Saturday, January 29, 2005

And you need a fire to sit beside while the winter winter weaves on its cloak

We're getting movie snow right now.

Directors try to describe this snow and fail. Writers know that something happens in snow like this... people meet, or leave, or plot, or struggle, or endure. Cinematographers wake from dreams with these perfect, widely spaced, just the right size flakes drifting immaculately slowly in their mind's eye and know they must find the movie they fit in. Set directors and designers bow their heads into their hands, knowing exactly what they mean and trying to figure out how to fabricate it... how many soap flakes, what kind of drum, how many holes, how fast to rotate it. Someday thousands of people will talk to each other about that heart-wrenching winter scene and never know how many artistic hearts burned to create it.

Perhaps some Microsoft engineer was lucky enough to be making a snow angel on a night with this snow. He looked up and the Starfield Simulation screensaver wouldn't leave him until it worked. (OK, probably not. Probably he was a Star Wars geek. But perhaps.)

Every now and then, God (or Nature or the Big Giant Head, if you prefer) just knocks one of these out on a lark, sharing it with those lucky enough to look out the window and stop for a moment.

And now the flakes are larger, and falling faster, and there are more of them, and they make the sky more pale, less grey, and they obscure the woods. It's lovely and all. For just a moment, though, it was living on the other side of the screen.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Through light projected he can see himself up close

The Life Aquatic
Bill Murray has a gift for deadpan humor which you might not have guessed from his SNL days. As in Rushmore, Wes Anderson creates an incredibly nuanced world, described well by Herself as “365 degrees off from ours” – almost the same, but spun around once and just a wee bit off. I never thought I’d seriously consider buying an album of Portugese acoustic David Bowie covers, until they fit so perfectly in this movie. It was a lot of fun. However, what I find is that I like my humor really broad and this is really subtle humor. It’s the very situations themselves which are comic, less than the witty writing or zany physical comedy. It’s really very good… it’s just not Caddyshack.

Jennifer Garner in a red halter top kicking ass. Goran Visnjic being tall, dark, handsome and vulnerable. What’s not to like? Well, a slow script for one. Also bad guys named “Tattoo”, “Typhoid”, “Stone”, and “Kinko”; I thought they’d have their names on their t-shirts and Adam West and Burt Ward would show up to save the day and do the Batusi.

Also, the elevation of a secondary character to a primary role is not to like. In the Marvel universe, Elektra is supposed to be trapped in the margins; never fully redeemable, never fully finished. So to give her the closure that a 2-hour Hollywood movie demands rubs deeply against the grain. Maybe the movie should be taken on its own, but if (like myself) you can’t do that, expect this to bug you.

House of Flying Daggers
Don’t let the martial arts fool you. This is a chick flick. Sure, it’s a violent one (plenty violent), but the plot is really about love. The secretive House of Flying Daggers is a rebel group fighting the corruption of the Tang Dynasty. The Powers That Be have the local police try to infiltrate the group, and of course people fall in love who shouldn’t. There’s flipping, flying, and throwing things, double- and triple-crosses, and some really strong acting, both technically and in character work.

If you’ve had the thought at all that you want to see Elektra, go see House of Flying Daggers instead.

(Side note: does anyone else prefer to see subtitled movies on VHS/DVD instead of a big screen? I feel like I can watch the movie and read the subtitles better on a little screen; on a big one, I have to keep shifting my visual attention.)

Saw this one on pay-per-view. Hysterically funny and well worth seeing. The teen parts are written and acted as well as any I’ve seen. (You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized that Mandy Moore can actually act – or that Macauley Culkin can, for that matter.)

As I’ve made clear, I’m by no means an Evangelical, but these people did ring true as having things in common with the kinds of folks I met in Catholic high school and college. Almost all the characters are earnestly searching for God in their own ways, and I don’t think that’s treated lightly. As in the Good Book and the bad world, though, the God you search for isn’t always the one who finds you.

Or maybe I’m overthinking this and you should see it because Mandy Moore drives her van into a 50-foot high plywood Jesus at the end.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

That would be roaringly funny

OK, that's enough serious stuff for a little while. Here, instead, a lit of things which should make you laugh. (By which I mean they made me laugh.)

I'm getting unfortunately addicted to The Corsair's celebrity gossip site. I don't have a ton of patience for this sort of thing, but wit and snarkiness will take me a long way. And so, for my highly edumacated readers, I offer this book review of The Godfather Of Soul's autobiography.

Swankette seems to be moving into Jack Handy or Jerry Seinfeld territory as she listens to the radio.

