Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl Rant

The Other Boleyn Girl begins with a scene of two young girls (pre-teen, it looks like) running through a field playing while their father discusses having accepted a proposal of marriage for one. I was dutifully shocked (shocked, I say!) at the juxtaposition of childhood innocence with worldly scheming. It seems that once upon a time--a time not so very long ago that the women didn't have shampoo and modern dental work to grow up to look like Natalie Portman--women were subject to the rule of men and even men in their family, even, shockingly, their own fathers, used that rule not for the good of those women but in callous disregard to the feelings and desires of those women. I it possible...that living in such an unhealthy and oppressive environment would cause a woman to be inwardly and outwardly warped, to devalue herself, and to pursue sexual power as the only power available to her?

The film then moves to a scene of a woman, near death, exhausted from childbirth. Stunningly, yet more shockingly, she appears more distressed at her inability to produce a male offspring for her mate than at her own brush with death. I believe the words "I'm sorry" may have crossed her lips (though this was evidently not a Disney film, since the "it's all my fault" line required of all Disney heroines remains unspoken here). I was saddened to learn that once upon a time, in a time and land so very far away that even childbirth was dangerous, some women even internalized the expectations of a patriarchal society, treating them as right (or at least normal) and accepted with good graces the fact that their very lives were of less import than the concerns of the men who surrounded them.

From there we move to a scene where a male messenger informs the king that his child has died during the birthing process. The messenger's nervous looks and the king's icy glare lend an air of sudden, unexpected (so very, very unexpected!) menace to what one had assumed was going to be a grief filled scene. I was flabbergasted to learn that not only do some men care more about their offspring than the women that bear them but they may be so monstrous as to vent their wrath, anger, or disappointment on innocent bystanders simply because they can.

And so we veer from scene to scene, each illustrating some frightening and inconceivable truth--sisters both love one another and see one another as rivals. Sex existed before 1960s and sometimes people (even women!) spoke frankly about it with one another. Words like "other" in movie and book titles are sometimes used ironically or ambiguously in order to surprise the reader.

The Other Boleyn Girl seeks with all its might, pushes, strains, strives, positively labors, to be incomprehensible, and it succeeds, finally, but not in the way it wants. Years and years of Law & Order: SVU have beaten the message home to even the most culturally obtuse that it's tough to be a woman in a man's world, and, unfortunately, adding to that fact the observation the fact that women who lived long ago (but not so very long ago, if you know what I mean) had it even worse doesn't exactly create the ground-breaking expose that it was supposed to.

I don't know, perhaps I'm getting this all wrong. Perhaps the point is not supposed to be that some idealized historical romance setting can contain all the ugly truths of living in a world bent to power but rather to show that our progressive, egalitarian views of ourselves aren't really that much farther evolved than the dark ages we congratulate ourselves for surpassing. (Yeah, yeah, I know, the label "Dark Ages" doesn't exactly apply to this time period, but it isn't like they are all speaking Elizabethan English, so sue me.)

It's not that this is a horrid movie. Heck, it's always a pleasure to watch Scarlett with two "t"s for 110 minutes, even if she isn't running around in a white Puma jump suit or whispering in Bill Murray's ear. It's just that the last time I was expected to be this impressed at an elaborate announcement of truths already known, my cat was crying for a treat for doing good-boy peeing in his litter box.

P.S. (Later edit) I spoke too soon. Portman does, in fact, give a derivation of the "it's all my fault" line in the last third of the movie.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Early Summer Movie Doldrums?

I was conversing with a colleague the other day and we mentioned how we've been relatively disappointed with the early summer movie season. Get Smart leading the box office? I thought Iron Man was okay in a summer movie matinée sort of way, but I confess to having been really disappointed with Indiana Jones. I may be the only person in the world, too, who isn't awaiting anything Pixar with baited breath. (I thought Toy Story 2 was a masterpiece, and The Incredibles was above average, but most other Pixar stuff, including Cars, I thought more sensationally hyped than sensational.

Anyway, I thought I would take this lull in the summer movie season to mention that John Sayles's Honeydripper is now out on DVD and definitely worth a rental. I thought it one of the best films of 2007 and was sorry it didn't get a wider distribution than it did. If, like me, you are a Sayles fan, you should really enjoy it.

Cornwallis Doubles...

...where -17 gets you a 1 stroke victory. (Yes, my partner carried me for the most part, but I got one or two that he missed.) Annoying thing was that I hit the basket on our last hole, missing an ace by about 3 inches (low), or we could have had the -18 round. Good for $7.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Best Attribute as a Disc Golfer...

