Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Literary Quote I Like

“It's you who are the stick-in-the-mud,” I said. “Look, I'll show you. Here,” I said, opening up a volume, “is a quotation from an ancient Egyptian papyrus. The young people no longer obey the old. The laws that ruled their fathers are trampled underfoot. They seek only their own pleasure and have no respect for religion. They dress indecently and their talk is full of impudence. Do you find yourself depicted there? There always was a younger generation and there always will be. And the younger generation will always think it smart to thumb its nose at its elders.”
--Guy Endore, The Werewolf of Paris

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Movie Quote of the Week

Without love, life would have no purpose.
--Ricardo Montalbán, Sweet Charity (1969)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

All the Things That I Have Seen

1. Ratatouille (2007).

See it. See it. See it. See it. See it. See it. See it. See it. See it. See it.

2. Hairspray (2007).

Not my favorite musical of all time, but better than I expected. Of course, my favorite song in the movie would not show up until midway through the end credits. But, of course.

3. Meet the Robinsons (2007).

Not as good as Ratatouille but better than a lot of Disney's recent cartoons. Perhaps if the lead villain had not looked so much like Snidely Whiplash and the assistant villain seem like a ripoff of the Robin Williams version of Flubber. On the other hand, that Flubber movie wasn't all that great compared to this, so...

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

All-American Girl: “The Apartment”

I rented a DVD of the old Margaret Cho sitcom, All-American Girl, a few months ago in the hopes that maybe the show has improved with time.

It hasn't.

To be fair, Margaret Cho isn't exactly my favorite comedienne. I once bought one of her comedy albums on CD and found myself at best underwhelmed.

But even she deserved better than this generic mess.

And even the funniest woman who ever lived would have difficulty getting laughs from this show's dull-as-dust scripts.

The most shameless example of why this show was destined to become a failure was the episode “The Apartment.” The whole premise of the episode had Margaret's character (imaginatively named Margaret) moving into an apartment with two female friends.

Once there, the three friends began having “wacky” roommate problems. Not funny roommate problems like one might see on Buffy The Vampire Slayer's fourth season. That would imply that the episode was amusing.

No, these were “wacky” roommate problems. The type of problems that Hollywood scriptwriters found funny but no one else found amusing.

The oddest of these problems was a certain roommate's sudden desire for indoor nudism. Interestingly enough, such a desire was never hinted at in previous episodes. Nor was it hinted at in subsequent episodes. For that matter, it was never really explained in this episode why the roommate in question had such a sudden burning desire to take off her clothes in front of her roommates. Indeed, the only reason that made sense was a simple one: the scriptwriters' desire to provoke interest in the show from heterosexual male viewers.

Of course, seeing that this program aired on commercial TV, the show's creators were forced to hedge their bets by having said roommate's less family-friendly body parts obscured from TV viewers via pixelization. Thus we're supposed to be intrigued that said woman was naked but frustrated that said portions of the woman's anatomy weren't visible to the TV audience as anything but a strategically placed blur.

In any event, the episode still managed to be boring. Even insultingly boring.

Jodie Long (the actress that played Margaret's mother) showed a touch of class in a scene toward the end, in which she talked Margaret into moving back home, but as a whole, the episode, nudity and all, was still part of a generic TV sitcom -- and worse yet, part of an unfunny generic TV sitcom.

I suppose the one thing worse than seeing a naked actress used to elicit cheap laughes was having to see said actress elicit no reaction at all. Except, perhaps, pity for seeing her stuck on such an awful TV show.

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La Vida en la Biblioteca

Heh. Irony.

All the Anglo kids I had seen act up in the local library and yet it was a quiet little black girl who provoked the one complaint I had seen an adult library patron register about a kid's behavior.

Her offense: sitting quietly on a chair with a book and a backpack, waiting patiently for her mother to finish her work on the library' s computer system.

Apparently, another patron -- i.e., an Anglo patron -- thought this behavior should be discouraged. So he complained to the librarian. The librarian had a conversation with the mother, the mother got upset and left with her little girl, and the patron who had complained took over the computer that the black woman had been using.

