Monday, January 31, 2011

emo entertainment thoughts

I was wondering if I watched Lost In Translation again, whether I would like it. I remember feeling profoundly moved by it (that and squid and the whale were high water marks of emotional resonance for those years whcih tells you everything you need to know about what a self-involved twit I am). I watched it in Canada pretty late at night and alone. I empathized with the female lead. I think it had something to do with it being 2006 and everyone I knew making obscene piles of money, and I felt adrift and like maybe I had made a virtuous choice and maybe I was just a moron. and I was very lonely. Either way, I still think to myself "Evelyn Waugh was a man" after someone says something pretentious and factually incorrect.

Never watch glen garry glenross the day before buying a car. holy cow. I contend it is a modern update of death of a salesman. Springydog contends I am a simplistic idiot and just because they both feature salesman doesn't mean very much. but I think they are both about the sadness of sales, and aging, and job insecurity for men. But I don't remember death of a salesman that well. also, it is very hard to take alec baldwin's "ABC, AIDA, brass balls" speech seriously in glen garry after the irony of 30 rock.

I went on a little run of movies I didn't care enough about to finish. Pineapple Express and Manhattan (which seems a lot like annie hall, but I don't remember annie hall very well).

Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops

Nathan Rabin, the Head Writer at the AV Club, is, one of the more influential movie critics around. Rabin, and his AV Club colleagues Scott Tobias and Keith Phipps, are noted for the attention they devote to cult classics, so-bad-they're-good movies, camp, and other movies loved by film buffs (and former video store clerks, like themselves), but often ignored by critics at the major newspapers.

My Year of Flops collects two years' worth of columns about the most famous flops in movie history. Most surprising to me was how many of these movies sound as if they had the potential to be great successes, but were ruined by a bad decision or five by the director or studio head, reminding us that Spinal Tap's maxim that "there's a fine line between clever and stupid" applies to much more than just 1980's heavy metal. Rabin classifies every film as a fiasco, failure, or secret success, but he finds something of interest in each of the movies, even if its only a morbid fascination at how somebody could have ever thought that some of these movies were a good idea.

I really enjoyed this book, and, if you like movies, you'll enjoy it, too. I've read Rabin's My Year of Flops column since it debuted in the AV Club, and, to be honest, it works better as a regular column than as a book, because the essays have little in common with one another other than a common classification system. Its still a very good book, its just one that lends itself more to reading an essay or two at a time, on the subway or on your lunch break than it is a book to curl up with on the couch or hunker down with at a coffee shop. But definitely worth checking out if you love movies.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Oh, Hockey Fights

An NHL auditorium has taken to playing the music from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out during fights. Great idea, or greatest idea?

Philisophy And Fiction

The New York Times asks: can a novel be philosophical? I would answer that question in the affirmative, but apparently several writers disagree with me, even some who have written philosophical novels.

On a related note, CSD has had the highly-praised All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find meaning In A Secular Age, by Hubert Dreyfuss (that's actually his name) and Sean Dorrance Kelly on hold at the library for weeks. Might that shed some light on the subject?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

She & Him's new video for "Don't Look Back"

Last week, She & Him released a new music video for "Don't Look Back," off of their album Volume II:

This is a "mini-film"-style music video, in keeping with the contemporary indie-rock trend It captures the She & Him vibe very well, its clever and funny and whimsical and just ironic enough to diffuse its sentimentality. I just don't see how it adds anything to the song that wasn't there initially. Their live performances are so musical and charming, I would have been interested to see them just use live footage to sell their records - its what worked for me. Compare the video above to this live performance from Craig Ferguson's show:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend Links

Championship weekend, The New Yorker asks whether football has a future.

The AV Club interviews CSD favorites Kristin Schall and Carrie Brownstein.

In New York Magazine, an interesting article about how shoes are ruining out feet.

Patton Oswalt appeared on the BS Report, the podcast of ESPN writer Bill Simmons, to discuss his new book, classic movies, and how being a nerd in 2010 is different from being a nerd when he was a teenager.

