31 October, 2008

I got a rock.

My nose is stained red from my blood-filled prosthesis. I was a zombie again this year; woke up early, put on the makeup and shredded, bloody clothes, went to work. I especially love the Midwestern tourists who were completely unfazed by my rapidly decaying flesh--who ordered their skim lattes as if everything were perfectly normal. "Well, so far I've seen black people, homeless vagrants, and homos holding hands. Might as well just accept this."

23 October, 2008

Movie Review: The Killer Shrews (1959)

In 1959, special effects artist Ray Kellogg (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The King and I) was given the resources to direct two back-to-back creature features: The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews. I haven't seen the former, but the latter is a horrifying adaptation of the classic 1957 World Book Encyclopedia entry on the fascinating red-toothed soricinae soricini, a mouse-sized, 100 gram, land-dwelling insectivore and nuteater with a quick gestation time, a high metabolism, poor eyesight, and the need to eat up to 80 per cent of its mass each day simply to survive (that's 80 grams!!!!). What better source of horror and suspense than the shrew, a creature already so abundant, loathsome, and fearful, a being so ingrained in our evolutionary psyche, our cultural mythology, our frightened collective subconsciousness?

Okay, it's just a shrew. But what if it were giant--like, the size of a small dog! And what if there were, like, a couple dozen of them? Apparently that wasn't quite enough, so midway through the film they decide to make them poisonous, too. One scratch from their venomous, giant teeth merits instant death! Terrifying!

Strom Thurmond--wait, Thorne Sherman (James Best)--wait, really? Thorne Sherman?--is the typical, B-movie leading man: pragmatic, condescending, white, male, racist, middle aged, emotionally vacant, not very handsome but not disfigured either. He and his first mate, who being black dies as soon as we can dismiss him as a fearful, dixieland jazz playing goofball, are delivering resources to the formidably named Dr. Marlowe Sturgis (Baruch Lumet, director Sidney Lumet's father), the exotically accented scientist who's like Dr. Moreau minus the genius, obsession, controversy, and god-complex. Instead of fleeing civilization to conduct blasphemous splicings of animals into men on a remote, tropical island, Dr. Sturgis has relocated to the island simply because it provides a good control environment for the isolation of shrew genes during his research on overpopulation. Almost as villainous, almost as fascinating.

Accompanying him is Dr. Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon), the fat-cheeked, bespectacled research assistant who speaks entirely in scientific-sounding gibberish and fittingly dies at the hand of his own mad science; Mario (Alfred DeSoto), a fat, skittish Mexican who dies because he's not white; Ann Craigis (Ingrid Goude), the doctor's flustered sex object, err, adult daughter, who accompanies her father because there needs to be someone on the island who doesn't have a penis; and Jerry (Ken Curtis), Ann's fiancee, a jealous alcoholic who shouts a lot and generally fucks things up. He's there because Thorne needs someone to get in a fist fight with, and he can't very well give a black eye to a shrew or a scientist.

A hurricane has trapped them all on the island, and the voracious, dog-sized shrews, having inexplicably exhausted their food supply, have turned on the humans as prey. The research facility is made of rotting, chalk-thin adobe (easily gnawed through), and there apparently aren't enough weapons (like, say, a sturdy shovel) to fend off the dozen rodents. Verminous nuisance ensues, with numerous extreme closeups of squirrelly eyes and buckteeth chewing at knotholes in fence posts.

Thorne gets the job done, translating Dr. Baines's raw, inhuman data into a practical solution that involves tying steel drums into an armored tank with peepholes and in the process stealing Ann from her no-good lover. What's most interesting about The Killer Shrews is its self-referential mockery of the 1950s hero trope, the overgrown adolescent who is condescending to his companions, gains the powerless female without any romance or effort, never loses his cool except when it's time to throw punches at lesser humans, speaks in a hokey patter that sounds nothing like human speech, and in general seems more like a problem solving robot then someone you'd actually want to be saved by. When Thorne discovers the scrap of clothing that is the only remaining artifact of his jazz-playing companion, he apathetically dismisses it with neither fear or sadness: "They don't leave much do they?" His unnecessary foreign love interest criticizes him while mocking herself: "I've never met anyone like you. You seem disinterested in everything. Aren't you the least bit curious? Aren't you interested in the unusual things around here? The guns, the fence, the shuttered windows... my accent?"

