It took a couple hours, but I’ve started crying. Partly, it’s the staggering shift from my childhood in Cincinnati, when and where being gay was treated more or less the same as being a pedophile, to my adulthood in LA, when and where my gayness is at least protected by the state (and the State) and the vast, vast majority of people I deal with on a daily basis either celebrate who I am or don’t give a rat’s ass. Partly, it’s remembering my wedding, when I married Rob, back when it wasn’t even legal in New York, and it will always be one of the greatest days of my life. Partly, it’s because of remembering losing Prop 8 and the debilitating sorrow I felt. Partly, it’s because that sorrow was made powerfully profound knowing that my neighbors and some of my family members and millions of strangers had contributed to it. Partly, it’s that my marriage and my subsequent partnership didn’t survive to this day, that having the right to love doesn’t give you the ability to make it last. Partly, it’s knowing how this ruling will change the lives, in concrete ways, of friends I have in Michigan and Ohio and Texas (and everywhere else), and these changes, the assurances and protections, are so needed and so great. Partly, it’s that I haven’t had any coffee yet, since I haven’t been able to tear my eyes from the computer screen. Partly, it’s knowing that I am going to the wedding of my dear friend Curtis in a few months, and it will be the first time that I will be at the wedding of two gay people and it won’t be a subversive act, and that is such a relief.
A few weeks ago, after a long day at the beach, after I’d already settled into the couch and the Tivo, Rob reminded me that we’d promised to go to a story slam.
As it seems that not everyone knows what a “story slam” is, it’s sort of like a poetry slam, but instead of poems, the slammers tell stories. If you don’t know what a poetry slam is, then, well, gee. Read this nice Wiki entry. And for every “poem,” insert “story” and you’ll get a what a story slam is. Or read this recent Times story about the Moth, a story slam that has been around since 1997 but was finally noticed by the Times, you know, last week.
(Last week, The Paper of Record also ran a story about how pot bellies are trendy. It’s as if no one noticed that Americans are fat until last week. That story should have run in the Onion. Guy Trebay is going to end up in the same special level of Hell reserved for hack Styles writers that was originally created especially for Alex Witchell but now has numerous already predestined denizens.)
Rob reminded me that we promised to go, and since I’m always griping about how there is no culture in San Diego, I should probably get off my ass to go see the culture that is actually here. And we should support the folks pouring their sweat and tears (and occasionally blood, if there’s an accident) into such ventures. Through our friend Jess, we met such folks, and they’re responsible for So Say We All, which is San Diego’s version of the Moth… minus the professional actors and arrogance. And they’re also responsible for VAMP, which is a video, art, music, and performance event that complements So Say We All. They’re each monthly, and they usually share a theme. Because Rob and I were going to be part of the first VAMP, we went to see a So Say We All story slam.
It was at Cream, a coffee shop in University Heights that I used to frequent because it has big tables you can stack a lot of books on and because their salads were good. Then I discovered that Twiggs had much better coffee and all my friends were usually there. Also, Cream has weird ventilation problems: When we arrived at So Say We All, it was hot. Damn hot. And crowded. Really, really, really crowded. I couldn’t believe that there were 200 people in San Diego who wanted to hear amateur strangers (or mostly strangers, since I’m sure every storyteller brought 10 or 20 friends) tell five-minute stories about “When Disaster Strikes!” which was the theme that month. But there they were. It made me feel, I dunno, warm and fuzzy inside. San Diego!
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkxTv0Wurh4]The stories started out okay and then got very good. Of course, it was after two beers and only a few okay stories that I put my name in the hat, thinking, “Heck, I can do that!” Then the really good folks got on stage, and I got nervous. I went second to last. And I won! Well, there was a three-way tie for 1st place, but the lady had won in a previous month and the guy worked at the place from where the prize came from, La Jolla Playhouse. So, I won the prize, which was two tickets for Herringbone, a new musical starring BD Wong. The video of my story is above. It’s about debt, Williamsburg, lawsuits and the evil that is Patenaude & Felix. Remember what those asshats did to me? Now there’s video!
The event was inspiring. It’s made me write again. For realz. For VAMP, I got dirty. For the next slam, I’m going to be sentimental. And next Thursday. I start a poetry class. And… AND… I’ve started working on my novel again. W00t.
