Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Don't cry for me..." -Andrew Lloyd Weber

Today was beautiful. I sat in my vampire chair--named so because you can not sit in it for more than thirty minutes without falling asleep--and read for most of the morning. Then I did the dishes and some laundry so that I would smell lovely when I went to work.

The sunlight that swarmed my apartment was timid, even without a cloud to hide behind. I opened the windows to allow the cool breeze blowing up the bay, weaving in and out of the downtown buildings, to wash the apartment with a new freshness.

I had a reheated lunch of chinese noodles, tofu, mushrooms and eggplant. I drank water and listened to music.

In the small breaks, which were taken to rest my eyes, I planned a trip to Buenos Aires that I will probably never take. I looked at emigration rules for three different countries and I browsed through a random selection of picasaweb photos.

It was a perfect day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Dumb, da dum Dumb" Indy's Theme, John Williams

Don't expect a review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull. It never happened. This movie doesn't exist, I know because I saw it twice.

Put it right on the shelf with Rocky V, Highlander 2, and The Seeker. They didn't happen, this didn't happen, you can't make me believe that two once great men would defile their legacy so atrociously.

I will say this:

If they ever make an Indiana Jones 4 they better make sure of three things.

  1. There can be absolutely no monkey-ing around. It has to be the best damn Indy movie ever made.
  2. They shouldn't try any alien concepts that aren't tried and true. Indiana Jones is the erstwhile hunter of religious relics whose discovery neither confirms nor denies the existence of anything.
  3. They should make sure that if they are going to get someone like Cate Blanchett to agree that they don't waste her talents by rushin into a poorly devised mentally deficient character.

Those are just some thoughts I have on Indy 4; if they ever make one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"So much to do, there's plenty on the farm..." -Warren Zevon

Frantic. Rushed. Panicky. Overwhelmed.

Those are all answers to the question, "How are you?" that I have given lately. Why? Work is wrapping up for a while, I won't have any big projects on my plate until August, but right now is crunch time. Progress reports, analysis paralysis, and P&L reports are all due by June 1. I am taking not one but two writing workshops, the reading load alone is killing me. I am trying to be a lot more diligent about writing when I have the opportunity. Lovely wife and I are going to Iceland, Norway and Denmark in July for two weeks. And at the end of June I am going to a retreat in California. I have a lot to think about that sits just over the horizon and I can't see it, but I can feel the tracks rumbling--if you get my drift.

But that doesn't mean that I am not taking time for myself.

I have seen Iron Man, twice, and I loved it, both times. I have in the past done movie reviews on summer blockbusters but I am a little worried that by doing it I might start to pull the sweater apart by a single thread. But here it goes anyway:

What makes Iron Man great is that it is a character driven super hero story. The special effects, augment the story; they don't hold it together with duct tape and a prayer. Spiderman 3, which will take its place in the pantheon of movies that never happened along with Highlander 2, and Rocky V, didn't have that. There was no character development. We didn't learn anything about the characters that we didn't know already. The arrival of Venom, was a contrivance to show an inconsiderate side of Parker and it didn't work because there was nothing there in the first place. In the end we ended up with Topher Grace (who was woefully under used) donning the suit and then, thankfully, the credits roled.

Iron Man didn't rely on non-stop action as the story careened from one ill conceived battle sequence to the next. There was no catastrophic inner battle within Tony Stark. He changed in the first half hour of the show and we saw it through his work in the caves and in his shop.

I have heard people complain that there wasn't much in the way of a villain in this story, and to an extent that is true. There wasn't a guy running around with an alternate cape or anything stupid. What we got was the reality of the situation. In the world there are people who are selfish and self-serving enough to play behind the scenes. Think of the world's greatest villain, Shakespeare's Iago, the conflict rolled along the story and we knew what was happening the entire time. Iago played Cassio against Othello the entire play and in the end the denouement was a scene. The same thing happened with Stane. We all knew he was bad. So why did there have to be a rock'em, sock'em robots scene for sixty-five minutes to prove the point.

Here is my concern with this movie. I am not sure that if Robert Downey, Jr., and to a lesser extent Jeff Bridges, hadn't been involved that it would have stood up on its own. The story was good, the direction was good, but the thing that made this a great summer blockbuster was that Tony Stark was brought to life. I believe that he exists. Same with Rhodes, Pepper Potts, and Jebediah Stane (which incidentally should go down on the list of great villain names).

This movie marked the first full fledged Marvel Productions movie. Previously, with Spiderman and Daredevil and Elektra, they got a licensing fee and maintained some amount of control over the movie; but with Iron Man, and later in the summer Incredible Hulk, they did the whole shebang then found a distributor to market the movie. It also marked probably the finest super hero movie since the first Batman and the first Superman. The real litmus test will be the sequel, which I understand is already in the works.

The other thing that I did recently was take a trip up to Salem, Massachusetts with Dr. Greenberg, my history teacher friend.