A delightful bit of post-modern irony in a delightfully bad film.

The Killer Shrews (1959)
d: Ray Kellogg w: Jay Simms
(James Best, Ingrid Goude, Baruch Lumet)

Movie Review: Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Vera Drake (Mike Leigh's last, highly acclaimed film, 2004) was about a doddering, naive granny who bustled around, eternally smiling, boiling water for tea while performing crude abortions in post-war England. The war had left a destructive wake and culture was in the shitter, but Vera bumbled from door to door, doing her small bit to help others, seemingly oblivious to the misery around her and her sometime role in causing it.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a twenty-first century take on the same character, with all the drab melancholia and blubbering replaced by bright costumes, improvisational comedy, and giddy laughter. Sally Hawkins is Poppy, a vivacious primary school teacher who wears vibrant blouses and high heeled boots. She maintains close relationships with coworkers, siblings, and old friends (such as roommate Zoe, played by promising newcomer Alexis Zegerman), and amiably chats up anyone who happens to make eye contact with her--something not always welcomed by the strangers she passes. The intrusive loquaciousness is grating at first, and one can easily identify with the stolid book store clerk who ignores her offhand jokes and small compliments until she asks if he's having a bad day and he blusteringly denies it. Why behave so miserably and coldly without any reason?

When her bike is stolen early on, she doesn't mope or swear or fling her belongings violently against the sidewalk. She's peeved, yes, but she also smiles with doggonnit consolation, remarking, "I didn't even get to say goodbye." It's an acceptance of misfortune that's not self-blinding or obnoxious. She doesn't paint it up in wallpaper and pretend that it's some mysterious, positive turn of events; God isn't slamming a door and opening a window, in other words. Instead, it's just something that happens and she moves on cheerfully, refusing to let it bring her down. Why add insult to injury?

Happy-Go-Lucky is a two-hour snapshot of various people dealing with daily miseries, an exploration of how various people navigate quotidian ups and downs. Variations on the Theme of Happiness, it could be called. With her school principal Heather (Sylvestra Le Touzel) she attends a fitness workshop on flamenco dancing where the vibrant, Castilian instructor explains gypsy opposition to oppression through assertive movements, bold statements, and personal space. An overweight dancer in the background stamps, claps, and smiles; she seems positively empowered. Throughout the film, Poppy utilizes the tools at her disposal to make the best of shaky situations. She drinks but has no drinking problem. She longs for sexual companionship but doesn't mourn its absence. When she catches one of her students bullying another, she doesn't jump to punish the offender but instead takes steps to solve the underlying problems, seeing violence within its cycle instead of within a vacuum, recruiting a pleasant social worker to investigate.

Maybe it's all a little simple sometimes--sometimes kids, and people, are just bullies and jerks for extremely complicated reasons or no reason at all, and no amount of investigation into their background could perhaps change that--as in the case of Scott, the foul-teethed, earringed driving instructor that Poppy hires when her bike is stolen, figuring there's no better time to finally get a license. He's a complicated mess--racist, committed, principled, uptight, and paranoid--and when Poppy tries to pry out details of his childhood in order to better understand him--"Were you bullied, Scott?"--it all seems incredibly naive. The man spouts out declarations about demon mythology, mixes spittle with racist invective while fuming about multiculturalism, and cites the dimensions of the Washington Monument as proof of a global conspiracy. No revelations about abusive dads or schoolyard bullies could possibly defuse the thirty years of septic contaminants that have fueled his life and worldview.

But here's the point: Poppy is no expert of human behavior; she's only a champion of her own. When the situation with Scott reaches a violent breaking point, she moves swiftly and assertively to protect herself. Unlike Vera Drake, she isn't a blind lamb whistling her way to the slaughterhouse. With crisis averted she concerns herself less with revenge and punishment (calling the police certainly wouldn't solve anything, she explains) and more with increasing the peace. Merely by retaining her calm demeanor and happy outlook she has won.

