Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's too bad she won't live. Then again, who does?

The LA Times has a nice story in this morning's paper about "Blade Runner," which is being released this fall in its third incarnation - I am a bit unclear on what is so new about this one except that it's remastered and just happens to be coming out on the film's 25th anniversary. Still, it means the movie will show for an entire month at a theater delightfully close to the house. Huzzah! How many showings can I cram in?

In the Times story, the reporter says this and drops the topic, without citing a source: "The paper unicorn shaped by Olmos' character, for instance, telegraphs to the audience a huge plot point: that Ford's character, Deckard, is himself an android." This prompted me to set down the paper and begin ranting to Art Boy about how sick and tired I am of all this "Deckard is a replicant" business. People think they're so smart because they thought of this cra-azy twist. What is the point of the movie if Deckard is a replicant? The entire film contrasts Deckard, with his crappy overcoat and nasty stubble and near-total lack of conscience, with the gorgeous and noble replicants. Our creations are more beautiful than we are, is the unsettling point of the film. If you take that central conflict away, the movie is pointless. It would be like (here I brandished a piece of bacon at Art Boy, who flinched) if you went around saying the real point of "Gone with the Wind" is that Scarlett was really a Yankee all along. It's just dumb.

Anyway, I got around later on to reading the other Times, which also has an article on the movie. And they address the Deckard-replicant issue head-on -- they even quote Ridley Scott saying, "Yes, he's a replicant. He was always a replicant." God-fucking-dammit. I hate being wrong.

Still... their explanation is actually fairly convincing. They make a good point that Deckard does show some flickers of conscience and is no more loathsome than the other human characters. I think my movie is better, though.

Do I like the movie less now? Hmm. Multiple viewings will be required to determine the answer to this question.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A good day

It is a good day when your yoga teacher - your yoga teacher! - advises you to put more butter on your food. According to her, this is a season where our joints feel creakier and our skin feels dryer. Eating more butter will help. Now that I can do. Namaste!

(She also advised that we bathe in sesame oil and chickpea flour. I wonder if she is trying to eat us.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Happy autumnal equinox, ducklings! The tang of fall is in the air even in Southern California. We had rain for a day or so (I know, crazy) and it's washed away much of the summer's dusty haze, leaving a blistering blue sky and cool breeze. Fabulous. The Elvises in my neighbor's window are garlanded with harvest wreaths. I have, as usual, failed to harvest much of anything from my garden, but am nonetheless celebrating the season of the reaper with some lovely scary movies. (Art Boy: "But you always watch scary movies.")

First up was Final Girl's October Film Club Selection: "The Burning." Like the Friday the 13th films, it concerns a camp populated almost entirely with counselors, who are stalked by a vengeful killer. In this case, the killer is Cropsy, who is angry because a group of campers set him on fire. They didn't mean to, but Cropsy is angry all the same, and has taken up his trusty gardening shears to exact vengeance. Art Boy and I watched this last week (he wanted to Netflick it early & send it back so other FG readers could have at it; isn't he nice?) and enjoyed it tremendously. It opens with a group of boys at camp, whispering urgently above their flashlights, and the entire film retains the feel of a campfire ghost story. Yeah, it's got gore, it's got oversexed counselors, but it's genuinely creepy. (Except for Jason Alexander's scenes, in which he will not shut up. Art Boy and I imagined him constantly improvising on set, trying to take over each scene with his jovial banter, pissing his colleagues off. It's fun to see him, though. Holly Hunter's in it too, but is much quieter.) If you're hungry for a slasher set in the woods, this is a great bet.

As for the gore... this was the uncut version that's just been released on DVD, and my is it graphic. Cropsy's gardening shears slice merrily through foreheads, necks and limbs, all thanks to the wizardry of Tom Savini. It's lots of fun but the gory moments have sort of a similar feel to the ones Savini created for "Dawn of the Dead": the action almost seems to stop at each one, as if to allow the audience to go "Agggh!" It feels like a tiny interruption. After a while it almost feels like the movie has the hiccups.

