Thursday, April 25, 2013

“I’m Sorry.”

People, we must decide a better alternative to “I’m sorry” as the response to hearing that someone’s someone has died. I recognize that “my condolences” makes you sound like a count who is visiting the Americas as part of some sort of world tour and who is likely near death himself, and I unfortunately have nothing better to suggest, but I can only report that “I’m so sorry” is conversational homicide. Upon being told this, there’s simply nothing I can think to say or do. “Thanks?” can’t cut it. And “No worries, you didn’t do it on purpose,” never gets the response I think it will, even though I think it hits on the fact that “I’m sorry” in just about every other conversation is an admission of guilt and not a simple expression of “I have sorrow.” Yes, I do understand that “I’m sorry” is basically the death empathy version of “namaste” — “I recognize in you the ache caused by the recognition of mortality, for I have it too” — but I just can’t figure out what to say in return. “Bingo”? Is the answer “bingo”? Is there a hand signal I can be giving? (Folds hands, bows solemnly.)

... Just tell me how I should be doing this.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Me Gusta la Banana

I think we have a new contender for worst song ever: the 1984 recording “Banana” by someone calling herself Jane Chiquita.


If the pairing of name and subject matter seem a little on the nose, then you too may be questioning whether this could be a joke. Or maybe it’s just some poor woman’s realization of her banana-centric destiny, at which point she, having completed the task for which she was sent to Earth, simply stopped existing. What I’d like to think — what I’m hoping, really — is that the song is about dicks and the suits in the studio said, “No, Jane, you can’t record a song just about dicks, even though this is Italy,” and so she was all, “Fine. Let’s make it about flesh-colored swords. No, wait — bananas! That’s easier to rhyme.” Because I can’t wrap my head around anyone thinking it would be a good idea just to make a song about how much they like bananas, though it wouldn’t be the first time someone had been tricked into singing about dicks.

Me being shortsighted, I took Latin as my foreign language, and so I can’t be sure what she’s actually singing about? Is this song in Spanish or Italian? Can someone smarter tell me if the lyrics are filthy? Or is it just a celebration of potassium?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Literal Measure of Beauty (or — How Many Ships Have You Launched Lately?)

Finally, an objective way to gauge everyone’s appearance!
millihelen (MILL-eh-HELL-en) — noun: the amount of beauty needed to launch a single ship.
Today, Helen of Troy is known as the beauty who launched a thousand ships. Taken as a literal measurement, then, a millihelen would be one-thousandth of a helen, and therefore pulchritude enough to launch one ship. Once you get beyond ships, the math gets complicated. How many millihelens would one need to launch four guys riding two tandem bicycles? Or a VW Thing full of dogs? Or a tricked-out cropduster piloted by Erik Estrada? That’s for the eggheads to figure out, I suppose. There is probably a doctoral thesis somewhere in here.

rossana podesta, launching more than ships in a scene from the 1956 epic helen of troy
Helen, wife to Menelaus and therefore the queen of Sparta, was kidnapped by Paris, a prince of Troy, and we’re told this offence set off the Trojan War. The phrase “the face that launched a thousand ships,” however, doesn’t appear anywhere in the Iliad. No, it’s actually Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus that first uses that phrase in reference to Helen, who appears as a non-speaking character. In fact, as Wikipedia points out, the Iliad actually notes that 1,186 ships left for Troy: “As such, Helen herself has a beauty rating of 1.186 helens, capable of launching more than a thousand ships.”

There seems to be some disagreement over who invented the word, with some sources crediting mathematician W.A.H. Rushton and others Isaac Asimov. Because Marlowe’s full description of Helen includes that she “launched a thousand ships, and burnt the topless towers of Ilium,” David Lance Goines writes that the arson potential is also important: “If ships launched were the sole measure of beauty, Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower would emerge, without peer, as the most desirable of women. Marilyn Monroe would not even be in the running. The pyromaniacal inclinations of the toothsome Mamie and Eleanor were, however, imperceptible. They didn't even smoke.” Goines therefore calculates that a millihelen should be beauty enough to launch one Homeric warship and burn down a house. Goines also estimates that those possessing an attohelen of beauty (10-18 helens) could inspire someone to “light up a Lucky Strike while strolling past a shipyard,” while those possessing a picohelen (10-12 helens) would be capable of getting someone to “barbecue a couple of steaks and toss an inner tube into the pool.”

And if unusual units of measurement are your thing, know that there is also a unit of measurement called the barn, so there are actual scientific implications to describing something as being “as big as a barn.”