Other characters and scenes flesh out other aspects of the happiness problem. A mammoth, tranquil chiropractor soothes away physical discomfort. A younger sister admittedly takes the easy path--suburbs, garden, house, husband, baby, retirement package--while jealously fearing that her wayward older sis might actually be happier. But much of the film is essentially aimless and irrelevant. Leigh's films don't utilize screenplays; his (always fantastic, often Oscar-nominated) actors improvise several versions of intended scenes and he splices together the best bits. So while the banter is always clever, spontaneous, and realistic, it isn't always focused or philosophically meaningful.

Happy-Go-Lucky is much lighter fare than Mike Leigh usually serves up, which is perhaps why it's more successful than the last few films. It offers a palatable and positive, light-handed message, that happiness can be a powerful agent, explosive, self-fueling, contagious, and of limitless supply, that it needn't be the weak, fragile substance we're so often willing to make it seem.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
d/w: Mike Leigh
(Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan)

20 October, 2008

Mangum singing "Engine"

Here's Jeff Mangum singing "Engine" in Columbus, OH, during the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour, which--for whatever shitty reason--is passing nowhere near DC. It's the second time in ten years that he's publicly performed one of his own songs (as far as I know). The first time was in Pittsburgh the night before, but I won't bother posting that video since the assholes in the audience committed the great sin of chattering during his song. (I mean, seriously.)

I love this man. For real love.

18 October, 2008

I have completed Gravity's Rainbow. Where's my paycheck?

So on Tuesday night, at the tail end of a feverish throat infection, I finally finished the 887 tiny-print pages of Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel--the one that the Pulitzer Prize committee refused to award (despite its nomination) for being "unreadable, turgid, overwritten, and obscene." I began the book way back in April, at the beginning of my last serious, feverish illness, and it's taken me this long to slug my way through it. To be fair, I wasn't reading it from June until the beginning of September because I was reading other books for class and because I was on vacation, but to be honest, just because I was reading other books and just because I was on vacation shouldn't have stopped me from being able to continue with Gravity's Rainbow. The fact that it did is only proof of how difficult the novel is; it was impossible, at least for me, to commit my mind to anything else while struggling through Pynchon's world.

I'll attempt a plot synopsis here. American private first-class Tyrone Slothrop is doing military research and engaging in sexual hijinx while in England during the second World War (which is in its final year). As an infant he was sold by his parents to controversial behaviorist Dr. Jamf (think Pavlov and his dogs) for erectile conditioning experiments in exchange for financial security. The bizarre experiments became a humorous national news anecdote due to the intended response (infantile erection), though the stimuli were never made public. Two or three decades later, the various paranoid British and American coconspirators who have been recruited to spy on Slothrop's mysterious (yet extremely mundane) whereabouts begin to realize that his supposed sexual frolics correspond directly to German rocket blasts that strike London several days after his trysts, falling into a perfect graph of a classic Poisson distribution. I don't even know what that means exactly, but eventually through various mishaps Slothrop ends up as a spy in Germany investigating the history behind an advanced, enigmatic super-rocket developed by lonely geniuses from an exterminated South African-German tribe. While spying, he becomes a flamboyant drug mule who dresses like an astronaut/superhero and goes by the moniker Rocket Man. Shit hits the fan, and the world descends into madness as he escapes across the German countryside with a sow companion at the very end of the war.

I hope that makes sense to you because that's the best I can do. With something like 400 characters, most of them only vaguely, tangentially connected to Slothrop, engaging in detailed, directionless subplots while digressing into lengthy, rambling soliloquies, the novel frequently made no sense to me at all. While each one of the 500+ individual scenes/rants/images/routines/conversations/insights were interesting/clever/beautiful/comic/well-crafted/insightful, the sum of these multivarious parts was incoherent and dull. I won't even attempt to deny that Pynchon is an absolute genius and an extremely talented writer--his grasp of vocabulary, linguistics, history, rocket science, wordplay, geography, human behavior, and every single thing in between is mindblowing--but I have no shame in or trouble admitting that I have no idea what the point of Gravity's Rainbow was or what idea or affect I was supposed to take away from it. Is it pacifist? Yes. Is it paranoid? Yes. Is it self-mocking? Yes. Is it relevant? I'm not sure. Despite thousands of brilliant ideas and moments, the overall book itself is surprisingly forgettable, rarely if ever reaching the reader (well, me at least) on a personal, meaningful, or life-changing level.

