Wednesday, November 23, 2005


OK, the title was a bit of playful melodrama. I suppose I'm rather glad that my "presence" (such as it is) is missed in bloggerville. But what good's a moor-dwelling bloodhound if his appearances aren't infrequent enough to cause doubt as to his existence?

General update: I work too much, but am still not seeing quite the financial payoff I'd been hoping for. I anticipate that next month will look marginally better, but I may need to find another second job after the holidays (when the current second job ends) to start seeing significant amounts of "disposable" (read: movie-going, CD-buying, skin-inking, martial-arts-class-taking) income.

On my way to work today, an enormous possum ran across my path, hustling its way out of the rain, worry and aggravation in its beady little eyes. I love seeing possums and raccoons in the city; it gives me reason to believe that all this human intrusion we've allowed ourselves to believe will destroy the earth will cause only a minor inconvenience to the broader continuum, that when we destroy ourselves, adaptable animals will make use of our environment and ultimately open its gates to less adaptable, more easily cowed species.

'Stine cooked an amaretto brined turkey yesterday, and it was delicious. I screwed up the gravy--I got overzealous with the cleanup, forgot what I was doing (I was, erm, memory-impaired) and threw out the drippings before my clouded mind could fully grasp what I was doing. It was an easy enough rescue, though, and the meal was a delight. I'm having leftovers for lunch and I can hardly wait. I've never been one to complain about holiday leftovers. I'm the sort who can eat more or less the same thing every day.

There seems to be a parade outside my window. Didn't they just have one yesterday?

Anyway, the beige one was over and we watched The Aviator. I'd give you a review, but it would really all boil down to, "Eh . . . Not bad." DiCaprio was better than he's been in years, Blanchett is sexy as Katherine Hepburn (of course, Kate Blanchett would be sexy as J. Edgar Hoover), Kate Beckinsdale is a little bland, and Gwen Stefani's appearance is mercifully brief. John C. Reilly is brilliant and underused, as always. Still, the movie was, on the whole, technically impressive, admirably coherent, consistently engaging and, really, kinda forgettable. As I'd feared, it seemed like Martin Scorcese had made a Steven Spielberg film. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily; but it's not what I'd hope for from the man who gave me Raging Bull and Taxi Driver.

On matters I can't discuss too openly:

This sense of corporate superiority is not always Olympian; that is, tranquil and tolerant. It may be Titanic; restive, militant and embittered.
-----C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In this passage, Lewis refers to the tendency between friends to create a vacuum around themselves, to create an ipso facto aristocracy, the "corporate superiority" to which he refers. What I wonder is, if the nature of a friendship is indeed "Titanic", might one imagine that obstacles within the friendship, or even the temporary or permanent dissolution thereof, would be similarly acrimonious? The trouble, I imagine, with a friendship based on a mutual sense of opposition to "the world" is that, inevitably, any two people are likely to find that they don't necessarily oppose the same things about the world, that maybe they don't believe in the same prescription for "saving" it. What happens when the antipathy that they both shared for "outsiders" is turned inward, toward one another? If both the degree and nature of their respective, ostensibly shared animosities reveal themselves to be wildly divergent, do these differences provide fertile soil for the perception of betrayal, or even the undertaking of pre-emptive betrayal?

All right, that's all I have to say on that subject. Such is the price of confronting semi-private matters in a public forum: nothing is ever quite clear enough (except, of course, to those who know exactly what I'm talking about).

Observation: The key, I've found, to a reasonably attractive goatee is vigilant trimming. My approach has been to zap it weekly with the 3/8" attachment on my shaver, and chase renegade hairs with scissors every other day. Shaving would be easier, of course, but I'm determined to make this beard work for at least a few more weeks (I can't remember what my record is on goatee longevity, but I'm pretty sure I haven't yet broken it). We'll see how it goes, with occasional updates.

OK, so . . . The Devil's Rejects. How does one review a film that seems patently review proof? How does one address its built-in controversey without coming off like an apologist? In a sense, the "exploitation" genre, even when it subversively accomplishes aesthetic goals beyond mere exploitation, would seem to defy apology; as such, an "apologist" is likely to appear either defensive or unduly academic (in the worst sense of the word).

