Friday, January 30, 2009

DVD: City of God

This week I finally got around to watching City of God. It had been sitting in its Netflix sleeve for weeks. I had trouble finding a free evening, or at least a free evening in which I was in the mood for something serious.

Two thumbs up--it was really excellent. I liked the way the movie was sectioned off by titles. Really, the entire visual effect of the movie was striking, and those beach and discoteque scenes made me want to move to Brazil with a stock of tank tops and a pair of roller skates. Also of note, Alica Braga, who played Angélica, was also in I Am Legend as well as Blindness, I believe, another Fernando Meirelles film.

Of course, this was not necessarily an entirely happy movie. Drug wars are not a pleasant subject matter; neither is poverty. And while Meirelles is generally applauded for dealing with tough material--in this film and others--other people reacted to City of God the way they're decrying Slumdog Millionaire as "poverty porn."

So. Are Slumdog and City guilty of portraying poverty with a sense of voyeuristic pleasure? Do they treat brutality in a way that illuminates the condition of the world, or are they just capitalizing? I guess it comes down to: Are these films helpful?

Truthfully, I'm not so sure these movies make an enormous difference in the lives of the kind of people they portray. I think people walk out of a movie like The Kite Runner feeling a little more aware and maybe more compassionate, but not necessarily inclined to do much about it. So in terms of raw practicality, that's points off right there.

But I still think we need movies that deal with darker subjects. I need not to go through life unaware of other people's experiences. I need a break in the insulation of my existence. And I think a lot of people need that too.

There's something else at play here. I happen to like movies with tough subject matter. But I'm as guilty as anyone about being all awareness, and all talk, without a lot of action. If half the people who saw Slumdog Millionaire went home and donated the same amount they spent on admission to organizations that fight poverty worldwide . . . well, that would be good.

So if filmmakers like Fernando Meirelles are going to confront us with poverty in Rio de Janeiro, maybe we shouldn't just watch, but also listen, and also act.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Missing Out

On Sundays at 10:00, something wonderful is happening, something in which I am unable to partake. That's when Flight of the Conchords airs on HBO. I don't regret not getting cable; but I sometimes chafe under my restricted access to the Conchords.

According to HBO's episode guide, this is what happens in the latest installment: "Bret becomes a prostitute to pay off his reckless cup purchase." What does that mean? I don't know.

I've heard that this season is sub-awesome, especially compared to the first. And that seems possible. But I, like Mel, am a devoted fan. They can do no wrong, those Conchords. And thus I will wait patiently for the DVD.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Say It Ain't So

A Facebook status I haven't used yet: "Jessica thinks Weezer might be the greatest band of all time." The blue album represents my freshman year in high school more or less completely. And as time has gone on, I've become more and more convinced that Rivers Cuomo is the coolest person ever.

When it comes to obscurity of lyrics, though, they're right up there with Beck. The words to several Weezer songs are unintelligible to me. So not too long ago, I decided to look up the words to "Say It Ain't So," a favorite of mine. And now I like it even better.

Apparently, the word I thought was "hiney" is actually "Heine," like the Dutch beer. "Wrestle with Julie" is actually "wrestle with Jimmy." And "your job is a heartbreaker" is really "your drug is a heartbreaker." All together, this song is apparently about Rivers stumbling on a beer in his fridge in high school and remembering how his parents split up possibly due to his dad's alcoholism.

Great song + Dad issues = awesome. Here's the vid. Check the uber-strong 90s vibe--hackeysack even makes an appearance.

And here's a Weezer bio I didn't know existed. Might have to check that out.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Far as the Curse is Found

The book on my desk right now (there’s always at least one—sometimes eight) is called The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. It takes place in 1800ish on a Jamaican sugar plantation. So there’s slavery. And with the slavery, sundry other terrible things.

I guess I just don’t understand how human beings are able to brutalize each other so badly. How could you brand someone? How could you sodomize someone with a white-hot metal object? No one I know is capable of whipping a neighbor’s flesh until their arm gets too tired to continue. And that’s to say nothing of the verbal, nonphysical repression required in order to keep a class of people underfoot.

The thing about living several generations removed from slavery is that from here, it makes no sense whatsoever. Societal acceptance of slavery seems impossibly wrongheaded. I guess it’s the same story with anti-Semitism. (Yeah, sure, the Jews caused the plague. What the heck was wrong with you, 1350? Oh, that’s right, you didn’t know about germs. And you were sort of generally nutso.) It’s all very unsettling, because I don’t think I believe that human society is getting increasingly awesome with each generation. If we sucked before, there’s no reason to think we don’t suck now or won’t suck again.