And I was expecting something like that by the end. Some heart-shattering moment of clarity--maybe even just a page or two--in the climactic final chapters. But that moment never came, nor did a climax.

I know this isn't much of a review, but in my opinion it's as scatterbrained as the book itself. Do I regret spending so much time trudging through this? Not at all; at times I had very much fun with it. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Not without the aid of a comprehensive reader's guide (and they do exist). And perhaps not even then.

10 October, 2008

Love is All, Of Montreal @ 9:30 Club, 9 Oct 2008

I caught a sold-out performance with Paul last night, the third night of Of Montreal's new American tour. The Athens, Ga., band, originally formed as part of the Elephant 6 Collective in 1997, has been in my listening library for six years now, and in that period I've seen them six times, each time with a zanier performance and a larger audience. In 2003 I caught them at the Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg, Va., a small movie theater. My friends and I sat in the front row and were wowed by an exuberant performance of "Penelope," by an impromptu juggling act, by masks and confetti, by our first listen to the harmonizing in "Lysergic Bliss," and by an over-the-top encore performance of Boston's "More Than a Feeling." In September 2005 a packed, unconditioned dance floor in Charlottesville, Va., left me the second-most sweatiest I've ever been, and in the spring of 2006, I hiked across the state with good friends to see them in a brightly lit auditorium on the campus of William and Mary, whose students my kudos go out to for being one of the most happy-go-lucky audiences I've ever encountered.

Last night I saw how far they've come in the past ten years, a fame that has occurred entirely under the radar. Except for Outback Steakhouse's reuse of one of their songs as a very strange jingle ("Let's go Outback tonight..."), you won't hear them on any mainstream radio station. They're well-liked by Pitchfork Media, and this week they're featured in a Rolling Stones interview, but their success has never reached the media explosion level--they've never skyrocketed and then fizzled out in a shitdrizzle of high schooler adoration like Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, or Bright Eyes. They're well-liked professionals, constantly improving their creative energy, and so they've garnered a huge, committed following largely free of pretentious assholes and trendy hangers-on. So, thankfully, the audience last night was one of those rare sold-out 9:30 Club audiences that wasn't full of obnoxious people. The crowd was young and considerably queer, willing to dance and able to sport goofy attire.

The only opening band was Love is All, a five-piece from Gothenburg, Sweden, whose debut Nine Times That Same Song was named one of Pitchfork's best albums of 2005. Humble and enthusiastic, they looked like the AV club had gotten together to form an extracurricular garage band: a gangly, pasty saxophonist with his hair parted down the middle, the slightly oversized, effeminate guitarist with the scarf, the tiny tomboy doing vocals, and the too-cute, too-smart, too-nice to be anything but a nerd drummer (who was fucking adorable, let me just throw that out there). As for the bassist... well, he just looked like a normal rock band bassist, with a tee-shirt, jeans, and a beard. Maybe he's dating the singer's older sister and doing it as a favor?

I don't mean to sound insulting; hell, I've been involved in far nerdier and not nearly as good looking groups myself. It's the awkward but interesting geeks who change the world. They played a great set with plenty of friendly chemistry and danceable beats. I'm not sure why Swedish pop bands always sing in English, but it's nice to understand their smile-inducing, uplifting lyrics, which mesh well with the giddy melodies and the lead singer's unique, excited voice. They played a good set, and the songs from their upcoming album were very promising.

During intermission, crew in Day of the Dead skull masks assembled various instruments and construction on the set. Two drum sets elevated to ten feet flanked either side upstage, and a triptych of movie screens hung over everything. A changing screen at center stage hid a large area behind it, while microphones, guitar and bass setups, and a keyboard setup lined the downstage area. The lights dimmed, the five musicians took their places dressed in attire ranging from disco caveman to 80s hairband superstar to glittering chanteuse, with wild hairdos to match, and the three screens filled with a cartoon panorama view of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire with all its golden pyramids. Colorful lights spun, flashed, and strobed, and the changing screen rotated to reveal four giant, gilded Olmec deities, who carried a veiled palanquin downstage, from which emerged Kevin Barnes, the joyfully effeminate (but married to the keyboardist), almost skeletally thin frontman/diva, dressed in an elaborate Mariachi outfit with a giant sombrero hanging down his back. On his cue, the rotund Olmec deities jived and grooved, and on another cue they pulled off their golden exteriors and transformed into black-clad ninjas with expressionless, silver faces, who proceeded to quietly slip through the audience.

