Thursday, June 21, 2007

Our Man In Boston, aka Emlyn Lewis, the guy I thought least-likely to do the meme thing below, has turned out to be the only one to do so. Huzzah, I say. I know it was a stroll through the Hell of the past, but those are best done when accompanied by friends.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the greatest modern philosopher, Richard Rorty, passed away a couple of days ago. Slate has collected a few of his colleagues' eulogies of the man. Please read them and think on how wonderful it is that his friends and admirers could have included not just the noxious Richard Posner and the difficult-but-angelic Stanley Fish, but also the beatific Jurgen Habermas and Brian Eno. Rorty made a better person of me, and hopefully you, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Our good friend Scott, proprietor of Moonshine Mountain, has tagged this blog with a meme. Part of the assignment includes the instruction to "get nostalgic" regarding the music from the year I turned 18 (that's 1990, for the record), so being the great Method actor I am, I must carefully prepare myself for the approximation of nostalgia. Ahem. Ah, the good old days.

So, here's the list I'm working from. Sweet nostalgia! Sweet days of youth! There, that should get me in the mood. I'm going to pick five, starting at the end of the list.

74. Faith No More - "Epic".
What a weird song for a hit! Considering the miserable sub-genre of rap/metal that it spawned, the world would have been much better without this little ditty, but ok. Anyway, nostalgia. My most keen remembrance associated with this song was my sophomore dorm room (so this would have been Fall 1991), which I shared with a certain Alan Jolly. Our place was the drop-in/drop-out room, always filled with a mysterious haze and reeking of booze. It's fair to say we were far more interested in screwing around than classes. I had a shitty stereo, one of those all-in-one boxes that wasn't a jambox but a faux-component stereo, and, even though it made the whole thing (relatively) more expensive, this semi-stereo also had my first CD player. I can't remember who owned the Faith No More album, but I do remember that it was a frequent choice. Man, those days. So much drama, but so much fun.

61. Tom Petty - "Free Fallin'"
This one goes back to high school. I remember learning how to play it on guitar because a girl I had the hots for really liked it. I had a neat-but-crappy old Eko guitar, a 12-string that belonged to my uncle, that I strung up with 6 strings. I don't remember which girl liked it, but I'm guessing it was Melissa Moore, who was a physician in Dallas the last time I spoke to her, almost a decade ago. Melissa was definitely the most interesting girl in high school, gorgeous and arty and super-smart and self-possessed enough to know that she was my unrequited love, but selfish (I mean, she was younger than 18 when we first started hanging out) enough to keep stringing me along year after year. Nostalgia is better when flavored with regret, right?

29. Concrete Blonde - "Joey"
I don't remember what the deal with Concrete Blonde was, nor that they had a hit before their vampire song "Bloodletting". I guess I sorta remember this song being in the background during my first semester of college, but I don't have as many sharp memories of it as I do for "Bloodletting." So... that's the comment. Let's move on.

6. Dee-Lite - "Groove Is In The Heart"
No two ways about this one. It was everywhere my first semester. I got along great with most everyone on my dorm floor, especially Matt Martin (now a chef in Huntsville, AL) and Chris Shaw (who is god-knows-where), and we'd have loud funk (or semi-funk, like this song) blaring in the halls most nights. This was in the U of Alabama's infamous Mallet Assembly, which was self-governing and free of RAs. A couple of girls from Fitts, the girl's honor dorm, would come over to partake in the revelry, dance, and accompanying mind-expansion devices. I remember having to explain to everyone who Bootsy Collins was one night. I remember one of the girls, whose name was Audrey, I think, who loved to dance to this song with maximum contact, if you know what I mean and I think you do, with many of the guys, but refused to go any further than that, which got her quite the little reputation in our dorm in the Fall of 1990.

I should pull one more song out, but most of the rest of these meant nothing to me at the time. But these were just the most-requested songs. Scrolling down to the No. 1 songs gives me:

April 21 - May 18: Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor
So this lost the No. 1 position to Madonna on my 18th birthday, May 19, 1990. This song reminds me of the house parties we used to have at Laura Walker's place. She lived with her grandparents, who went out of town all the time, bless their souls. We drank and swam (skinny-dipped, even!) and stayed up all night and generally acted like kids with raging hormones and all the time in the world. It was heavenly. My first real girlfriend, Vanessa, was part of this scene. Once when this song was on the stereo, I made out with a girl (name lost to history) who was dating a good friend, which was really my first taste of being an asshole to someone I cared about. I didn't like it much when I thought on it later, but man, I was young and selfish then. I guess I could blame the music, because my emotions were so easily controlled by external stimula then, and any 18-yr-old in 1990 who could resist making out with an attractive partner when this song played had a heart of lead.

