then I walked away.
Dustin's funeral was a few days after that, during the next week, if I remember rightly. I didn't go, but at the time I did a lot of bike riding around town, and on more than a few occasions I rode to the St. Bonaventure cemetery to see his grave. It was covered with flowers and notes and prayer beads; the stone – graven with his name, his dates, and a picture of an electric guitar – arrived a month or so later. There was only one time when I was there that someone else came by. I didn't even hear her coming until she started crying, and then I glanced over. It was his other younger sister. I think she was maybe ten or eleven at the time. I didn't have the faintest idea what to say, and by that time I'd learned that when one has no idea what to say it's best to say nothing at all, so that's what I did. I quietly turned and left so Dustin's little sister could pay respects in private. (I don't remember if he had any siblings other than the two younger sisters.)
So why am I thinking about Dustin Jae Fleming now? Probably because of that number: twenty years. He's been gone three more years than he lived. Twenty years is a weird stretch of time; Dustin's death isn't one of those events that feels like it was twenty years ago, and I have to actually work the sum in my head (2008 – 1988 = yup, twenty years) to realize that's how long it's been. I remember fewer and fewer names from high school as the time passes from those days to these, but Dustin Fleming's is a name I'm not likely to forget. And I'm one who didn't know him. I imagine those who did think of him often and wonder what might have been had he not perished in that car.
Anyway, I just figured that Dustin deserved a blog post.
UPDATE, 17 June 2010:
For those coming here via the link I put on the Facebook page remembering Dustin's life, welcome. As I noted over there, and as can be seen by the date above, I wrote this back in 2008, before I joined Facebook and started reconnecting with a lot of folks from Allegany. While a lot of old high school friends stay connected after graduation, my own life took a different course, and since graduation in 1989, I've had very little contact with folks from ACS. The reconnections, "virtual" as they may be, have been wonderful and I've found myself thrilled and amazed to see what has become of so many people whose names I couldn't remember when I wrote this post, but whose pictures I can now see again on Facebook and elsewhere.
I've never been one to engage in "regrets"; my view is that we make mistakes so we can grow and learn, and that every thing I've done wrong was an opportunity to get something right somewhere down the line. But dammit, I sure wish I'd have taken time to get to know Dustin.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Of Passions, forever and fleeting
Passions come and go in this life, don't they? Things we are just so passionate about when we're young may remain passions throughout our adulthood; others may fade into memory of something that was important to us once upon a time, while still others can find themselves subject to complete reversal as we realize that the new "Me" hates the very thing that the old "Me" found so amazing.
This is about two passions of my life, both of which I found at the same time, but only one of which has really endured. This narrative stretches back almost twenty years to my last months in high school, a time which is now starting to recede into a kind of haze where even some of the names of those involved require effort to dredge up. How distant some of those emotions now seem, however real and intense they were at the time.
This is the story of when I came to the writings of Richard Bach and the music of Sergei Rachmaninov.
I have always been drawn strongly to Romanticism, from the earliest time that I can recall being drawn to anything much at all. The Romantic in me is drawn to large gestures, bold statements, feelings so strong it seems that the force of my heart might well shift the world on its axis. Love is to be shouted from the rooftops; anger is to be no small irritation but a smoldering rage. Sadness is to be felt keenly and deeply, like the cut of a freshly sharpened knife, and beneath everything, every feeling, even happiness and joy, can be found a long streak of melancholy. That's the Romantic in me, and he still lives within, sometimes under careful guard but at other times nearly allowed complete control.
In high school, my greatest passion above all was music. I was a good trumpet player, and had I continued down that path, I believe I would have become a very good trumpet player indeed. But for all my love of the trumpet, my greatest dream was to conduct an orchestra. This I dreamed in much the same way other boys dreamed of playing center field for the Yankees. I would watch concerts on PBS or attend the occasional concert of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and my eyes would remain forever riveted on the actions of the conductor. I would buy multiple recordings of the same piece of music and study those recordings to better hear the difference in interpretation each conductor brought to the work. I learned to hear which conductors did the best with which repertoire: Colin Davis conducting Berlioz, Solti conducting Wagner, Szell conducting Brahms, Bernstein conducting Mahler. I bought orchestral scores to study, and my bedroom stereo constantly throbbed with the strains of Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, and Dvorak.
