Saturday, November 21, 2009

Man on Film: 2012

So much of the film-going experience is dependent upon expectations. The expectations come from a lot of places, but I think most of us go into a movie with a pretty good idea what to expect.

With a limited amount of time, there is only so far for a movie to go. With a healthy amount of movie watching under our belt very little is going to hold a surprise, so we suspend our disbelief, shut off our brains, buckle in, and try our damnedest to enjoy the ride.

So, when walking into 2012, it is not without the knowledge in hand that the movie you are about to see is going to be mostly retarded movie in which the world (as we know it) is likely to end in some scientifically flawed way, but a ton of shit is going to blow up on a macro scale. It is, after all, a Roland Emmerich film*.

*From here on, there will be plenty of spoilers. I'm going to assume that--even if you haven't seen this film--you know what is going to happen. It is a Roland Emmerich film.

And it did not disappoint on any of those grounds.

A ton of shit blew up. Hell, Yellowstone became a super caldera, and California fell into the ocean. Turbo tsunamis* wipe out the entire Indian subcontinent and reach Himalayan China. A fucking aircraft carrier rides a wave and crashes onto the fucking White House. It is safe to say that shit hits the proverbial* fan.

*I don't really want to look it up because it would cut into the SVU research I'm doing right now, but I am sure I'm anglicizing the plural of tsunami in a grotesquely ethnocentric way.

**You remember that passage from Proverbs in which there is shit flying everywhere and hits the fan and sprays everybody, right?

As for the science, I'm no plate tectonicist (or maybe it's a geologist...), but I would imagine that there are some holes in the theory behind the sun magically heating the earth's core to the point that the tectonic plates begin to float on the molten mantle.

On the retarded front, I'll cite one thing specifically. As it becomes evident that Africa is where they'll need to go to start anew, a captain spews out the line:
That's why they call it the Cape of Good Hope.

Luckily, the film is loaded with likable stars. Obviously, there's John Cusack, who we all know and love. It is refreshing to see him as the lead in a big film again. Hopefully, this will reopen doors, and he'll have another film that rivals his creative high points of High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank (sorry, but War, Inc. didn't do that). Woody Harrelson continued his comeback from five self-imposed years off as an Alex Jones-type character. Amanda Peet was her usual, endearing self. Chiwetel Ejiofor was appropriately impassioned as the crusading scientist. We even got Little Shawn from "Psych," the heel reporter from "The Wire," and Danny Glover as the President.

That kind of cast made most of the potentially grimace-inducing lines at least somewhat believable. In fact, the only time that any of the principle cast really stepped over the line into full-on cheese was when Ejiofor was quoting Jackson Curtis' (Cusack) book to preserve humanity.

The long and short of all of this is that if all you are wanting out of 2012 is a movie that is light on substantive plot, lighter on believable dialogue, and full of huge explosions, then you will be happy. All we really want is to escape, and there is nothing that is tethering this film to the real world, so we are all ultimately allowed to leave this world for 150 minutes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Musicalia: The Swell Season - Paramount Theater, Austin, TX - 11/15/09

Last night, The Special Lady Friend and I ventured out to what has become a familiar concert venue over the past few months to take in The Swell Season's headlining gig. If you need a refresher, I just saw Glen Hansard open for Sam Beam at the Paramount in July, and it was amazing. (I've also written about Once on more than one occasion). Every time I've seen him with now three different acts has been top notch, and this time was no different.

Hansard's solo acoustic rendition of "Leave" was absolutely transcendent. The full-band "When Your Mind's Made Up" was moving. Marketa Irglova led the band for a great run through the new stand-out track "Fantasy Man." They opened the encore up with a phenomenal Glen and Marketa duet of "Falling Slowly". In between, they covered much of the two Swell Season releases*, along with a few old Frames tunes sprinkled in.

*The new album, Strict Joy, is pretty damn solid, by the way. I'm a pretty shitty music reviewer, if we're being honest here, largely because music is a medium that I feel more than anything else and I have fairly major issues with the transition between the way I feel about music and finding the words to illustrate that feeling. That being said, the first three tracks are great, and the album manages to maintain its momentum through to the end.

Now you may have noticed that this recap has been fairly superficial, and I assure you there is cause for this. The cause for the cursory nature of this recount is because I was ceaselessly distracted by the insanely irritating super fan sitting right behind me for pretty much the entire show.

