Saturday, December 22, 2007

Random Holiday Thoughts

• That old SNL skit, “The Lost Ending to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE" isn’t half as funny as you remember.
• Conversely, ELF seems to get better with each passing year.
• Egg nog really is delicious. Especially in coffee.
• Even most ardent Christmas music haters can’t deny the awesomeness of Jimmy Smith’s CHRISTMAS 1964 (aka CHRISTMAS COOKIN').
• But they should really also get to know the majesty of the holiday sounds of Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews & Andre Previn, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Ramsey Lewis, Brenda Lee, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Kenny Burrell…
• But it's true, contemporary Country, R&B and over-vocalizing Pop stars can destroy even the most indestructible carol.
• There are really few things in this world I find more beautiful than Christmas lights.
• Damn global warming.
• You are the sweetest, most thoughtful chick ever
• How on Earth can someone have grown up in this country and never seen A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS?
• Speaking of, Paramount home video REALLY needs to get on that special edition DVD (although since it's currently out-of-print, perhaps my dreams will come true...).
• Clarence was right.
• How did we ever get all this stuff done before online shopping?
• I’d love to edit a collection of Christmas comic book stories (with the Archie tales from the 60s given top billing).
• When I master the technology to burn better DVD compilations, watch out!
• Being too cold is far preferable to being too hot.
• Snuggly is a good adjective.
• You don’t have to believe in God to believe in “Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards men” (In fact, given all the violence in the world begat by religion, it’s probably an easier concept to get behind if you DON’T).

This time of year, I always get a lot of raised eyebrows from people who know me primarily as a somewhat cranky cynic who tends to reject a lot of what our culture tries to shove down our collective throats. You’d think I’d be just as cynical about Christmas, especially as it (like everything else) does become more and more commercialized and overexposed every year. Besides, don’t I totally reject the ostensible reason for the season? What the ef?

The fact is, this is and will always be my favorite time of year, regardless of my somewhat rabid atheism. But Christmas has certainly evolved over the years (and it’s always combined elements from secular celebrations) and, like most other holidays, it can mean different things to different people.

Certainly, I have a huge affinity for the usual stuffs of the season: the decorations, the music (shut up, it’s great), the gift giving and receiving, the parties, the cards (which I didn’t do this year, sorry), the TV Land Merrython (the DVR is set for Monday), the possibility (ever-decreasing, but still existent) of snow, cookies for breakfast, etc. But I am aware that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

To be honest, this has been a fairly rough year for me. My Dad almost bought the big one, Mom had her own health issues, as well as my dear Aunt Pix, and even my baby bro’ gave us all cause for concern. In November, I lost my one regular freelance gig (and a big chunk of my income), and have yet to do anything to build on any momentum I may have built by doing the MTV column for two and a half years. (Not to mention how incredibly awful the state of this country and the world is right now, thanks in no small part to our Naked Emperor).

But through it all, I’ve had a really good group of people around me (not the least of which is a certain designer hottie) who always made me feel better. And so, in addition to all the festive trappings of the holiday, Christmas is mostly, for me, a chance to not only be grateful for the people in my life that make it worth living, but to let them know it. Not that I’m not cabable of being a mushy bastard the other 11 months, but, well, it’s more acceptable this time of year to tear up and tell someone how glad you are they’re in your life.


That and egg nog. I really love that crap.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Peanuts Mystery Solved!!

One of the downsides of using the internets as an outlet is that when posting slows, it can seem as if it’s because the author is not doing anything, rather than the opposite. I’ve been so busy my DVR hard drive is almost full of tee vee shows I’ve yet to watch (and I do love me some tee vee). As I rush to get this post online before heading out of town for a few days, I realize that there are a ton of things begging for ranting, but they’ll have to wait. I will say I’ve spent the past week and a half doing the premiere episode of a new comic strip, PRINCE STREET NEWS, which will make its debut in the next issue of COMIC BOOK ARTIST Magazine…. More on that later.

I’ve been promising to reveal a 40 year old mystery for over a month now, and it’s time I give. I would wager that I cradle A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS as close to my geeky breast as anyone on the planet (I could stage a one-man show of the darn thing… just ask my friends). But there was always something that slightly nagged at me. There are three kids in the show who were unidentified. Who were the twin girls and the spiky haired kid who does that shoulder-head-bob dance at the school play? Were they just unnamed extra characters used to fill up space? Or did they have identities?

Well, Volume 7 of Fantagraphics’ indispensable COMPLETE PEANUTS (1963-64, covering, ahem, the year I was born) has solved the riddle. On Monday, Sept. 30, 1963, Linus and Charlie Brown meet the spiky haired kid… whose name is… 5. Actually, it’s 555 95472, but everyone calls him 5 for short.

And the twins? They’re 5’s sisters, whom we meet some weeks later on October 17th. Their names? 3 and 4. (Predating SEINFELD’s gag about George naming his kid 7 by decades).

The numerically-named siblings were Charles Schulz’s commentary on the ever-increasing use of numbers to identify individuals, from Social Security to zip codes to expanded phone numbers. There are a few funny strips surrounding the kids (such as the one in which Snoopy, who has problems with names, isn’t sure if it’s 5 or V), but it seems as if Schulz came to feel that they were one-note jokes. They didn’t disappear from the strip altogether (5 makes appearances through the end of the book), but, as in the Christmas cartoon, they quickly become relegated to tertiary status in the Peanuts universe.

It’s also interesting to note that their last name, 95472 is their zip code… which would place them in Sebastopol, California. So, did the kids just move from the west coast to Charlie Brown’s unnamed, but very seasonal neighborhood? Or does it snow in Sebastapol California? Hmm…

Only future volumes will tell how long 3, 4 and 5 stayed in the ‘hood, but it’s nice to now be able to fully identify every single character in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Although in all honesty, I can’t tell 3 and 4 apart at all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Defending the Enemy

I cannot stand Kathy Griffin. I find her to be the epitome of Hollywood hypocrisy, someone whose entire shtick of trashing the superficial, narcissistic nature of celebrity is rooted not in a genuine disdain for it, but a jealous narcissism that’s every bit as despicable as the behavior of those she excoriates (I’ve heard stories from people who know her that back this up). I never thought she was funny (remember when she had a fifteen minute “bit” that was just about the fact that she had a line in PULP FICTION? Hilarious!!!), and still don’t.

NOW, having said that, I gotta back the bitch. For those who missed it, upon receiving an Emmy® for her Bravo reality show (at the B-Level Creative Arts Emmy ceremony, which I guess makes sense), Griffin said, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."

Immediately, of course, the Christian community came out against Griffin as if she were the Antichrist (as opposed to simply being anti-Christ). Catholic League President Bill Donohue called her comments “Hate Speech” (and he should know, being an expert practitioner himself against gays and non-Christians) and successfully lobbied E! to censor her statements from the broadcast when it aired.

Of course, as an avowed atheist who finds the concept of God to be the most damaging invention in the history of mankind, I found Griffin’s speech to be hilarious. But beyond that, I thought it was a refreshing change of pace and a challenge to the insipid tendency of award winners (in any field) to be so presumptuous as to declare that God (if it does exist) actually took an active hand in the acquisition of their shiny trophy. “Forget all those starving people, victims of war and general injustice in the world, I have to make sure that Rihanna wins a VMA!”

