They grow culture in a petri dish.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Violet Meltzer, Acting Cheerleader, Urges Fake Boyfriend "Act! Act!"

In the past couple of days, I've seen some highly unlikely headlines in the news. They are as follows:

Quarter Million Dollar Necklace Stolen from Sam's Club
Actor Ryan Reynolds Opens New Film at Sundance
Sixty-Year-Old Woman Fends Off Cougar with Pen

Apparently, all of these stories are true, and I'll give you a nanosecond to guess which one I'm going to right about...ok then, Ryan Reynolds it is!

Jolanda, Andretta, and I went to see Smokin' Aces—Ryan Reynolds' new movie—today. It stars Ryan, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keyes, and a host of other actors. As we were sitting in the theater, the preview for Oceans 13 came on, and that's a good place to draw similarities. Like the Oceans movies, Smokin' Aces is mostly an ensemble piece. Piven's "Aces" Israel has information to leak on a mob boss and the FBI (Reynolds, Liotta, and Ron Silver), a bailbondsman (Ben Affleck and co.), the mob, and a mess of bounty hunters (Keyes and others) are after him. The film plays out aspects of what he knows and is willing to spill against the movements of those who are after him.

Leaving out the interwoven plots, I'll talk about what I see as the movie's missteps. First, it seems to toggle between two moods; it is, at turns, flat and seriously gritty versus slick and peppy. The Bourne Identity franchise successfully pulls off the first while the Oceans franchise achieves the second. I'm not sure if this toggle can ever successfully occur—indeed, Happy Texas, Series 7, and Novocaine were all promising movies that never adequately oriented the audience within their suspension of disbelief. The questions at hand are these: do we care? If so, for whom? And how much? In Smokin' Aces, the flat, gritty parts don't seem placed correctly. People die in graphically horrible ways after which time the movie slides back into slickness, but the movie doesn't seem to justify either the violence or the slickness (the way, say, Pulp Fiction does). As a result the violence is a little gross without meaning, and the slickness isn't clever enough to be engaging.

My second minor point lies with Piven. While I always like him, I think that his portrayal of a magician here was off. I had the dubious honor of knowing a magician in undergrad, and they are really, really into their work. Piven didn't look as comfortable with the cards as I might have liked, and he never really seemed to capture the magic, even when using magic to try and escape death. Ok, ok, he was all coked up, but still.

Finally, and it pains me to say this, the movie mostly rests on the broad but still mediocre shoulders of my fake boyfriend, Ryan Reynolds. While the viewer is lost in the movie, a bit behind all the time, Reynolds anchors a large portion of the audience's knowledge. Also, he is meant to be the movie's moral compass, which we learn late in the movie. And his performance is...ok. While the element of suspense certainly needs to be maintained, I don't think that we are invested enough in his character and Ray Liotta's character to respond adequately to the denouement of the film. In a way, this could have played out a little more like The Usual Suspects (where the reveal is the money), I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (where the emotional connection of the characters is key). I mean, really, when Alicia Keyes as a wounded hooker being carried out of the hotel out-acts you, you know that something's wrong (see, "Affleck-ted," "bad actor").

All told, I liked the movie. I wanted to love the movie, but I didn't. Sometimes, when a movie falls into this spotty category of "could have been great,"it's more frustrating than when someting is merely pretty good. Better luck next time—smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Enduring Obsessions: Baggin' It

In recent months, I've realized just how different I seem to be from most of the populace. In general, I have a hard time filtering through information because I tend to give too much weight to ideas or tasks. For example, when I last went to Borders with Andretta, I noticed that she casually looks through the stacks of many different genres and buys things spontaneously. I don't. Usually, if I go to a bookstore, I know exactly what I am looking for, or I am researching one certain book or shopping through one certain genre. Also, I typically "pre-approve" my purchases before entering a store. If I happen to find something I'd like, I deliberate over it for a bit before laying out the money. If I were to "casually" look through a genre of books without preparing myself for this task, I'd get anxious. Why? The process needed for such consideration can be daunting when I'm not prepared. Weird huh? And, of course, Randle and others can attest to the process I employ when cleaning house. Methodical. On "lock." Oddly unsettling.