OK, that's memory lane! I'm not sure how many of my compatriots actually read this blog, but should they happen to catch the nod, I'm going to assign:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Phil Nugent takes Sam Brownback out to the woodshed in one of the best deconstructions of modern political realities I've ever read.

Also, Dana Stevens brings up some good points about her knock on Knocked Up. Unfortunately, I still don't buy the central premise that because Roe vs. Wade is under attack, a filmmaker with a pregnant character has an obligation to address abortion head-on. I think she's right in saying that too many movies give it short shrift as an option, and probably so because of concerns about turning off a certain segment of their audience. However, there's a huge leap from the notion that movies in general should be more mindful about what abortion rights mean to women and that this movie in particular should have tried to deal with it. The fact that this character in this movie didn't seriously mull over aborting this (fictional) fetus doesn't justify a bizarro inverse theory that any woman who has had an abortion has committed a horrible act. The mopes she mentions over at the National Review and the Atlantic Monthly who are politicizing a fictional young woman's choice in a fictional comedy of manners that is, as I might have mentioned, a work of fiction: these are the jokers committing an act of regrettable behavior.

Friday, June 01, 2007

We saw a preview of Knocked Up last night. This is sure to be a classic.

On Salon, Stephanie Zacharek is explicitly comparing Knocked Up to Preston Sturges comedies.

That uncertainty is what links it to the great American romantic comedies: It's not as elegant as, say, "Holiday" or "The Lady Eve" or "The Palm Beach Story," but it's wise enough to know that the false promise of happily ever after is more depressing than it is uplifting. Better to acknowledge the bumpiness of the road ahead than to fool yourself into believing you can iron out its kinks.
I think she's dead-on here. Knocked Up is too raunchy to work like The Lady Eve or The Palm Beach Story, both of which were sex comedies of a different sort, but it shares the sex-with-consequences sensibility of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek with the broad pleasures of 80s sex comedies (I'm thinking Porky's), but also with a grown-up take on parenthood that I can't recall seeing in any movie before. There's a very warm embrace of humanity in the movie that reminds me of the greatest humanist director, Renoir, specifically the hijinks of Boudu Saved From Drowning. I think that's where I am: half Preston Sturges, one quarter Porky's, and one quarter Renoir.

I don't want to ruin anything for anyone, but since it's a comedy about pregnancy, I'm going to assume that y'all know it winds up in a delivery room. That scene was just incredible, somehow combining slapstick with the very real confusion and beautiful grossness (by which I mean everyone is born in blood and struggle) of natural childbirth. It has an unwavering belief in the realness and decency of even the most minor of supporting cast, and the overall effect is profound. I'm a sap these days, I know, because when my family is expecting a baby, any images of childbirth cut straight to my weepy emotional place, and that's exactly what this incredible scene does.

There's several other points where the character's reality are realized in a way that few comedies could handle. My favorite is a moment where Paul Rudd's character, holding a ridiculous fairy-tale castle-shaped ice-cream cake for his daughter's birthday, learns what his wife and sister-in-law really think of him, and in, like, three seconds, he registers the incredible hurt of this and moves on. If the movie weren't so insanely funny and light on its toes, it could easily play like an agonizingly detailed examination of marriage and relationships. That's a rare and awesome thing.

In Slate, Dana Stevens thinks that Judd Apatow doesn't write convincing women.

I can only read this moment as Judd Apatow's tribute to the awe of childbirth and the cult of the eternal feminine. It's a lovely impulse, but in his next film, maybe he could honor women by striving to create female characters with the depth of humor and humanity he gives to men.
She might have a point, although I don't think it's enough of one to justify her spending a good third of her review on this. Almost all of the guys in the movie are slacker wise-asses. At least one minor female character also is a slacker wise-ass. The major female characters rarely are deliberately funny, but it happens a couple of times. But it's wrong to say they aren't human. I thought the two female leads were both well-written and well-acted as a little high-strung (or a lot high-strung, but they're supposed to be sisters, and the one scene with their mother demonstrates exactly why they were so high-strung) with a similar bewilderment about men. Is it inhuman that they weren't as zingy as the men in the movie?

Stevens' other major point was:
It's just not believable that, in Alison and Ben's upper-middle-class, secular L.A. milieu, abortion would not be matter-of-factly discussed as a possibility in the case of a pregnancy this accidental.
I think this is complete bullshit. Alison talks about abortion with her sister and her mother. Ben explicitly doesn't want to tell her what to do because it is her choice. And when she makes the choice, she doesn't spell it out for anyone, which seemed good writing rather than bad: why would a woman ennumerate her reasons out loud to have a child rather than terminate a pregnancy? If she had done so, THAT would have sounded fake.

Finally, for your amusement, here's Michael Cera and Judd Apatow riffing on the famous Lily Tomlin/David O. Russell blowout.

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