Now, I know that a lot of times, award winners aren’t LITERALLY claiming that the Almighty made their award win a personal project for that day, that they’re just giving general thanks to the deity in which they believe. But a lot of times, they DO seem to be taking that ridiculously self-absorbed notion of a guiding hand to a petty, ludicrous extreme (joining the silly ranks of God-thanking lottery winners, disaster survivors and game-winning athletes). If that idea is offensive not just to atheists like myself, but lots of Christians as well, then can we just please allow ONE PERSON to make a blasphemous gag about a lack of divine guidance?

Apparently not.

All Trick, No Treat

I went to see Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN with fairly low expectations, but was completely amazed at the bland, unfrightening misfire I experienced. It’s almost as if the filmmakers decided, “I know! Let’s remake one of the most iconic, groundbreaking horror films of all time and take out all the scary stuff!” Yes, the long backstory (which shows Michael Myers’ bad childhood) is utterly superfluous. Not only does it remove all of the mystery from the character, but why make Michael sympathetic if you’re going to continue to show him as an utter psychopath? Also, switching most of the climactic action from the mundane suburban home of the original to the spooky, decrepit abandoned Myers home makes the terror less relatable to the audience. The whole film is over-designed (the more intricate mask is not nearly as scary as the simple original).

But the movie’s remarkable lack of suspense is its worst affront. To wit, one of the most horrifying scenes from the original is the one in which Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), after discovering the dead bodies in the house across the street and being attacked by Michael, runs back to the home in which she’s babysitting and bangs frantically on the locked front door for Tommy to open it. The camera cuts from Laurie to the view over her shoulder of Michael leisurely walking across the street, knife in hand, while Tommy, asleep upstairs, slooooooowly awakens and agrees to come down and let his babysitter in… it’s a beautifully agonizing scene, but in the remake, after Laurie discovers the bodies, she runs back across the street and bangs on the door…. But there’s NOT ONE SHOT OF MICHAEL FOLLOWING AFTER HER!!

What makes it so mind blowing is that writer / director Rob Zombie is an avowed acolyte of the genre, the film and the film’s auteur, John Carpenter. Is it possible that he simply doesn’t understand the elements that made 1978’s HALLOWEEN so terrifying and successful? It is possible that, based on nothing more than Zombie’s tattoos, the concept of “Less is More” is a foreign aesthetic to him.

But what’s even sadder is that it was obvious at the showing we attended that most of the young audience had never seen the original. Two girls next to us were screaming and jumping and talking through the whole thing, and their response to my opining that the film wasn’t at all frightening compared to the original was, “It was scarier than THIS?”

So I stabbed them in the necks with knitting needles (Good thing I always knit at the movies).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Autumnal August, SUPERBAD and Other Unpopular Opinions

It’s 85 degrees, and humid as a cheesemonger’s armpit today. Back to normal for August.

For three days last week, northern New Jersey and much of the east coast became wrapped in the most unseasonable weather. In the midst of August, traditionally my most hated month… it felt like Autumn. It was gray and chilly and rainy. Tuesday the temperature hit a high of 59 degrees. It was glorious.

Of course, not everyone agreed with me. One of my coworkers referred to the weather as “gloomy.” Janice Huff, the meteorologist for WNBC in New York (aka TODAY SHOW Tryouts) was practically apologizing for the cool weather, promising that by the weekend, things would be “better.” Why do weather people always have to editorialize about the weather? Isn’t it all subjective?

I found the wind and the rain and the cool brisk and invigorating in a marked contrast to the stifling, oppressive, soul-sucking humidity of a dog summer day. But then again, I don’t like a lot of things that are popular.


Which brings us to SUPERBAD. Despite my ever-increasing distaste for Judd Apatow (don’t even get me started on the bullshit conservative fairy tale that was KNOCKED UP or the fucked up mixed message of THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN), the fact that he didn’t write or direct SUPERBAD gave me false hope. I loved the ads for it, particularly the bit about Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) declaring their best-friend-love for each other, capped with a “Boop!” on the nose. I was hoping for an atypical comedy about some awkward teens’ friendship during that key transition from high school to college. What I got was a typical comedy about teens trying to get laid, full of dick jokes and unfunny slapstick and characters so broad they might as well have been cartoons. Whoopee. It’s not hard to believe that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg started writing this when they were kids.

I absolutely despised the entire half of the film that followed Fogell / McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the Neo-Screech) and the fun-lovin’ cops on their booze-fueled escapades. The awkwardness of Evan quickly went from charming to annoying. And worst of all, Seth… is an asshole. He thinks nothing of using people (even his so-called friends) and doesn’t give a shit about anyone except himself (and Evan when he feels like it). His ultimate plan is to get the girl who seems to like him drunk so he can fuck her, and “make” her be his girlfriend for the summer so he, uh, has experience when he gets to college, where he thinks he’ll be able to fuck anyone he wants. What a winner. Why should I root for a lead character in a movie that I’d hate in real life? (And don’t tell me we’re not supposed to root for him; This ain’t ELEPHANT here).

Maybe my problem is that I didn’t spend every waking moment in high school trying to get laid or loaded (not that I was pursuing loftier goals), I just can’t relate to the notion that it’s what everyone did during their teenage years. I laughed out loud numerous times during SUPERBAD, but there were long stretches where everyone around me was in stitches while I sat in silence, kinda wishing I were home watching DAZED AND CONFUSED or RUSHMORE.

I’m also bemused by how excited people are about the Van Halen reunion. Um, Van Halen always sucked, regardless of its frontman. But again, I chant my mantra: “It’s All Subjective; It’s All Subjective; It’s All Subjective….”

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COMING SOON: A 40-year old conundrum solved! Who were those mysterious twins and the spikey haired kid in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS? The answer will astound you!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Black Knight Triumphs

In case you couldn’t tell, I am a cynic. Always have been, really. My earliest political memory is Watergate, which engendered a distrust of politicians at the age of 8. I started doubting the existence of God at a pretty young age (thank you, Pastor Michael). I got into trouble in high school for questioning and challenging authority. And I always felt that most things that most people like are crap.

Over the years, my cynicism about human nature has compounded. It became my feeling that most people were narcissistic and apathetic, that even basic “good” behavior was rooted in some kind of self-serving ulterior motive, be it hoping for positive Karma or fearing some Ultimate Divine Retribution for being “bad.”

More recently, I became extremely cynical about Love, with a capital “L.” Not that I hadn’t felt it, I had, a few of those times with (as some say) every fiber of my being. But for very different reasons, in each case, it never worked out for me, just like it usually doesn’t work out for most people (think about it, everyone’s had a bunch of failed relationships, with only a relative few finding love that truly grows and lasts).