...may be that I'm not too heavy to carry around the course.

Yesterday at Higher Ground, my partner in random draw doubles and I shot a 40 to tie for the money. I made a putt or not sure I made any drive we ended up taking (maybe 1 or 2 on 11).

Today at Buckhorn, my friend Jay and I shot a 38 doubles. Okay, he would have shot a 41 with a blind monkey..but at least I know I'm worth at least 3 more strokes than a blind monkey!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Okay, I'll admit it...

...I'm sort of looking forward to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.

While Ugly Betty is not my cup of tea, I've thought America Ferrara was a great talent since Real Women Have Curves. Haven't seen much of Amber Tamblyn since Joan of Arcadia got canceled, and I'm always up for a Blake Lively appearance. Sure, I'd rather see Alexis Biedel in The Gilmore Girls Movie: This Time We Really are Tying Up Loose Ends, but she's fun to watch, too.

A Dubious Accomplishment is Nevertheless an Accomplishment

In preparing for the upcoming Great 8 disc golf tournament, I decided to play Chapel Hill yesterday--a course I haven't played since (well last year's Great 8). I lost my gold SE Leopard on Hole 2 (grrr) and generally had a frustrating round, so I stopped at Cornwallis in Durham on the way home, where I promptly shot a 44.

Yeah, it was from the short tees, so a -10 at Cornwallis is no great shakes, except for the fact that you do have to make the putts and all. This raises to 3 1/2 the courses I've shot -10 at (Cornwallis, Bull Run, Rutgers, and Burke Lake in the old configuration--back when the current hole four was hole 7 and the holes across the road didn't exist.)

Cindy gets on me when I play to not make assumptions about a round, to remember that you often don't know where or when a good round is coming from. Yesterday was a case in point. I was -2 after seven holes, not a great start at Cornwallis and had missed a few holes I would normally get. Yet I birdied the next five in a row and eight out of nine (before overdriving 18 to settle for a par).

Golf life lessons 101--there's nothing you can do about the hole you just played. Get the next one.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Shouldn't My Ipod Just Implode When this Happens?

So I was driving home from disc golf this evening (second time in a week I've been in the money only to get bumped by the last freaking card), when my Ipod, on shuffle play, gives me, in succession...

"Life is a Lemon (and I Want My Money Back)" by Meatloaf


"The Easter Song" by Keith Green

Man, that's just not right.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

D is for Demands

There are 62 songs in my Itunes library beginning with the letter "D." The proximity to the number 64 tempts me to make another bracket, and truth be told I think the "D" songs would kick some serious butt against the "B" songs.

One thing that's odd, though, is that while I have the same number of songs beginning with the letter "D" as the letter "B" there are fewer different words that begin with the letter "D."

There are several songs beginning with some form of the word "dance" including "Dance Me to the End of Love," "Dancing Boy," "Dancing in the Dark," "Dancing Queen," and "Dancing with Myself." [Try to avoid dancing with yourself in the dark until the end of love, though.]

There's a "Desert Pete" and a "Desert Rose."
I've been "Down So Long" that I hardly know if I'm "Down There by the Train," "Down on the Border" or "Down the Road Tonight." I do know that if I go "Down to the Waterline" I may just see the "Downeaster Alexa." I may just be in "Downtown" Akron.

Supertramp is a bunch of "Dreamers." The Nylons "Dream" but Fleetwood Mac "Dreams" but only Sting dreams the "Dream of the Blue Turtles."

The Police are "Driven to Tears" but Johnny Cash will just "Drive On."

By far, the most common form of Itunes advice, however, comes in the form of the negative imperative. A stunning 20 songs begin with the word "Don't." If I take out the two in the interrogative form ("Don't You Want Me?" by the Human League and "Don't You Think It's Time?" by J. Mascis from the Grace of My Heart soundtrack) I'm down to 18. An additional three songs are descriptive--"Don't Need a Gun" by Billy Idol, "Don't Know Much About History" by Sam Cooke, and "Don't Miss You at All" by Norah Jones. So I'm left with a still healthy fifteen prohibitions from my Ipod. Rather than rank them from best to worst, I will rank them from easiest to hardest in terms of taking the musical advice.