In music my supreme love was, and has always been, the music of Hector Berlioz, that great French Romantic who wrote one of the greatest of all symphonies, the Symphonie fantastique, after he fell passionately in love with an English actress during a performance of Hamlet. In Berlioz I sensed a kindred spirit: a person who felt everything so, so deeply. Strangely, though, given my predilection for Romanticism, it was not until my senior year when I began to explore the work of the Russian Romantics, composers who imbued their works with enough lyricism and fire to melt and mold the hearts of any listener. The first of these that I explored was Sergei Rachmaninov, via a tape cassette I bought in the budget bin at a record store of his Symphony No. 2 in E minor, played by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Andre Previn. I have long since lost that tape, but I've always remembered something from the liner notes: Previn described the reaction to a performance of this work he had conducted with the LSO while on a tour of the then-Soviet Union, after which an old woman, so overcome with emotion at hearing the Symphony, pressed into Previn's hand her most treasured possession at that moment: a single orange.
Nevertheless, when I first listened to the work, it didn't move me greatly. It was long and pretty, to be sure, with lots of long melodies that dipped and soared, but it didn't really move me. That was yet to come.
At the same time, non-musical life continued. There was a project in English class when we were supposed to pick a specific author and report on several of his works. I can't remember now what author I chose – Arthur C. Clarke, perhaps – but the guy next to me (his name was Joe) did his project on Richard Bach. A few weeks later I was in a bookstore and I happened to see a shelf full of books by this Bach guy: his apparent perennial bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, another mystical-looking volume titled Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, yet another mystical-looking book called One. Having heard Joe talking a bit in class about Bach, I thumbed through the books a bit. I didn't know what to make of Jonathan, which looked to be a short parable involving birds. (I'd later find out that that is exactly what that book is.) Illusions looked interesting in a way, but rather quasi-religious, and at that time, I was in a hostile-to-religion phase of my life that would last through much of the next five or six years (and frankly, there's still a part of me that thinks that way). One looked oddly mystical as well, although I must admit that I was struck by what was written on the back cover. No synopsis, no blurb, just two sentences:
I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth it?
Now there was some food for thought, I had to admit. I do think that's true to an extent: at any given moment, the person-we-are is the sum of the choices we've made through our years and the lessons we've learned from the results of those choices. To a great extent, what typically causes us to go off the rails in our lives is when we fail to learn lessons from our choices.
But back to that afternoon in the bookstore: the last Bach title on that shelf was The Bridge Across Forever: a lovestory. Like One, its back cover copy consisted of a single, brief item:
If you've ever felt alone in a world of strangers, missing someone you've never met, you'll find a message from your love in The Bridge Across Forever.
As a Romantic at heart, that single blurb caught me. I bought the book and proceeded to read it pretty quickly. Without getting into too many details, my love life in high school was non-existent; I didn't go on my first date until about a month before I graduated, and I didn't have what I could by any reasonable definition a "girlfriend" until I was in college. (I always suspected my general high levels of geekiness and my general low levels of good looks as being prime causes of this, but I digress.) There was something about that bit on the back cover of that book that really captivated me: Missing someone you've never met.
As I recall, I read The Bridge Across Forever over the course of a week or so. Bridge tells the story of Richard Bach's search for love, for a "soulmate". Over the course of the first part of the book he casually meets women and rejects them for seemingly good reasons, but it soon becomes clear that despite his claims to be searching for true love, he's purposely keeping love at arm's length, in favor of some kind of "freedom" where he's able to maintain open relations with a number of women. Much of this went right over my head when I read the book as a high schooler; I was mainly interested in how Richard found that person and in the book's ultimate assurance that yes, there is someone out there and that one day, if you're open to the possibility, you'll meet the person you've been missing all your life. Richard meets that woman, actress Leslie Parrish, and at first he has a great deal of fun and open romance with her, before he realizes that he's let her become too close. He pulls away, and she writes him a letter that's worth the price of the book itself; they get back together and nearly break apart again; finally Richard allows himself to "use the words he despises" and says "I love you" to Leslie. The book meanders a bit after that, as he and Leslie build their life together through some hardships (and, frankly, some very strange "New Age" type mysticism, such as when Richard and Leslie share mutual out-of-body experiences and thus learn that their current cat is a reincarnation of Leslie's former cat). The book closes with a luminous image: Richard and Leslie, after all their struggles, watching as their younger selves meet for the first time:
Dirt-streaked, glorious, she smiled at me, tear-bright radiance. "Richie, they're going to try for it!" she said. "Wish them love!"