And in some of my cases, when it didn’t work out, I crashed. Hard. I dug a pit of destructive self-pity into which, I’m sad to say, I dragged some friends and acquaintances along with me (those patient and compassionate people have my eternal apologies and thanks). I became defined by the person I lost, became obsessed with trying to figure out what went wrong, or trying to win them back or at times just wallowed in my own black pool of depression. It was quite pathetic.

And then, about two years ago, after the last particularly soap-operatic relationship denouement, I defied everyone’s expectations by just… getting over it. Quickly. I had an epiphany. I had had enough of allowing other people to dictate who I was and how I felt. And, for maybe the first time in my life, I saw the joy of being alone. I wasn’t looking for the next love of my life (although I did continue to date), I spent time with friends and went to movies by myself and enjoyed my freedom and solitude. I had come to feel that the effort of trying to make one person your be-all and end-all was stupid, and that the pain of love ending was not worth the passing pleasures of love existent. A simple, uncomplicated life divided amongst friends was better.

And then, in an instance of cosmically bad timing, I met someone. Actually, I had known her for some years, casually, as a customer and sometimes performer at the bar where I sling. We had a long history of flirting, but had never known each other outside of that context, and we also seemed to always be in the opposite situation. When I was single, she wasn’t and vice versa.

But this time, the situation was, well, not exactly even, but winding in that direction. She was going through a separation from her husband and moving back to Hoboken and we started to really get to know each other. And it was good. The things we had in common were scary, and the attraction was undeniable. We made each other laugh. A lot. We spent more and more time together.

For a while, we were both happy to keep things light. She was going through too much to jump right into something serious with me, and I was still in that place where I didn’t want another relationship. Maybe ever. But as time wore on, and feelings deepened, she wanted more. I continued to keep her at arm’s length, engaging in sometimes silly, stupid, distracting behavior that she would come to call self-sabotage. Finally, just after Christmas, she had had enough. It was time to, to use a colorful euphemism, shit or get off the pot.

And so, still full of reservations, but afraid of losing her, I agreed to enter into an official relationship. It was not the most romantic beginning, and what played out over the next few months was, on my end, half-hearted. I was still afraid. Only instead of discussing my fears with her, I opted to talk about it with other people. She could sense the tension and began reacting in an understandable, but also destructive manner. It wasn't long before she got tired of putting up with a C-level boyfriend, and things came to an end.

Well, sort of. She tried to sever the relationship completely, but that didn’t last; Neither one of us was able to stay away. The fact that we work together (something that started after we’d begun hanging out, by the way) certainly didn’t help matters. We were friendly, but oddly distant and awkward. She began dating other guys. I stayed home, feeling no desire to even hang out with any women casually.

I grew sour. Restless. A dissatisfaction took root, one different from what I’d felt after other breakups. Things felt unresolved, almost unreal. I now know it’s because I just wasn’t truly dealing with anything rattling around inside of me. Was I really happy being alone, or was I just being safe? I had spent so much time forging and shining my defensive Single-Armor that I didn’t wanna take it off.

Then very late one night, as I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, I received a series of text messages from my friend and co-worker Lauren. Lauren had been there for two of my breakups, and was of considerable aid in the last one, granting me much in the way of perspective. She knew my feelings about love and all that jazz, and, unlike so many other girls I know, she has her shit together when it comes to relationships (Lauren refreshingly doesn’t HAVE to have a boyfriend, she’s completely fine being on her own until something feels right to her).

Lauren’s text messages read like the impassioned blurt of someone who’d been holding back an opinion for a long time. In a caring, yet borderline scolding manner, she told me how much she liked the woman I was letting go, how much of a good match she thought we were, and asked me to seriously consider what would happen when she found someone else. In fact, I had already been considering those things, but hearing it from Lauren made it seem… urgent.

And then, another epiphany. I was being an idiot. Lauren was right.

And so, soon after that, with no reservations and much enthusiasm, I made things right. We started over, considering what led up to the fresh start a long, awkward gestation period. The almost four months since then have been pretty damn great. We’re still working, still learning, but finally, the time is right… for both of us.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still a cynical misanthrope (to quote Linus Van Pelt, I love humanity; It’s PEOPLE I can’t stand). I still get all sneerful (my word) of the way so many people blindly follow society’s dicta. I still don’t believe in fate or karma or God or destiny or anything, really…

…Except Lysa. I believe in Lysa.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Less Than Meets the Eye

As life gets back to normal (for now, anyway), I can return to the mundane…

I saw TRANSFORMERS. Not because I wanted to so much as I felt I had to (see here for reason why). The movie itself was silly and loud. But more than anything, it made me feel old. In fact, no piece of pop culture, not SAVED BY THE BELL, not that book about Emo, not even BRATZ: THE MOVIE has ever made me feel more ancient than TRANSFORMERS.

There’s a shift in every nerd’s life that can be a jarring epiphany. When you’re a kid, everything you ingest from food to TV shows is made by people older than you. When you hit your late twenties, you start to notice advertising and other elements of consumer culture that prey on nostalgia… your nostalgia. I remember freaking out when a car commercial put a vehicle at the start of an enormous orange plastic Hot Wheels track. Realizing that the guy who wrote that ad was my age was kind of an signpost of adulthood. Suddenly, movies were being made of comic books from my youth, documentaries were produced about bands I grew up with (as opposed to those from the 1960s), nostalgic tomes about food packaging I remember picking up with Mom at the A&P were being published by Taschen and Chronicle.

Time marched on. And then one day, another car commercial. As the camera rotated around some vehicle lost to memory, the announcer asked what kind of lunch box I had as a kid. As I pondered the metal (now) collectibles that carried my Chef Boy-ar-dee Beefaroni and Fritos to Rohrerstown Elementary (Superman, Batman, the Green Hornet), the punch line came: “Was it THE A-TEAM?”

Wha--- NO! I was in COLLEGE when that stupid piece of crap premiered! I realized at that moment that I was no longer a part of the prime demographic, that even though I lived the life of a 25 year old, I was now in my thirties. Madison Avenue was done with me.

And now Hollywood is kissing the collective tuckus of the generation that followed X. True, I was (and remain) enough of a pop culture geek to know what Transformers was, to even have a snippet of the old theme wedged in my head (the “more than meets the eye… robots in disguise” bit, of course). But I’d never seen the show, never owned a toy, never read the comic book. I had zero… ZERO interest in seeing this movie.

And on top of that, when I’d see the trailer in the theater or a commercial on TV, I’d get very confused… “What’s happening? I can’t tell what’s going on in that shot! Is that a truck?” It all just looked like a jumble of CGI machinery with almost no discernable design.

And yet, there Y and I were, plunked down at the AMC Loew’s 19th St. Theater in Manhattan, loaded up on margaritas and cheese, as Peter Cullen’s voice explained the origin of the Allspark… well, sort of. Actually, very little is explained in this movie, and even less makes sense if you’ve never owned one of the toys. I sat there feeling as if I had snuck into someplace I really didn’t belong, waiting for the lone nerd whooping and clapping behind us to notice my befuddled ambivalence and have the usher throw us out.