After finishing Infinite Jest earlier this week, I revisited the excellent discussion the Slate Audio Book Club had last year. That podcast, and all of the other Slate Audio Book Club podcasts, are available on iTunes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why You Should Read Infinite Jest, Pt. 1

In a previous post, I discussed how Infinite Jest, for all of its uneven-ness, has some startlingly well-written set pieces. Because four of this blog's contributors have lived at one time or another, I thought that this set piece, describing what it is like to drive on Boston's dangerous streets, would ring particularly close to home.

To set the scene: Don Gately, one of the main characters in the novel, and a former drug-addict and burglar-turned sober halfway house drug-and-alcohol addiction counselor at a halfway house called the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (sic). Gately has borrowed his boss' sports car to make a grocery run to cook dinner for a couple of the halfway house's new residents.

"One of the possible weak spots in Gately's AA recovery-program of rigorous personal honesty is that once he's jammed himself into a black-as-water Aventura and watched the spoiler throb as he turns over the carnivorous engine, etc., he often finds himself taking a ltitle bit less of a direct route to a given Ennet-errand-site than he probably could. If he had to come right down to the heart of the issue he likes to cruise around town in Pat's car. He's able to minimize the suspicious time any particular bit of extra cruising adds to his errands by basically driving like a lunatic: ignoring lights, cutting people off, scoffing at One-Ways, veering wildly in and out, making pedestrians drop things and lunge curbward, leaning on a horn that sounds more like an air-raid siren. You'd think this would be judicially insane, in terms of not having a license and facing a no-license jail-bit anyway, but the fact is that this sort of on-the-way-to-the-E.R.-with-a-passenger-in-labor driving doesn't usually raise so much as an eyebrow among Boston's Finest, since they have more than enough other stuff to attend to, in these troubled times, and since everybody else in metro Boston drives exactly the same sociopathic way, including the Finest themselves, so that the only real risk Gately's running is to his own sense of rigorous personal honesty. One cliche he's found especially serviceable w/r/t the Aventura issu is that Recovery is about Progress Not Perfection. He likes to make a stately left onto Commonwealth and wait to get out of view of the House's bay window and then produce what he imagines is a Rebel Yell and open her up down the sertentine tree-lined boulevard of the Ave. as it slithers through bleak parts of Brighton and Allston and past Boston U. and toward the big triangular CITGO neon sign and the Back Bay. He passes The Unexamined life club (a bar that turns up in a couple of scenes), where he no longer goes, at 1800h. already throbbing with voices and bass under its ceaseless neon bottle, and then the great gray numbered towers of the Brighton Projects, where he definitely no longer goes. Scenery starts to blur and distend at 70 kph. Comm. Ave. splits Enfield-Brighton-Allston from the downscale north edge of Brooklune on the right . . . The giant CITGO sign's like a triangular star to steer by. He's doing 75k down a straightaway, keeping abreast of an inbound Green Line train ramming downhill on the slightly raised track that splits Comm.'s lanes into two and two. He likes to match a Green train at 75k all the way down Commonwealth's integral curve and see how close he can cut beating it across the tracks at the Brighton Ave. split. Its a vestige. He'd admit it's like a dark vestige of his old low-self-esteen suicidal-thrill behaviors. He doesn't have a license, its not his car, it's a priceless art-object car, its his boss's car, who he owes his life to and sort of maybe loves, he's on a vegetable-run for shattered husks of newcomers just out of detox whose eyes are rolling around in their heads. Has anybody mentioned Gately's head is square? Its almost perfectly square, massive and boxy and mysticetously blunt.: the head of somebody who looks like he likes to lower his head and charge. He used to let people open and close elevator doors on his head, break things across his head. The 'Indestructible' in his childhood cognomen referred to his head. His left ear looks like a prizefighter's left ear. The head's nearly flat on top, so that his hair, long int he back but with short PRince Valiant bangs in front, looks sort of like a carpet remnant someone's tossed on the head and let slide slightly back but stay. Nobody that lives in these guano-spotted old brown buildings along Comm. with bars on the low floors' windows ever goes inside, it seems like. Even in thunder and little astericks of snow, all kinds of olive Spanish and puke-white Irish are on every corner, bullshitting and trying to look like they're just out there waiting fo rsomething important and drinking out of tallboys wrapped tight in brown paper bags. A strange nod to discretion, the bags, wrapped so tight the outline of the cans can't be missed. A Shore boy, Gately'd never used a paper bag around streetcorner cans: its like a city thing. The Aventura can do 80 kph in third gear. The engine never strains or whines, just eventually starts to sound hostile, is how you know to hurt your hip and shift. The Aventura's instrument panel looks more like the instrument panel of a military aircraft. Something's always blinking and Indicating; one of the blinking lights is supposed to tell you when to shift; Pat has told him to ignore the panel. He loves to make the driver's side window go down and rest his left elbow on the jamb like a cabbie."

