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Category Archives: sadness boohoo

I don’t know how many people from Chicago (a dozen?) I’ve met who are ready to GET INTO FISTICUFFS about how much more AWESOME their city is than New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Seriously Chicago has the best pizza AND burritos AND tacos AND sushi AND midgets AND beer AND teleportation modules AND meth-hookers, did you know?

And not even precious Barry could get them an Olympics.

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There’s a reason you’re called Second City, dudes. But buck up: you’ll always have the Cubs!

P.S. Not that I care, but I hope it’s Rio. Because it would be SEXY.

So last night I drunkenly wrote someone who I’ve cared about for a while blahblah, saying that it’s too hard to care that much lalalala, complicated frustrating emotions plus alcohol. But! I was very rational and thoughtful and lucid throughout the whole time, not all FUCK YOU DOUCHEBAG RAAARRRRRRR!!!! about it, which makes me feel good about myself.

And then a Morrissey song came on and instead of putting the back of my hand on my forehead and moaning, I went all LOL MORRISSEY U R SOOOOOO MELODRAMATIC!!

So basically I’ve finally outgrown adolescence, is what I’m saying.

Watching The Wrestler recently, I suddenly decided that Darren Aronofsky is committed to making the ugliest-looking films possible. I didn’t see The Fountain, but all of his features are aesthetically unattractive. Part of this is how dedicated he is in the details of subculture, whether it be mathematical Jew gangsters (or something? I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and even then I was bewildered by what was happening), awful people on drugs, or beat-up beat-down run-down over-the-hill wrestlers. Some of the wrestling scenes–most especially a time-warping one in the film’s midsection–are gruesome to look at, full of blood and metal and pierced skin.

The movie does not exist without Mickey Rourke’s performance as The Ram, and what a lovely, lived-in piece of work it is. It is impossible to look at Rourke’s battered features and the comeback narrative and not conflate performer with character; this kind of confluence of star and vehicle is exceedingly rare, and oddly the best examples I can give are all women: Bette Davis in All About Eve, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. It hardly seems performative, and there are no actorly flourishes, making his character feel remarkably alive and present, almost as if it’s a documentary rather than a narrative film (the sometimes irritating camerawork reinforces this suggestion, as do the backstage scenes filled with actual pro wrestlers, all of whom are actually quite charming and surprisingly goofily pleasant). The superlative honesty of Rourke’s performance also bleeds into that of Marisa Tomei’s. The worst thing that happened to Marisa Tomei’s career was her early Oscar win; it has underrated her ever since and she only ever seems to pop up every few years (increasingly naked, I might add) to give a performance that reminds people that she is, in fact, a gifted actress. The other main performance is by Evan Rachel Wood, who for some time now I have thought to be full of potential. She isn’t required to do much in the film besides slap on a Jersey accent (pretty good) and be Emotionally Scarred, but even then she felt indelible, showing the voids that she and The Ram create in one another.

For all of the downer possibilities, the movie also has its funny moments, almost all of them intentional (the only unintentional one is the Vampire Weekend poster in Evan Rachel Wood’s house, because that’s what the young people are into!). It’s the greatness of Rourke’s performance that he is as nimble in the dramatic moments as he is in these lighter ones, whether it be the complete joy he has in charming the customers at a deli or calling Kurt Cobain a pussy who ruined music (in fact, this scene–where Rourke and Tomei are rocking out to Ratt in an empty bar–was my favorite moment of the whole movie). In spite of a rote construction full of stock characters, The Wrestler succeeds with its lingering tone of small, graceful ease.

*

Far from easy is Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, a trip back to the suffocating suburbia of American Beauty. Though where his debut film was ugly, ironically cartoonish pop, Revolutionary Road is polite parlor music that that threatens to lull you to somnolence before you realize the house is burning down.

Richard Yates’ novel must have been a powerful indictment when it was published in 1961; reading it in 2009 makes it feel silly, trite, and didactic. The thematic and narrative thrust is compelling, and there’s this constant ominous current of doom and sadness that enables you to forgive the grandstanding monologues of the characters (and they are monologues rather than dialogue; these people aren’t talking to each other so much as serving as mouthpieces for Yates’ thesis in a construct of conversation).

It feels unfair to fault the film for adhering too closely to the book, especially when it excises seemingly important details later on, but the first hour of the film is a staggering bore and chore to get through. The audience is almost immediately thrust into a wildly dramatic argument between April and Frank Wheeler (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio), full of actorly gestures and staid blocking and camerawork (though the movie is remarkably handsome throughout). Afterwards there are flashbacks that never fully explicate their love for each other, nor their seeming specialness. What I found interesting in the novel was a tacit understanding that while you were supposed to be critical of the conformity of the suburbs, you were also right in being critical of the Wheelers as above-it-all elitists entitled to their snobbery based on nothing approaching fact. There really is no reason for the Wheelers’ feeling of superiority aside from their constant proclamations of it, and the warding off of the crushing realization that comes when you realize you’re “just like everyone else.” One of the bigger tonal mistakes the film makes is that we’re supposed to sympathize with the Wheelers through and through, never critical of them and their attitude or behavior.