In the meantime, I could not help but remember all the white kids who had talked quite loudly in this area without receiving one complaint from the other patrons.

Sitting quietly in a library. Apparently that had become the type of behavior to be discouraged.

Unless, of course, you choose to believe that there was another reason for this incident...

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Dexter” and “Crocodile”

When I first watched these episodes, I thought the producers of the Showtime cable series Dexter had a thing for the color green, either because it represented the tropical atmosphere of Miami (the city where the events of Dexter take place) or the ghoulishness of the show's protagonist, Dexter Morgan, who is a self-confessed “lab rat” and blood splatter analyst for the Miami police department. The faces of almost every other character would turn green every so often and even the most austere of backgrounds would come across as slightly olive.

Then I realized that there was something wrong with my TV set. I have since corrected the problem, but for a while there, I thought the producers of Dexter were being more visually creative than I expected.

Not that the show itself was all that boring. If you have read Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter (like I have), you can probably guess where the plot was leading. But apart from that, the show wasn't too predictable. And actor Michael C. Hall of Six Feet Under, who played the title character, did a good job of making a rather unbelievable character (a police department “lab rat” who “moonlighted” as a “justice”-seeking serial killer) seem believable.

Even more interesting was the attention paid to the show's supporting characters. True, there did seem to be an anti-affirmative-action subtext in the way the show presented a black police sergeant (Doakes) and a Hispanic police lieutenant (Laguerta) as Dexter's two main antagonists in the Miami police department. (Actually, Laguerta was more an antagonist of Dexter's foster sister, who also worked for the Miami police department, but she might as well have been Dexter's antagonist.) However, both Doakes and Laguerta had scenes which made them seem more sympathetic than their counterparts in the original novel and Laguerta especially had an interesting scene in the second episode which seemed to imply that the reason Laguerta was being so hard on Dexter's foster sister was Laguerta's resentment of the Anglo (white non-Hispanic) superiors who showed an open friendliness to Dexter's foster sister that they never quite showed to her.

Moreover, it's hard to complain about ethnic stereotypes too much in a show that (1) paid more attention to Hispanic characters than most cable shows I've seen since Six Feet Under; (2) featured a scene in which two Hispanic characters speak in Spanish without having their words translated or subtitled for the benefit of Anglo TV watchers; (3) featured more Anglo evildoers than Hispanic evildoers; and (4) had an Anglo protagonist who is a serial killer.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this show develops. I wasn't quite happy with the way Lindsay developed the character of Dexter Morgan in his novel (there's something at best questionable about the whole concept of a “heroic” serial killer), but I think it will be intriguing to see if the TV show follows a different route. At least it won't be dull.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

To Life! To Life! L'chaim!

I know. I'm not Jewish. And neither is mi novia.

But I officially proposed to her last week and she said yes. So the "To Life" song from Fiddler on the Roof fits my mood quite well.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

All the Fantasy Novels That I Have Read

Once again, a not so complete list:

1. Bloodsucking Fiends (1995) -- Christopher Moore.

A rarity--a vampire novel that is actually both funny and scary. Better than the sequel, You Suck: A Love Story.

2. You Suck: A Love Story (2007) -- Christopher Moore.

An appropriately titled book. At least the first part of the title is appropriate.

3. A Dirty Job (2006) -- Christopher Moore.

One of the best novels Moore has written in quite a while. It's about a man who sees the Grim Reaper at the bedside of his dying wife and ends up “inheriting” the Reaper's position. It combines genuinely serious insights into life and death with not so serious insights about everyday life -- and makes it work. It even manages to include a guest appearance by the lead female character of a previous Moore novel, Bloodsucking Fiends, and make that bit work.

4. Definitely Dead (2006) -- Charlaine Harris.

The until-recently-latest novel in the Sookie Stackhouse Saga (a series about a young Southern barmaid who becomes involved with a vampire). It answers some questions raised by earlier books in the series and leaves yet other answers to the imagination. It could have made a good conclusion for the series if Ms. Harris had not gone on to write another book in the series.