According to pretty much everyone, raising sugar cane is ridiculously hard work, really back-breaking labor. So I suppose the best way to make a lot of money doing it is to have some people do all the work for you, people you don’t have to pay, just feed (sort of). And I don’t suppose it’s easy to get those people to do that unless you use some kind of force—that and systematically, psychologically break them down. And I guess that’s where the terror comes in.

So maybe it all started with something as simple and timeless as greed.

And if that’s true, maybe there’s more injustice here in this civilized, enlightened society than I realize—and maybe there’s injustice in my own life. Because I’m just as capable as anyone of greed and pride and other deadly sins. And maybe all of us are vulnerable to tacitly accepting injustice—who harvests our sugar cane, anyway? And sews our shoes, and picks our strawberries?

Sorry to open the can of consumer-ethics worms—I know it can be difficult to untangle. But I’m looking at the cover of this book and skimming its pages, and I’m thinking, Let’s not do this again, OK? Let’s just please not do this again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Caught Me

I'm watching the American Idol auditions.

I'm sorry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lyrics of the Day (I warn you: this might become a recurring post)

Today I had one of those days that are sewn together by snatches of earworm song lyrics. The day sounded something like this:
  • "And the truth be told, I miss you / And the truth be told, I'm lying" ("Gives You Hell" by AAR--the new one, Jon!)
  • "Well, that is that, and this is this / You tell me what you want, and I'll tell you what you get / You get away from me / You get away from me" (Modest Mouse--can't remember the song title right off. It's the one with the big scary bird in the video. Right? Or am I thinking of "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab?)
  • "He just drove off--sometimes life's okay" ("Float On," also by Modest Mouse, but the version in my head was Ben Lee. He's sweet.)
  • "Love, love, love" ("All You Need Is Love" by Los Beatles)
And that's about where it ended. Darn those Rejects for writing one of the most effective earworm songs ever--I practically woke up with it in my head, and it didn't move on until well into the afternoon.

I can't help but notice that these songs kind of flow into each other. The chorus of "Gives You Hell" has, well, "hell," in it, which probably led me to the Modest Mouse song: "For your sake I hope heaven and hell / are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath." And that led to the next MM song, though my brain picked the Ben Lee version for some reason. The only breakdown is the Beatles track. And I think that one landed in my head because that line is in a book I'm working on.

This one time? I was in a Sunday school class about forgiveness? And as the class disbanded, the guy next to me started singing "Father of Mine" by Everclear. "I don't know why that's in my head," he said hastily. But you could tell it was kind of Freudian. I think sometimes those earworms have less to do with a song's catchiness and more to do with what's going on in our psyches.

Anyway, feel free to post the lyrics of your day in da comments.

Until tomorrow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gran Torino, anyone?

I realized today that I haven't seen many Clint Eastwood movies. I saw Mystic River. And then there was . . . and . . . see, I think that might be the only one I've seen. That may be why I'm sort of ambivalent about Gran Torino. I'm sure it's good, probably with a healthy dose of Mystic River grit. But I'm not in any sort of committed filmmaker-filmgoer relationship with Eastwood. I don't know that I'm in love with his ethic. So I won't buy Gran Torino based on his name alone.

Here's a review. Let me know if anyone wants to go see it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Follow the Pineapple

I’m sure Seth Rogen fans everywhere have already noted that Pineapple Express came out on DVD this week. I’m pretty sure this was the funniest movie of 2008. And what does it mean about me that I found James Franco way more hotter as the affable stoner than as wealthy pretty-boy Harry Osborne?

At this point, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow have made so many movies together I can’t keep them straight. But maybe their most distinct movie is the one they did before Pineapple, Superbad.

I had sort of a conflicted response to Superbad. On the one hand, I do enjoy an underdog story, and Michael Cera is one of the most endearing and comically gifted actors I can think of. On the other hand, I had sort of an ick reaction to Jonah Hill’s Seth.

It’s a moral problem, really. And I’m not talking about the usual content parents find objectionable. No, there are two specific aspects of the movie that rubbed me the wrong way:

1) Seth’s scheme to use McLovin (can’t think of his real name at the moment) solely to buy alcohol to bring to the party, coupled with his unabashed ditching of McLovin the second he’s no longer useful. That’s not really okay.