The film is brought to life through the introduction of John (Michael Shannon), on leave from a psychiatric institution. The purpose of John’s character is to break the politeness of societal norms with a scathing honesty, because Only The Truly Sane Would Be Called “Insane” In This Suffocating Society. If this movie were set in the South, he would be the Magical Negro. Because it’s in the Northeast, he is Crazy White Person Who Speaks The Truth. In spite of the ludicrousness of his character’s construction, Shannon provides a live-wire energy that disrupts the primness of the film up to this point–and this includes the direction and the acting.

The movie is only as good as Kate Winslet’s performance, which may be why the film picks up in the second half. Winslet is an actress I love (her performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, to me, our generation’s Annie Hall), but lately she has been sloppy in her Actorly Perfection, as if she is Becoming Meryl Streep and buying into her own hype. The flaws of her performance in Little Children are continued throughout Revolutionary Road, which also seems to have bought into its own hype: there’s an unending seriousness that is almost parodic, and Winslet’s irritating performance often seems less real than hyperreal, less how people were in the fifties than how people in the fifties were in movies. Yet Far From Heaven and Julianne Moore they are not; there is no awareness of the artifice. If in Far From Heaven they take the irony of rigidly performing the artifice in straight-face to ultimately induce honest pathos, Revolutionary Road and Winslet play pathos with so rigid a straight-face it ironically becomes dishonest artifice.

The film is far better at being Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than it is at being Far From Heaven, which is why it picks up in the second half, as does Winslet. When April begins an evisceration of Frank’s manhood filled with a mixture of disinterest, disgust, hate and fear, you see traces of the old Winslet, and the film begins to soar on her shoulders. Unfortunately, even this blow-up is so properly, primly shot that any of the tangible energy you feel from Winslet and DiCaprio is presented with no real sense of passion. I have not seen Jarhead, but American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road have proven Sam Mendes to be a thoroughly pedestrian, mediocre filmmaker.

DiCaprio gives a far more successful performance than Winslet, in that he generally seems to be playing a real person. Throughout the film, he is reactive and alert, and subtly suggests that he is on to his own bullshit. He infuses his monologues with both anger and doubt, as if realizing his entitlement of intellect and good looks has still made him mediocre, and is desperate to deny the epiphany. DiCaprio ably portrays Frank’s increasing sense of shallowness in so small a way that when he is attacked by Winslet in their Woolfian final fight (as well as by Shannon in John’s last appearance), you see a man not full of righteous fury but instead a frightened boy backed into a corner. His line-reading of “Why do you live in my house if you hate me so much?”–red-faced, shaking, crying while trying not to–is one of the few truly moving, jolting moments I’ve seen in the Oscar-bait films of 2008. DiCaprio has become quite the actor, and I think the weathered lines and slight paunch on his iconic face has only increased his watchability.

Revolutionary Road is a deeply flawed film, full of too much talk and not enough suggestion (while adhering strictly to the novel in terms of dialogue, it throws away many of its silent moments that would have made for tremendously moving visuals), and stilted performances by Winslet and Kathy Bates that clash with the refined burning of DiCaprio and spark of Shannon–as well as the shruggingly natural performance of David Harbour as Shep, my actual favorite character in both the novel and film (though he is underwritten by novice screenwriter Justin Haythe) as an oafish man who yearns for more but realizes he deserves none of his dreams. That, in fact, would have been a far more interesting film to me, but even with the missed opportunities and missteps, the now-tritely didactic sociology, Revolutionary Road manages to finally compel and move you with the force of its story.

Also it’s still better than Dumbdog Swillionaire.

I’ve been obsessed with Laura Nyro since before summer started. She was always one of those artists that you heard about, one of those You Should Listen To This people, but I never made the time for her back when I was a teenager. Part of it was her era, and how she was invariably lumped in with Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon, and other free-thinking hippie granola lesbian armpit hair lady music of the 1970s.

The shame of it is, she is far more interesting to me than her famous counterparts, and I wish I’d paid attention back when I was 15 and heard about her for the first time. I would have had twelve more years of being held captive by her. I shared her first record with Michael and he iterated something similar; I thought she would be just this lame thing and instead her music has been soul-destroying.