So, when I tell you I have been "purse shopping" for the last few months, you should know I'm kind of caught up in it. Y'see, since I went to New York to visit Jake, I've been dreaming about some felt purses I saw there but didn't buy (curses!). Looking through some websites, I've found that plenty of people are making some "fly" purses that I'd like to own. But, of course, there are the issues. Most often, these boil down to price—I don't want to break the bank here—and size. What the hell is going on with purses these days!?! I keep finding them as big as overnight bags. Geez! Anyway, let me present the parade of purses:

This is a cute little number from Daisy Jane. Not too big and quite reasonably priced. I love the look of this picture, but the larger picture looks kind of off in a way I can't yet put words to. Also, one of my reservations about this purse is that I don't think I wear any of these colors such that the purse would end up being clashy whenever I used it. Not good. But, as you might well know, the retro flower fabric is all me.

My second purse is from the Keeta Collection. It's called something like "Boho Cowgirl," and I expect that's one aspect of my "style," if I may be so bold as to use this term. One thing I love about it is the mix of fabrics. Even though I don't wear the primary colors used in this purse, I wear a lot of the in-betweens such that I think this would blend well with a lot of my wardrobe. The problem here is that this purse is so dang big. It's 11.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches tall, and I consider that a kind of weird differential. It's a bit rectangle. I mean, the purse itself isn't huge, but the dimensions seem weird to me.

Ok, the next bag is from Rosie Ro, and it's a tote bag. With an owl on it. In my favorite color. Who doesn't want a green owl tote bag? Honestly! Um...ok, it's a little too big. I guess I don't understand the whole "tote bag" ethic. It seems a little too roomy for my taste. Y'see, I need a handbag here; I already own a backpack. Even so, I don't have any fabric bags which I can hide behind when I see people I don't want to associate with in public. Hmm...good point.

Speaking of tote bags, here's another one from Nappa Studios, but I love, love, love this bag for a few different reasons. One, it's a smaller tote than others I've seen—the website lists it at 10.75x8. Also, it's made out of a vintage kimono. Of all the other bags that I've seen, I keep reminding myself that I can't make this bag. The artist uses a few different colors. This version is more orange and the version I would likely buy would be more red. But the most beautiful fabric, which she labelled "Michelle" is a gorgeous pink, red, white, and green mixture. SOLD OUT. That's right kids. Gone. Dam-eet! While this bag is a little costly, it's been the frontrunner for some time. Ohyeahand let me show you another incarnation of her work. I love the fabric and make of this bag. It's more costly than the tote, and would be wasn't 14 freakin' inches across. Am I checking luggage here!?! Whatever. So frustrating.

And then: the Holy Grail of purses. The purse for which handcrafters are lauded the world round. Witness: Marimekko Blum Bag. OOOOOOOOOO! Preeeetty! Vi likey! Vi want baggy! So tell us Marimekko Blum Bag, how big are you? You look like you're just the right size for one to sling you over one's shoulder and make one's way down the street—kicky and alive. 19.5x11!?! Sonofabitch! I need an Advil.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

ClearBlue Braggy

Well, I'd intended to write an entry about advertising as I've seen a few successful product names and/or taglines recently and some questionable ones as well. Then, I encountered the mother (pun intended) of all taglines. In a ClearBlue Easy TM Pregnancy Test Kit commercial, the voiceover deems it "the most advanced piece of technology you'll ever pee on" while, as if from heaven, a stream of "liquid" rains down on the pregnancy test. Ye goddesses (pun intended)! Pure advertising gold (pun intended).