"Don't Burn the Bridge" (Don McLean)
"Don't Stand So Close to Me" (The Police)
"Don't Stand So Close to Me 86" (The Police)
"Don't You (Forget About Me)" (Billy Idol)

Moderately Difficult, But I think I Can Comply:
"Don't Stop" (Fleetwood Mac)
"Don't Get Me Wrong" (The Pretenders)
"Don't Slow Down" (Mister Mister)

Darn Difficult
"Don't Stop" (Rolling Stones)--Yeah, I know, it's the same title, but somehow I think the Stones are talking about something else than Fleetwood Mac.
"Don't Ask Me Why" (Billy Joel)
"Don't Fear the Reaper" (Blue Oyster Cult); I shouldn't but I do.
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" (Elton John); like that's in my control.
"Don't Pay the Ferryman" (Chris DeBurgh); have you ever tried to stiff the ferryman?
"Don't Give Up" (Peter Gabriel)
"Don't Stop Believin'" (Journey); holding onto that feeling can be hard sometimes.
"Don't Worry About the Government" (The Talking Heads); hard not to when it has us on the road to nowhere. Maybe they heard Leonard Cohen tell them that "Democracy" is coming to the USA.

Demanding bunch these rockers. I must fight to the end, never give up, never slow down, never forget Billy Idol, never misunderstand Chrissie Hynde, and never stand too close to Stewart Copeland. If you can do all that "Day After Day" perhaps at the end of the day you can "Dim All the Lights" take your "Dirty Knife" go see if "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" or just "Drift Away" before all the effort makes you "Driven to Tears."

I would like to respectfully and non-ironically dedicate this blog entry to "Daniel" my brother, who is older than me but who is not, to my knowledge, traveling tonight on a plane.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Superbad and Guns

For several reasons, including the fact that gun violence touched my family while I was very young, I've always had a strong aversion to guns. The statistics related to handgun fatalities in various nations with or without handgun restrictions appeared to me to be pretty compelling. I was, in some paradoxical way, glad to have a choice in the matter, but my attitude towards gun ownership was summed up by the scene in Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning where Gene Hackman's character says, "A gun don't mean jack unless you are willing to use it." My single greatest moment of reservation about moving to North Carolina came during my first visit to the public library, which had a picture of a gun on the front door inside a crossed out circle. Ummm, okay. So I now live in a state where people have to be told it's a bad idea to take a concealed weapon to storytelling hour?

Over the course of the last few years, I've had a bit more interaction with what I'll call the "gun culture." I've come to realize that there are certain circumstances (hypothetically) where I think I would use a gun. I was also curious. I wondered what it would be like to fire a gun. Would the experience be so traumatic or distasteful that it would reassert the antipathy I've always felt? Plus--and this was the more germane point--I knew if I ever were called on to use a gun, I wasn't exactly sure if I would know how to load it, to look for if there was a safety, how to aim, what to do. I decided it might be a good idea to get someone I know who was more familiar with guns to show me how to use one.

My friend graciously took me out to shoot twice. Once to a sporting range to fire shotguns at clay targets and once to an indoor range to fire a handgun. I don't feel the need to repeat everything I've said about those two experiences. Another mutual friend has written about it here, and his thoughts, especially as they relate to the cognitive dissonance of firing handguns as opposed to shotguns, resembles many of my own. As with any new experience, the first time was the most disorienting, my hands were shaking holding the shotgun, but as of yet, subsequent practice has only lessened the surreal quality of the experience; it hasn't desensitized me to it entirely. I doubt it ever will, or should. Nor has my aversion completely subsided. When my friend showed me a new handgun he bought, handed it to me, even with it not being loaded, the weight of it in my hand gave me a feeling of intense anxiety, a knot in my stomach that came from me trying to wrap my head around the fact that this object in my hand had the potential quickly, easily, perhaps even carelessly, to end a human life. That some action as seemingly minute as flexing my index finger could have consequences so devastating and powerful is still hard for me to deal with. The experience of holding a gun has never yet given me a "rush." The feelings I get are somewhat closer to nausea.

Why do I bring this up right now? Because, also like so many experiences, the experience of firing a gun and educating myself about guns, has had unforeseen ripples and consequences. I suppose one stereotype that I was unconsciously struggling with is the assumption that greater experience with guns and their handling would tend to make one more cavalier about them and hence more likely to abuse them or make a mistake in handling them. There are examples of the former in places with strong gun cultures. I was in a neighborhood pawn shop the other day and the sales guy was bragging about his shotgun that "you could throw whatever junk you want into it and it will spit it out." The idea of loading a shotgun with non-standard ammunition to "see what happens" struck me as about as wise as drinking a mystery liquid to see if the taste helps you identify it. But I digress...

