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Monthly Archives: December 2008

First off, I’d like to say that I used to see just about every movie that caught my fancy. I’d even see the ones I thought I wouldn’t like, just to have a valid reason for not liking them. For the past few years, my movie-going has steadily declined, and this year, I’ve seen exactly three movies of the 2008 season. They are, in order of preference:

1. Milk (the more I think about this movie, the more my quibbles with it subside, and find a lot of full-bodied revolution in its conservative narrative trappings)
2. Wall-E (this would be #1 of THE DECADE if the rest of the movie had been like the first 30 minutes or so; I have to admit to being a bit bored by the stuff on the spaceship)
3. Slumdog Millionaire

If I had actually seen some of the movies I’d intended to see but found a reason not to–like The Visitor (got the White People Learning Things heebee-jeebies), Frozen River (worried about Indie Grit, despite the fact that Melissa Leo is one of my favorite character actors), and Rachel Getting Married (I refuse to believe that Anne Hathaway can actually act just because she is holding a cigarette and wears badly-applied mascara), then Slumdog Millionaire would have a larger number next to it. And I still intend for it to have one when I get around to seeing, oh, Revolutionary Road or The Wrestler or Wendy & Lucy. Because that is how much I did not like Slumdog Millionaire. Here is a list, because I am lazy, and ’tis the season for making lists:

1. The visually cluttered style of filmmaking that always seems to accompany Western-produced films about the Third World. I call this style Overheated Ethnic Frenzy, where the Gravity of The Situation has to be conveyed through shaky camera and grainy film stock and far too many cuts that became far too distracting to pay attention to any actual story. Also see: City of God, the progenitor of said style. In films that star white people, this style translates to the Bourne movies.

2. The narrative structure of the film. Without giving anything away, the movie concerns a “slumdog” from Mumbai being on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The film takes each question as a sort of chapter, explaining how the protagonist came to know the answer. This is, of course, ludicrous, and the ludicrousness of each explanation increases with each new far-fetched coincidence (always told with FLASHY JUMP CUT). The structure becomes exponentially maddening because there is no dramatic tension; you always see The Answer either preceding or following The Question. I feel as if the story would have worked better in a straightforward manner of storytelling, allowing these series of vignettes to build into the culminating scenario of the game show. The funny thing is how this seemingly conservative narrative structure would have been more radical than this “radical” series of cutting back-and-forth. It would, for one, have made the audience need to actually think and retain information.

3. The music was pretty good throughout, but I guess it is now a rule that every movie this year has to include M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” I look forward to seeing Leonardo DiCaprio fake-shoot Kate Winslet four times in Revolutionary Road with his finger. Hell, Gran Torino has Clint Eastwood doing this TWICE in its trailer. Throw some M.I.A. over those eggrolls, Clint! (note: Eastwood’s character apparently refers to his Asian neighbors as eggrolls. I bet this movie is amazing)

4. A bewildering lack of conviction throughout the film. With all the filmmakers had to work with narratively, emotionally, visually, the effect ended up as a general thud. I did not feel much moral uplift; this is, boiled down to it, supposed to be a love story, but one that is filtered through the lens of gangsters and Philbin-derived capitalism. None of these elements are ever fully engaged, possibly because of the way the film’s narrative was told. The increasing back-and-forth between Game Show and Past and Love Story ended with a final moment meant to convey a moving emotional culmination but it instead feels like a cheap mess due to lack of clarity, manipulation, and unpolished performances. There is hardly any chemistry between the romantic figures, and any sense of love between them through the multiple flashbacks feels unearned and unexplained.

5. The fact that a movie like this has to incorporate all of these elements to be sold to a Western audience not accustomed to seeing brown people on their movie screens. An actual meditation on many of the issues surrounding the action of this movie–poverty, anti-Muslim sentiment, specific cultural machismo–cannot actually be told straightforward, with simplicity and dignity and a clear narrative purpose. Because that does not sell to Americans. But add Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and a fairy tale love story, plus Overheated Ethnic Frenzy visuals, and voilà: you have the front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

…after setting foot in Los Angeles did some guy come up to me and be SUSPICIOUS.

A six-hour-plus flight that included a stop-off in Denver to refuel WTF which meant I hadn’t had a cigarette in eleventy thousand hours and my head was pounding and I was frantically searching for my ride and this dude stops me and says, all friendly-like, “I love your haircut where are you from?” HANDSHAKE WILL NOT LET GO OF MY HAND.