Who the hell thought up this idea? Certainly not the person who put together the website. When I watch the commercial, I can only marvel at the audacity of off-camera pee streaming into sight. As Andretta would say "they can't even make the 'liquid' in sanitary napkin commercials red." As for the website, it is a marketing/quasi-self-help site, which makes sense given that one of the main products tests for a significant, life-changing, 18-year responsibility. They might also think of marketing a ClearBlue Easy TM Mother-To-Be Hyperventilating Bag (with optional Father-To-Be Hyperventilating Bag in navy blue if the dad knows/sticks around).

But really, I'm not interested in dissecting the "dude! he said 'pee'!" versus "a baby can significantly change your life" oppositional rhetoric of advertisement and website. No, I am concerned with taking up the gauntlet thrown down in this blithe, tossed off sentiment. I'm not ever going to pee on a more-advanced piece of technology? I'M not ever going to pee on a more advanced piece of technology!?! We shall see about that. Witness:

Suggested Pieces of Advanced Technology to Utilize Human Pee (TM)

1. Pee the Vote
Fed up with voting machines that don't accurately record your vote? Pissed off at the opposition's candidate? With "Pee the Vote," you can make your displeasure known. Instead of voting for your favorite candidate, just mark out the opposition personally. (Optional pregnancy test results upon exiting poll location.)

2. Urine-powered Emergency Light and Radio
Trapped in a snowstorm or hurricane with the power out? Need to keep up with rescue efforts and resources? With the new Pee-powered Emergency Light and Radio you don't need the electricity, batteries, or hand-cranking of older light/radios. This version runs entirely on your own urine! Urine-powered Emergency Light and Radio—you're going to have to pee anyway. (Optional pregnancy test results confirmed when emergency hatch of prenatal vitamins pops open.)

3. You're In Control (TM) Workplace Security System
Picture it: a normal day at your job as a bank teller. Armed men walk in to rob the bank and order everybody on the ground. With conventional security systems, salvation is an arm's length or more away. Even if you've got a silent alarm, you still need to press it. Thank goodness your bank chose "You're In Control"! Scared out of your wits, you wet yourself. This action sets off the remote transponder you're wearing so that a simple loss of self-control is the very act that brings relief. You're In Control—when you need it, you can't help but use it!

In conclusion, I would like to say: take THAT, braggy bragger-sons! ClearBlue's got nothing on me.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

With Regret, I Vote for "McSelfish"

Since I didn't tune in to all of the preliminary Golden Globes shows or after-show press, it looks as if I missed another big stink surrounding Grey's Anatomy. Unfortunately, Isaiah Washington used this awards show as an opportunity to talk about an earlier incident on the Grey's set. This first incident was said to have occurred in October, and a report from records it as follows: "A simmering feud between the two actors bubbled over last week, when Washington reportedly got in [Patrick] Dempsey's face, said some 'disgusting things,' then allegedly pushed 'McDreamy' against a wall and choked him." Ok, not good. Further, the website notes, "As for the 'Grey's Anatomy' melee, there are reports that Washington taunted Dempsey by saying, 'I'm not your little faggot like [name redacted],' referring to a fellow cast member. Yesterday, 'Grey's' cast member T. R. Knight revealed to PEOPLE magazine that he's gay, possibly prompted by public revelation of Washington's outburst." Whoa. So, there are a few things going on here: reported physical violence, an alleged slur, and the possible forced outing of a co-worker.

I'll admit that, when I first heard about this incident, I did not want to believe it was true. Isaiah Washington is one of my favorite actors on the show, and I love the aloof but vulnerable Preston Burke. Isaiah, you had me at "following a sexy ghost only to fall off a ledge on Ghostship" but as "Preston Burke lays in hospital bed with Christina after her miscarriage," I was putty in your hands. So what gives with the wack-assed behavior? On the red carpet at the Golden Globes, he apparently said to an Access Hollywood reporter, "I love gay. I wanted to be gay. Please let me be gay." Wha-haaa? Um, Isaiah, are you aware that a good many gay people don't actually want to be gay and that gay teens have a much higher suicide rate than the rest of the population? Moreover, if one is a lucky enough homosexual individual to be happy with his/her identity, many times one has to struggle for acceptance from friends, family, and community. Isaiah, your comments here, on your own interview time, smack of weirdness if not downright insensitivity.

