31 December 2004

In an effort to avoid last year's fiasco in which we got trashed at John's apartment and had to call the paramedics, this year we're going out to eat and attending a party at an art gallery in SoMa. Many of John's and Nathan's friends are going; according to Nathan, we're "rolling twenty deep."
Going through a box of old stuff at my dad's house, I discovered an envelope that contained several unspent gift certificates given to me as presents -- twelve years ago for my Bar Mitzvah. One was to a B. Dalton bookstores. When I called and asked if I could redeem a gift certificate dated 1992, they said not only was it still good, but I could also use it at Barnes & Noble. With my unexpected $35, I bought Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, a book which has been mentioned as the "must-read political book of the year" on several different web sites. I'm halfway through, and my reaction so far is that instead of making me angry, like Al Franken's book did, this book just makes me sad.
Over the past few days, I've had to make dozens of phone calls across the country, and you know something? People from red states are much nicer on the phone.
I may not have much of a New Year's Eve, unfortunately, since I'll be working tonight until all hours. Not that my plans were especially exciting. I was either going to see The Aviator, or try to pick up girls at Barnes & Noble. (I figure that anyone at Barnes & Noble on New Year's Eve has to be bookish and desperate, right?)

To be honest, my attempts to recast myself as a sexual predator have not been especially successful. If they had, this blog would be a lot more interesting.

30 December 2004

I'm really looking forward to getting back to Berkeley, where I can go out somewhere and my group won't be the only 4 people between the ages of 19 and 25, and where I won't come back smelling like foul smoke.

And that's not even discussing the weather.
It's Thursday night. Bored Farmgirl and Mr. Chu, where are you?
The tsunamis have added two points to the Rapture Index, which now stands at 155.

28 December 2004

The other day I discovered that my brother AJ has 199 buddies on his IM buddy list. There are about a dozen different categories (from "worldview peeps" to "theatre girls" to "homeschool guys"). I asked them who a few random ones were and would get answers like "Oh, I met her at a party once and she gave me her email and IM."

At Christmas Eve service (I eventually decided to compromise and go to that service to say hi to the people I wanted to see and to skip Sunday services) AJ was dressed up, with nice black shoes and pants, a nice blue shirt with the top button unbuttoned to show his small gold chain, and a black sports jacket (and, of course, with his trademark long braids). I made some remark about him being all dressed up and he says "I gotta make my entrance. How do you think I got 199 buddies? I dressed well."

Later I was amused that his standard greating instead of a handshake or a hug is a little shoulder tap and he responded that "I have to move on quick, lots of people to see."

Man, I gotta learn from this kid.
Here's a life imitates the onion headline: Tsunamis Shatter Celebrity Vacations.
Garden State, which has become, somewhat unexpectedly, my favorite movie from this past year, is out on DVD today. We live in a beautiful world...
Susan Sontag, whom we've namechecked on this blog a couple of times, died today at age 71. I always had mixed feelings about Sontag: On Photography is a great, dense source of ideas, an important resource for more than one of my short stories and would-be novels, but on the whole, Sontag always seemed like a creation of her publisher, FSG, and her books never quite lived up to her smarts (or dust jacket photos). Of all the recent public intellectuals in America—Mailer, Vidal, West—Sontag's books will, I would guess, have the shortest shelf life. Still, it couldn't have been easy for her to stay so smart, so cool, and so articulate for so long. I hope I do half as well.

24 December 2004

I love Roger Ebert's review of The Life Aquatic: "I can't recommend it, but I would not for one second discourage you from seeing it." That's a line that only a great critic could write.
Chow Yun-Fat will star in the upcoming sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean as a Chinese pirate. (Does this mean that he sells illegal DVDs of the first movie?)