Previous words of the week after the jump.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Day Storke Tower Broke

I went to college at UCSB, the campus of which centers around Storke Tower, a 175-foot phallus erected in honor of Thomas Storke, who helped found the school. It’s not just mere penis worship: Storke was also the editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, and during his tenure the paper published a series of editorials condemning the John Birch Society that ultimately won Storke a Pulitzer. It’s fitting, then, that the office of the college paper, my once-beloved Daily Nexus, sits beneath it, even though this should logically mean that its situated in the tower’s pubic forest or possibly the ball sac, if you’re extending the penis metaphor (and when are not?). The tower also houses a 61-bell carillon that spells out the university motto, “Let there be light,” at ten to the hour. It does this by striking a series of bells that are assigned to letters of the alphabet. In practice, it sounds amelodic, but spend enough time on campus and you get used to it. Besides, you just try and get the bells in your genitals to play anything symbolic every hour. Then you’ll see how hard it is.

Sometimes, however, the carillon breaks and that’s when it gets especially interesting. When the bells are just being struck at random, it lends the campus this strange, Hammer Horror atmosphere. Back when he still had reason to be on campus, Spencer recorded the bells sounding all creepy one day. And just now, I found the clip and figured I’d put it on YouTube. Brief though it might be, it gets the mood across fairly well.


May this me the most amelodic portion of your day. Onward toward more melodious tomorrows.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Midnight Swim With Anthony Perkins

Generally, people know one thing about Anthony Perkins, and that’s Norman Bates, which is both a great and terrible thing.

superimposed skull over Norman's face in the final scene sycho

We remember this character because Perkins gave him a fidgety humanity that many movie heavies lack, and that’s a testament to Perkins’ effectiveness as an actor: to make movie-goers identify more with the murderer than with the flighty dumdum who gets murdered. But then again, I suppose the less cinematically literate among us just focus on the cross-dressing aspect of Norman’s character, and that somehow dovetails into Perkins’ real-life sexuality, which tends to be the second thing people know about Anthony Perkins and, like Norman’s, tends to be an unresolved gray area.

Anthony Perkins was more than just the bad guy from Psycho however. In fact, Norman Bates probably added up to a very small part of his life. For example, there’s script The Last of Sheila, which, as I mentioned before, Perkins wrote with Stephen Sondheim. It’s a tight script, and one of those rare murder mysteries that don’t cheat. If you’re especially clever, you could guess the killer in the first twenty minutes. The clues are there. They’re just hard to notice.

On the subject of Anthony Perkins being multi-talented, there’s also the fact that he had a brief pop career. Just three years prior to Pyscho release, Perkins scored a hit with a Hawaiian-tinged love song, “Moonlight Swim.” Lyrically, it’s quite simple — “Let’s go on a moonlight swim / We’re in love and above / There’s a crazy gold balloon / That sits winking down and / Inviting us to come on in” — and he’s not necessarily any smoother-sounding than any other late-50s crooner, but “Midnight Swim” isn’t without its charms. Have a listen:


But here’s the thing: I’d probably dismiss the song entirely were it sung by someone other than the guy who played one of the most famous movie murderers ever. Perkins’ role retroactively makes the song way creepy. I mean, if Norman Bates were asking you to get “far away from the crowd / all alone upon the beach,” you should probably conclude that he wants to stab you to death. There’s none of that menace inherent in the song, however. That’s just us, projecting Perkins’ most famous role onto the plain sweetness of the song, which in this new context seems like a facade hiding something rather sinister. Why else sound so cheerful?

While Perkins didn’t go on to become a music star — singing love ballads, murder ballads, both or neither — his son Elvis Perkins has made good on the musical potential. In 2008, he put out “Shampoo,” a decent indie rock single that, a dark love song whose references to wigs and hair, now that I think about it, still take me back to Norman Bates. Alfred Hitchcock, what have you done?

Psycho, previously:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shadow of the Monsoon

"Yeah, looking at it now. The art is great, and I like the way you've contrasted the wistful look of Private Wilkies against the calculating expression on Frau Harolda. The abstracted plants in the foreground are lovely. So… listen, we feel a little awkward about asking this, but… do you think that a monsoon is a type of jungle cat?"


Oh, the treasures of The Iliad, which redeems the Valley. (One here and one here. They suited the square from of Instagram better. This one did not.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

"I've Been Reading a Lot of Scripts Lately. You Know, It's a Lot Cheaper Than Going to the Movies."