Fast-forward to the after-awards-show interview. Apparently, the first question concerned the fight and slur (for which Washington appologized in an October issue of People). T. R. Knight piped up "What Fight?" but Washington stepped in front of creator and writer Ms. Shonda Rhimes and said, ''No, I did not call T.R. a faggot. Never happened.'' To borrow an '80s phrase—are you mental? You already issued an appology. Now, Isaiah, I did not see, firsthand, the purported original fight, and I would love to give you the benefit of the doubt. But. Did your mother never teach you any manners!?! You stepped in front of Ms. Shonda Rhimes, the woman who created the vehicle in which you are acting. The woman who gave you an amazing character and amazing lines and an amazing opportunity. This, I saw this with my own eyes, and let me tell you that this was selfish behavior. In an effort to make yourself look better, you effectively shat on the whole cast. And let me remind you that you did this at a time in which your character cannot operate because of a hand injury. And what happens to people who can't operate on a show about surgeons? That's right—they leave to find another job. Believe me when I tell you that this action makes me think you capable of the physical assault and verbal slur that you have been accused of putting forth. Not cool. Seriously.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

That's Entertainment!

It's that time of year, folks. Yes, it's award season for all the gifted actors out there. I caught a bit of the Golden Globes last night and figured I'd give a "shout-out" to some of the people who I don't know but whose work I admire. I read a blog once where this was called "gently stalking." Ok, well, it looks as if two movies that I'll have to see this year are Borat, which Andretta highly recommends and for which Sasha Baron Cohen won "Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy," and The Last King of Scotland, for which Forest Whitaker won "Best Actor in a Drama." I hear that Forest Whitaker is undeniable. Poor Leo DiC—bad year to be up for awards. Also, I'll have to get out and see leading ladies Helen Mirren (BA'ess/Drama, The Queen) and Meryl Streep (BA'ess/Musical or Comedy, The Devil Wears Prada). Come to think of it, where the hell have I been this movie season!?! I swear, the only movie I've seen that was nominated is Little Miss Sunshine. Note to self: take off month, view new releases.

Since I've caught "award fever," I'd like to give out a few offbeat awards. First, I will bestow the "Most Photogenic Couple" award. Based on the pics I reviewed, this is a toss up between actual couple Heidi Klum and Seal and screen-couple-who-reunited
-at-Golden-Globes Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. Having awarded "best" honors, I feel justified in offering a "worst" as well. Witness: Cameron Diaz and Martin Scorsese. Yikes.

My second category of awards goes to guest appearances on TV shows. Ok, ok, this may be lazy, but it does show that I'm conscious and taking part in pop culture. So, for "Best Female Guest Star" goes to Brooke Smith who I've seen in both Grey's Anatomy and Crossing Jordan. Brooke Smith is just fabulous. I first saw her playing Buffalo Bill victim Catherine Martin in Silence of the Lambs. Since then, she's had turns in Series 7, a bizarre drama/spoof of reality TV shows (one in which contestants must kill each other), and Iron Jawed Angels, a movie about Alice Paul and the suffrage movement. Note to all future directors: give this woman more work! As for "Best Male Guest Star," this award has to go to Sung Kang who played Han in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Recently, I've seen him do a hilarious turn on Mad TV as President Gin Kew Yun Chun Yew Nee, and just last night I saw him on CSI: Miami. Note to parents and friends—if I ever go missing, you will be able to find me in the glorious forest of Sung Kang's magestic hair.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Seven Things I Like in '07 (in no particular order)