I don't know if it happened during the time I was reading it, or shortly thereafter, but at some point in that general timeframe I listened again to Rachmaninov's Second Symphony. This time I really heard it: the epic scope of that twenty-minute long first movement, with Rachmaninov introducing one motif after another that would recur throughout the entire work. The way the piece broods with a constant sense of melancholy but never descends into outright sadness. The opening, with the tone set by the low strings before the woodwinds break through with two high chords that usher in the violins with a soaring motif that offsets what's going on in the low strings. The way that opening movement begins with a largo that is followed by an allegro that doesn't feel all that much faster than the largo.
The second movement is a scherzo that I always have a hard time relating to; its mood stands at some contrast to the rest of the work, but it too includes the motifs brought forth in the first movement, and its second subject is as lyrical as anything. But it's the third and fourth movements that worked their way into the innermost chambers of my heart, once I was attuned to them. I can barely describe those movements, and I don't even want to try, except to note that this is, to me, what "eroticism" in music sounds like. True eroticism, though: the type of sensual experience that comes from shared emotion, from the ebb and flow of shared passion, with the type of climactic bursting at the end that comes as glorious release of pent-up tension.
I don't know if having read Bridge made me more predisposed to the Rachmaninov Second, or if I simply came to two works at the same time, at the right time, at a time when I was equally predisposed to both. I suspect the latter; even when listening repeatedly to the Rachmaninov Second, I don't recall ever making a specific connection between the music and the journey shared by Richard Bach and Leslie Parrish.
My college years saw my fascination with Sergei Rachmaninov and Richard Bach intensify. I listened to as much Rachmaninov orchestral music as I could find (I was always prejudiced toward orchestral music over chamber music, solo piano, and art song), and I soon read everything Richard Bach had written at the time, an activity that was helped along by the fact that his pre-Jonathan books were reissued in paperback right about that same period. Those earlier books - A Gift of Wings, Stranger to the Ground, Nothing by Chance, and Biplane - were all devoted to the main motif of all of Bach's books: flight. Bach is obsessed with flight, having been a pilot his entire life, and flight is a constant metaphor in his books, where he is always flying to something, flying with someone, or, in the darkest moments, flying from something. Those early books were marked with none of the mysticism that would dominate Bach's work beginning with Jonathan, but I could sense it brewing beneath the surface. A bit.
Likewise, I explored Rachmaninov. His Third Symphony also became near and dear to me, although never as intimate as the Second. I admired his Symphonic Dances, and I came to love the Piano Concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini deeply (if you think that 18th variation is gorgeous, it becomes even moreso when you hear it in the context of the remainder of the work). His magical choral work Vespers struck me as both gorgeous and haunting, and my favorite tone poem of all time is very likely Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead.
I've never re-read Bach's early books, but I've always maintained a soft spot for both Jonathan and Bridge. Gradually, though, while Rachmaninov has always remained close to me, Richard Bach has slid away for some reason. I barely remember reading his Running from Safety, and I haven't read anything he's written since that. Why is this? Why have I moved on from the one passion I found in early 1989, but not the other one?
Richard Bach, for one thing, is still alive, and thus his tale is not done. And that means that things that happened to him later on could color my perceptions of his work, which happened: I learned a few years ago that the happy ending of The Bridge Across Forever was fleeting, and that Richard and Leslie divorced. In a message that appeared online (here it is), Richard painted a happy face on the ending of his marriage to the person he'd earlier declared in several books his "soulmate", but it still casts something of a pall over the book now, knowing that it all ended anyway. I'm not sure that it's fair for me to even feel this way, given my own ambivalence on the concept of "soulmates" to begin with. I've never believed that life is a quest for that one and only one person out there somewhere who can make us whole. How can it be that way, when we live in a world where a person can see his or her soulmate snuffed out in an errant turn of the steering wheel, or struck down by cancer?