Also from that chapter, footnote #202, defining the term "Storrow 500" as:

Local argot for Storrow Drive, which runs along the Charles from the Back Bay out to Alewife, withmultiple lanes and Escherian signs and On-and Off-ramps within car-lengths of each other and no speed limit and sudden forks and the overall driving experience so forehead-drenching it's in the metro Police Union's contract they don't have to go anywhere near it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Michael Hartney's Big Break

Michael Hartney, creator of the So I Like Superman one-man show and long-running (though now defunct) blog, childhood friend of two of CSD's six contributors, the guy who introduced me to my first-ever girlfriend and just all-around solid guy, has a hilarious role in the new AT&T commercial. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Infinite Jest

I finished Infinite Jest tonight, three and a half years after I first started reading it. I have a lot of thoughts about the book (and how could I not? I've had a long time to think about it!), many of which I will post in this space in the coming weeks. I read about 450 pages of it three years ago, put it aside until this past summer, and have been reading it consistently - but not exclusively - ever since. In this sense, it breaks most of the conventions of good fiction writing, but, ultimately, the cumulative effect of so many good scenes and epigrams gives the novel the weight of sincerity - even a jester must really believe in something in order to spend so much time crafting it.

Its almost impossible to distill my thoughts about this book into a short review or recommendation. It is a brilliant book, with some of the best-written set pieces, funniest jokes, and most moving sequences I have ever seen committed to paper. It is one of the most ambitious novels I have ever read, and one of the most successful at creating its own little world in which one can easily lose oneself. On the other hand, its diverse narrative threads barely connect, to the extent they connect at all, so many characters have grotesque deformities, infirmities, and/or scarring childhoods that the reader gets exhausted reading about them all, and a lot of time is spent (I won't say wasted) on very minor characters, with seemingly little point, other than to give the novel's Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns a little time in the spotlight, and give Wallace the opportunity to make a few good jokes he would otherwise not be able to make.

In her review, New York Times critic Michiko Kukatani, aptly borrowing from Henry James, referred to it as a "loose, baggy monster" of a novel. That is one very good way of putting it. Another is to say that there are simply "too many notes." Think of it like Professor Grady Tripp's lost novel from Wonder Boys - entire passages read as if they've always existed, up in Style Heaven, just waiting for Wallace to reach up and pluck them down. But Wallace didn't make enough choices - no character was too minor not to feature in a scene of his own, no soliloquy too wordy, no joke insufficiently funny to justify a five-page build-up.

Infinite Jest is 981 pages long, and includes an enormous number of words per page. One representantive page - pg. 82 of the paperback edition - contains exactly 500 words. By comparison, pg. 82 of Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed, by no means a lightweight novel, contains 340. Thus, there are approximately 50% more words in Infinite Jest than you would expect a 981-page novel to have, bringing its effective length to 1482 pages. But we're not done yet - there are 388 end notes, which take up another 98 pages of non-optional footnotes, many of which contain medical, scientific, or film-production jargon (with all of the abbreviations and acronyms and foreign-language phrases you would expect them to contain) and the font on those pages is even smaller. One of my favorite jokes int he entire novel occurs in one of these footnotes, on a page with 719 words on it. All of which is to say that, as intimidatingly long as this novel looks, that is nowhere near as long as this novel reads. Its worth the time and effort. But it takes a LOT of time and effort.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Supersize My Yuppie Office Park

The Trenta, Starbucks' new thirty-one ounce beverage size, is very bad news for our sleep patterns and possibly also our kidneys. And, if you think about it, the toxicity of the local water supply. Which is not to say that it isn't awesome, in a sort of only-in-America way. The Huffington Post illustrates how the Starbucks Trenta measures up against the size of the average human stomach.

