Life is a cabaret, old chum 09/25/2008
Ladies and gentlemen, Mein Damen und Herren, mesdames et messieurs, welcome to the Weimar years of the American republic! Bankruptcy, unemployment, class resentment, wars and rumors of war—what better time for a little light entertainment! So here's a motley, magpie cabaret show for your viewing and listening pleasure. First, a sprightly opening number from our master and mistress of ceremonies, something that captures the essence of, the, the—oh, what's the word I'm looking for? The spirit of the age, something like that. Take it away, kids!
Wasn't that delightful? Edifying and entertaining. We're all feeling just a little richer after that, too, aren't we? And since cabaret is nothing if it's not topical, let's range a little further afield for our next number, with a few words from Randy Newman.
Zeitgeist! That's the word I was trying to think of earlier, and a handy word it is, too! And who knows the zeitgeist better than Tom Waits? But which zeit is he singing about the geist of?
Looking for something a little more ragged, a little more...raw? Our next artiste is so salt of the earth, he can't even afford a haircut! And my goodness, what's he so angry about? Ladies and gentlemen, Mein Damen und Herren, Mr. James McMurtry.
My! That was bracing, wasn't it? And since one bad turn deserves another, perhaps we can squeeze in just a bit more gloom and doom from the tomb from our next performer—you know him, you love him—Mr. Richard Thompson.
Oh dear, ladies and gentlemen, I fear I've abused your indulgence; I can see some of you are restless, some of you are already heading for the exits—please remember to tip your waitresses before you go!—but may I beg your patience for one more song? I'd hate to send you out into the night thinking dark thoughts, so let's bring back Mr. Newman for a charming finale. We can always count on him for a smile.
Ah, I think we all feel better now. I know I do. Good night, guten nacht, bonsoir! Come again soon!
Death to Moby-Dick! 09/24/2008
Lord knows I love movies. Lord knows I love movies based on great novels, even ones that take enormous liberties with the original story—Peter Jackson and Viggo Mortenson's reimagining of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings as a tormented, reluctant hero is actually an improvement over Tolkien's more wooden conception of the character—or set the story in a completely different setting or era—for my money, Clueless is one of the best Jane Austen films, and I loved Ian McKellen's Fascist-era interpretation of Richard III. And lord knows I also love—way, way too much—big, dumb, over-the-top action-and-special-effects spectaculars. The first Matrix made me feel like I was fourteen years old again, and I mean that in a good way. Hey, when it first came out, I saw Point Break twice. In one week. So lord knows it's no surprise that I loved the latest movie by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, Wanted, which was (in the manner of Point Break) simultaneously completely preposterous and enormously entertaining, and not just because it featured Angelina Jolie in high action figure mode. How can you not love a movie where an international secret society of super-assassins gets its instructions from (I'm not kidding) the Loom of Destiny, which works its magic in an abandoned factory on the west side of Chicago? So by some sort of transitive property, I ought to be looking forward to Bekmambetov's forthcoming film of Moby-Dick, right? Right?
Read It and Weep 09/11/2008
In between bouts of rage at the return of Karl Rove, both figuratively and literally, to another American election cycle (he's about as easy to get rid of, apparently, as Christopher Lee in a Hammer Dracula film--motherfucker just keeps coming back), episodes of despair at the possibility of four more years of the last eight, and fits of bitter sarcasm about the commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard (insert your own Marge Gunderson/Annie Get Your Gun/Sexy Librarian joke here), I've found some intellectual solace in an article by Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, entitled "What Makes People Vote Republican?" I haven't read the responses to it yet--they go on for pages and pages and pages--but the article itself is extremely thought-provoking--and possibly not very cheering for those of us who want Obama to win. But however depressing the article may be, it's an original (at least to me) explanation of the underlying reasons for the current flare-up of the culture wars. It's also (without mentioning her by name, or, indeed, without mentioning the election at all) one of the shrewdest explanations of the appeal of Sarah Palin.
In which I mostly write about books, movies, and TV. An all-purpose spoiler alert: Sometimes I will talk about these works on the assumption that the reader's already read or seen them, so if you haven't, be forewarned.
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