But it's Basket Full of Puppies take on proper party attire which takes the "laugh-out-loud funniest post I've seen on a blog in a good long while" award.

By the way, if you haven't checked out the new link to Girls Are Pretty, you should. Because I know who's reading this blog, and I know most of you are sick like that.

And finally, a contest: find Joe in StrongBad Email: The Virus

Monday, January 17, 2005

Won't you help me sing?

Morning Edition did a really beautiful piece this morning having members of the Boys' and Girls' Choirs of Harlem read selections from Dr. King's I Have A Dream speech. You should listen to it. You should think about it.

We've come a long way. There's a long way yet to go. And, not to belabor the point, maybe what you should be doing on Inauguration Day is contacting a civil rights group and seeing how you can help.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Don't like your prayer; it's worse than a vice

I have received 3 copies of this foolish Not One Damn Dime Day email today. I have received all 3 of them from people I know to be immensely intelligent and genuinely dedicated to improving our country and our world. And so it is with great respect that I say:

Hey Liberals! Wanna know why the red states think you’re a bunch of whiners?

Because you’re whining.

I didn’t want Bush 4 years ago, and I don’t want him now. I wanted Kerry to hold out until at least the absentee and provisional votes were counted. I fully intend to keep fighting for what I believe are traditional American values… you remember them, the ones in the Constitution?

But entirely too much of the last 3 months has looked like dog in the manger pissing and moaning. We’re past the allowable period of licking our wounds, and back into Sore Loserman territory.

At least the complaining about the election and the lines and the machines at least has some long-term purpose in reforming our election processes. But this “One Damn Dime”… honestly, it’s as bad as the Nigerian bank scam. Some idiot is going to take our concerns and burn them, and we’re going to smile while they do it.

Let’s go point by point, shall we?

First of all, a one-day boycott is just idiotic. Shifting your buying habits off by 24 hours won’t make one bit of difference economically. So WalMart has one bad Tuesday. They have a bigger Monday and Wednesday to make up for it. Economically, this is just a failure. This will not “shut down the retail economy” in any way, shape, or form.

“But it’s not about economics! It’s a symbol, just like an inauguration is a symbol!”

Fine. Call a general strike. Now that’s a symbol. Hold a protest march. Write to your legislators and executives and the President himself with your rightful free speech about what’s wrong about this administration.

But what symbol does “One Damn Dime Day” give us?

There's no rally to attend. No marching to do. No left or right wing agenda to rant about. On "Not One Damn Dime Day" you take action by doing nothing.

That’s lovely faux-zen. Did they show you how to do it on Trading Spaces or While You Were Out? Wanna hear the sound of one hand clapping?

For the love of Pete Seeger, people! Iraq is a quagmire, the economy’s a mess, the Constitution is under attack from the guys who take an oath to uphold it, and some pinhead with an email account has actually got the opposition thinking it’s time to DO NOTHING?

What, exactly, is CNN going to point its cameras at while a couple of liberals don’t go to the mall? What, precisely, will the Times write when Starbucks sells a few less soy lattes? How do you get a soundbite out of people who think not doing something is doing something?

You want to show our leaders that the war has to end? Sacrifice something. Take that money that you would spend on an average Tuesday and send it to the people whose world just got wiped out in the tsunami. Send it to an aid agency working in Iraq. If you’re serious about the politics, send it to the ACLU or People for the American Way or the CBLDF or ALA or Amnesty or SDS or whoever reflects your views. (Or even the DNC.) Spend Inauguration Day fighting the good fight.

Let’s not sit on our asses and pretend we’re doing something!

And if you do, don’t you dare look smug about it.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

One song that would steal our hearts before they turn into silver and gold

Sad news from home: WHFS has changed formats.

I started listening to HFS in the summer of 1991, when it was the station which came through best while I was shelving books for a summer job. I was still pretty much a "classic rock" guy at the time, so waking up to this icon of alternative music was quite an experience. (Remember "alternative" music? Back when it was alternative to something?) I can still remember them playing every song from Achtung Baby on the day it was released.

(And if late U2 doesn't really strike you as "alternative", just think about a radio station which wasn't limited to the big singles for a second.)

Time passes, of course; people who were paying attention in the '70s and '80s would say the golden years were already behind them. Over the '90s, it gradually became harder to tell "alternative" HFS from "hard rock" DC-101, and then some of the older alternatives bled into the "classic" stations. The DJs with musical genius and voices for print were gradually turfed out, and DC radio sounded even more corporate.