Whereas a lot of people like to point out Wikipedia's shortcomings, I will praise it for a quality that many of you may have overlooked: its ridiculously detailed synopses of movies you should never bother watching. It takes all of two minutes to glean all the highlights, and best of all, these scenes will look better -- sexier, gorier, better choreographed, what have you -- in your imagination than they ever would if you actually watched them, given the films' limited special effects budgets and the technological limits of 1977, which was a great year for terrible movies you shouldn't watch. (Case in point: the Jaws rip-off Tintorera, which I can't imagine being better in movie form than it is in paragraph form.) More than that, however, the synopses have been shaped by the inscrutable impulses of the weirdos who edit Wikipedia, and sometimes the specificity of detail that these people chose to go into is just baffling.

There's almost an art to this, and if you pull single paragraphs out of these, they work as surreal flash fiction -- no point, no pay-off, just weirdness for weirdness's sake, in a way that makes me secretly glad that these words exist together, in this order, as a result of people collaborating across space and time and then deciding, "Yeah, that's good enough."

Here's a good example:
Back in her own apartment, Kim discovers her sink is full of cockroaches; she frantically sprays insecticide on them. She settles down on the kitchen table to eat dinner and flips open the book Fima loaned her. The page she randomly arrives at is titled "The Spiral: Symbol of Women's Power". Kim glances at her plate of noodles and notices that they are arranged in a vague spiral. She spies another roach crawling out of a loaf of bread. Using the book, she bats at it. In the process, her spaghetti dish crashes to the floor. Leaving it on the floor, she leaves to spend Christmas Eve with Hank's family.
Here's the film, if you really must know, but please, no questions about what possessed me to read the synopsis in the first place. And yes, this game works for works of literature, too, but I have a theory that there are more bad movies than bad books. Prove me wrong, world.

Ha. "Fima."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Decidedly Non-Sexual Fruits of Passion

On a hike yesterday, we spotted an extraterrestrial communications antenna that later turned out to be a passion flower — the blossom on the plant that gives us passion fruit.

passion flower passion fruit blossom

Coupled with the fact that the passion fruit comes from the tropics, the flower’s ostentatious weirdness makes it easy to think of the passion in question as being sexual or at least romantic — the kind of emotion you find in those places where middle-aged black ladies go to get their grooves back. This purple-fringed beauty is the plant’s genitals, after all, and my friend even pointed out that “passion fruit” doesn’t sound like it’s an actual, organic product. No, it sounds like a flavor derived in a lab, some the same guys in white coats who invented blue raspberry or wintermint or that unplaceable snow cone flavor we call “Hawaiian.” The plant is real, however, but the dreamy, romantic notions we might today make with passion fruit are way off the park when you consider how the plant got its name. It’s the other passion — the Passion of the Christ passion, in fact.

From Wikipedia:
The name was given by Spanish missionaries to South America as an expository aid while trying to convert the indigenous inhabitants to Christianity. One ingenious expository device was using parallels between the parts of this common South American flower and elements of the account of the torture (the Passion) of Christ prior to his crucifixion. The missionaries said that:
  • The three stigmas reflect the three nails in Jesus‘s hands and feet
  • The threads of the passion flower resemble the crown of thorns
  • The vine’s tendrils are likened to the whips
  • The five anthers represented the five wounds
  • The ten petals and sepals regarded to resemble the Apostles (excluding Judas and Peter)
  • The purple petals representing the purple robe used to mock Jesus’ claim to kingship
So the next time you dig into the deep magenta of a passion fruit sorbet following a candle-lit Valentine’s Day dinner, don’t think about engorged genitals; think about poor Jim Caviezel being tormented and then executed by Roman soldiers. (And also please don’t think too much about the whole sepal thing and why you’re pulling both Judas and Peter from the traditional group of twelve.)

In case you’re wondering how passion, as a word, got mixed up both in Christ’s torment and bodice-ripping, blame the martyrs. It originally came from the Latin patior — “to suffer,” in the sense of patients and patience. According to Etymonline, the meaning drifted from “torment of God’s son” to “strong emotion” when Christian conviction led martyrs to similar abusive treatment, and now we just use passionate more or less to mean “totally DTF.” I like that passion (romantic sense) retains the element of suffering, even if on a buried etymological level, since love and hardship so often go hand-in-hand, but at the same time it’s hard not to look at the evolution of meaning and say, “Damn, we really ruined that word.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How iTunes Match Is Preparing Me to Become an Angry, Elderly Luddite

Not that I want my fear of age to become a recurrent theme on this blog, but here I go anyway.