Let's do the easy job of synopsizing: The Devil's Rejects begins an unspecified period of time after House of 1000 Corpses (long enough for the previously merely scruffy Otis Firefly to grow a rather impressive rat's nest of a beard, apparently). An armed-to-the-teeth posse descends upon their den of iniquity and redneckery, led by William Forsythe, brother to one of the lawmen killed in a raid on the compound in ...Corpses (Forsythe, always a reliable character actor, has never been more chillingly ambiguous). After a shootout worthy of Sam Peckinpah, Ma Firefly is captured alive, while Baby and Otis hit the road, arranging a rendez-vous with Captain Spaulding, a bearish bald man in clown face and their father.

Yep, it's the old irredeemably amoral sociopaths on the lam through the desert motif, and the phrase "irredeemablty amoral" gets a genuine workout here. When Oliver Stone tackled this genre, squeezing the fun out of a Quentin Tarantino script in order to make his political point, he justified the cold-blooded fury of his leads by making them "products" of a media gone haywire. Far better predecessors like Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands (Terence Malick's first film, with a very young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek--run to the video store NOW if you haven't seen it) and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid circumnavigated the issue of cruelty by letting their characters, even at their most vicious, be existentially hapless more than wantonly cruel. One of the better recent takes on the genre, Stander, a true story about a South African cop turned fugitive, is so suffused with matters of class, race and moral accountability that while there's much to get the heart racing, there's little to chill the blood. Even Tarantino's ne0-grindouse splatterfests are so suffused with irony, so filled with winking, that his most brutal monsters still seem like they'd rather be drinking a good bourbon and posing in new clothes to old Dick Dale recordings than torturing innocent passers by.

Not so the Fireflies. Sure, there's irony and humor: Everyone in the "family" (it's never clear exactly how related they all are, though the mangled giant Tiny Firefly--Matthew McGrory, who played a far gentler giant in Tim Burton's dandy Big Fish--seems to show signs of more than a little inbreeding) is named after a character from a Marx Brothers movie . . .or non-Marx Brothers movies featuring Groucho, as explained by a film-critic hired by Forsythe to help track down the family members' many aliases in a hilarious sequence wherein the film critic blames Elvis' death for stealing the thunder of Groucho's (which apparently occurred just days later). Aside from being a clown, Spaulding is a giant, brown-toothed party animal, Otis is a classic "you think you're better'n me?" hillbilly shaman and Baby . . . well, Baby's the sort of vicious vixen that anyone who went to public school knew somewhere along the line, Zombie's nightmarishly extreme distillation of the character Kim Kelly on Freaks & Geeks.

But the humor and irony never bleed over into camp, and never offer us the easy art-school winks of the Tarantino/Rodriguez school. When the violence gets a laugh, it's the shock of the atrocity drawing the laugh. All giggles are concentrated fight-or-flight yelps. When Otis Firefly tells a man he's brutally slashed, before killing him, "I am the devil . . . and I do the devil's work," it's not the action-flick call to arms we've come to expect. This is horror-movie-as-action-movie-as-horror-movie: This is designed to horrify, with no apology.

As cinema, this film quite exceeds its predecessor: Zombie and his cinematographer capture the dusty expanse of the road as well as anyone--indeed, they've only been bettered, in my opinion, by Wim Wenders and Robbie Muller in Paris, TX (and to be fair, I'd eat my hat if anyone ever outdid Muller's work on that film). Violence and gore have moved from pure schlock to true shock: No neon red blood, no fake-looking severed limbs. Blood is barely this side of black, and as in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the world is perpetually gritty. The heat, the road, the distance from urban centers leaves us all a little dirty, and a little sweaty, and every time anyone in the film got so much as a paper cut, I worried that it would get infected. When Zombie lingers, almost lovingly, on a slain girl in the opening shot, the film is simultaneously bleached of and saturated with color, the skin a sallow gray, the blood a dark crimson.

This vivid naturalism, reminiscent of the psychedelic realism in Lars Von Triers early work Element of Crime, makes distance from the violence impossible. So when the tables turn, and it becomes difficult to discern the good guys from the bad guys, the sadism the film seemed to be celebrating turns sour, in a manner not unlike Wes Craven's seminal debut Last House on the Left. While many films have played on the notion of moral ambiguity, most are still fairly clear in leading your sympathies where they're best used. Here, there's nowhere to put your sympathy, though each character is given at least one moment of uneasy, occasionally grudging respect.