Of course, the fact that the movie had Michael Bay written all over it didn’t help. His patented rat-a-tat clichéd dialogue spoken by caricatured humans, the frat boy humor, the extreme angles and rapid-fire editing, the way that every woman is filmed like she’s in a soft-core porno (or, worse, an ad for Tag or Axe), the utter shamelessness of the product placement and the blasting music that should only come out of an IROC all made the experience even more alienating. Then again, it’s doubtful that a Transformers movie would’ve benefited from the light ironic touch of Sam Raimi or the introspective gentility of Bryan Singer.

TRANSFORMERS is what it is. And I am forced to remember my mantra, the words with which I try to ground all of my opinions, written and spoken: Everything’s subjective. Having no tie to the source material and no affinity for the style of filmmaking, I am in no position to judge this movie any more than I am BECOMING JANE. Then again, that movie at least has Anne Hathaway.

But I gotta say, I will NOT be going to MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOTION PICTURE.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cut to Black

So, after re-watching "Made in America," the much-dissected and highly controversial final Sopranos episode, I tend to side with the theory that it wasn’t Tony (nor Carmela nor AJ) that got whacked in those last seconds of the show… it was us.

I’m not speaking metaphorically as a disgruntled fan who thinks the episode was anti-climactic and sucked; I’m speaking literally (well, figuratively literally, if that’s not too oxymoronic). I mean that we, the people sitting at home watching the TV show have been cut out of the Sopranos’ lives, not the other way around.

Think about it: The 11 seconds of black screen seem to refer back to Bobby’s statement in “Soprano Home Movies” about getting killed and how he thinks (or hopes) “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” But the final shot is not a subjective POV from Tony’s perspective of Meadow coming through the door, it’s a shot of Tony looking up. So for whom do things go black in that scene? The viewer. We’re out. The music stops and there’s no song accompanying the end credits (I wouldn’t be surprised if David Chase even tried to ditch those).

We were so distracted by trying to figure out the motives of the strangely familiar background characters (are those the guys who tried to kill Tony? Is that Phil’s cousin? I think no to both) and the (ironically?) uplifting power ballad and trying to suss out the actions of the leads (why can’t Meadow parallel park in that huge space?) that, like with so many departed characters in the show, we never saw it coming.

Maybe Tony got whacked right after we did. Maybe not. Maybe life goes on, at least for a while. Carlo’s flipped, so that’s going to be a mess, and when Agent Harris said, “We’re gonna win this thing,” was he talking about New Jersey over New York or the Feds getting the evidence they finally need to take down Tony Soprano? Maybe Meadow’s pregnant, maybe AJ’s going to slip back into depression. The point is, it doesn’t matter.

We’re dead. And I think that’s fucking brilliant.

I also don’t think it’s a stretch to view the last episode as a sort of kiss off to the obsessed, nitpicking and impossible to please fans from David Chase (and by proxy James Gandolfini). One song in the episode, Vanilla Fudge’s version of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is about someone being badgered by an ex-lover, someone who really wants to just move on to the next phase in their life, someone who asks, “Set me free, why don’t you babe? Get off my life…” If Chase sought some kind of catharsis by whacking his audience, well, I grant him that. He earned it. The Sopranos may have had a few off episodes, but I would not go so far as to say it ever let me down. Its perfect send-off makes me miss it even more.

Don't Stop Believin'

So, like millions of others last night, a bunch of friends gathered at my apartment in Northern New Jersey, the home of The Sopranos, to watch the final episode of the series. And as with so many other groups, the climax (or anti-climax, depending) spurred a flurry of “WHOAs!” and immediate heated debate. The more action-oriented were disappointed, while those of us who thrived more on the personal drama thought it was great. I thought the ambiguous, yet nerve-wracking ending was absolutely perfect, and I never thought I’d enjoy a Journey song ever in any context.

And so what if every single prediction I made over the past two months was completely wrong… actually, I love that was the case. Say what you will, The Sopranos was never predictable, and how often can you say THAT about TV?

But just as much fun was the party surrounding the event. While I’m normally not a fan of themed parties in which masquerade is required, last night became a pot luck Italian dinner where everyone came dressed in character. Lysa cooked while in full Dr. Melfi regalia (while dealing with the amorous approaches of this Tony, sweating under the fat suit pillow). Hitman Gary showed up with homemade Limoncello and whipped up some Lincoln Log Sandwiches. Davie Walnuts brought homemade pasta and roasted peppers while Haven / Adrianna made sauce and meatballs, Claudia / Meadow brought chicken and sauce and Ann / Janice brought bruschetta. I made a tomato / basil / Vito’s Mutz salad and there were many sugary Italian desserts courtesy of Kenny Uncle Jun’ (who brought a spookily authentic Meredith / Adrianna) and Melfi. Johnny Uncle Junior, Andrea (the still-grieving Kelli Moltisanti) and Carm’ brought more wine (and later Junior ran out for plastic forks). And Banana Paulie Walnuts muffins were made by the most authentic costume of all, Lauren, as the girl standing by the stage at Johnny Sack’s daughter’s wedding (because that was her in the episode).

We took a vote and Iloire’s Carmela won the best costume award (with Kenny as Uncle Jun’ coming in second due to a commitment to the character that included a shaved head!). The night was so much fun, the only bad thing I have to say is that today I can’t seem to get “Don’t Stop Believin’” out of my head…. Curse you, David Chase! And thanks.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

WHACK!

So, it looks as if my previous prediction as to the end of THE SOPRANOS is NOT going to come true. AJ is obviously still too fucked up to step up (how agonizing was the attempted suicide scene?). So what then? It does seem as if all signs are pointing towards Paulie Walnuts switching his allegiance to New York, due probably to nothing more than the poor showing at Nucci’s funeral. “It’s a fundamental lack of respect and I’m never gonna forget it,” swore Paulie. And what was up with him speeding off in his Cadillac when he saw the hitmen getting their instructions outside of the Bada Bing? And let us never forget his desire to go to New York in Season 4. While it’s been reported that Tony Sirico said he wouldn’t allow the character to be “a rat,” does that apply to switching families or just cooperating with the Feds (something Tony’s been doing, albeit in reference to Agent Harris’ Anti-Terrorism unit).

So, if that’s the case, if Paulie’s setting himself up to be Phil Leotardo’s cross-Hudson underboss when New York fully integrates New Jersey’s activities and soldiers, what happens on Sunday in the final episode? Is he successful? Does the series end with its most sociopathic longtime character getting his way at long last? Does Tony die? At Paulie’s hand? Or does Tony figure it out in time? And even if he does, what happens? Paulie’s whacked and Tony’s left with a completely crippled family: Bobby and Chris are dead, Silvio’s in a coma from which he’s unlikely to recover… that primarily leaves Meadow’s potential future father-in-law Patsy and Carlo (whose cousin was just killed by Sil… is there a connection there, too?). So, is this the ultimate tragedy of The Sopranos? Not jail, not death, not Phil’s declared “decapitation” so much as a castration?

Regardless, odds are it’s going to be a hell of a finale. These last nine episodes have been across the board spectacular, with the tension, the shocks and the drama amped up with each successive episode.