5. Grave Sight (2005) -- Charlaine Harris.

A young woman in the modern South can find dead people. A better novel than that brief description makes it sound. Proof that Charlaine Harris can write about something other than vampires and barmaids.

6. Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth (2006) -- Simon R. Green.

I had first supposed this book to be the concluding volume in Mr. Green's Nightside series. But apparently it is not. (Another book in the series has been published since this book came out.) An odd comic-book-style effort about a psychic detective who operates in a supernatural area of London known as the Nightside. The detective spends most of the series searching for clues to the mystery of his mother's disappearance, only to find out an unpleasant truth about his missing parent. In this book, he has a big confrontation with his missing mother; hence, the title.

7. Smoke and Ashes (2006) -- Tanya Huff.

Concluding book in a trilogy about a gay production assistant who is constantly running into the supernatural. (I hate it when that happens.) A spinoff from Ms. Huff's Henry Fitzroy series.

8. The Paper Grail (1991) -- James Blaylock.

So-so novel about a modern-day Holy Grail. Not to be confused with the Richard Ben Sapir novel Quest.

9. Quest (1987) -- Richard Ben Sapir.

A New York City police detective and an all-American girl try to track down an ancient artifact which might be the original Holy Grail. Sapir's last novel and one of his best.

10. The Werewolf of Paris (1933) -- Guy Endore.

Endore uses a fictional version of a real-life fiend (Sgt. Francis Bertrand) to explore the non-supernatural horrors of nineteenth-century French society. The novel is much, much better than the title makes it sound.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Quote of the Week

Omnes mundum facimus. (We all make the world.)
--Matt Ruff, Bad Monkeys

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Friday, August 10, 2007

All the Not So Classic Books That I Have Read, Part Three

1. Bad Monkeys (2007) -- Matt Ruff.

Conspiracy thriller for people who hate conspiracy thrillers.

2. Auntie Mame (1955) -- Patrick Dennis.

Inspiration for the classic movie of the same name. The story of an orphaned boy raised by an eccentric aunt. Oddly dated but in a good way.

3. Around the World with Auntie Mame (1958) -- Patrick Dennis.

A sequel -- and in some ways, a prequel -- to Auntie Mame.

4. I Capture the Castle (1948) -- Dodie Smith.

The daughter of an eccentric writer comes of age in an impoverished household. Better and more interesting evocation of the bohemian lifestyle than Auntie Mame.

5. The Town in Bloom (1965) -- Dodie Smith.

An onetime aspiring actress looks back upon her life after a brief reunion with friends.

6. The Hundred and One Dalmations (1956) -- Dodie Smith.

Not a novelization of the Disney movie of the same name but the original source for said movie.

7. The New Moon with the Old (1963) -- Dodie Smith.

A young woman starts work as a servant at a house filled with eccentric young people -- people who are forced to mature when their father unexpectedly leaves the household.

8. The House on Mango Street (1984) -- Sandra Cisneros.

A young Mexican-American woman grows up in a “transitional” neighborhood.

9. Blast from the Past (1998) -- Ben Elton.

A British woman gets an unexpected visit from a former lover that proves to be more complicated than she or he anticipates.

10. The First Casualty (2005) -- Ben Elton.

A confirmed pacifist finds himself drafted during World War I to investigate a murder case involving a British soldier.

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Out, Out, Brief Candle Mix (In Honor of Cinemarati)

1. “And When I Die” -- Blood, Sweat and Tears. The definite going-to-die song. Even if it has to lighten things up with that circle of life angle.

2. “Apocalypso” -- The Motels. On the other hand, what's the point of passing away if you can't get in a dance or two?

3. “Cabaret” -- Cabaret Soundtrack. Perhaps the ultimate song of pre-mortem defiance. And fatalism. After all, the time from cradle to tomb isn't that long a stay.