1. Going Postal—Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Regan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond by Mark Ames
I bought this fascinating book at Waldenbooks when I was returning some Christmas booty. How lucky was I to find this? Quite. I was initially caught by the back cover blurb which asserted, "Presenting many fascinating and unexpected cases in detail, Ames shows us the true nature of these [workplace and school campus] massacres—doomed, gory, and sometimes even inadvertently comic, and grossly misunderstood, much like slave rebellions were viewed in their time." Since I'm concerned with the depiction of work, workplaces, and the economy of late eighteenth and early to mid nineteenth century, I interested with his discussion of slavery. Believe me, this was a quick read, and, I must say that Ames' argument is compelling. He asserts that corporate culture creates slaves of its workers; he refers to historian Kenneth Stampp's articulation of six tactics for slaveholders to create slaves:

1. Strict discipline to develop "unconditional submission"
2. Develop a sense of personal inferiority
3. Development of raw fear
4. Establish notion that the master's interests are the same as the slave's
5. Make slave accept master's standards of conduct as his own
6. Develop "habit of perfect dependence"

Further, Ames argues that the difficulty with "profiling" potential workplace or school shooters exists because the failing doesn't lie with the shooter him/herself but with the environment in which these shooters worked. Instead, he says that the workplace culture must be profiled; those in which fear, degredation, and anger rule will yield shooters. What's more, often, coworkers often identify with and forgive the shooters themselves.

One reason that I connected so fully with this book is because I worked in just such a workplace. While we didn't have an instance of (fatal) workplace violence, there was yelling, screaming, bad language, poor wages, retribution taken for taking time off, impromtu firings, and a whole host of other problems. Reading this book, I came to understand more fully how my experience fit into a larger societal corporate culture. Additionally, I was comforted by Ames assertion that workers who are beat down by these jobs often feel personally responsible for the treatment they receive and have a difficult time talking about their experiences because people outside of the workplace have a hard time understanding. For anyone interested in corporate culture or violence at work and in schools, I totally recommend this read.

2. Staple Gun
I wanted to make a scratching post for my cat, but I ended up making a wee ottoman. I also re-upholstered that chair of my grandma's. In pink velvet. Staple guns...frickin'...rock! I am a fabric-manipulating god.

3. George O'Malley
So, yeah, a lot of Grey's Anatomy viewing over here. I mean...I'm caught up. I watched the whole first season before Christmas and bought the second season after Christmas. After finishing that season, I caught up on season three using the ABC website. I'm giving a shout-out to the George O'Malley character here because of a few different episodes. In "Where the Boys Are" (Season Three), Burke tells George that his expectations are too high. Ostensibly, he's referring to O'Malley's relationship with and expectations for Callie Torres (but, of course, being Grey's Anatomy, he's also referring to George seeing the hand tremor that he's been trying to hide). Also, I like O'Malley's relationship with his family, and I think I often exhibit the same kinds of flaws and frustrations that he feels. Good writing, Shonda Rhimes!

4. Walking
Since I went to New York, I've been trying to keep up my walking. There's not a lot of call for "practical" walking here since most everything is within driving distance. Even so, I'm thinking of going back to walking or biking to campus on the days that I teach.

5. Mike Doty
As I'm working on my chapter, I'm listening to some of Mike Doty's solo work including Skittish and Haughty Melodic. While these aren't 2007 albums, I'm returning to some partially-forgotten roots here. Doty is the former frontman of Soul Coughing, a band I first saw when I was in undergrad. They opened for They Might Be Giants, and I've been a fan ever since. Doty has the rare ability to be soul-rending and clever. I usually don't respond to soul-rending (please see Matthews, Dave: hate him), but Doty persuades me. Bonus points: his "Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well" was featured in a GA episode.

I feel
as if I am looking at the world
from the bottom of a well
I feel
as if I am looking at the world
from the bottom of a well
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down
and the only way to beat it is to bat it down

6. Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling
I tend to study at a lot of coffee shops, and this means I use a few too many coffee cups. If I have a "resolution" this year, it is to use the travel cup I bought and only use occasionally. This will save on my contribution of paper or plastic cups and straws.

7. My Academic Work
Yea me! I am on a freaking roll!