Perhaps it's not fair for me to read Bridge this way, but the tone of the book is pretty one-sided in its conviction that the journey, or "flight", through life of Alone-Richard is over and all that remains is the journey of Richard-With-Leslie. But it's hard to accept their eventual divorce in light of things like a chapter where Richard and Leslie are training themselves to leave their bodies so that they might cheat death together and exist as loving spirits. And maybe there's something more basic than that underlying my movement away from Richard Bach: my sense that, as sympathetic as I may be to his brand of mysticism, I just don't buy into a lot of it. (This may be a particular failing of mine; I tend to be almost envious of everyone else's mysticism.) Maybe it's that Richard, for much of Bridge, is really kind of a jerk: he's a narcissistic prude who is shocked - shocked! when Leslie swears at a bad driver, as well as a guy who refuses to come to his friend's aid when she really needs him because he has some predetermined principle about women and ownership of other's lives of some such nonsense. (Although it's to his credit that he's willing to write himself as a jerk.) And maybe it's that I see life, somewhat as Leslie does as she writes in the letter that Richard quotes in the book, as a sonata where Richard sees it as a sequence of flights in an airplane, where the only person who matters is the pilot and where the passengers are interchangeable. It's telling that in all those books, Richard Bach never mentions his first marriage or the children it produced.
(Bach's son would later write a book of his own, dealing with his father's non-presence in his life. I read that book years ago, but I don't remember a whole lot about it.)
But what's the real reason that Richard Bach is no longer a constant presence in my life, while Sergei Rachmaninov is? It's because Sergei Rachmaninov wasn't a writer, he was a composer, and relationships with music are, I've found, much more fluid that relationships with books. Great music remains great music, even as we bring new associations and new experiences to bear. So too do great books, but there's something about writing that remains fixed in time that doesn't happen, at least for me, with music. I associate Richard Bach with a person I once was but am no longer, but I don't do that with Rachmaninov. The Rachmaninov Second doesn't represent musical rapture to me as it once did; it now represents something deeper and more primal. But it still represents something. Rachmaninov continues to show me new things through music; Richard Bach only shows me what he's always shown me. That's not a bad thing, but it shows a limit somehow. Listening to Rachmaninov today continues to feel like visiting an old friend who still looks the same but has something new to say; reading Bach today feels to me like thumbing through old photo albums and seeing faces I remember. But the memories are vague, and in some of the photos, I can no longer put names with the faces. And in a few cases, I recognize the girls I really really really liked back then...and in at least a few cases, I can no longer fathom why.
To me, Richard Bach is a memento. Sergei Rachmaninov, though, is a force.
(That said, I'll be re-reading Jonathan this week.)
However, it didn't occur to me that I might have this particular problem until last night, when we read the last chapters of The Black Cauldron. If you've read the book and know the story, you know that a particular character executes a pretty amazing act of self-sacrifice at a critical juncture; it's one of the most emotional moments of the series, and last night while reading that passage I found myself getting choked up.
I did pretty well at concealing it, and the real difficulty is still three books away, so it'll be a while, but it's real and it's going to happen. The problem is that I can't get through the last two chapters of The High King, the last book in the Prydain Chronicles, without crying like a little girl. Wow, that's going to be a hard book to read aloud. Hmmmm. But as I say, that'll be a while; tonight we're back into The Dark is Rising, with Book Three, Greenwitch.
In other news, two short stories of mine went out into the world yesterday, where they will do battle against editors who will likely vanquish them with mighty Slips of Rejection +4. But you never know, so wish them luck.
With all due respect....
Monday, June 16, 2008
"To participate, you grab any book, go to page 123, find the fifth sentence, and blog it. Then tag five people."
Hmmmm. OK, picking a book. Hmmm....OK, got one: Popular Alienation: A Steamshovel Press Reader. So, page 123...fifth sentence...got it.
Inslaw signed a contract with the Justice Department in 1982 to supply the software exclusively to all US Attorney's offices.
This book comes from the mini-library of conspiracy theory books I assembled ten years or so ago, back when I was interested in such stuff. (I still am, really, but I'm not terribly active about it now.) What's being discussed here? Why, the ever-fascinating Inslaw case, in which the Federal government may or may not have basically stolen software called PROMIS from a company called Inslaw, and this may or may not have been part of some kind of shadow government conspiracy that may or may not have had reporter Danny Casolaro murdered when he may or may not have come too close to the truth. Which is, of course, out there.
OK, now I'm to tag some folks. I don't recall who I tagged last time (and I'm too lazy to look it up), so if I re-tag someone who has likewise already done this, oh well. Deal with it! So, I tag Drew, Blue Girl, The Indestructible Mr. Jones, Steph Waller, and Tom the Dog.