Just so the record is clear, CSD staffers prefer locally owned coffee shops and frequent them when possible. Having said that, Starbucks is very convenient and, by chain standards, high-quality.

Photo credit: Starbucksmelody.com

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Moviegoer

Walker Percy's moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a stockbroker in suburban New Orleans in the early 1960's. At the beginning of the novel, Binx is twenty-nine years old, living alone in a rented apartment, earning a lot of money without having to work very hard for it, and attempting to seduce the third in a series of attractive secretaries. He really loves, or seems to really love, his step-cousin Kate, a depressive without much of a social life, whose family tries to coax into getting out of the house more often. Binx likes his job, but not as much as he likes earning money, and he likes women, but not as much as he likes the chase. The only things he really seems to enjoy are going to the movies and wandering around big cities like New Orleans and Chicago, taking in the sights doing whatever feels good at the time.

Binx isn't hedonistic as much as he a "single individual," (Kierkegaard is often cited as an influence on Percy) who doesn't have much interest in the things that successful young men his age are supposed to care about. I would be willing to bet that this part of the novel struck a chord with readers in the early 60's, when the wife-and-kids-and-white-picket-fence ideal was being relentlessly shoved down everybody's throat. In fact, in the 1960's and 70's, The Moviegoer was often described as a "Catcher in the Rye for adults." That comparison is pretty apt - I liked Catcher more than The Moviegoer, but then I read The Catcher in the Rye at a more impressionable age. I wouldn't say that The Moviegoer has aged poorly, but it hasn't held up as well as three books it won the 1962 National Book Award over - Joseph Heller's Catch-22, J.D Salinger's Franny & Zooey, and Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, all of which are classics in their own right, perhaps because its theme was trendier in 1962 than it is now, whereas those other books have themes that are more timeless (if that's a thing). Its very well-written, but that writing never served a plot, or developed characters, in which I felt particularly invested.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Links, January 16, 2011

Michael Chabon, guest-blogging for Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic Monthly, weighs in on the controversy surrounding the re-publication of Huckleberry Finn.

An interesting article in The New Yorker about "The Battle Over the Constitution."

New York Magazine's Culture Vultures list 100 things they are looking forward to in 2011.Superchunk performed "Crossed Wires," from their excellent Majesty Shredding, on WBEZ's Sound Opinions.

The Walkmen, one of CSD's favorite bands, cut some tracks at the Daytrotter record barn.

The CSD staff finally got around to checking out "Damn You, Auto Correct!" which is, predictably, uneven, but occasionally gut-bustingly hilarious.

"The Hazards of the Couch," the latest tsk-tsk New York Times blog post about the dangers of inactivity, is a little unnecessarily scolding in its tone, but also has some good suggestions about the importance of staying active, even in addition to your trips to the gym.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Calvin Is Not A Unique and Delicate Snowflake

Metaphilm weighs in on the 'conspiracy theory' that Edward Norton's unnamed character from Fight Club is actually Calvin, from the Calvin & Hobbes comics, as an adult. Extending the analogy, Hobbes, the stuffed tiger that comes alive in Calvin's imagination, is Tyler Durden, Susie Derkins is Marla Singer, and so on. The parallels are really clever, if you think about it, and the juxtaposition of classic Bill Watterson panels with Edward Norton's monotone is both funny and creepy.
(via Geneveive Koski of the AV Club)

The Sensitive Female Chord Progression

Marc Hirsch, co-editor of NPR's fantastic Monkey See pop-culture blog, has a new blog about the 6-4-1-5 chord progression, or "Sensitive Female Chord Progression," which, once you know what to look for, is maddeningly prevalent in popular music, particularly the sort of music that plays at the Ginger Bar on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn - IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT - but also in Boston and Neutral Milk Hotel and just an incredible number of love songs. Check it out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Black Keys on SNL

The Black Keys played Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and sounded terrific. Here are their performances:

"Tighten Up"


"Howlin' For You"