Here are my thoughts on Salem in the style of a list:

  1. Salem is a cute town that, were it not for the Witch Trials, would have been consumed by Boston in the same way that Cambridge, Lexington and Concord have.
  2. I had no idea the number of puns that can be made from which witch is which.
  3. If you eat licorice bits, cranberry jelly beans, and strawberry oreo ice cream with an hour of each other the sugar crash you will have earned is unfathomable to explain.
  4. Red's Sandwich Shop has earned the best breakfast in Salem for twenty years running and it is easy to see why: they have blueberry pancakes the size of an adult human head.
  5. The crap for sale in Salem is the same crap that is for sale in any other touristy town in the US. If somebody were smart they would make a virtual city where you could walk around and then order the crap on-line and have it shipped to you.
  6. In Lynn, Mass. there is a coffee shop called Javas Brewin', which, given the fact that Boston's NHL team are the Bruins, would be funner if it was called Javas Bruin.
  7. I Learned that Capt. Dusty's in Salem created homemade ice cream. Their sign claims it, it must be true. Also I found out that Strawberry-Oreo ice cream rules. But shouldn't be consumed with red licorice and jelly beans.
  8. The traffic in Boston is so horrendous that it takes an hour to go 18 miles. Not kidding even a little bit. An hour.
  9. America has a sad habit of capitalizing on tragedy. The Salem Witch trials was a horrific even in our history and this town thrives on it. The Alamo, horrible blood shed and San Antonio uses it as a mascot, Wounded Knee, Station Fire, Great Quake of 1910, Mt. St. Helens. We have a nasty habit of remembering the horrible events. I know that somebody might say that we are doomed to repeat it, or triumph over misery; and to an extent I might agree. But there is a difference between capitalizing and reverence.

So that is about all that is happening. I will keep everybody that reads up to date if anything else exciting happens. But until then, I will be channeling my inner Jimmy Buffet and humming bars of "Kick it in, Second Wind"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"Whichever I choose, It amounts to the same, Absolutely nothing." -The Cure

The Cure’s anthem to ennui, “Killing an Arab” had never made much sense to me as a kid. I remember hearing it as a kid in southern New Mexico and shrugging, the irony passing me by in a blaze at my utter indifference to the song. A very well read friend of mine told me as we set the earphones down on the tile floor that one day it would be one of my favorite songs.

That moment slipped into the file-box of my memories of high school, along with jumping on a trampoline at the Moen’s, watching a kid get beat up in a stair well and hanging balloons for the senior prom.

In 2004 I was at a Hastings in Santa Fe. Lovely Wife and I were doing some record shopping. She had expressed an interest in picking up a Cure album or two and I thought that was a good idea but didn’t have much of an opinion on the whole thing. Again the irony express to told-you-so-ville went blazing past me and I either missed it, or didn’t care that it was there.

One thing that jumped out at me with her selection was the sticker on the front of the CD. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was a public service announcement, of sorts. It said, in effect, that “Killing an Arab” doesn’t condone or recommend violence towards Arabs.

I thought it was funny because the song was about a guy standing on a beach having just killed an Arab.

At the same time in my life I had my first experience reading Albert Camus. It was his essay titled, “The Myth of Sisyphus” and I don’t remember a lot about it except that in college I am pretty sure I got a girl to sleep with because I was able to quote, or fake a quote from it.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I was at Borders browsing books. They had this display out called books you love to read. Among them were a host of the usual suspects of classics: Treasure Island, Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Bird by Bird (which I picked up) and The Stranger.

This time, for some reason I am unable to explain, I heard the Cure in my head, “I am the stranger.” And with that one refrain I bought my ticket and boarded the irony express.

A couple of days ago I posted a list of books started and not finished and put up there a couple that I was listing as “contenders for a strong finish.” HA! The Stranger came from nowhere rounded the turn and overtook every single one of them on the last straight away. The fact that the whole book weighs in at a little over ninety pages didn’t hurt.

I started reading it at work, and had to set it down because I became too engrossed by it. So I picked it up again for lunch a couple of times and then finished it on—of all places—a train to Portland, Maine.

The story is pretty basic and divided into two parts. The first part is filled with the story of a man who is neither discontented nor particularly motivated. He starts the book attending the funeral of his mother, and then returns home. He helps a friend with a girlfriend problem, drinks a lot then agrees to accompany his friend to the beach for a day of relaxing in the sun. While he is there something happens, he kills a man, and that sets up the second half, which is basically the trial and appeal process.

The thing about the book is that this is a book whose story is more of vehicle to transmit the theme and tone. The first part takes maybe a week or a week and a half, the second part is stretched out over a year. But you wouldn’t know it, because the guy is boring. And that is what the book is about. Whether it is a sardonic self-appraisal of French ennui or whether it seeks to justify it is up for the debate of men and women much smarter than me.

I have to mention the translation specifically now. This version was translated by Mathew Ward and I highly recommend it. In the translator’s notes Ward mentions the impact writers like Hemingway and Dos Passos had on Camus and his translation reflects that in the text. The almost monotonous cadence of the story really accentuates the narrator’s lack of emotion. This device is carried through every aspect of his personality. Everything bears the same weight for him: love, food, friends, fighting, and death are all inevitables that will come in time and so to assign significance to one or the other devalues the importance of the others, or so it seems.

This is by no means a light read. Fast, yes. Light, no. I am already looking forward to a reread to see what I missed the first time.