Now, being a Californian, I figured he obviously had one of four things in mind:

1) He wanted to fuck me (he was old white and bald, which is some kind of unholy trinity; if only he’d been fat)
2) He thought I was some Axl-fresh-off-the-bus hayseed and was trying to hustle me
3) He wanted to put me in the MOVIES
4) He wanted to take me to the San Fernando Valley and put me in THOSE KIND OF MOVIES

Anyway I said all brusque-like, not even thinking, “I’m from New York I’m sorry I’m BUSY.” I guess I’ve become a douchebag New Yorker in my five years away. When I’m in New York, I’m from California; when I’m in California, I’m from New York.

But whatever I just had a DOUBLE DOUBLE ANIMAL STYLE FROM IN-N-OUT so I’m good.

Kill me, for I have related to something said by Sarah Vowell. Not that I hate her or anything, but holy God is that voice annoying. Stan and I once had a conversation wherein we came up with people who look exactly like their voice. Sarah Vowell was my best example. Stan’s top two were Wallace Shawn (which I agree with) and Woody Allen (after which he immediately asked, “Is that anti-Semitic?”).

Anyway, I was listening to her appearance on KCRW and was all CHUCKLEZ I FEEL THE SAME WAY!!!! when she talked about being offended by “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” That song always terrified me when I was a kid, like Santa Claus was this malevolent womanizer who would steal my mom away from my dad and consequently during kindergarten we were told to leave our shoes outside our class so that Santa would leave candy in it (????? Is this an Irish thing? I went to Catholic school) and I started crying because I HATED Santa. (Also: I cried all the time in kindergarten)

Also she played this song that equates California as The Promised Land, so I guess Sarah Vowell is better than me because I didn’t know it existed:

And just for good measure, an oldie-but-goodie. ABBA AS DRUNKS:

My favorite part is when Agnetha forgets the words and just MAKES SOME NOISE. Like a drunk!

No spoilers, but there are only two episodes remaining in the third–and likely final–season of Friday Night Lights (which will be re-aired on NBC starting in January), and as the season has progressed I feel safe in saying that something magical has happened: it has become less sui generis than it was in season 1, less far-fetched than season 2, and rather has resembled a sort of ethnography of life in small town America, 2008.

There is no show better equipped to portray some of the rampant social crises in contemporary America better than FNL, because its emotional and situational verisimilitude has always been its strongest calling card–part of the reason why season 2 failed was the introduction of salacious storylines that rang dissonantly against the delicate timbres scored elsewhere in the episodes (though I will say that even a lot of the melodrama, especially Landry’s dad turning into Lady Macbeth, was remarkably well-done and entertaining, if entirely ludicrous). FNL has managed to take the problems regarding economy, affordable higher education (not to mention the failing public school system), the job search, real estate, and the politics of change and effectively portray the effects they have in the lives of Americans, the strain our contemporary society has on individuals, how they influence the dynamics within families. There is no other show on television engaging with societal problems–not Mad Men, not Dexter, not Pushing Daisies, not fucking Boston Legal. The only other show that ever attempted to honestly critique and dramatize our actual world was The Wire, and even on that show it was only the final two seasons that felt actually concerned with contemporaneity (the first three seasons, to me, felt couched in early-90sisms). And FNL does it without the polemics and sporadic didacticism of The Wire. FNL has always been, first and foremost, about the arcs of its characters versus The Wire‘s arc of narrative.

This season of FNL has also approached Wire-levels regarding the push-pull dynamics of its storylines–one person’s actions sets off a chain of events whose negative effects will soon be irrevocable (think back to season 4 of The Wire, and how Herc’s various bumbling enabled the decline of Randy’s situations at home and in the street); one character will experience a great gift of fortune while another character will pay in kind by losing their previous privileges; characters will step into paths that other characters have already worn, as if there aren’t any options in treading a new road (and in small towns, there almost never are). All the various narrative strands in season 3 of FNL are woven together tightly but seamlessly–much like The Wire, but FNL seems much looser (you can breathe in their threads) because of the lack of overt politicking and the focus of its characters, as well as its homier mise-en-scène. Although far less brilliant (the writing can go through creaky spots, some of the acting not up to par), FNL has taken up the mantle of Most Important Show (if not Greatest Show Ever) from The Wire because of these elements, and I dare say it’s far warmer and more human than The Wire ever was.

Only the roommate and I could turn something as wonderful and sweet as Wall-E into DICK JOKEZ.

Eric: oh god, that scene was the caulk for the crack in my heart
me:
haha you filled your heart with a cock
Eric: so?  women do it all the time!
me: oh i’m sorry i forgot about your gaping chest-vagina
Eric: 12 inches of healing.

My apologies to Pixar.