There's a lot to say for Spanish-language radio. I've got nothing against salsa, merengue, or bachata (not that I could tell them apart, or even know what that last one is). Maybe, to some 20-year old kid who gets to hear music he hasn't heard on DC's dial before, this is every bit as exciting.

(Side note: can anyone positively identify either "tearing down the Strand" or "the radio keeps playing the same damn song again" as a song lyric? I swear I've heard them both, but I can't match them to an artist/song combo.) Oh, and The Lyrics Meme will be coming soon to a blog near you, so study up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

If there was one I could receive in

There aren’t enough Catholics in Gambier to provide for a weekly Mass when the College isn’t in session. I know that there’s a perfectly good Catholic church over in the next town, and that my duty is probably to get there, but frankly, I don’t. Some sort of Sunday observance has got to be better than none, though, and I’ve heard that Episcopalian God is pretty close to Catholic God. So I headed up to Harcourt Parish to see what they had to say.

I was really struck by the beauty of this community. Maybe it’s a small-town thing, maybe it’s this small town’s thing, but this seems to be a really special place.

Take the music. Now, in Catholic practice, we sing the melody just as it appears in the Marty Haugen Songbook. 3 verses, 2 if the priest walks fast or, you know, Notre Dame’s on TV. Not only do Episcopalians sing every last word of each hymn, apparently in these parts they also sing harmony! (In fairness, the choir wasn’t formally singing Sunday; maybe they were planted in the congregation.)

(Sidebar: my singing voice appears to have started seizing up in church. Noticed it at Christmas and again Sunday. It seems to be normal in the house, streets, car, and shower, which should rule out physical causes. This leaves psychosomatic or supernatural issues. I’m not thrilled with either.)

Take also that at least 3 people walked up before the service to greet me, including the Assistant Rector / College Chaplain. (Who, genially, asked me if I wanted a quick rundown on how they do things. I hope he wasn’t offended when I said I thought it was “similar to Catholic” and that I could follow along.)

The whole congregation gets up and moves around during the sign of peace. This has always struck me as kind of fake in the past, but it seemed honest here. Undoubtedly a small-town thing, and quite possibly an effect of Christmastime travel, but it was refreshing.

Now, transubstantiation is still a dealbreaker for this Papist. Even though Episcopalians are happy to extend Eucharist to all baptized people, I don’t feel that I can accept. I did, however, go up to the altar to receive a blessing. It’s been a long time since someone put his hand on my head and said a prayer for me, that I be guided to see and do the right. It was deeply moving. Spiritually intimate. Worth stealing from your brother.

As Moe Szyslak says, “I was born a snake handler, and I’ll die a snake handler.” There’s a deep level on which I’m Catholic and that’s what I’ll stay. But it does seem that there’s something special, holy, happening in Harcourt Parish, and if it means I get into church when the other Catholics aren’t in town, I don’t suppose the Lord will mind too much seeing me there.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Happy Twelfth Night to one and all. Enjoy the end of the Christmas season, with all its crossdressing, pining for secret loves, and Puritan taunting.

One last image from the holidays for you: a few days after Christmas found me crouched over my dad's old Gateway computer, unscrewing pretty much the whole chassis so I could remove the hard drive and transfer his digital photos to his new computer. (This appears to be something Gateway did not want its customers doing 5 years ago.) This turned out to be less easy than I'd expected, although I still think it was easier than getting the old Windows 98 system up and running and recognizing a new USB memory key.

It doesn't seem all that long ago that it was Dad scratching his head and saying "boy, this Caveman Mountain Playset sure has a lot of pieces" while I chanted "Can I play with it now? How about now?" To every thing there is a season.

Neil Gaiman has written one of the most eloquent expressions of good will for the new year that I've seen in a long time, so I'll pass it along to all of you:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't to forget make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Razzle-Dazzle Them

I know I'm behind, but I can't fail to mention the passing of Jerry Orbach.

The subtle craft he used to bring Lenny Briscoe to life over years of hints in Law and Order was genius. "Try to Remember" may be the first Broadway song I learned on my own. I've developed a serious need to hear the original Broadway cast recording of Chicago just to hear how he stacks up to Richard Gere or Robert Urich.

But mostly, he was kind enough to show up in a dream I once had. Singing as part of a four-part harmony group in my bathroom. It's the only part of the dream I remember, and I have no idea what it means. So there's a karmic bond thing.

Blue moon
you saw me standing alone
without a dream in my heart
without a love of my own.