I freely admit that I am an irritable person, surely more so than most, but there is something especially grating about the person directly behind you singing through the entire concert. It is even worse at a quieter show at a sit-down venue. And all of that is further exacerbated when that person thinks herself a good singer, therefore singing loud, singing proud, and singing in a different register than the person singing on stage. Compound that irritation with a five-minute sneezing spell and hand-clapping for something like five straight songs roughly two feet from my ears, and you've got one irritated dude. For the record, I was not the only one irritated, but I'm the only one writing about it.

Now I don't have a big problem with singing along to certain things, especially when it is done tastefully or relatively quietly (the girl next to me was singing along, too, but she was doing so quietly and was shockingly not irritating), but singing out and harmonizing on shit is just fucking aggravating. If we were in a loud club, it'd be different, too, but it's a fucking theater.

I didn't pay $90+ dollars for a pair of tickets to hear you sing, lady.

Rant done.

The show was good, but some irritating broad* kind of took me out of it.

*I kind of want to bring the word 'broad' back. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading Rainbow: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

From what I have heard (and I can't say that I frequent book review sites and publications), the newest Thomas Pynchon book has been received with a somewhat tepid reaction. Having read everything of his but Against The Day*, I can see where the disappointment may arise from. That being said, my reaction wasn't one of disappointment, per se.

*I was about 250 pages through Against The Day when I stopped having a reason to ride the bus. As the bus ride went, so went the time to read. I was pleased with what I had read but knew the climb would be a long one, and a disservice to the reading experience. I'll probably revisit if I'm ever in white collar prison or too poor to have a television.

In Inherent Vice, we find the inimitable Thomas Pynchon stretching out in the genre of the Private Eye novel. If you told that to someone with only a vague idea as to who Thomas Pynchon* is, they would probably think it odd. Hell, a good deal of casual Pynchon readers would look askance at someone bringing them that news.

*The author, of course, not the person, as there are only a handful of people out there with that kind of information.

The thing is almost all of his books have found their protagonists on a quest to solve a mystery. In V., Herbert Stencil is searching for the answer to Who V. is. In The Crying of Lot 49, heroine Oedipa Maas is trying to get to the bottom of a centuries-old battle between rival mail distribution companies. For Tyrone Slothrop, the quasi-hero of Gravity's Rainbow, it is the quest to discover the cause of his erectile conditioning having been tuned to the dropping of V-2 rockets. I could go on, but you get the point.

There is a sense to this slight transition. Rather than have non-detectives trying to solve a labyrinthine mystery, Inherent Vice features Private Investigator Larry 'Doc' Sportello being put onto a case by his ex-girlfriend that starts out simply enough but quickly devolves into the multi-layered, multi-faceted post-modern yarn we have grown accustomed to. Present is the drug-induced paranoia, perverse corporate greed, silly character naming, and fear of authority. It is just operating (loosely) within the constructs of the noir genre--or as others have labeled it psychedelic noir.

The easiest way I can describe this book is to say the following: Imagine that Thomas Pynchon was writing an homage to The Big Lebowski but set it in 1969.

And really, by setting it in the time and place that clearly begat the mindset that has been a driving force in all of his works* no matter their setting, it allows him to finally return to the ground that has so deeply permeated all of his work, while not having actually been the setting since The Crying of Lot 49.

*Just try to tell me that the Benjamin Franklin of Mason & Dixon wasn't a Californian hippie at his core.

The elements of California in the 1960s are able to flourish in their own habitat in Inherent Vice.

Now, if I'm being totally honest, I am not a writer with enough skill, nor a reader with enough intelligence for that matter, to be able to decipher what each bit of minutae means symbolically or historically. When talking about Thomas Pynchon, few are. That being said, this was probably his most accessible book yet. I read it in a week and a half--roughly half the time it took me to read the much shorter Lot 49--and at no time did it feel like a chore. Coming from someone who read Gravity's Rainbow twice*, I know what a chore reading Thomas Pynchon can be.

*Don't worry, my comprehension was limited, too. I still feel like I need to go back and read it a third time, this time taking very detailed notes.

If you've not read Pynchon before, this actually isn't a bad starting point (of course, neither is V.). The book is good fun and is maybe the weirdest entrant into the noir genre yet.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Diversions: Another Blog?

All right, so I launched yet another blog, and this time there should be some help (and I'm certainly willing to allow for other contributors, if you're interested).