The theater continued unended and uninterrupted for over an hour and half, with a constant barrage of pantomimed skits, elaborate costumes, surreal and comic videos, trippy visual displays, and complex rhythms and sound experiments. A fifth improv actor joined the ninjas, and soon they became Wild West cowboys gambling and skirmishing at a saloon, complete with a ragtime pianist and animated deer heads nodding to the beat from their mounted positions on the walls. They spent one entire song posed as middle class, college partiers frozen in a photograph, only to be later rearranged by the band members into compromising positions. They became glitter-splattered special ops and beachgoing nudists strutting their muscles. They fused together to become a massive George Washington golem, waving his tree-limbs to the beat. Genders swapped, alliances changed, good and evil was never quite clear, but the absurdist visuals always struck a chord.

At one point Barnes sang from offstage of being tired of sucking dick. The changing screen rotated to reveal him swimming in blood-red cardinal robes, lazily languoring in an oversized throne. A bubble-shaped Mexican demon of death seduces him with skull-lined swords, but the cardinal dismisses him. A steamy nun languishes at his feet, but he ignores her. A cockatoo and a pig dressed in the red uniforms of the eighteenth-century British army drag a feminine tiger onto the stage, and the bishop gives a thumbs down in favor of execution. The images were comical and yet haunting, charged with the idea of meaning though any number of meanings could exist. It was fascinating.

Meanwhile, Barnes descended into near-nudity (he's performed naked before), sporting Rocky Horror style golden lamé briefs and a fur-covered guitar strap before donning a turquoise-sequined coat and an enormous, pink fanny pack embroidered with his initials in gemstones, from which he threw condoms into the audience. Fusing with one of the actors, he became a four-legged, sad centaur, accusing renaissance dames of only being interested in sex appeal while a randy satyr upstages him with a juice-drenched, fruit-devouring orgy.

The visuals were endless, and I've only recounted a portion of them. It was toward the end that a sort of plotline developed, with a sassy, introspective Barnes in a pink bathrobe being seduced into suicide by four ghoulish poltergeists with grinning, silver John McCain faces. They hand him knives, prescription pills, a pistol, encourage him to end it all. Finally, he hangs himself from a gallows. They cut him down and initiate him into the afterlife, baptizing him in blood from wooden bowls and giving him a shaman mask. The afterworld is dark and violent, but Barnes find solace by donning a child's superhero outfit--a suit made of bedsheets. Holding his cape up triumphantly, he ushers in his reawakening, and during an absence with pounding music and spastic strobe lights, he is carried back onto stage in an earthy casket by an Olmec deity and four of the McCain poltergeists, who have now become agents of good, still wearing the grinning masks but now dressed in glittery spandex instead of black tatters. They resurrect him, mummified in snow-white papier mache, and as downy feathers fall from the ceiling, showering the audience, the music swells, and the show ends on a happy, transcendent note.

In short, it was an extremely entertaining show--a performance art piece and a musical act all in one. Of Montreal may lack the spontaneity, audience participation, and engaging friendliness that make shows by bands like The Decemberists so good, but they more than make up for it by the enormous amount of time, energy, and money that went into their production. This was the most well executed, well designed, well rehearsed, and smoothest running concert I've ever seen. Of Montreal is one of the most original, fun, and musically talented pop bands in America right now, and the obvious amount of money and energy that went into this (very inexpensive) show is proof that they're more interested in making art and pleasing fans than turning a buck.

And the dancing was wonderful, too.

So thank you, Of Montreal, and thank you, Love is All. That was one of the best shows I've ever been to. Anyone who still has a chance to see them between now and the end of November should do everything in their power to achieve that. Regrets are impossible.

09 October, 2008

Nobel Prize in Literature

So now I have to add another name to the list of authors I know nothing about with whom I need to acquaint myself. Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, a novelist who divides his time between France, Mauritius, the United States, Panama, Mexico, Great Britain, and South Korea (seriously), just won the Nobel Prize.

I've never heard his name in my life.