My only complaint: I don’t buy Dr. Melfi’s dumping of Tony as a patient due to the study she read that says sociopaths use therapy to become better criminals, and for one key reason (which was the topic of discussion at last week’s Sopranos Sunday): Tony is not a sociopath. The entire concept of the series lies in the fact that Tony Soprano, despite being larcenous, murderous, selfish, violent and duplicitous, DOES have a conscience! That’s why he has the panic attacks! That’s why he’s in therapy! True, he’s been less than honest, and he’s not likely to ever be “cured,” but after sticking with him through some pretty rough shit, it felt like a forced cap to their story.

But that is, as I am fond of saying, a minor quibble. And while I am greatly looking forward to the final Sopranos Sunday (featuring a pot luck Italian dinner and semi-requisite costumes), it’s gonna be a sadder TV landscape when this show is officially a thing of the past.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

'Nuff Said! PLEASE!

So, SPIDER-MAN 3. My thoughts on this most bizarre romantic musical comedy can be found HERE, but I wanted to also make note of the moviegoing experience we had when John, Lysa, Gary, Andrea and I saw the blockbuster on opening Sunday. I know, what did I expect, going to a big summer movie on opening weekend? I knew there would be kids and loud jerks and cell phones going off, but it still never makes it all right.

The three stooges sitting right behind us in the balcony of theater 4 at the Union Square 14 were annoying enough during the previews, with their raucous enthusiasm for I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY and SHREK THE THIRD (both of which I shall be skipping). But I don’t mind when people talk during the advertainment before the film. Just shut up when the feature starts. But instead, that was when the combination exposition / comedy show began. With the introduction of every new character and story element, Moe (their leader) would call the roll. “Symbiote.” “Sandman.” “New Goblin.” And then offer hilarious, loud commentary to the action as the story rolled along. When one of the many eye-straining CG battles ended, Moe cracked, “WHOA, he didn’t learn that at Tiger Schulmann!” to which Curly echoed, “Didn’t learn that at Tiger Schulmann!” which was the last straw for me, so I turned around and asked them to keep it down. When Moe didn’t hear me, I tapped him on the knee. “This guy’s touching me?” he stated to Larry in that alpha-male rhetorical tough-guy manner, to which I said, “Look, I’m sorry, but you guys are right in our ears and you’re ruining the movie for us!”

To which Moe actually said, “Hey, it’s not just us, everyone’s talkin’!” as if that made it okay. The upside is that, for the most part, the stooges did shut up for the rest of the movie, but the downside is that they weren’t the only distraction. The kid next to John felt that he had to show him how the screensaver on his cell phone was the image of Black-Spidey atop the church tower; Complaining kids grew understandably more and more impatient as the love story continued… and continued… and continued….

But the most disturbing incident happened (SPOILER ALERT) during the scene where Dark Peter accidentally clobbers Mary Jane. As MJ hit the floor of “The Jazz Club,” most of the audience gasped (the appropriate response), but throughout the theater, there was also a risible smattering of male applause.

SPIDEY 3 is by far the least enjoyable of the series, but its faults still don’t excuse a lack of courtesy from the crowd. By the end, after the villains were gone but before the story finished, many in the obviously restless audience got up and left, unapologetically blocking views and talking. It was an awful way for a bad moviegoing experience to end.

Again, I know… what did I expect. But also again, it doesn’t make it all right. The sad thing is, the next time there’s an event movie that I want to see, I’m finally gonna wait. I can’t do this anymore. I’ll try to figure out the least likely time and venue to encounter the stooges and the kids. I’ll hope that some semblance of civility will prevail and I’ll actually be able to focus on the movie in front of me instead of the horrible real world from which I’m trying to escape for two hours.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Old Dogs (and a new cat).

‘Round the dial here. Lots to cover. Bear with me.

Monday, April 16th was a bitch. First, of course, there was the Virginia Tech massacre. A horrible, horrible thing, to be sure. But a tragedy that the media completely and disgustingly exploited with its usual lack of tact, emphasis on the sensational and very un-journalistic editorializing. I mean, thank God the news networks used that sad music over the montages of the victims, otherwise I wouldn’t have known that it was a tragedy! As Homer Simpson once wisely pointed out, “The music tells us how to feel!”

And then I saw a CNN anchor tag a profile of Liviu Librescu, the professor who barricaded the door to his classroom before ultimately being killed, with the insightful and keen observation, “He’s as brilliant in death as he was in life.” What the fuck does that even MEAN? Are these people truly stupid? Isn’t there SOME kind of IQ test given to prospective anchors? (Yes, that was hypothetical).

Anyway, just when it seemed that the story was winding down and those poor VT students and faculty could start to heal away from the glare of the media spotlight, Cho’s package showed up at NBC News. And I guaran-damn-tee you, they were jumping up and down and high-fiving each other. But the moral indignation with which the other news outlets treated NBC (while simultaneously showing whatever video they could) was pure naked hypocrisy. Arguments as to Cho’s manifesto’s newsworthiness are irrelevant. Of COURSE it’s news. But its sheer existence, the fact of the action is enough. By showing it, they merely gave him exactly what he wanted. This was not journalism. It was sensationalism.

But maybe the worst thing about the news media coverage of the story was their seemingly pathological need to try to tell us WHY it happened and how we should feel about it. Aside from tagging the usual blame-suspects (our media, video games, Cocoa Puffs, whatever), these purported journalists took it upon themselves to get metaphysical. CNN went so far as to invite MD / spiritual guru Deepak Chopra to join them in a search for MEANING in the massacre. Why do bad things happen to good people? They actually had the balls to speak the words, “Where was God in all of this?” Wha--? Seriously?

Here’s a thought: After you’re done searching for meaning in this tragedy, might I suggest another valuable use of time: Flap your arms really fast, click your heels together and try to make the Earth spin backwards in time to stop Cho Seung Hui before he kills anyone.

I just don’t understand why people think that there has to be a REASON for not only good and bad things that happen in the world, but for our very existence. That things need to make sense, that there has to be some larger purpose, some cosmic balance, some explanation. I truly believe there’s not (a belief that I find frankly liberating). I simply feel we stupid humans are nothing more than a simple mathematical probability in the vast size of the universe. Something like us was bound to evolve. So here we are, dominating the planet for the time being, fucking it up big time with our destructive self-absorption and soon we’ll all be gone. With no ultimate punishment or reward. C’mon, join me, have a drink and let’s toast chance.

Anyway. On a more personal note, that same Monday I had another crisis to deal with. My Dad had a stroke. A minor one, thankfully, and he luckily had it in the confines of his doctor’s office, so he was immediately taken to the hospital and put on blood thinners. He stayed there for six days, at which point he was released and my brother Ken and I headed home for a visit.

But heading out was problematic. Earlier on Sunday, I wondered why my keychain lock fob was only eliciting a meager burp from the Jeep after I loaded up my bags. When Ken called to say that he had arrived at the Hoboken PATH station, I hopped in the car and turned the key… and nothing happened. My battery was dead. A few days earlier, right around dusk, I had glanced out my window and thought that it looked like there was a light on in the car, but did I go down and check? Nah. It was just the sunlight reflecting in the glass. Right.