Back when I worked at the newspaper, we once had a meeting during which we got sidetracked by the arrival of self check-out lanes at the grocery store nearest the office. Initially, we talked about whether these cashier-less lanes might mean the elimination of jobs — the store eventually said it wouldn’t, and the grocer’s union never objected, and since they go on strike at the drop of a hat, I suppose the store wasn’t lying — but the conversation veered into ranting about how these lanes never work properly. Three different co-workers, all of them women older than fifty, swore that they’d never proceeded through the self check-out lanes without the intervention of a store employee. I said this had never happened to me, and a few twentysomething colleagues agreed. The first group insisted that self check-out lanes just don’t work, and without thinking much of it, I pointed out that “maybe this is a generational thing.”

Now, if you want to be beloved by your co-workers, perhaps female ones in particular, it’s maybe best not to point out that their ineptitude with technology may stem from the fact that they’re old as dirt and basically a bad cold away from inevitable embrace of death. People don’t like to hear that — directly or implicitly. I suppose it doesn’t speak well of me that I didn’t inherently know this, but I didn’t, and I do now.

That’s why it pains me to admit that one specific form of technology is making me feel horrifically old and inept, and I may have to abandon it just to preserve my self-confidence. It’s iTunes Match, and holy fuck does it baffle me on a regular basis. (Again, I don’t mean to dwell on the correlation between getting older and not being able to appreciate music, especially on Coachella weekend, yet I’m clearly setting up camp on this miserable foggy hill.) On paper — or in an emailed PDF, in this case — the system sounds simple: Access all your music, even if it’s not stored on your iPhone. In practice, it’s not that simple, and I’d like to think that’s because mice need to spin wheels that turn gears that agitate some elaborate device that puts the needle on some far-away record-player that finally beams your song to your phone so you can make the fifteen-minute drive to work slightly less awful through the magic of Electric Light Orchestra.

In the early stages, I had a lot of problem getting play counts to sync with those on my home base computer’s iTunes. Once I figured that out, I tackled the problem of Match pulling weird album art and sometimes the incorrect version of the song. Then I figured out how to force upon it songs that it deems incompatible. (The secret is “Create AAC version” in the right-click menu.) And with that, I finally established a cordial working relationship with this strange service.

Until last week. Now I’m back at “Either I’m stupid or iTunes Match is just the worst.”

I couldn’t tell you what happened, but my iPhone iTunes now petulantly insists on playing a different song than the one the iPhone screen says it’s playing. Even when I get the song I ask for, it only takes a few plays before it jumps into one of a tracks that it seems to have decided are its favorite. They are as follows:
  • the first track to Todd Glass’s comedy album, which may eventually push me to hate Todd Glass solely on grounds that sentence “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Tempe Improv and the George Carlin Room” now sends me into a panic
  • Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse,” which, let me tell you, does not make you feel any saner when you listen to it in heavy traffic
  • and A.C. Newman’s “On the Table,” which I would really rather keep liking, if I could
I tried reloading all the songs, I’ve asked questions in forums, and if tinkered with the system in every way I can imagine. So far, I’ve achieved no result worth mentioning. I’m actually not writing this for tips. I think I may just be done with iTunes Match altogether. It won. It made me feel old and feeble. “Fine,” I say, “I’ll just listen to stupid Terry Gross interview some fucking cello player. That’s how mad I am right now, iTunes Match.”

In lieu of troubleshooting advice, answer a simple question for me: Is this just the first of increasingly many technological battles that I will lose simply because I was born too late?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Totally Better Than Coachella. Totally.

Oh, Coachella.

overcrowded coachella

So maybe you're not going this year, and you're telling yourself and everyone around you that it's totally cool because you're beyond it now and you don't even really do concerts anymore, to say nothing off a three-day music festival populated by stoned youths who were born after DuckTales ended its series run and maybe never played the original Super Mario Bros. until they got to college and starting getting into "vintage culture." Yeah, that sentence stung a little. Play the refined taste card all you want, but I think all of us original Coachella-goers know that that basically any reason we offer for not going doesn't make us seem any younger -- "It's too crowded," "It's not what it used to be," "I don't want to be rocking out alongside kids I used to babysit," "It's not about the music anymore," "I got that out of my system in 2007," "I don't follow music the way I used to," "I'm allergic to looking at white chicks with dreads who are wearing bikinis and Uggs," "Hipster sweat smells worse," "Three days of concerts and then back to work on Monday? I'll be so tired!" and finally "It's not that everyone who goes to Coachella is a douchebag, but there's a high correlation between people stocking up on sunscreen at the Indio Rite-Aid and people I stopped talking to after I graduated college." Okay, that last one is mine. But yeah, same take-away in the end: "We old. We real old."