I was thinking Nuruddin Farah would win.

03 October, 2008

Movie Review: Burn After Reading (2008)

The new Coen Brothers film, Burn After Reading, is a hilarious crime caper that skewers intelligence and surveillance with nonstop ridicule.

An omnipresent surveillance satelite zooms in on Osbourne Cox (a very bald, very pasty John Malkovich), who is an operative in the pristine, labyrinthine corridors of the Central Intelligence Agency until he loses his job because of a "drinking problem" he vehemently denies. He spends the film pouring himself hard drinks--on one occasion holding back by pouring only three-quarters of a jigger into the glass because it's time to get serious--and stoking the smoldering flames of his own dim merits. We know he went to Yale, we know he once had virtues of some sort that were never quite fulfilled, and we know he's done something of a diplomatic sort in Belgrade, but the details of his former job are left unmentioned--not shadowy and elusive as he might like to imagine, just too unimportant to bother examining.

With his position in the world thrown into a tailspin, he decides to start penning his memoir (which he pronounces with all the French nasalization and silent letters), something his nurse wife, a "cold, stuck-up bitch" played by Tilda Swinton, dismisses as unnecessary. Osbourne Cox is a low-level nobody dismissed merely because of a drinking problem; who'd really care about his life? All the same, he lies erect in a divan, clothed in a bathing robe, and mutters vague statements drowning in ellipses into a handheld memo recorder, which he then transcribes to his computer in an encoded file--because he is, after all, a spy. And his life work is, of course, too important to not be veiled in mystery, too sensitive to be seen by just anyone's eyes.

His wife Katie, of course, is pissed at his loss of employment; it is the straw that breaks their marriage's back. She's been having a strictly sexual relationship with a gun-toting marshall for the US Treasury, Harry Pfarrar (George Clooney). He's never fired his gun in twenty years though he claims the instinct to kill will be their in his muscle memory as soon as it's needed, and so the pent-up energy releases itself through jittery facial spasms, fast-talking, enormous sex libido, and marathon exercise sessions. His relationship with Katie is meaningless to him--just another means of curbing his insatiable appetite--but she sees the recent turn of events in her husband's life as an opportunity for them to get serious, and on the advice of her divorce lawyer, she raids Osbourne's computer for his financial information, which she saves to a disc, changes the locks to their Georgetown apartment, and leaves Osbourne further in the lurch.

Behind the scenes, the precious disc travels in the lawyer's secretary's gym bag, where it's accidentally discarded in the locker room before passing from gym janitor Manolo's hands to the hands of wannabe spy/personal trainer Chad Feldheimer (a goofy, one-note Brad Pitt), who with a flair for DC political thrills interprets the coded memoir and the tax charts as highly classified, crucial information. Goaded by co-worker Linda Litzke (a convincingly narrowminded Frances McDormand, in a notable performance), they track down Osbourne (who they convince themselves must be important, though they've never heard of him) and extort him for thousands of dollars. Linda needs money for four surgeries recommended by her bluntly jabbing plastic surgeon (Jeffrey DeMunn, who's always nice to see). They're completely unnecessary--for a middle-aged woman, she's in great shape and quite beautiful; the only cutting she needs is her bangs--but she insists upon them despite lacking the funds. She's gotten as far as she can in her current body, she insists, and she's not having much luck in the Internet romance department either, though she overlooks the quiet affections of her boss Ted (a quiet, troubled, somewhat panicky Richard Jenkins).

The plan to blackmail Osbourne is absurd. He certainly doesn't need the disc copy, nor is the rough draft of an exceedingly sensitive quality, but the threats bite his offensive ego and, fueled by an overinflated sense of importance, he fights back with excessive force, at one point punching Chad in the face. Desperate for money and now convinced that the disc must really be as important as they assumed, they play into the political thriller expectations and chase Osbourne in his car, rearending it before zipping off.

They take the action to the next most plausible stage, where any high-treason espionage suspense story would escalate to: the Russian embassy, where a cultural attache hesitatingly accepts the disc to see if it's of any value to the Russian cause.