I didn't give this a whole lot of thought until last night, when I settled down with Peter Jackson's classic splatterfest "Dead Alive," (Art Boy would not watch this with me), in which a young couple's burgeoning romance is hampered by a zombie plague. I knew it would be gross - I had seen the luncheon scene, with the custard, and I knew about the lawnmower finale. But oh my God. I was shocked. This movie is so tasteless, so over-the-top, so completely disgusting that I watched most of it with my fingers over my eyes going "Ugggh!" (This is different from going "Agggh!") Zombie baby in a Cuisinart, pus in the custard, writhing masses of reanimated intestines that are still passing gas... I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I absolutely adored it. For every "Ugggh!" something made me laugh out loud. (For example, the heroine's indignant shriek of "Your mother ate my dog!" and the sheepish retort "Not all of it.") It's funnier and better paced than "Evil Dead 2." It has a consistently beautiful look - it's set in 1957, and the sets, cars and costumes are gorgeous. Jackson uses color exquisitely: mostly red and green, often spewing out of a zombie or fresh victim. And the gore just... looks nice. It's seamlessly woven in with the action; this movie is sick, but it definitely has not got the hiccups. Sure, it could just be that the whole point is gore. I'm fine with that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Out of town

Took myself to Joshua Tree National Park yesterday. Very hot, very beautiful, a very good trip. I listened to Boards of Canada & Neil Young, walked on hot rocks admiring prickly plants, drank lots of water, ate lots of Starbursts while driving (unwrapping them carefully with my teeth, as there was no Delicate Flower to do it for me), enjoyed the absolute silence. Photos here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I know you darlings will all join me in mourning the passing of Madeleine L'Engle -- "Wrinkle in Time" author, thoughtful Christian, and tall lanky cutie. Her obit in the NYT is pretty nice, and I note with gratification that it's their most popular story today. I read a lot of Madeleine's memoirs around about middle school and found them hugely inspiring. She was a smart woman who never talked down to her readers and wasn't afraid to wrestle with her faith on the page. She also wrote directly about how awkward and clumsy she could be, which was a great thing for me at age 13.

Thinking about her oeuvre today, I realize how long it's been since I read anything of hers besides "Wrinkle," which stays on my shelf & gets reread occasionally. Madeleine could be all over the map - "A Wind in the Door" is particularly bizarre, and "Certain Women," one of her last adult novels, was a real snooze. But "The Small Rain" is just a lovely book, sort of a modern "Jane Eyre," and "The Other Side of the Sun" is a decent Southern racial drama. I also dig "A Swiftly Tilting Planet." The New Yorker had an interesting profile of her in 2004 - unfortunately it's not archived online - in which her family members are variously angry and dismissive about her memoirs. Still, she wrote great stuff. She was sensitive yet tough. She kicked ass and took names. I mourn her.

Yesterday a thoughtful colleague, with whom I had never discussed Madeleine's work, sent me a nice note with her condolences; she was sad about the news and knew I would be too. I just loved that.
My brother also tried to call me when he heard the news, but didn't realize I had changed my cellphone number (last year) and called some random guy in Ohio by mistake. The random guy's feelings on the passing of Madeleine L'Engle are not known.


A cure? For nail biting? Please. I have bitten my nails ever since I had teeth, and if I wanted to quit, I would have done it by now. (God knows my parents tried everything they could think of, bless them.) I don’t need to pay some damn Dutchman $670 for a mouth guard. It’s no wonder his customers were too embarrassed to be interviewed. These are probably the same people who buy those products advertised in the backs of teen magazines. (And if I were this reporter’s editor, I would have spiked this story. The damn Dutchman can buy his own ad in the back of the paper if he wants one.)

At least now I know the word for it: onychophagy. Sure, it’s not a clean habit. I do try to be vigilant about biting at work during flu season. And I consciously keep my nails from being too gross: they don’t bleed, they aren’t ragged; they’re just very, very short nails. I kind of like that I bite them. I enjoy it. It’s something I do while I’m thinking. (And hell yes, I bite my toenails. I am very bendy.)

The tone of this story is completely out of control. “Self-mutilation”? “Obsessive-compulsive disorder”? For Christ’s sake, we don’t have to diagnose and treat everything. People are untidy. We get sad; we eat too much sometimes; we bite our nails. If we had no flaws, we’d be boring. We’re beautiful as we are.

This violent reaction has nothing to do with having just watched “X-Men 3” again. Really.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Devil's Eyes

Art Boy and I celebrated Labor Day by going to see the “Halloween” remake. We are both pretty big fans of the original (as we demonstrated with our South Pasadena field trip last fall; still pretty much the only movie-fan-type thing we have done in L.A. so far). Neither of us expected it to match the original; I think both of us were ready for an interesting exercise in “Halloween” fandom. And that is what we got. Would I recommend this? Not really. And yet it was interesting.