Anyway, here's my Coachella weekend, which is being spent in Los Angeles:
  • Not waiting in line for alcohol tonight, in case something rather unexpected happens with my apartment's wine supply.
  • Sleeping in a bed.
  • Sleeping in.
  • Probably not sleeping anything off.
  • Visiting coffee shops and bars that I'd normally avoid for fear of douchebags, because Coachella weekend in L.A. is to terrible people the way that the Oscars or Super Bowl Sunday is to traffic. Enjoy the extra elbow room, everyone!
  • Putting on my bathing suit and running around in the sprinklers, but I do this every weekend.
  • High-fiving literally everyone I pass on the street, congratulating each for their apparent good taste.
  • Downloading the music of music played by all the Coachella bands I haven't heard of until this weekend.
  • Listening to said music while sitting down.
  • Being basically okay with throwing away my trash in garbage cans that have not been altered by local up-and-coming artists.
It's totally better than going to Coachella, I swear. Totally.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Autotuned Disaster Victim

Is The Simpsons funny again? That’s a question TV nerds like to ask. The answer depends on your point of view. No, it’s not “Marge vs. the Monorail”-level funny, but that’s one of the best episodes of any TV show ever. However, The Simpsons is definitely funnier now than it was during its worst moment, the terrible, terrible “Saddlesore Galactica,” which just plain sucked. Nowadays, if I’m home at 8 p.m. on Sunday, I will watch, and I’m usually not disappointed, but I have noted that the show seems to have lost its heart. It’s meaner now, I think, and its jokes skew a lot darker. In fact, The Simpsons now seems better paired with Family Guy than ever in that way. Like I said, this could either be a plus or a minus, depending on your point of view.

Myself, I don’t mind dark humor. And that’s why I can say this bit from a 2011 Simpsons episode is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time: “Autotuned Disaster Victim.”


But I don’t know if I can blame The Simpsons for squeezing humor out of “Oh, you’re an angel now,” mostly because I’m kind of surprised the show beat the real world to reducing someone like this to a meme.

Whatever. I don’t get tired of watching. And that’s great news, considering how someone made a ten-hour extended cut of it.


Way to go, internet! And yes, I’m aware of the weirdness of watching a pseudo-YouTube clip on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scooby-Doo Meets David Lynch

Maybe I would be that guy and attempt to sell you on a quasi-“grown up” version of Scooby-Doo that ditches the one-off mysteries for season-long arcs, but I won’t now. The show has already been canceled, so I’m too late, and statistically speaking, you’re probably too late as well. However, I will at least say that Cartoon Network aired two seasons of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, a show that made an excellent case for secular humanism (no, really) while combining pop culture references and actual character development to create the world that Freddy, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby always deserved to live in. This is a show where Clark and Ellen Griswold from the Vacation movies and Brenda and Dylan from 90210 were recurring characters, where Udo Kier voiced a homicidal parrot, and where thinly veiled versions of Taylor Lautner and Paula Deen ended up being bad guys that those meddling kids unmasked. I enjoyed this show, and not just because it seemed to take place in a fictionalized version of my old stomping grounds.

Cartoon Network is running out the remaining episodes, and they make for something worth watching while I’m doing situps or mindless computer work or what-have-you, and tonight I watched a recently-aired episode where Scooby slips into a dream world. And it just happened to be the dream world from Twin Peaks.

scooby doo twin peaks david lynch red room

scooby doo twin peaks david lynch red room

If you must know, it was Scooby’s way of getting information from his little dachshund girlfriend, who has started warning him about Nibiru because been possessed by a spirit that’s voiced by Amy Acker, whose casting could be a reference to Angel, where Acker played Fred, whose body was also possessed by a wise, powerful entity that didn’t have nice things to say. And yes, the Red Room sequence also featured a dancing dwarf who was voiced by Twin Peaks’ resident dancing dwarf, Michael J. Anderson, backwards talking and all.

These things make me happy — that Scooby-Doo could exist in the Red Room, just for a moment, if only on a series that kids didn’t get (because “What the hell is Twin Peaks?” asks the nine-year-old Cartoon Network fan who’s only tuning in to watch Adventure Time) and that people my age didn’t watch (because “Isn’t Scooby-Doo for babies and didn’t Freddie Prinze Jr. ruin it?). I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll see from the original Scooby gang, but I have to assume that future iterations won’t make the mistake of skewing so adult, with “adult” in this context being the kind of legally grown-up weirdo who still watches cartoons.