Eventually stakes raise, relationships become entangled, and people get killed. Operating always behind the scenes, the CIA (run by J.K. Simmons playing the hardnosed asshole he always plays) keeps tabs as the events untangle. When Osbourne's house is broken into by Chad, who is spontaneously gunned-down by Harry (remember that muscle memory!), the CIA is the first to know. When Harry flees to Venezuela, the CIA is able to intercept his plane and then allow him to continue on his escape. When Linda confronts the Russian ambassador, the CIA knows the details of her proposal. When Osbourne is shot down by secret operatives while hacking Ted to death with an ax on a Georgetown sidewalk (yes, the plot gets this thick), the CIA keeps vital tabs on all the bodies.

The CIA, the most powerful fact-finding and surveillance organization in the world, has the details on everything, everything, as it happens. They're always one step ahead, following and orchestrating events from the shadows.

The whys, however, they fail to grasp. Who the hell is Chad? What does Harry have to do with Katie? Why the hell would Linda go to the Russian embassy, of all places? The complexities of human behavior, the nonsense that motivates us, binds us together, and rips us apart, the physical non sequiturs that we enact everyday in our lives: none of it has any place in the cold calculations of the CIA files, the type-written, redacted memos and black-and-white, long-distance photography. When Linda, one of the few survivors of the screwup, agrees to oblige to a cover-up in exchange for full payment of her unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, the CIA agents can't figure her out (why would she need lipo? why does she think she needs a facelift? it's unnecessary and absurd!), but they sign off on it anyway.

All the people she's closest to lose their lives, but Linda happily succeeds in improving her body through the miracles of modern science. Absurdism triumphs.

The Coens' new film is a triumph, one of the funniest films I've seen in a while.

Burn After Reading (2008)
d/w: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
(Frances McDormand, George Clooney, John Malkovich)

02 October, 2008

Real Men Die of Heart Disease

In a recent Hungry Man advertisement, three overweight construction workers realize that their snacks of choice--a large, pink Slurpee-type beverage, what appears to be a a large orange juice in a plastic container, and a yogurt (or perhaps ice cream? or gelato?)--have turned them into socializing, sentimental women:

The solution to restoring manhood? Swanson's Hungry Man frozen dinners, which get you full like a real man by packing you with, in the case of the "Country Fried Beef Patties," 45 g of fat (69% 2000 cal RDA), 50 mg of cholesterol (17%), 2160 mg of sodium (90%), and 24 g of sugar.

Or the "Hearty Breakfast": 1170 calories, 21 g of saturated fat (105%), 255 mg of cholesterol (85%), 74% of sodium, and 42% of daily recommended carbohydrates. All this for breakfast, mind you, with a beverage and at least two more meals around the corner.

Or, just for fun's sake, the XXL Roasted Carved Turkey (turkey's lean and healthy, right?): 225% sodium, 130% saturated fat, 89% total fat, 55% cholesterol, 58% carbohydrates, 1450 calories.

So to sum up: men must reject the immunity-building active cultures of low fat yogurt and Vitamin C of orange juice (the country's most popular breakfast juice), the temptation to use straws or spoons, and even the desire to imbibe unhealthy, sugar-saturated beverages (a medium Slurpee has 95 grams of sugar), especially those that fall within certain ranges of the color spectrum, in favor of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cruelty to animals. Because to be a man is to show reckless disregard for oneself while consuming and destroying everything in one's path. And to be a woman is--this is true--to have a longer average life span.

Otherwise you might as well hold your buddy's dick at the urinal.

Yes, what we sustain our bodies with is this important. Important enough to blur the essential mental distinctions between silly broads and actual people. On a similar note, vegans, eating tofu is making you homo. Just listen to this faggot.

Silly CNN

Apparently the monosyllabic "veep" is a way to quickly utter "vice president" for people too bogged down by the pressures of modern civilization to pronounce actual words. Whatever. I'm fine with people abbreviating words in informal writing--it does take a while to write out "vice president." I don't see a point in abbreviating spoken words--how much time and effort is really being saved in minimizing a few mouth motions at the expense of clarity? But I won't waste valuable finger taps ranting about that either.

Here's what blows my mind: the headline banners running across CNN this morning kept using the word "VEEP." Which clearly requires more effort than typing "VP." Even "V.P." would take just as much time. But CNN instead opted to be less efficient AND less coherent all at once! Just like a news outlet should be! I love the goddamn media!