Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Movies Alone

I write a column every week for about movies and it can sometimes be tricky. I’m lucky in that my editors have given me a pretty free reign on what I can write about, but I need to keep in mind that a big chunk of the audience is, well, people who watch MTV. Most weeks I tend to take on the role of Professor Rewind, trying to teach the kids a thing or two about the history of film, or get them to broaden their horizons or thinking a wee bit. Occasionally I’ll pander to the crowd, tossing in a list of movies about losing your virginity, but more likely I’ll tell them why my pop culture is better than theirs (something some would claim I've been doing for decades).

This week I’m working on an overview of the films written, directed by and starring Albert Brooks. And it’s been a real test of my “Don’t Spend Money” resolution because as I’ve been writing, I’ve had a big ol’ hankering to own Modern Romance, Real Life and Lost in America. Two things are holding me back, though: Not all of Brooks’ films are out on DVD and those that are are (1) too expensive and (2) really lacking in bonus materials, especially for the price. Modern Romance is coming out soon and it’s happily a cheap price, so I’ll eventually get that (it’s my favorite Brooks film anyway). But Geez Louise, doesn’t it seem as if most of Brooks’ oeuvre is ripe for the Criterion treatment?

Speaking of movies, I realize I’m late to the table here, but I saw Million Dollar Baby on HBO last weekend and HOLY SHIT.... That.... movie..... SUCKS. Bowing the eternal reign of subjectivity, I still think that it’s just a flat out BAD MOVIE.... awful cartoony characters, ridiculously huge plot holes, a clich├ęd, predictable story... I honestly do not understand the heaps of praise this movie earned. My biggest (of many) complaints? That not ONE PERSON ever told Maggie (the so overrated Hilary Swank) what “Mo Chuisle” (the Gaelic term on the back of the robe given her by her beloved trainer / manager / surrogate whatever Frankie [Clint Eastwood]) meant? It seems minor, but it’s such a huge part of the plot that it’s just too much to buy that she remained ignorant of its meaning until Frankie tells her right before he pulls the plug on her (and calmly walks out of the facility). Yeesh.

This week I went to see two movies alone. I never used to do that when I was younger. But these days, Movies Alone feels like the wave of the future. Or the name of a Blog. Hey, how about just the heading of this entry.

Happy Lungs

So, the big conversation at the bar last week was the signing of the Smoking Ban in New Jersey. By mid-April, cigarette smoking will be a thing of the past in New Jersey bars and restaurants, just as it’s been in New York (and 9 other states) for the past few years. Since the New York smoking ban, the ability to light up in Jersey has been if not exactly a draw, certainly a happy perk for many hipsters travelling from NYC to Hoboken to see a show at the club where I sling.

My bosses aren’t thrilled about the ban for a number of reasons: They don’t appreciate being told what to do in their place of business, they’re concerned about loss of revenue and mostly, about what the neighbors are going to think of the smokers who will now congregate outside to light up. They’re also pissed about the corrupt hypocrisy that will leave New Jersey casinos exempt from the ban, but that’s moot to me.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited. If they passed a law mandating dollar-per-drink tipping, I wouldn’t be as thrilled as I am at the prospect of a smokeless place of work. For numerous reasons. First, and most obviously, I can now go home at the end of the night and get right into bed instead of having to take a shower to get the smoke stink off of me. I can breathe easier knowing I won’t be inhaling second hand smoke all night long. Please note this is something I never complained about because, yes, it was my choice to become a bartender and I knew full well what that entailed. But that doesn’t change the fact that despite never having smoked in my life, my lungs probably think I do a pack or three a week.

From the bartender’s perspective, it’s going to make our lives easier (no more dealing with matches, change for the cigarette machine or ashtrays)... and your drinks a lot nicer, too. Lemme ‘splain. Since we’ll no longer have to clean out ashtrays a hundred times a night (including wiping up ash off the bar from smokers who think that the ashtray is a general target area rather than a specific desitination for the residue), the odds that our hands will be sullied with the carcinogenic material becomes nil. So, when we touch the fruit to garnish your cocktail, the only grime will come from the money we’ve been handling (okay, that’s probably worse than ash, but still).

But you know what I’m happiest about? That my friends (co-workers and customers) are going to have to smoke less. Anything that curtails that deadly activity is fine with me. And it’s going to be HILARIOUS watching the kids too young to drink struggle to find some new way to seem older. Maybe the guys will complain about their prostates while the gals debate botox injections...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Childhood Art Found!

So, while home over the weekend for the Tiki-Reception for Ange & Dan (congrats, kids), I was cleaning out the attic and finally found the rest of my old childhood drawings. Three of my faves:

Please note that I no longer have this fashion sense (although there are some who may wish I did). And to the best of my recollection, I did not have sideburns at the age of 6 (I can't even grow them now!).

One of dozens of Superman drawings found in the lot, this one's my favorite. What possessed me to draw Kal-El tinkling the ivories, I have no idea. Fill in the thought balloon yourself.

Is that a mask? Black eyes? Why is he pointing? And at what? What are those splotches on his shirt? Your guess is as good as mine.


Richard Sala is a creator of beautifully gothic comics and cartoons (you may remember his “Invisible Hands” cartoon from MTV’s Liquid Television). Often compared with Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, his style is at once charming, eerie and sensual. He’s equally comfortable drawing vampires, ghouls and hunchbacked grotesqueries as he is pretty barefoot girls (heroine Peculia never wears shoes, as with most females in Sala’s work. Whether it’s a metaphor or a fetishistic preference is anyone’s guess). He’s one of a handful of cartoonists whose style seems effortless in its intricacies.

But maybe more importantly, his work is a joy to read. His new graphic novel, Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires (actually the 13th issue of his Fantagraphics comic book, Evil Eye) probably took Sala about five minutes to write, and it’s nothing earth shattering, story-wise. It’s a simple, predictable vampire fairy-tale. You could read the entire thing in about five minutes, but don’t. Take your time, languish in the texture and the mood of the book, feel the slight tinge of guilt over the prurience involving a gaggle of teenage babysitters, taken one by one by the vampire family.

It’s unusual that a creator’s latest work is a good starting point for the uninitiated, but that’s the case here. Peculia and the Groon Grove Vampires is the perfect introduction to Sala’s work (and it’s my favorite graphic novel format, the smaller 8 x 6” size). Odds are you won’t stop there.