Lynchiness, previously:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Stating the Year, Morrissey-Style

So I was listening to The Smiths on the drive home from work, like you’re supposed to on a Monday, and I noticed this peculiar line from “The Headmaster Ritual” — “Sir leads the troops / Jealous of youth / Same old jokes since nineteen-two.” Morrissey means 1902, and earlier in the song he sings a similar line, “Same old suit since nineteen-sixty-two.” I guess we can credit this weird pronunciation either to Moz being Moz or to some Manchester affect that I’m not aware of. But it made me wonder: Why don’t we say “nineteen-two”? Why do we stick the “oh” in there — and it’s always “oh” or “aught” or something, never “zero” even though we’re talking about numbers. It’s an extra syllable you’d think we wouldn’t bother saying, seeing as how we’re in the business of measuring everything — ourselves, our civilization, Super Bowl legacies — in terms of years and therefore referring to years fairly often.

The funny thing is that we did, in fact, refer to the year in a quasi-Morrissey-style from 2001 to 2009. We had to ditch the system of splitting the four-digit year into two pairs of numbers because there’d be no way to, say, differentiate “twenty-one” as the year 2001 from the numeral 21. But I feel like more often than not, people would have said “two-thousand-eight” whereas if we were talking about 2,008 barking poodle puppies, we’d add extra syllable: “two-thousand-and-eight.” Right? And then 2010 came and reverted to the old system: “twenty-ten.”

I guess from this perspective, it seems like we English-speakers jointly decided to add a syllable for the years 1901 to 1909 but were fine with taking a familiar syllable out for 2001 to 2009.

Whatever. Here, listen to The Smiths.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Portrait of Lorina Dunlop

(An imagined drama based on a painting found in a thrift shop basement.)

Painting of an Angry Woman

— She hates it.
— But I captured her perfectly.
— That’s the problem. You painted her the way she looks. And she looks like Agnes Moorehead with cramps. Her eyebrows look like a cursive letter “M.”
— Her eyebrows do look like cursive letter “M.”
— Believe me, I know. But she feels the expression you’ve captured makes her look angry and judgmental.
— I think she looks… thoughtful.
— She does look thoughtful, but she’s thinking about how much money we wasted on hiring you to do her portrait.
— Has it occurred to you that your wife simply complains a lot?
— Yes.
— And has it occurred to you that if I painted her with an unfurrowed brow, she wouldn’t look like your wife?
— It has. In fact, unfurrowed, she’d look like her younger sister, Gladys, who is radiant and beatific.
— Well, I’m sorry if you’re not happy.
— No, I said she hates it.
— I… don’t follow.
— Young man, you’re very talented, very perceptive. You spend a days with Lorina, and I do feel that in capturing her likeness in this painting, you captured the essence of who she is as a person. I’ve been married to Lorina Dunlop for thirty-seven years — thirty-seven inconsolable years spent under the scowl you’ve re-created in this painting. That’s thirty-seven years of wine-drunk cackling at my expense, the majority of that time with an increasing brood of children who share their mother’s disposition. So please don’t misunderstand my message when I tell you that my wife hates the painting.
— …
— I’d like your most elaborate frame — gold and shiny, if you can, something showy. I’m hanging in the living room, immediately opposite the front door.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, Domino!

I interviewed Dyan Cannon on Friday. She was lovely. If you’re not especially well-versed in things that happened before the olive green-turquoise-burnt orange decades, she would be the actress who played one-fourth of the title characters in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which is a movie you should see. The interview concerned The Last of Sheila, which is also a movie that you should see but which carries more clout by virtue of being a cult classic. It’s a stylish murder mystery, and the trailer adeptly demonstrates what sort of aesthetic the director was going for. Observe:


Dyan is the beautiful blonde you see freaking the fuck out at around the forty-second mark. Bonus points: The Last of Sheila was written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, who, unless I’m mistaken, were boning at the time, so I suppose it’s impressive that they finished the script.

However, had I watched the following scene from a different Dyan Cannon film, the inexplicably titled Child Under a Leaf, all of my questions would have been about it. Please watch this 2:25 clip, which also features Dyan playing a blonde who’s freaking the fuck out. From now on, it shall be what I show people if they ever ask me what in media res means.