2) Seth’s scheme to get Jules drunk so that maybe she’ll have sex with him. Am I taking crazy pills, or is putting someone in an altered state specifically to take advantage of his or her lowered inhibitions not really okay either?

All told, Seth isn’t such a great guy. But he finally gets to go to the party of his dreams, and ultimately he also gets the girl. The message: you can be some level of a douche and use people as expendable tools in your shallow, selfish plans, yet still get everything you want. What an annoying universe.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe Seth isn’t such a bad dude—just an undeveloped dude. And I’m sure Seth Rogen didn’t intend to make any particular statement with this film. He and Evan Goldberg probably just said to themselves, “Hmm, what cool stuff can we have happen to Seth and Evan?"

But see, that almost makes it worse. Because it’s sort of hinting that being a total jerk is the most natural thing possible—which I guess is sort of true. All of us pay a ridiculous amount of attention to our own lives, and all of us want a life story that’s sparkly and fun, with a hip indie soundtrack. The thing is, none of us deserve that more than everyone else. We might deserve to go to the party, but we don’t deserve to sell out McLovin to get ourselves there.

There is one tiny redemptive thing about this movie. Seth doesn’t get the girl by scheming or intoxicating her; he gets her by being honest. Even a little vulnerable.

We all have something going on; we’re all trying to write a cool life story for ourselves (or live in a cool life story written by someone else—it seems like a lot of people try to replicate books or movies or sitcoms in their own lives). I’ll try to think that by the end of Superbad, Seth had dropped his scheming and learned to interact with his fellow humans. Maybe he went on to learn how to pay attention to the experiences of others, to listen to their life stories. Because just as much as we want people to follow the movie of our lives, everyone around us wants the same thing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bride Wars (which might as well be titled "Bridezillas")

Today I found a video offering reviews of three movies in digest form. Here's why this is worth watching: because in one clip of Bride Wars, it points out that you can actually see a cameraman in a mirrored door. It's not too often you see a gaffe in the trailer of a movie.

I have to confess, part of me wants to see this movie. I'm curious about this spectacle of awfulness. I'll resist, though, partly because I feel uncomfortable watching anyone's star dim, and Kate Hudson is just not as on top of the world as she was when How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days came out. She hasn't really transcended. Hasn't made the jump Reese Witherspoon made from Legally Blonde to Walk the Line. There will be no Oscars for Bride Wars. Or The Skeleton Key.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

There be new U2 album. Who's lining up to buy it? Probably not me. I mean, hey, I like U2, and I totally respect the Bono. If the album's good, I'll get it. But I'm not sure anything can follow Joshua Tree.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Presently I'm watching Run, Fat Boy, Run, the latest in my Netflix queue. Questions abound. Is Simon Pegg the most British-looking person in the hemisphere? Where's Nick Frost? And did David Schwimmer really direct this? That David Schwimmer?

About 27 minutes back, I was pleasantly surprised by an appearance from David Williams, of Little Britain fame. He pesters Libby at the counter of her bakery, asking for gingerbread rabbits. "Do you have anything shaped like an animal?" Then "I'll settle for something shaped like a fish." And when Dennis snaps, "Then why don't you go to the fishmonger?" David Williams says, "Because I'm a vegeTARian."


And now Dennis is running through the park, looking for his son. I really like this movie.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On My Shelf: Da Shack

One of my church friends gave me a copy of The Shack for Christmas. I hadn't really planned on reading this. Umpteen people have told me how great it is, but--and this is sort of an immature thing about me--I don't like to do things that everybody else is doing. I especially don't like to read things everybody else is reading. That's why it took me a couple years to read Blue Like Jazz, which I really liked. Maybe I'll like The Shack just as much.

Something interesting about this book is that it's currently the sole title of its publisher. That is, Windblown Media was created to launch this book. The reason: the publishers didn't think a secular publishing house would be able to market the book effectively, and they didn't think a Christian house would know what to do with it either.

This makes sense to me. The mainstream houses probably aren't as in touch with the Christian book-buying bases, which are established and distinct. Christian houses, on the other hand, have to maintain a certain kind of authoritativeness, and they can only push the envelope so far. So a book that speaks directly to Christians but wants to explore beyond the Christian establishment, yeah, probably falls through the cracks.

So Windblown published it a la carte, so to speak, and it's sold a bajillion copies. And I say, good for them.

Here's to interrupting the status quo. Because sometimes, to quote Dr. Horrible, the status is not quo.