On Wednesday I was TICKLED TO DEATH when I realized how many friends I have in New York are going to be meeting up out-of-town in the next week or so. Kate and George are meeting up in Cincinnati or whatever city that’s in Ohio; Stearns and the roommate are going to bro out in Vegas; and Stan, Beth and I are meeting up in California. Basically this is why New Yorkers are douchebags: they leave the city to hang out with other New Yorkers.

We have vague plans of hanging out in LA, driving down PCH, going down to San Diego maybe (if so, I may pick up a friend’s acoustic guitar so I can terrorize everyone with MY COUNTRY SONGS), and the thing that Beth and I spazzed out about all day yesterday: the Salton Sea. Beth and I maybe think Stan might not be so happy that we have planned the entire itinerary, but whatever we’ll just nag him to death and he’ll concede, right?

The towns near the Salton Sea are full of crazy insane people, which would make sense if you think that the entire area smells like dead fish. The area was thought to be an up-and-coming Palm Springs, and so it is now full of the detritus of failed American capitalism. Empty abandoned motels and outdoor spaces and rusty cars in the water. There’s a documentary I’m dying to see–narrated by John Waters–called Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Here is the trailer:

Basically, the people there remind me of the citizens of North Haverbrook.

A collection of my favorite images of the Salton Sea and its surrounding towns:

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A rusted car in the New River, near where it enters the sea.

GOD I AM SO HUNGRY AREN’T YOU?!

Mud volcanoes!

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Salvation Mountain (that is not a drawing), located in Slab City, built by this guy, who was featured in Into The Wild as himself, spouting Jesus love messages to Emile Hirsch and a bewildered-looking Kristen Stewart. The best thing about that scene is that it was not written and he was not acting. That is actually what he’s like. I cannot wait to meet him.

There are some absolutely fantastic pictures captured here as well.

I was talking to someone about the Salton Sea and how excited I am to see it, and I was met with a look of vaguely repulsed shock. The intimation being “Why would you want to go there?” The reason, to me, is simple when you look at those pictures. This is part of our weird America, Lynchian images made real–a breathing microcosm of lives marginalized and pushed out of society, of the failed promises of American prosperity. I want to go to there.

The Salton Sea is only 30 miles east of San Diego. I love California.

I was going to talk about this Obama/Rick Warren thing especially considering the amount of people I know who are so LA LA LA ST. OBAMA! ❤ but I didn’t really know how to articulate my conflict between POLITICS DUH and GAYRAGE.

And then, amidst the poop jokes and hyperbole, Wonkette (! of all places!) went ahead and made any further comment from me redundant:

But it was a dick move by Obama, mostly because of all the very recent publicity Warren has received for helping out-of-state Mormons amend the California state constitution to dissolve civil marriages between consenting same-sex adults who live together in private. This was an evil thing, Prop 8, evil and immoral and incredibly hurtful to a lot of people. And when Obama brings in someone so attached to this current ugliness as Warren to give a speech at his Presidential Ceremony, that’s an unusually cruel and timely reminder to the gay community that the Democratic Party will not push for their “equal rights;” for Obama to claim otherwise at this press conference is a lie.

I would like this book regarding language which would be an enormous aid and reference point for when I write my hypothetical thesis.

SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.

There is nothing prettier (winter division) than a New England snowstorm.

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See? OH, WAIT A SECOND THAT IS ACTUALLY IN PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA.

Yes, there have been snowstorms in southern California. The fact that there can be chill and frost in SoCal is not entirely unprecedented; in fact, January 2007 saw this happen:

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But this recent storm is just RIDICULOUS. I mean, there is snow in the desert. SNOW in the DESERT, YOU GUYS.

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I hope this is still happening when I get to California because I WANT TO SEE SNOW IN THE DESERT, I MEAN WHAT?!?!?!?!? Now, if only it could snow on the beach then I will surely die from immense naturefuck glee.

On a related note, I leave New York on Sunday, and it is supposed to snow. I really hope this doesn’t mean massive delays OH GOD, I’ve only experienced one previously and it was also flying out of New York during the winter and my flight was delayed three hours which doesn’t seem so bad except you sit in fucking JFK for three hours and you can’t smoke and everyone is pissed and looks terrible, jesus.

coatofarms

That’s kind of meh, but whatever.

Fabro:
Italian: variant spelling of Fabbro.

Fabbro:
Italian: occupational name for an ironworker, from fabbro ‘smith’ (Latin faber ‘craftsman’).

So my name is actually Will Smith.

That’s the joke I use when I explain that my last name is Italian haha WELCOME TO EARF. I would like to figure out the exact genealogy and wonder when all the raping happened in order for me to have an Italian last name GO COLONIALISM.