I have nothing against Joni Mitchell, and Carole King’s Brill Building work is unimpeachable, but Nyro trumps them by somehow combining the best elements of both (I really can’t stand Carly Simon for some likely irrational reason; she has always struck me as a total douche–and not in the way I understand either, like how Joni Mitchell is a douche). Nyro has Mitchell’s poetics and King’s indestructible sense of melody and structure, but somehow on top of everything else is an intangible sense of humanity present in her delivery and voice. It’s not a great voice, not at all, but like Bob Dylan, she is tremendous singer. Her voice is imminently schoolteacher in the most loving way, plainspoken until she suddenly swoops to falsetto with no warning, for no reason. Which, to me, is somehow more touching and vulnerable and remarkably human than someone with exact technical proficiency. But above all else, there’s her unerring melodicism; it’s no wonder her songs were covered and made into hits by acts as disparate as the Fifth Dimension and Barbra Streisand and Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Three Dog Night.

Probably my favorite Nyro song is “Timer,” insofar as it combines drastically wild elements into one beautiful amalgam. It begins rather simply, sounding like your basic folk melody before immediately switching into vague rock orchestral bombast, and then wild, nearly-avant garde howling. The rest of the song takes up girl group and soul, throws in some classic Tin Pan Alley for good measure, and ends with some vocal circling reminiscent of doo-wop. A song that alternately talks about death, love, and religion to ultimately talk about life should genre-hop in as satisfying and full a manner as this.

My heart breaks: “And if the song goes minor/I won’t mind” and everything after that. Sometimes earlier than that, when she sings “Now my hand is ready for my heart so let the wind blow.”

I was talking to Mark about Laura Nyro, whom he had also slept on, and after a few weeks of listening he declared, “She’s basically the American Kate Bush.” Kate Bush is another one of those singers I’ve been hesitant about; perhaps because of the reputation, perhaps because of the limited exposure I’ve had, where basically I’ve only concerned myself with her vocal affects. I know next to nothing about Kate Bush, so I began with Hounds of Love.

The title track is one of the most remarkable songs I’ve heard in a long time, somehow finding a musical landscape that fits the lyricism, which is top-notch: love metaphorized as fox hunting in which you are both hunted and hunter? It is soaring and claustrophobic, and the drums somehow sound to me like the perfect representation of a self-hater’s neurosis and disbelief regarding romance.

My heart breaks: basically once the drums and synth interconnect at the beginning, really. And then Bush’s singing pushes me over the edge. Especially the first instance of the background vocals.

I can’t properly express the effect this has on me; much like Nyro’s “Timer,” “Hounds of Love” has this magic elixir quality to it that reduces me to weepy emotion, that moves me without even trying, that somehow just cuts right down to the bone. It will take me forever to understand why both of these songs, at this point of my life, carry such intense meaning. Each has to do with one’s relation to oneself and the world at-large, in a specific way that still feels universal and full of something so bogus-seeming as Truth. Pop songs don’t ever do this. These two, somehow, do.

Happy birthday, Blago!

Awwwww, why so glum chum? Your corruption bringing you down? It’s okay, others have been there before. This face you’re making right now, I could kiss it. It is the Sad White Guy Scandal Face aka The Spitzer.

Spitzer didn’t start this trend, but the facial expression HAS GOT TO be named after him because of his face’s amazing contribution to the art of So Contrite I Wish My Frowny Mouth Could Devour My Entire Head pyrotechnics.

Jeff Skilling’s grimace wins best in show for metatextuality, considering he resembles this guy too:

Mark Foley adds “I want to fuck young gay boys” to the face while also accessorizing with phone!

Not to be out-gayed, here’s Jim McGreevey:

Bonus points for also getting the dude behind him to make the face too. Gays looooooove to synchronize, like a dance routine! McGreevey and pal could synchronize-frown while singing “Jimmy Mack/JIMMY!/Ohhh Jimmy Mack, why is your face like that.”

Brett Favre shows that the face isn’t relegated solely to politicians, and the beautiful arc of his mouth may actually rival Spitzer’s in terms of length if not Head-Vacuuming Power:

0401008P PACKERS V 49ERS X

Barry is all “Yo dawggg it ain’t just honkies who be usin’ this shit, fucking Blago, man”

Obama

Oh poor Barack it’s like–

“HEY REMEMBER WHEN I DID THIS ALL THE TIME LOLZ REMEMBER GUYS?!?!??!?!”

W is all like “Dawwwww, I always look worse in comparison.”

She is crashing this boys club.

But she only put “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” right? I mean, as compared to–

WHATEVER, try harder next time Moose Boob.

Using the Bible as an argument for gay marriage, effectively exploring the reductive myopia of the Christian Right’s arguments. Newsweek?!

It’s quite interesting so please read it. I know that I’m going to read it approximately 115309 times before I fly home to California and have to see all my Republican family members who voted for Prop 8, and I will probably get drunk and bring this up all SHOUTY and will need some talking points so that I don’t sound like an incoherent boob.

Also I wrote this sad defeated little slobber on Fuckbook after Prop 8 passed, boohoo. It’s long and maudlin.

That’s what she said.