Rob Zombie takes John Carpenter’s beautifully spare slasher film and turns it into Act III of a psychological drama. Act I is young Michael Myers, unhappy in a rotten home, working up to the slaughter of his older sister that opens the original movie. Here we see him tormented by a dysfunctional family life and taking his pain out by torturing animals. I have not got much patience for this sort of thing. The very first image is Michael picking up a pet rat, so I spent the first five minutes of the “Halloween” remake with my eyes covered. Kind of a drag. But the look of Act I is absolutely gorgeous. Rob Zombie and his genius cinematographer have a beautiful white-trash sensibility - a filthy kitchen becomes a work of art in their hands. And young Michael is very creepy in his clown mask. There are some nice in-jokes, too: one of the first lines in the movie is a scream, from the baby who’ll grow up to be Laurie.

Act II is young Michael in the institution with Dr. Loomis. It’s just nothing like I imagined it from Donald Pleasence’s monologue in the first movie: “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil.” The image that gives you is so chilling… and here we have Malcolm McDowell, sitting across from this blond kid who’s saying “Can I go home?” just like any kid would. This is the part that’s sort of a shame, I think. You don’t really see evil behind this kid’s eyes. If anyone’s creepy at all, it’s Dr. Loomis. But still, these scenes are just riveting, somehow. And the adult Michael coming out of his cell in his orange mask, oh my God. That’s new, and that’s scary.

Act III tries to tie all this together with the original storyline, and of course it doesn’t work. You don’t really worry about anyone or feel sorry for anyone, and it all happens so late that you don’t even really identify with the Laurie character the way you’re supposed to. I spent this whole segment completely distracted by the contrast between the 1970s teenagers and the girls from 2007. Annie and Lynda are so badass in the original. They say “shit”! They wear blush in straight lines across their cheekbones! I don’t know, these girls today are so sensitive, all falling over each other and calling each other “baby.” It really annoyed me when Lynda called Laurie and said “I care what you think.” They just don’t seem as cool. What does this mean? I’m not sure. It also bothered me that Annie’s fate is left a bit up in the air.

But again, the look of the first act is absolutely gorgeous – it’s like looking through your parents’ faded Polaroids, or listening to Boards of Canada. (I bet Rob Zombie hates Boards of Canada.) The moment when tiny Michael puts on his iconic William Shatner mask for the first time is pretty good – I love the image of him walking down the hallway, looking like a hideous dwarf version of the famous killer. You laugh but it gets under your skin. Rob Zombie’s cameos are pretty fun: here’s Brad Dourif! Here’s Dee Wallace from “The Howling”! Here’s, ah, Micky Dolenz! (I completely forgot that Adrienne Barbeau had a cameo and missed her. We are both still annoyed about this.) And, while the final showdown went on way too long, I loved the final shot of Laurie screaming and screaming. Not for Rob Zombie the fetching trickle of blood at the corner of the victim’s mouth: his stabbing victims are absolutely covered in gore. Laurie’s blood-drenched shrieks were operatic.

So yeah, we liked it. I’d watch parts of it again if it ever came on TV. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone besides us, but as we expected, it’s an interesting exercise. I really can’t wait to see what RZ does next.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

At the corner store

On impulse, I stopped in at the tiny liquor store & market on the way back from flamenco tonight. It was dark, Art Boy was still out and the fluorescent lights looked welcoming. Also, I needed bourbon. 

The first guy in line was buying lottery tickets. A ponytailed older gentleman, who looked not quite homeless but rather well-worn, was  next: he bought a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket. Behind me, a young teenager squeezed between the racks, his friend standing in the doorway with a leashed dog yelling "Get me a Sprite!" 

The teenager turned and yelled back, "Do you want anything else?"

"What?" his friend called. 

"Do you want anything else?"


"Do you want anything else?"

It went on at least twice more. The friend finally said "Yeah, see if they have any Twinkies."

The ponytailed guy, now putting his change away, exchanged glances with me and we grinned. Behind the counter, the young South Asian proprietor asked me what I wanted. 

"Could I please get the large bottle of Wild Turkey?" I asked, pointing.

Ponytail guy and teenager both looked at me and said "Woo-hoo!"

"Wild Turkey!" continued the ponytail guy. "Wow. Now is that the 72 proof or the 101?"

"Ah. I'm not sure," I said. "I'm just taking what they've got." The selection here is small; it really is just a little storefront.

"What proof is that?" ponytail guy asked the proprietor, who gestured for him to move along. This agitated ponytail guy: "I'm just curious."

"It's 101," I said, looking at the bottle.

"Very good!" said ponytail guy. "Have a good night." He headed out. I paid and left without incident. Ponytail guy was headed up Lincoln past the Taco Bell. I turned left toward my house, went on in, and made myself a nice Manhattan. Cheers to ponytail guy, cautious proprietor, the two teenagers with Sprite and Twinkies (of course they have Twinkies!), and the cute dog who, if this were an English-class discussion, would be what the story was really about all along.