Questions I’d ask Dyan:
  • Why did you want the baby so badly?
  • Were you trying to rescue your baby or kidnap the weird man’s baby?
  • Wait, do any of these characters know each other at all? Who is kidnapping whom?
  • Is the baby kidnapping the adults?
  • Yeah, but maybe is it? Secretly?
  • Was your character really named “Domino”? Did someone really think that was an okay name for a person to have?
  • Can you tell me who did the music? Because it’s awesome and I want it to be my ringtone.
  • Do you think the baby realized how much cuter it looked when it wasn’t crying and that’s why it’s suddenly all pleasant-looking at the end?
  • And finally, who the hell OKed the poster?
Dyan Cannon, Child Under a Lead poster
via
Apparently they had real stars back then, but not so much with the graphic design skills.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Upon Seeing the New Evil Dead

(In which I ask myself some relevant questions.)


So Drew, I hear you saw The Evil Dead.

Yes, I did.

The original Evil Deads were kind of slapstick-y and funny. Was this movie like that?

No, it wasn’t. Not at all.

The trailer kind of made it look like a grueling experience — a degradation of the human body and spirit.

This would be an instance where the trailers aren’t misleading.

So why did you see it, exactly?

I’m not sure. I think it has something to do with the fact that I went to Disneyland earlier this week and needed, like, the opposite of Disneyland.

Did you win tickets or something?

No, I bought tickets.

That’s “tickets” in the plural.

Yes, there was a second person who also wanted to watch this movie. He kind of has a background in movies and special effects and all that, so I feel like he had a better excuse than I did.

Oh. Well, I see that cute little Jane Levy from Suburgatory was in it. She’s funny and sassy and Emma Stone-ish on TV. Did she get to be like that in this movie?

Well, at one point, when she’s possessed by the demon, she tells threatens to suck her brother’s cock. Some people laughed at that.

In the trailer it looked like she, well, made out with the thin edge of a box cutter and renders herself fissilingual.

You know it. Now I can say I’ve paid to see that happen in a movie theater. It was not the most disturbing thing to happen in the movie.

I heard there’s a prominent theme of drug addiction and the stress of trying to quit the habit. Might The Evil Dead be a good movie to watch if you’re struggling with substance abuse?

No. Oh, god no.

So did you like it?

I’m not sure I can say that I liked it, exactly. But I can tell you that it delivered everything I wanted it to.

Hey, remember when you say Django Unchained and had a problem with the level of violence in general but especially with the intensity of violence directed at its sole female character? Did you feel differently about this movie?

Yes. Even though the level of violence was much higher, though not exactly Dead Alive-level high, to the point where you can interpret it as silly, I’m weirdly more okay with The Evil Dead. I’m guessing that might be a result of Evil Dead not trying to situate its violence in a point in history or attempting any sort of message with it.

So pointless violence is better than meaningful violence?

When you say it like that, my theory sounds pretty fucking stupid, doesn’t it?

So I don’t care if you spoil this for me: Do any of the characters deserve all this hell?

No — people don’t deserve dismemberment. However, as far as narrative arcs are concerned, the horror experienced by Mia (Levy) is what she has to go through to exorcise her demons and overcome her drug dependency. After all, that’s why the characters go to the cabin to begin with: so Mia can dry out. That’s obvious. You could make a case that Olivia (Jessica Lucas) exerts a certain level of hubris in thinking that she, a nurse, could provide the level of care that a hospital would in helping Mia overcome her habit. Mia’s brother, Dave (Shiloh Fernandez) has to die, to compensate for leaving Mia to care for her mentally ill mother, the trauma of which probably caused Mia’s drug habit. And stupid Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) is the one who reads from the Necronomicon, inviting the demonic presence to begin with, so that sealed his fate. That leaves Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), the least developed of the five characters. She doesn’t do anything that would warrant her awful fate, but she also basically doesn’t do anything one way or the other. There’s a moment when possessed Mia bites Natalie and then Natalie cuts off her hand in an effort to prevent getting turned. It doesn’t work, but there was a moment when I was wondering which of the characters would step up and become the hero. It might have been interesting if this limp dishrag of a woman had suddenly found a well of strength and saved the day — if she, now one-handed like Ash in the original seres — could have become the new Ash. That didn’t happen. Mia is the stronger character, and I guess her dying then being jolted back to life allowed the script to have her endure the most heinous torture and then come back as the hero. She sacrifices one of her hands too, BTW, before she dukes it out with her own evil self. Like Ash in Evil Dead 2. So yeah, Mia is the new Ash. But I also feel like Mia being the source of most of the evil but also eventually the hero is an example of the writers pissing down both legs — which literally happens, by the way, just to Olivia, before she cuts her face off with broken mirror shards. That I can’t do anything with. I’m not sure I’m supposed to do anything besides recoil in horror from it.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Twenty Free Movie Titles

The titles are self-explanatory, I feel. Take as needed. I don't need co-author credit on these, but if you want to tell people to go to my blog in your acceptance speech(es), that would be cool.