Get Sportsed Tomorrow Night

Jack Kukoda, an old friend of mine and one of Common Sense Dancing's original blogmigos, is writing for The Onion Sports Dome, which debuts tomorrow night at 10:30p.m. on Comedy Central. The show, which is a parody of Sportscenter and other ESPN shows, will hopefully build on the success of the Onion Sports Network, the "network" of articles and web videos on The Onion's website.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Haters Gonna Hate

Busted Tees, the t-shirt company run by the people who produce the website College Humor, has a t-shirt featuring the Muppets' Waldorf and Statler, two of CSD's favorite children's characters and, let's face it, two of the biggest influences on our grown-up senses of humor. Coincidentally, just this week we re-watched The Player Haters' Ball, a flash of comic inspiration that was one of the highlights of the first season of the Chappelle Show and holds up surprisingly well seven years after it was first broadcast.
Chappelles Show
The Playa Hater's Ball
www.comedycentral.com
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

emo entertainment thoughts

I enjoyed Exit Through the Gift Shop as a fun way to spend a few hours with some great footage of tagging. But it made me hate Banksy (against whom I bore no previous ill will) and Shepard Fairey (whom I maybe already disliked). What a dick move making a feature length film whose essential message is how cool you are, and how artistically valid, authentic and underground your shit is. It smacked of insecurity.

Funny People was also a good way to spend a few hours, but was deeply self-indulgent. A Hollywood comedy star (Apatow) making a movie about the spiritual emptiness of the society of Hollywood comedy stars. Sometimes it was fun to spot all the unexplained cameos, and Apatow makes all his male characters touching in the same successful way. But I couldn't get over the self-indulgence. And the time in marin went on way to long. Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian was basically the same movie, but real, and earlier.

I am midway through The Corrections. It is a very good novel. I am enjoying it a lot. I could live without the post-modern naming (e.g., Ford Stomper) because unlike White Noise or Infinite Jest, The Corrections seems a novel firmly grounded in present reality rather than the future or an alternate reality, which makes these add-ons seem flippant. It is also a really white, upper-middle-class novel. In that it reminds me a lot of a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Anyway, don't spoil the ending for me.

The Swish

Here at CSD headquaters we love all things Hold Steady, but we haven't played this video, off of their first album, Almost Killed Me, in quite a while. The Hold Steady is still a great rock band, but we get nostalgic for their early albums, when they weren't so much a rock band as a 'piss-take' on a rock band, poking fun at the conventions and cliches of rock music while managing to rock pretty hard in their own right; they were to rock bands what Kill Bill is to martial arts movies, or Shaun of the Dead is to zombie horror movies. Almost Killed Me didn't have anything as polished as "The Weekenders," the best song of their 2010 release Heaven Is Whenever, but Heaven is Whenever doesn't have any of the trash-talk, braggadocio, and in-jokes of Almost Killed Me, either. Fortunately, nobody said we had to choose between them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Our Year In Reading

Our Favorite Books Published in 2010:
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris
Father of the Rain, by Lily King
Evening's Empire, by Bill Flanagan

Our Favorite Non-Fiction published in 2010:
The Big Short, by Michael Lewis
Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris
Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, by David Lipsky
The Last Hero, by Howard Bryant
My Year of Flops, by Nathan Rabin
Talking To Girls About Duran Duran, by Rob Sheffield

Great Books From 2009:
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
The Irregulars, by Jeanne Connant

Classics I Finally Got Around to Reading That Lived Up To Their Hype:
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

Classics I Finally Got Around to Reading That Haven't Aged Particularly Well:
The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn

Biggest Pleasant Surprise:
Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, which combined my favorite aspects of comic books, 80's video games, indie rock, and kung-fu movies to create one of Generation Y's first epics.

Other Graphic Novels We Highly Recommend:
The Alcoholic, by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel
Astonishing X-Men, "Gifted," "Torn," "Dangerous," and "Unstoppable" by Joss Whedon (special thanks to Inspector Frank Bumstead)

Disappointments By Typically Reliable Authors:
Wild Things, by David Eggers
Solar, by Ian McEwan
The Heights, by Peter Hedges