Anyway, as luck would have it, my neighbor Ann was getting rid of some stuff at that very moment (I swear) including her jumper cables, for which, since she no longer owns a car, she has very little use. Her mother was there in her car to pick her up for brunch and so I had a battery to use as the boost for my dead juice. Considering it was a crappy situation, things were going pretty smoothly.

At first, anyway. For some reason at the age of 42, I still don’t feel grown up enough to be confident that I can jump start a car correctly. I always forget, is it positive to negative or positive to positive? That’s right, positive to positive. The thing about a congested town like Hoboken is that to jump a car, you have to close off a whole block. And so, we waited for my brother to arrive to help with the jump while Ann deflected traffic from turning onto my block.

But hooking up jumper cables should be a one man job. It’s simple enough, unless of course, you ignore the color of the clamps on the cables. I put the black clamp on the positive terminal and the red on the negative and then let the cables lie on the ground. Dumb, I know. Then Ken picked them up as I got into the car to rev the motor and hooked the other end of the cables to Ann’s Mom’s car. Red clamp on the positive and black on the negative, as is the norm… but not what I did on my end.

The car didn’t start, but smoke did come off of the battery. Ken quickly realized the mistake and corrected the placement of the jumper cables, after which my car promptly started up. Ann and her mother drove off and Ken climbed into the Liberty and all of a sudden we realized that the CD player was dead. And so were the locks. And the dome light. Ken checked a few key fuses, which seemed to be intact. No, this was something bigger. Oh, shit.

The usual three hour drive back to Lancaster was greatly extended, both literally (by the road work on the turnpike, which forced a two mile crawl to take an hour) and in perception, as the lack of music made the oh-so-common drive feel like an eternity. The anxiety was exacerbated by the thought that there was a good chance we had fried parts of the electrical system.

But there were bigger issues upon arrival home. Hey, Dad, how are you? Hugs. Relieved jokes. Small talk. And then dinner. Mom made turkey, green beans and mashed potatoes. As the food was placed on the table, Dad, having his first non-hospital meal in almost a week, asked the question: “Did you make any gravy?” after which he dumped salt on everything.

For well over a decade now, since my father’s quadruple bypass in 1994, Mom, Ken and I have been on him to take better care of himself. But truth be told, aside from quitting smoking, he hasn’t changed his habits at all (despite also being a borderline diabetic). He has an unrepentant sweet tooth and a German appetite for fat, salt and meat.

The very next morning, we caught him with chocolate smeared on his face, like a five year old boy with his hand in the cookie jar. And it happened again, the salt, the sugar, the candy, the meat, numerous more times over the mere forty hours we were home. He’s an old dog who will never learn new tricks, regardless of how much we wish otherwise. And no amount of begging, yelling, common sense talking, crying or anything is going to get him to change his ways.

But back to the Jeep. Monday morning, I awoke with the plan to drive to the Jeep dealership in Lancaster and beg them to squeeze me in and fix my poor sparky Liberty. I had talked to my cousin Andrew, a giant gearhead who’s flipped a Wrangler a few times in his life. He and Ken speculated that getting everything fixed could possibly cost around a grand.

But before I headed out, armed with a book to read while I waited, Ken and I gave another check to the fuses and discovered that one of the bigger ones was blown, a 15 amp fuse that controlled about a dozen things included all of the things that were not working. We hopped in the car and hit the AutoZone a couple of miles down the road and bought a new fuse, crossing fingers as we put it into the housing.

I turned the key in the ignition and the CD player sprung to life, Wild Cherry exhorting us to play that funky music, white boys. We jumped in the air and whooped with glee, relieved that our collective stupidity cost a mere five bucks to fix. Not a thousand. Which is better.

That night Pix, Tim, Andrew and Uncle Ken came over and we ordered subs (Dad suggested, “Hey, get a bag of potato chips!”) and ate on the breezeway and drank wine well into dark and it was lovely. Tuesday morning came, and after more drama at breakfast (Ham? Fried eggs? How about some chocolate afterwards?), Ken and I were on our way back to New York, musical accompaniment and coffee from PBM making the return trek far less stressful. The anxiety of the week wasn’t completely alleviated, but things were, for better or worse, back to normal (whatever THAT is).

At least for now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Idiots Rule.

It’s been a rather depressing week if you’re someone who feels beaten down by the ever-branching stupidity of the American people. First, this whole ridiculous Don Imus controversy, which, based on the coverage it’s getting in the news, is tantamount to King Bush coming out and saying, “Y’know what? That colored fella, Kanye West hit the nail on the head!” It’s DON IMUS, fer cryin’ out loud!! Who's shocked and, moreso, who gives a shit? I’m sure that there were hundreds of other idiotic DJs spouting crap across the country’s airwaves that morning that was every bit as offensive and stupid as Cowboy Don’s “nappy haired hoes” remark. Did he deserve to be called out on it? Sure. But to turn it into the biggest news of the week and infer that the Rutgers Basketball Team (and ALL WOMEN AND AFRICAN- AMERICANS) are permanently scarred by the offhand comment is as insulting to women and African-Americans as the initial statement.

In lesser, but also depressing news, GRINDHOUSE came out over the weekend and flopped big time (coming in #4 behind BLADES OF GLORY (Ha, ha, Will Ferrell fall down!), MEET THE ROBINSONS (parents, just say no!) and ARE WE DONE YET? (God, I hope so). I saw the movie with Fraulein Opfer and have to admit that I was pretty disappointed. I appreciated the esthetic and the effort (and very much appreciated Rose McGowan), but walked out of the theater amazed at how much fun I DIDN’T have. It was just okay. I spent a good portion of the three hours fairly bored and sporadically annoyed. Surprisingly, Robert Rodriguez’ PLANET TERROR was the better of the two films, and far more in the spirit of the exploitation films the double feature claims to celebrate. Quentin Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, on the other hand, has some nice moments, but is far too talky to be an exploitation film. On top of the that, the second half of his film (in which two bad-ass stunt women and Rosario Dawson turn the tables on the homicidal Kurt Russell) is pretty much unbearable, with annoyingly mannered performances (QT’s dialogue [for the first time ever] feels totally unbelievable coming out of the mouths of these women) and plot points big enough to drive a Dodge Charger through. And no, the fact that it’s a hot-rod-serial-killer film doesn’t excuse it.

It is interesting to note that Tarantino’s most pro-feminist work is his least successful, creatively. I appreciate the idea of turning the tables on the women-in-peril genre and having a group of tough chicks literally turn the scarred, manly villain into a whimpering, emasculated simp. But for whatever reason (I have to think it’s just poor casting, another anomaly for a QT film), it just doesn’t play.

I think GRINDHOUSE would’ve benefited from even MORE editing. If both films were cut down to just over an hour (which easily could’ve happened), the whole experience would’ve been more exhilarating.