I have some pretty good reasons: Seeing big-name artists in huge venues costs too much, and except for the cheap thrill of mob-mentality singalongs, those shows are only slightly more intimate than watching the same show on HBO, or DVD. Slightly. I prefer to go to small shows in clubs or, at worst, Broadway-sized theaters. These shows are, well, intimate, because when the band gets really crazy, I see see the sweat flying, and if the lead singer wants to talk to the crowd, I could theoretically and talk back and be heard, and if the sound guy does something weird, I can see the lead guitarist make an facial expression that says, “Dude, what the fuck?” So, you’d think that I’d go see some small shows.
Here are my bad reasons: I forget. Or I don’t know they’re happening because San Diego’s local media is either right-wing, really right-wing, half-baked, or just bad, so I tend not to read any of it. Or I flake. Or I flat-out refuse to pay Ticketmaster charges that amount of an additional 50 to 90% of the ticket price, so I have to go to the actual venue’s box office to buy the ticket, and they tend to be 20 to 30 minutes away, so I don’t make the effort until it’s too late, so the show sells out and I end up along watching “Law & Order” reruns and drinking martinis. Continue…
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMqlaezGJP0]At last! I finally saw “Southland Tales,” Richard Kelly’s much-maligned, barely released, long-awaited follow-up to “Donnie Darko” (which is one of my favorite movies ever). I had been a bit desperate to see the movie, but, alas, it wasn’t even released in San Diego during the week or so that 18 theaters were allowed to show it. So, I spent a weekend or two back in December trying to BitTorrent pirated versions, hoping someone had stuck an Academy screener DVD on the Interweb. But, alas, all that was available was a pretty shitty shot-in-the-theater-with-a-handicam version. (I guess there weren’t any Academy screeners. Natch.) Still, I downloaded it. And watched about 15 minutes. And I couldn’t stand how bad the video quality was. It was like watching a 20-year-old VHS tape during an earthquake. So, I chucked the file and waited. I was wasting some time (procrastinating like a mo-fo) on Netflix, and I saw that the DVD was coming out on the 18th. I had it in my mailbox on the 19th. How many ways I can say that I love Netflix? Anyhoo, after I finally finished writing my first qual paper (Woohoo! And more on that later…) I set about to watch the film that made all of $227,365 and Richard Roeper called “one of the most confusing, ridiculous, pretentious and disastrous cinematic train wrecks I’ve ever seen.” (For more critics trying to out-nasty each other, check out the Rotten Tomatoes site here.)
I think this would be a perfect moment to cite, in a Fisk-y but not really Fisk-y way, the wonderful essay by Joe Queenen in last week’s Guardian about what really makes a truly terrible movie:
To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met.
Agreed. Too many people will simply state, as Queenen complains, that such-and-such is one of the all-time worst movies without thinking deeply about what really makes some awful.
For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck?
Totes! That’s why, say, “Bad Love,” a Jenny McCarthy vehicle for Chrissake, which scored all those Razzies a couple years ago, doesn’t count for me. Neither, really, does “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which was God-awful, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be any much better than the first movie, which was pretty near-God-awful. But, yes, after making “Donnie Darko,” Richard Kelly was expected to make another truly great film. He had a cast of thousands, and he had a lot of money, and he had heaps and heaps of ambition. It seems as if he wanted to make something like a cross between “Nashville” and “Dr. Strangelove,” which is pretty ambitious. Continue…
We’ve been really, really good this year about seeing the good movies when they come out and not waiting until the day before the Oscars to see stuff. And this year has been good for movies. In the last six weeks, here’s what I’ve seen:
Rob and I saw “Juno,” the near-perfect, feministy counterpart to “Knocked Up,” a few days after it finally opened here. I liked it more than Rob did, but I really, really liked it. Ellen Page is, as A. O. Scott wrote, terrifyingly talented. She’ll be nominated for an Oscar, and the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, will win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Because the movie is all about the script and the direction, neither of which cover up the deep, moving emotional core with too much hipster irony. Though there is some hipster irony: The Moldy Peaches are all over the soundtrack. It’s the funniest, sweetest movie I’ve seen in a long time. I cried at the end.
Atonement is one my favorite books; when I read it two years ago, I was devastated by the ending, bursting into tears in the living room and flummoxing Rob. It’s a beautiful, enveloping, and shocking book, and it’s nearly unadaptable. I say “nearly,” because it almost all ways, the film version is wonderful–gorgeously directed, designed, written, and acted. It’s also very moving, but the ending doesn’t work at all, because the film, unlike the novel, is not told in the voice of the person who makes the ending so astonishing. The director, Joe Wright, managed some visuals in the last few minutes that almost make up for the lack of aesthetic power that the filmed ending has, but not quite. Still, it’s an excellent film.