Six Kitchen Fights and an Explosion

The Absolute End of Michael Cera

The Cactus Who Loved Balloons

Now Who's an Invalid?

Fishes in Desperate Need of Bicycles

ZZZZZZZZZZZZAP!!

Mrs. Sperm Donor

The Sound of Mus-EEEEEEEEK!

Astrid Wildfern's Darkest Secrets

The Family That Slays Together

Revenge of the Manatees

Out of the Way, Mom!

Wilbur vs. Elmer

The Overripe Pear

Pantsless in Pasadena

Let's Make Ayn Rand Spin in Her Grave!

Hamlet on Stilts

When Pole Vaulters Find Love

Your Public Disgrace

The Family That Still Slays Together: Murderson Family Reunion!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

My Problem With the Thirteenth Floor

Does it strike anyone else as being especially quaint that high-rises in the western world still pretend that they have no thirteenth floor? Christmas holidays have become winter breaks, Halloween now celebrates candy and costumes rather than pagan rites, yet the power of the number thirteen endures, just because it’s vague and secular enough that no one gets to be offended by it. The superstition trumps basic counting: You can stand on the sidewalk and number the windows from lobby to penthouse, but when you walk into the elevator, you usually find some alternative math on the buttons. And, of course, you usually don’t see a thirteenth floor.

via flickr user iseethelight (CC license)
The buttons are sometimes arranged so that you’d be less likely to notice the gap, and I can’t decide if I prefer it displayed in this sneaky manner or just with the twelve and fourteen right next to each other, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Either way, just remember your numbers — in order — and you’ll find that it takes the same amount of time to get from the eleventh to the twelfth floor as it does to take to get from the twelfth to the fourteenth.

And all this math-defying silliness just because of an irrational fear that thirteen of something will more likely bring about doom than eleven or twelve of something, even though we obliviously we come across thirteens all the time in our lives and manage not to die from them. You’re just as likely to die on one floor as another, and the number thirteen will probably play no more centrally into your death than will the number two (say, the number of ice cream trucks that hit you), the number 107 (say, your body weight when that eagle carried you away), the number ten (say, the number of poison darts they shot you with before you stopped singing), the number thirty-three (say, the number of Red Bulls your assistant estimates you drank that weekend) or the number five (say, the age of your assailant).

Here’s my legitimate question: If people are really all that worried about the undefined misfortune that will result from this number, can I spend the night in hotels’ thirteenth floors for less money? Clearly, it’s a huge safety risk — why else pretend it doesn’t exist, San Jose Airport Marriott? — but I’m brave enough to say that it’s no more dangerous than staying on any hotel floor, save for the ground floor in a motel, which is a guaranteed sentence. No, let me stare misfortune in her creased, sun-damaged face. Make it fun. Make it the death-defying package. Go and Final Destination up those hallways to make a night in the hotel a night of living on the edge.

I understand that hotels and our taller apartment buildings may worry that people won’t find undefined misfortune all that comforting. That’s cool. You need to make money, vertical buildings. But if you’re set on keeping us from living on these floors, instead placing non-residential, non-overnight facilities there such as maintenance rooms, restaurants and pools, then consider this: Doesn’t the undefined misfortune you’re anticipating stand an equal chance of taking our janitors, diners or swimmers? You must admit: Each role poses a risk that non-janitors, non-diners and non-swimmers don’t have to worry about. (For each, it’s E. coli.)

Clearly, I’m right. So please allow me to offer the best solution to this dilemma. Build the thirteenth floor. Label it as such on the elevator dial. But then populate it with whatever combination of murderers, black cats and grease fires seems appropriate so that when the elevator does stop there, people can say, “Hey, it’s not just a superstition. See? The thirteenth floor really is bad news.” And everyone else in the elevator will say, “Yes, it’s true. We live in an advanced society.” And then the murderer’s hookhand will snag whoever’s closest to the door and drag them out, but everyone else will nod in agreement and how far we’ve come as a society. “To think,” they’ll say, “our ancestors once feared the thirteenth floor for no reason at all!”

No, that’s not better, but it’s sensible, you know?

And speaking of, would it not be sensible to fear the number twenty-six more on account of it being two thirteens?