But more depressing than my lack of total enthusiasm for GRINDHOUSE is the fact that the general public is just too stupid to even UNDERSTAND what the movie is. Notices posted at the box office (at a theater smack in the midst of Manhattan, mind you) had to explain that the scratches, missing reels and fluctuating print quality in GRINDHOUSE are intentional, that it’s attempting to recreate an esthetic (of course, I’m paraphrasing, they wouldn’t use the word “esthetic”). And now word comes that the movie is going to be re-released as two separate films, partially because some people, unaware that they had paid for a double feature, GOT UP AND LEFT THE THEATER AFTER PLANET TERROR WAS OVER!!!!

I don’t expect the grindhouse esthetic to be everyone’s cup of tea. I understand that most people, especially younger folks, even if they’ve heard of or seen films like SHAFT, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or SATAN’S SADISTS, might not grasp the bigger picture of the culture of exploitation films. But that still doesn’t explain or excuse walking into a movie being so completely ignorant of what you’re about to see that you complain to the manager about the scratchy film and then leave halfway through because you think it’s over!!! It’s nothing but sheer stupidity.

Y’know what, fuck it. I’m gonna go see GRINDHOUSE again. Just to show support. And look at Rose McGowan some more. Holy Hot Cleft, Batman!

Monday, April 09, 2007

You only trust FAMILY

As a group of us gathered last night to watch the half-season premiere of The Sopranos (dead soldiers: nine bottles of wine and about 5,000,000 brain cells), speculation was tossed around as to how the show’s going to wrap up. We’re hardly alone. Everything from Entertainment Weekly to Vanity Fair to the frickin’ NBC Nightly News has weighed in, with opinions heated and diverse.

There are those who think that the series needs to end with Tony either dead or in jail (I say no way to either). There are others who feel that Jersey somehow needs to “beat” New York in some way (which makes me scratch my head). And yet others predict that David Chase will end the series with another of his innocuous climaxes in which ennui trumps action and life continues on its merry gray march.

I kinda hope that there is SOME kind of bow tied on the package. Over the past month, I’ve rewatched every single episode and have come to feel that The Sopranos is (soon to be was) the greatest dramatic series in the history of television (as opposed to the inarguable “one of the greatest”). Its singular balance of drama and comedy, its ability to be alternately terrifying and touching, its wit and the amazing cast of perfectly balanced characters is something that’s simply never been matched in TV. And as the hub of the wheel, James Gandolfini managed to make Tony Soprano equal parts horrible and likeable (just ask Agent Harris, he’ll tell you… it’s hard to hate the guy, no matter how much you want him to go down).

So, what’s going to happen over the course of the next eight episodes? Well, I do have a guess. I don’t think anyone’s going to be punished in a traditional dramatic sense because (as John Hanlon reminded us all last night), Chase has always been adamant about The Sopranos not being a morality tale. He’s not judging these people, he’s merely telling their story. And a huge part of their story is the seeming inevitability of becoming part of (or at least affected by) the “family” if you’re born into the literal family. In the past ten years (or six seasons), AJ Soprano has gone from the innocent little kid who didn’t even know his dad was in the mafia to someone who resents his sometimes-distant father’s power and status while simultaneously trying to use it to his advantage. AJ’s arc has always been tragic, the poor kid never had a “good” season (unlike sister Meadow, whose issues with her family were the usual teen-into-adult trauma… and she seems to have found an identity for herself while finding some kind of peace with her family).


So, AJ. Some have speculated that AJ (or Meadow) is going to get killed, but I don’t think so (and not just because that would be too much like the conclusion of The Godfather Part III). I think the series is going to end with AJ becoming a part of his father’s other family, due to some event (will he kill someone?) that would make it impossible to keep him isolated anymore. Which would of course be a tragedy to Tony (and Carmela), and would bring AJ’s story arc to a close, while not giving the series a forced final chapter. If Christopher’s burgeoning movie career takes him away (or OUT), Tony would have no choice but to turn to his son. After all, “You can only really trust family.” And the entire series has been about the balance between Tony’s two families. It seems like the only logical conclusion.

Of course, I’m probably wrong, since one of the great things about the show has been its unpredictability. Regardless, it’s a sure bet that eight weeks from now, life will go on, the mob will go on, a mere stone’s throw from where I sit, the Sopranos will go on. Just not on TV anymore.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Small.

The films 10, THE WOMAN IN RED and AMERICAN BEAUTY all center around guys who are suffering midlife-crises. And in each of those movies, the protagonist (played by Dudley Moore, Gene Wilder and Kevin Spacey respectively) is precisely 42 years old.

I’m 42 years old. And I ain’t nowhere near a midlife crisis. On the contrary, despite some physical signs of aging like deteriorating eyesight, thinning and graying hair (the latter part of which I actually like) and a Grampa-Simpsoneque tendency to bitch about everything, I still feel like I did when I was half my age. Hell, I’m still not sure what I wanna do when I grow up.

But there are some things that I have to accept are never going to happen in my life. Some of them are small (I’ll never be able to grow sideburns) and some are big (my grandfather’s prophecy upon my birth shall never come to be… never mind what it was). But most fall somewhere in the middle.

When my father’s first marriage ended in 1962, he did what lots of freshly-single guys did. He sowed some oats, he started smoking and he bought a brand new sports car. A gorgeous white Volvo P-1800 S.

From the time I was old enough to even think about driving, I coveted that car. Dad bought me a toy version of it, an Impy Road-Master Super-Car (sorta like a Matchbox), which I painted white to match Dad’s. Jokes about the 1800 being mine when I got old enough eventually turned into a promise. But somewhere along the way, the Volvo fell by the wayside. A rusting frame rendered it immobile and landed it into storage, sleeping under a tarp first next to the garage, then inside a barn my father bought a mile up the road.

I had intentions. I wanted to get the Volvo fixed up and on the road. But life didn’t make room for that. First, it was financial. I just wasn’t making enough money. By the time I was solvent enough to afford to do so, I was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, a town not conducive to driving / parking / owning a low-riding, white vintage sports car. I can afford to fix it, not own it up here.

But in all honesty, the biggest issue is, I’m just not a vintage sports car guy. I’m not a motorhead at all, I didn’t even get my driver’s license until I was 17. I’ve owned exactly two cars in my life, a 1986 Honda Accord and my current vehicle, a 2004 Jeep Liberty. Not exactly “cool” modes of transportation, but they suited my needs… including my need for simplicity. Not only do I not possess the mechanical knowledge required to drive and own a car with a manual transmission and no power anything, I couldn’t come close to being able to answer the questions that people would ask me every single time I got out of the damn thing.


I never wanted to fully give up on the idea of the 1800 someday being “mine,” but I have to. Dad finally got tired of waiting for me to do something, so last year he took it to a body shop to begin the process of restoration. When it’s done… well, it won’t be mine. It’ll probably be sold. My parents need the money more than I need to own a car that will sit in Lancaster so I can drive it four times a year. My biggest wish at this point is that Dad hangs onto it for a while, driving it himself. Dad just turned 78 last month and he’s feeling his age more than I am. Maybe even just driving the Volvo to the diner will make him feel a little bit young again.