I haven’t seen “Sweeney Todd” and “There Will Be Blood,” so I can’t say this for sure, but “No Country For Old Men” is, so far, probably the best movie of 2007. Okay, no. It’s definitely the best movie I saw in 2007. We don’t get all sorts of things here, in the sticks. Still, it was one of the movie-going experiences that leave you in awe of what can be accomplished with the medium. It’s actually better than “Fargo,” which is my favorite movie, and it gives us Anton Chigrh, who is now one of the greatest film characters ever. Violent and bloody, philosophical and ironic, gorgeous and ugly, haunting and mysterious, and funny, funny, funny, the movie still sits with me, weeks after I saw it. Actually, it’s so layer with symbolism and throw-away-but-actually-important lines that I really need to see it again. Wow.
His Dark Materials, the trilogy of which The Golden Compass is the first part, is, like Atonement, one of my favorite works of literature. I read it the same year that I discovered Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; it was the year I discovered that fantasy could be literary and magical and fun and not totally grating like C. S. Lewis books. And while the filmed version of The Golden Compass is totally defanged–every bit of social and political commentary about the Catholic Church has been removed–it’s still gorgeous and fun and as perfectly cast as the filmed version of Atonement. And the litter furry daemons are so frickin’ adorable! I had a good time. It would have been nice if it had been better, though.
By no means is “Michael Clayton” the towering work of cinematic art that a bunch of early reviews made it out to be, but it’s a damn fine thriller, with George Clooney justifying his he-got-fat-and-died Oscar in the otherwise mediocre “Syriana.” Tilda Swinton, continuing in her streak of brilliant antagonists, made the movie for me, because her evil was not mired in sociopathology, but rather in shortsighted, irresponsible ambition. I didn’t like the corporate crime that the plot hinged on, though, because it seemed almost James Bond-ishly silly. And Tom Wilkinson was over the top. But some scenes, like the one in the still here, were just brilliant. A really fun movie.
When I first started putting this list together, I liked “The Darjeeling Limited” more than I do now. It’s very pretty, and there were some funny moments, but it’s late 90s twee irony thing is getting really, really old now. And Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman really bug. Hard. The only actor in the movie that seems to be actually acting–instead of hamming–is the always amazing Adrian Brody, who, I think, decided to be in another movie and ignore whatever “acting” advice was being thrown at him. Because I actually cared about him. While I wanted everyone else in the movie to drown in the river with that little boy.
Okay, this movie is called “Beowulf,” but it has almost nothing to do with the Anglo-Saxon epic of the same name. Well, it does in the first third, and then all hell breaks loose with the story. But I had a blast nonetheless. It was thoroughly exciting, and it was funny, too. And the huge fight with Grendel at the beginning was totally redunculous because Beowulf was bucknaked, and hottt, and his peepee was covered up by the most strategically places props ever. Fun times.
Back when I was a publishing monkey, I worked for Dennis Lehane’s agent, and it was during a very exciting time in his career–the whole Mystic River era. Towards the end of my time at the office, one of his older novels, Gone Baby Gone, which had been bouncing around Hollywood for a while was bought–not optioned, bought–by Disney and Ben Affleck. Affleck was going to write and direct, and I, for one, was worried. This is the guy who had just made “Gigli.” And “Daredevil.” And “Surviving Christmas.” And “Jersey Girl.” He hadn’t been in anything remotely good since “Bounce,” and that’s only an arguably good movie. Really, he hadn’t done anything to be proud of since “Good Will Hunting,” and more than a few people were willing to say publicly that they didn’t think Ben and Matt actually wrote that script. And then someone–an agent, his new wife, God, who knows–said something to Ben, and he made a major shift. He made “Hollywoodland,” which was a fine movie with an amazing performance from Ben that should have gotten him an Oscar nomination and did get him on the Golden Globes. And then he made “Gone Baby Gone,” and it was good. Really, really good. Sure, it has some problems, mostly involving Morgan Freeman sleeping his way through his rather key role. (Monohla Dargis digs into the rest in her unusually smart review.) But Ben’s little brother Casey, who is the lead, is a revelation, as is Amy Ryan, and even Ed Harris is good, though a bit over-the-top, per usual. And the tone of the film is dark, seemy, gut-wrenching, and mired in the clannishness of Boston’s Southie. Ben really directed this movie. And it’s pretty great. Yay for Ben. And, yeah, yay for Dennis. Another great movie. The next movie based on one of his books is going to star Leo Dicaprio and be directed by Martin Scorcese.