Right now, it is an undertaking that was born from the haze of a recently completed fantasy basketball draft. Having alluded to it on my twitter feed (an experiment, I assure you), I have started up a "Law & Order: SVU" blog. The amount of time I spend talking about how awesome that show is with people who share my feelings regarding the show is a little ridiculous.

The first entry is up here. The name of the blog is:

Munch My Benson

I encourage you to check in there, as I have high hopes. If you, too, share a love for all things "SVU" and are interested in contributing, your fandom and writing is welcome.

Diversions: Shout Out?

Yo, Dannenbring.

Dubya tee eff?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tube Steak: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Cameo

All right, this season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" has been absolutely outstanding. The play between Larry and Jerry Seinfeld has been great. All of the reunion stuff has been great.

But on the newest episode, "Officer Krupke," there was a special gift. I'm not going to give anything away, but--out of the blue--a special guest entered the "Curb" universe tonight. No, I'm not talking about former Duke of Hazzard and troubadour John Schneider. It's not the beautiful Elisabeth Shue, either.

No, in the first scene in Banana Republic, as the clientele are forced to evacuate the store, a certain bearded gentleman makes his way through the frame.

That bearded gent?

None other than, Ben Affleck.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tube Steak: A Rare Day Off and An "SVU" Marathon

As USA unfurls another "Law & Order: SVU" Tuesday, it occurs to me that this network actually doesn't air enough "Law & Order".

I'm not kidding.

Pretty much every time I am not watching something I Tivoed, I am wishing that SVU or CI* was on**. A lot of the time, I luck out. Too often, however, I am left out in the cold, jonesing for some Stabler and Olivia crime-fighting action, or lately some weird Goldblum-being-Goldblum detecting.

*I am going to drop the formality of putting SVU and CI or any other television series in quotes for the rest of this post. Let me assure you that I know they're supposed to be in quotes, but I would rather write a couple long sentences preemptively detailing why I'm dropping the quotation mark charade for a post than actually hit "Shift - Apostrophe" multiple times.

**This being largely because Frasier is not in HD and not on an HD channel, and I've seen every episode of House, many of them multiple times. Those are my other syndication mainstays.

There are so many reasons to love these shows, which is certainly an odd description for two shows that focus on rape, murder, and sexual abuse, but I guess I'm an odd dude.

For starters, it seems like there is at least one great guest star in every episode. Right now, Ellen Burstyn is playing Stabler's bipolar mom. In the last episode, we got a de facto Sports Night reunion of Dan Rydell and Rebecca Wells as Josh Charles and Teri Polo guested as a strained couple who were parents of potential child molester. I can't think of a single member of the cast of The Wire* who hasn't been on an episode. Yesterday, Namond Brice (I know, his real name is Julito McCullum) was a bespectacled bully on an episode of CI. Luke Perry and Julie Bowen were on an episode earlier as a married couple, who... wait for it... wait for it... got married after (unbeknownst to her) her raped her. Oh, and Dylan McKay totally raped Darlene Conner in that episode, too. What a crazy fucking world we live in!

*(Anyone who has not seen Season One of The Wire should not read this italicized paragraph) Speaking of The Wire, Wallace is all grown up now. Holy shit. He looks like a MAN on the season premiere of Friday Night Lights. Weird aside: I was driving up Red River past the campus, look over at the sweet convertible next to me and there's Michael B. Jordan! It's like The Wire is in my hood now, too, only a bizarro universe of The Wire in which Wallace wasn't offed, he simply relocated.

But past the sweet guest stars, the real draw to SVU is the cast. Everyone loves Ice-T, and Belzer, reprising his role from Homicide (see how I'm sticking with the non-quotes?), is clearly the shit. Christopher Meloni is great and manages to always project that essence of being on the edge of flying off the handle. His simmering intensity adds an element of tension that isn't present in OG Law & Order (but is alive and well in the person of our modern-day Orson Welles, Vincent D'Onofrio in CI, but CI is really another entry, so I'll avoid too much exposition on that subject matter).

Perhaps most importantly (at least from a male/lesbian standpoint) is the sexy Mariska Hargitay. Working as the small-screen version of Diane Lane, the womanly star is sheer tasteful sex appeal with a badge. The fact that both Olivia and her partner are emotionally damaged people in a Mulder/Scully sexually charged partnership certainly doesn't hurt, either.

Regardless, I could watch SVU any time of the day, and today I've gotten to watch non-stop.
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