I was watching Superbad the other day. It is a Judd Apatow produced comedy that is sort of a cross between Porky's and Martin Scorsese's After Hours. Three high-school student try to secure alcohol so that they will be invited to a party and perhaps earn the attention and appreciation of some girls. One uses a false ID which lands him in a liquor store as it is being robbed, and a major subplot of the movie consists of his interactions with two moronic police officers who drag him around town on various detours before dropping him off at his party. At one point, the officers are called on to answer a disturbance at a local bar. When the suspect tries to run away, the teen boy gets entangled with him and stops him. As the two officers come running up, they praise their acquaintance for stopping the fleeing suspect, and in what is meant to be a hilarious bit of comedy that shows their ineptness, one uses his gun to point at the boy. He is waving his gun around and using it as a finger to point at things.

This scene, oddly, nearly made me ill. Yeah, I know, it's a comedy and we are supposed to understand that these guys are boobs, precisely because anyone, even someone with no experience with guns, knows not to behave as they do. It's not that I felt like someone was going to watch this scene and say, "Oh, I guess it's okay to point a loaded gun at someone" any more than I think someone would watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall and say, "I always thought herpes was transmittable even if the person who had it was not having a flare up, but the guy in the movie said differently, so, what the heck..." It's not, in short, that I think that people doing things in movies that are highly dangerous acts in real life will necessarily promote the same behavior in real life, it's just that....well...I'm not exactly sure what is supposed to be funny about it. Later the two officers, both intoxicated, have a shooting contest using a stop sign on a public road as a target. Hilarious, huh?

I've met one or two gun owners and users that I find pretty scary, perhaps even bordering on fanatical. Most of the people that I've met in my more recent dabblings in a foreign (to me) culture, though, if they've been fanatical about anything, it has been about gun safety. "Never point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot." "If you want to go out with us or shoot with us, you must observe and abide by the safety rules at all time." "Gun jokes are a bit like bomb jokes at the airport...they aren't funny."

I guess one point that I'm trying to make is one that has surprised even me. Greater exposure to some people who have experience with guns hasn't made me more cavalier about guns...if anything, it's made me more cognizant of the disconnect between how gun use is portrayed in the media and how often that portrayal isn't always an accurate one and certainly isn't a comprehensive one. Say what you will about people who fire guns for sport--most of them (that I've met) have enough respect for the destructive capabilities of a gun to understand that a pair of drunken cinematic cops waving a loaded gun in someone's face and shooting up traffic signs is not gut-wrenchingly hilarious.

Most gun owners and users that I've met might look at Superbad and argue that they are not the (only) ones that need to be lectured on how dangerous guns are, that they are not (necessarily) the ones that need to be reminded that an idiot with a gun endangers not just himself but others. They might argue that they are certainly not the ones that need to be reminded that the destructive capacity of guns is very real.

And hey, if the popularity of Superbad is any indication, they might actually have a point.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Predator Scale

Those who have known me for awhile know that I use a complex system known as Deuce Factor to rate movie trailers (aka "previews").

More recently, I watched two films in a row (National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) in which, at some point or another, I found myself scouring the edge of the screens hoping to find a glimpse of an alien, a predator, or an alien fighting a predator. This is usually not a good sign. The film Predator 2 had a neat little aside in which there was an Alien skeleton on the Predator ship, and while that was a nice little bit of prop usage to imply more of a back story than the film itself cared to provide in its main narrative, my overall feeling is that if the audience is scouring the edges for those sorts of things, that's usually an indication that the film itself isn't working, and the director knows he/she has to fill the screen with easter eggs to make the audience happy.

So I've decided to introduce a cousin to "Deuce Factor"--the Predator Scale. The Predator Scale scores movies rather than trailers. A film's Predator Scale score is determined by your answer to a simple question. Would the film be better, worse, or no different, if a Predator made a cameo appearance at any point during the screening? A film that would be improved by the appearance of a Predator scores +1 on the Predator scale. (Examples would be the two mentioned above, as well as Jurassic Park III, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Into the Wild, and There Will Be Blood.) A film that would be made worse by the appearance of a Predator scores a -1 on the Predator scale. (Hint--It's like golf, lower is better.) Examples might be Lars and the Real Girl, Honeydripper, or High Fidelity. A Predator Push indicates the film would be no better nor worse for the appearance of a Predator--Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (heck, I haven't scoured the crowd shots, there may have been one for all I know), The Jane Austen Book Club, or Iron Man.

I think--though I haven't really worked this out yet--that the most common types of films to earn a +1 would be ones that are lacking in entertainment value or (here's where Indy fits in) need some sort of signal to the audience that the film is not taking itself too seriously and neither should we.

A push may even be a worse score as it could indicate (among other things) a film that is already so far gone that the appearance of a Predator wouldn't make it any more ridiculous or so pretentious that a Predator appearance would seem just cynical as opposed to self-effacing or fun.