4. “Funeral for a Friend” -- Elton John. Rock'n'roll funeral music.

5. “I May Never Get to Heaven” -- Wanda Jackson. A country song that never ceases to move me. A tune for all of us mortal types who know darn well that we'll never qualify for sainthood but cannot help considering ourselves fortunate that we found some brief happiness upon this earth.

6. “If Tomorrow Never Comes” -- Garth Brooks. Another country tune that reminds us to let the objects of our affection know quite often that they are indeed the objects of our affection just in case there comes a day when we can no longer tell them anything at all.

7. “No One Lives Forever” -- Oingo Boingo. A celebration of mortality that spits in the eye of the Grim Reaper, then dares him to dance. I just love the staircase effect created by the group's keyboards.

8. “Road to Nowhere” -- Talking Heads. Another salute to rock'n'roll nihilism. Just because life seems so obviously hopeless at times doesn't necessarily mean that it is that hopeless. At least as long as we can sing.

9. “Tomorrow, Wendy” -- Concrete Blonde. One of the first -- and most powerful -- songs to deal with AIDS and yet a song that never really mentions AIDS by name. One of the best musical defiances of death I've ever heard though not necessarily a tune for the “Don't Worry, Be Happy” crowd.

10. “The Whole of the Moon” -- The Waterboys. The writer of this tune never says specifically what happened to the character to whom he is addressing the song but I can guess. The message I get from this song: Better a brief but creative life than a long and not so creative life. However I think it goes without saying that a long and creative life would probably be best.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Nobody Expects the Spanish Armada!

They are making a sequel to Elizabeth called The Golden Age, and if the trailer is any indication, it's all about the Spanish Armada and Queen Elizabeth I's response to it. I must confess I found it a bit amusing to watch the trailer and see Captain Barbossa playing an Elizabethian courtier and Clive Owen playing Sir Walter Raleigh. (What? No cameo for Miranda Richardson?)

And yet...

I have to admit it. I'm getting sick of seeing yet another movie about the British royal family. Not to mention yet more foreign propaganda.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

All the Trailers That I Have Seen

1. Becoming Jane.

Didn't Jane Austen die a spinster? Oh, rats, I gave away the ending. Well, at least no one is producing a movie called Charlie Dickens in Love.

2. Stardust.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays yet another evil woman of an uncertain age. Okay, it is based on a Neil Gaiman novel (all hail Neil Gaiman!) so it might be good. Then again, we hardly need another movie about the evils of older women.

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The Not-So-Family-Friendly Side of Pottermania

Twenty-five bucks! Fuck that shit!
--Asylum Street Spankers, “Smells like Thirty Something”

Okay, the new Harry Potter book isn't quite twenty-five bucks in most locations. (In fact, some are selling it for thirty-five bucks. Though if you buy a copy there really soon, you might be able to get it at a forty percent discount. Which isn't much cheaper than twenty-five bucks but, hey, every little bit counts.)

And yes, that Asylum Street Spankers song wasn't written about Harry Potter books.

And yet one can't help but wonder how many poor kids are going to be buying this new book anyway?

Yeah, I know. Those poor kids read too many books anyway. And are there no libraries or Goodwill stores to provide these kids with free or cheap copies long after every other rich kid in the universe has done their best to make them feel like shit for not reading the latest installment?

I don't hate the Harry Potter series. I'll be the first to admit that J. K. Rowling is one heck of a storyteller and that she has done a good job of writing something that people in my age-group -- I'm in my mid-forties -- can enjoy as much as the average grade school student.

But I'm not worried about people like me.

I'm worried about people far younger and poorer than me.

Yes, I realize access to cheap books isn't the worst problem poor kids in America are facing right now. But it does seem kinda funny to see people charging boodles of money to have rich people read about a poor kid like Harry Potter while at the same time ensuring that any real-life Harry Potter not be able to afford said book. In other words, the latest book is more likely to be read by a rich kid like Draco Malroy (one of the villains of the series) than a poor kid like Harry Potter.

Heh. Irony.

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