Should you see this movie? Well, I can pretty much assure you that if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, it probably isn't. Intellectual and aesthetic value are fun to discuss for people who enjoy discussing such things, but I've found that you can't really make people like what they simply don't like (although one can develop appreciation incrementally). There are genre films for people who don't like the genre in question, and they're great for educating the outsider in the finer points of works they may otherwise find alienating. And then there are genre films for which you need to be in the target audience to appreciate. This is truly one of the latter. If you're one of those people who can do this sort of thing, it doesn't get much better than this.

Oh, and the film makes the best cinematic use of Free Bird ever.

Let's see . . . I've been getting into bitterly acrimonious religious arguments with people on The Fray over at Slate magazine, mostly over the objective, literal truth of the Christian gospels, the ethics of homo-/bisexuality, the ins-and-outs of prophecy fulfillment, etc. I'd link you to it, but there are too many different threads, and I have to confess to saying some things, in anger, of which I'm not particularly proud (albeit to peckerwoods so insufferable that licking my asshole would be a privelige beyond their worth).

I'm anxious to begin training again, assuming I can find the funds, the time and a class that suits. I've been pretty good about keeping some sort of an exercise regimen in my life (although I can definitely see some winter bulk parking itself), but it's nice to have instruction, some sense that I'm working for something, as opposed to making sure I look good naked (which, well . . . I look all right).

The wife and I have just signed up for Netflix. I think this'll be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So I'll try not to let it be so long next time, OK?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Oh, All Right . . .

Some periods of time, in any (every?) life, are either so lackluster that there's nothing to say about them or so turbulent that there's no way to condense all the information. It's rare, but not unheard of, that one's life should harbor periods of time for which both descriptions seem to fit. My last two weeks have been just such a time.

This is my way of explaining both why I haven't posted in a while and why this post is itself likely to be choppy and incoherent (though I must admit, being that I spend so much time apologizing for precisely that, it may be time to admit that, well, that's just the way I write/speak/think).

The boring-but-happy news: I've got a second job (seasonal, part-time) working for a company that specializes in Celtic art and memorabilia and sells through a seasonal catalog. So far, it's been all work and no pay, so I can't report on the benefits of such employment saturation, only on the fatigue borne of working seven full days and two short nights every week. Still, the work's fine, the people are nice, the products are--for the most part--pretty cool, and come next week, the 'hound and the purple lady are gonna have a little extra bank for the season.

This next bit is more 'Stine's news than mine, but here goes anyway: Memory of Water just opened this last week, and I'm thrilled to report that my wife is brilliant. We knew that, of course, but it's lovely to see it out there where those who don't already know and love her can see it. I wish the show nothing but the best. She posted the URL for the review in which she was singled out for praise, so there's not much need to place it here (in the unlikely event that there's anyone who reads me who doesn't already read her, click on the "My Amazon" link to the right . . . 'cause she's, like, my amazon).

Those of you who see me regularly know that there are some things I won't be talking about in this forum, to protect the innocent or . . . less so. Which leads me to some general observations about nothing in particular:

I'm growing a goatee, and I have to say that I'm liking this incarnation of the "unit" (goatee + 'stache grown as single piece, as opposed to the 'stacheless goatee--an old favorite of mine--or the pirate/Chris Cornell/Errol Flynn combination of narrow chin tuft and carefully tailored upper lip) better than past versions. That said, when I saw myself in the mirror the other day, I looked so old. It might have been the beard, it might have been the work schedule . . . or it might just be that I'm older than I'm yet willing to admit I am.

I've never thought of myself as someone who feared aging--I'm anti-plastic-surgery, anti-gray-coverage, anti-hair-replacement, etc. I've always longed for the wisdom and temperance of age. On the other hand, my models for aging have always been somewhat fanciful: ancient sages from kung-fu movies who can rip a spine out without breaking a sweat; tattooed misanthropes perpetually digging themselves out of holes or being flogged by harpies in heavy-metal videos; rogue philosophy professors or astronomers spending their last breath(s) solving some abstract (eternal) mystery. It's that cranky guy who doesn't get the music that those damn kids are listening to that I really don't ever want to become.

Anyway, I seemed to look better (younger?) by later that afternoon, so it was probably just that "fresh outta bed" thing.

This post had no point, other that keeping myself on the grid; it's fitting, then, that it should have no real conclusion, n'est-ce pas?