At least I still have the toy. It’s sitting on a shelf in my living room. Plastic and metal. Easier to have than the real thing. Small.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Time the Avenger

I've just started a new review blog, 50 WORDS OR LESS. The idea of reviewing practically everything that I read, see, hear, watch and collect is daunting and time consuming, but at least potentially worthwhile. Right now I’ve got a lotta stuff on the plate, so hopefully 50 Words will be an exercise in productivity rather than a time wasting distraction.

The problem with being an anal-retentive archivist (I so prefer that term to collector) who happens to be a freelancer is the ease with which one can spend too much time on projects that really serve no purpose. But again, the relative importance of projects falls under my favorite umbrella of subjectivity. Burning compilations of segments from THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT is just step one; I need to make a cover for the DVD once it’s finished.

Yes, “Need.” Whether it’s to find a particular segment quickly to show at a video-related gathering or just for my own future reference, if I don’t know what the content of the compilation is, along with when it was aired and how long it is, it’s not complete (to that end, where the hell is the index on the SNL Season One box set? Now I have to go and make my own!).

But I used to be even more obsessive than that. I used to redo covers for DVDs if I thought they were ugly. Not my own compilations, I’m talking about official, purchased discs that had artwork that I felt was substandard compared to the content. I redid covers for IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, ANNIE HALL, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, about a dozen Hitchcock films, THE INCREDIBLE HULK TV Pilot DVD (which, in a crass case of cross promotion, used art from Ang Lee’s film), some cheapo collections of public domain Christmas Cartoons and the first three James Bond films (I did abandon that project after GOLDFINGER, however).

I’m not saying never, but these days I realize that spending three or four hours either scanning or downloading artwork, resizing it, designing or appropriating logos, laying out, printing and cutting covers for things that already have covers puts me firmly in the realm of the basement-dwelling über-nerds. I actually do have more important things to do (“important” again being relative). And so, as much as I despise the packaging for the 14-disc ULTIMATE SUPERMAN COLLECTION, I will fight the urge to design individual cases for the films and just leave them be (at least for now). Instead, I’ll use that time to write about my urge to design individual cases for the 14-disc ULTIMATE SUPERMAN COLLECTION because I despise its packaging.

See? MUCH better use of time.

POSTSCRIPT, October 2010:
Hey, guess what I spent a month doing in August! Making new DVD covers for about half of my collection (including the rest of the James Bonds). The impetus this time was as much about saving space as aesthetics.... I made new covers that fit into the slim DVD cases, so they take up literally half as much space as they used to. I still haven't tackled that Superman set, though..... hmmm.....

POSTSCRIPT, August 2012:
Finally got around to that Superman set last month. Good thing I waited, though, because I replaced the DVD set with Blu-Rays.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I am Urban Legend

So, the Tale of the Upturned Mercedes (see below) continued.

That night, the one thing that nobody could figure out was HOW on Earth, despite it being a bit slippery out, the car could’ve gotten turned on its end HALFWAY DOWN THE BLOCK. The cars at the beginning of the street were untouched, it was just our four vehicles in the middle of the block that were damaged. Turns out that the “bright light” the drunk driver saw was indeed a fire engine speeding down 10th Street that struck him and knocked him up on end.

The driver was still at fault, as he was drunk and ran a stop sign, but it’s an interesting note that has mostly been swept under the rug in this oh-so-corrupt little town. But there’s a part of the story involving myself that’s now become the source of amusement for the Hoboken police dept.

My neighbor pal Ann was present the night of the accident, so she saw everything, including my previously stated hesitance to lose my parking space by moving my dented Jeep so the fire dept. could flip the Benz and have it towed. To reiterate, the facts are as follows: I shouted two times that I didn’t want to lose my space after midnight in Hoboken. I then realized I was being silly and moved the car into a driveway a little further down the block. When the Benz was towed away, I was able to quickly return my car to its parking spot. No problem.

However, that’s not the story that’s being told at the Hoboken PD. The other evening, Ann was at Louise & Jerry’s, a local watering hole of note with her wienerdog, Ernsesto, having a celebratory bowl of water in honor of his graduation from Puppy School when she overheard some off duty cops discussing the accident.

They got most of the details right until they got to the part about my reluctance to move the Jeep. To paraphrase the cop, “So this guy wouldn’t move his car and when they flipped the Merecedes, it smashed into his car and ripped the side off of it!”

Not a shred of truth in it, but I’m sure by now the story has me getting run over by the tow truck. Just goes to show ya, do not believe everything you hear. Hell, don’t believe ANYTHING you hear. Especially if it comes from off duty cops at a bar.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Flippin' Jerk

It’s been a year for drunken assholes in cars. A few days after New Year’s, I was walking home from work one night when a stretch limo went by with a drunken idiot hanging out the window shouting at everyone he saw, “Hey! I won the lottery! Fuck you!” Nice to see that he’s putting his hard-earned winnings to good use. Regardless of how much this douchebag won, it’ll be gone by June.

But that wasn’t nearly as annoying as what happened Thursday night. I was in my usual spot, slingin’ drinks for the peeps when I got a phone call from my upstairs neighbor, Cara. Now, in the three-plus years that Cara’s lived above me, she’s only called me at work two times: Once when there was a fire and once when there was a scary guy sitting on the steps outside. So I knew right away it wasn’t good.

“Someone hit your car,” Cara said, and so, with Lysa covering me at the bar, I ran back home with Neel as my witness and restraint. About ten fire engines and another dozen cop cars filled the are surrounding the scene.

Seems that someone driving a brand spankin’ new 2007 Mercedez Benz decided that the best way to break it in was to get hammered and go speeding through the crammed, narrow streets of Hoboken NJ, making a too-fast turn off of Bloomfield and onto 10th St, at which point he “saw a bright white light,” slammed into a parked Saab, flipped up on his side and skidded into my Jeep (as well as the car parked behind me).

The damage to the Saab was substantial. The entire driver’s side was pretty much wiped out, and the rear bumper was pushed into the tire. I was comparatively lucky. He somehow only put a giant dent in my rear passenger side panel. He barely missed breaking the tail light and the window and bumper are unscathed. Still, as I watched the guy fail his sobriety test, I did fantasize about clocking him as the cops put the cuffs on him.

The funniest (okay, funny) part of the incident came when the cops asked me to move my car so they could flip the Benz back onto its wheels. I shouted (yes, SHOUTED) at the police, “I DON’T WANNA LOSE MY PARKING SPACE!! IT’S AFTER MIDNIGHT IN HOBOKEN!!!” I relented, but stuck around long enough to reclaim it after the tow truck took das Deutsches wagon away. See? I told you people how premium parking is in this tiny hamlet!!

The irony is, just one day earlier, as I was driving to Target (a local shopping emporium), I was reveling in the fact that I’ve had my car for two and a half years in the most congested, overpopulated parking town in the country and nothing’s happened to it. In fact, one of the reasons I chose a Liberty is that its design makes it fairly resistant to the kinds of dings that occur in a town where double parking and pressed bumpers are commonplace.

So Friday, I called my insurance company, went to the police station for a copy of the report and now the game of “who’ll pay” begins. Oh, and the “funny” postscript: Turns out the guy works for Mercedes. The car he smashed (and oh, is it smashed) belongs to the company.

So, I’m sure they’re thrilled.