23 December 2004

The high today was -1 and I don't have a car, so I've been dealing with a lot of family. I'm ready to go back to California any time now, thank you.
Yassir Arafat was apparently a minority investor in this trendy bowling alley in Greenwich Village, the posh spot of choice for ironic bowling in New York. (Even I've been known to toss a game there.) Very weird. But at least the Post got a great headline out of the deal.
Like Noah, I've been frequenting the iTunes music store, sometimes for shame purchases (as noted below), but also, increasingly, to lurk in the iMixes section, a fascinating feature that allows iTunes users to post their own mixes for mutual downloading and critique. The most popular iMixes seem to be the ones that serve some useful function, such as those that compile otherwise unavailable movie soundtracks. On that principle, I've only uploaded two of my own mixes so far: Urgh! A Music War, which collects some songs from the brilliant 1981 concert film of the same name, and Closer, my attempt at a relatively complete soundtrack to this fascinating movie, which oddly enough isn't commercially available. (And yes, I included Suzanne Vega's "Caramel.")

Music store users can rate iMixes on a one- to five-star scale, and there's a separate section for the top-rated and most popular mixes. Out of curiosity, I downloaded one extensive and highly recommended list entitled "I Heart Death Cab for Cutie," and it's pretty great, with a bunch of songs that I'll no doubt cannibalize for my own mixes in the coming year. (High points include "Not for All the Love in the World" by The Thrills, "I Don't Believe You" by The Magnetic Fields, and "If She Wants Me" by Belle & Sebastian.) If you ever have the chance to download it, it's well worth the forty bucks.

22 December 2004

It seems that the talent pool in Hollywood is so deep, and the obstacles to succeeding there so formidable, that we often have actors of unusual talent and beauty essentially playing corpses. This year, by any measure, the two breakout success stories have been Peter Saarsgard, who was so good in Kinsey and Garden State, and, wow, Emmy Rossum, who even makes the trailer of The Phantom of the Opera halfway bearable. Well, Saarsgard got his start playing a dead body in Dead Man Walking, and Rossum played most of her most famous role immobile, as the dead daughter in Mystic River. And there are probably better examples that aren't coming to mind. Which suggests that a smart casting agent should be working to sign the next big star by scouting the morgue on CSI.

19 December 2004

Today's New York Times magazine features an eerily apropos article entitled "Your Blog or Mine?", which considers the newfangled romantic complexities that arise when bloggers date other bloggers. Can it be done?
While we're on the subject of parties and social quirks, I'd like to ask all of you for a bit of advice.

Every month or two I find myself at a party in the following situation. I've had a long and enjoyable conversation with a girl I've just met and whose company I've enjoyed. She's clearly enjoyed talking with me (as opposed to wandering around the party bored), but, by my read of the situation, she feels no particular need to go out of her way to talk to me again (though she'd enjoy talking to me if we were stuck at a party again). What do I do?

On the one hand, if I don't ask for a girl's number after talking to her for an hour when I've enjoyed her company, then when am I ever going to ask for anyone's number?

On the other hand, what's the point when I'm reasonably confident she's not particularly interested in me. This makes me feel silly trying, and it makes me feel unliked when I eventually call and find out that she isn't interested in me.

I think the compromise I've settled down into is that about 2/3 times I don't ask, and then I can just enjoy having had a good night and feel liked (since I met and enjoyed the company of a stranger) and not unliked (since I wasn't actually rejected); and then maybe 1/3 times I ask for her number just so that I won't go a year without at least making an attempt to meet women. But this seems like a dumb compromise.

So, any advice?

(On the good side, I can now show up at parties where I know almost no one and have a lovely time. This is a wonderful feature found only in the most recent version of Noah (v. 5.1).)

18 December 2004

Just got back from an amusing party at Albert's amazing apartment on the Upper East Side. I did commit what seems to have been, in retrospect, a social faux pas. Things are going well; I'm mingling capably among old friends and new, even coming off as halfway charming...when, in response to a random question from a circle of strangers, drink in hand, I overhear myself launching into the Tom Cruise Speech. You know: the one where I insist that Tom Cruise is the most underrated actor in Hollywood, a fascinating figure with a brilliant career, etc., etc. Everyone slowly backs away....

17 December 2004

Oh, and the whole Julie Andrews thing? Inspired by the sparkling new fortieth anniversary DVD edition of Mary Poppins, which just came out on Tuesday, and the brand new West End mega-musical, which premiered earlier this week to rave reviews. It's still a great film, one that astonishes me every time I see it: with Mary Poppins alone, the Walt Disney company almost makes up for all the evil.
I can't defend Beyond the Sea. I really can't. But you haven't lived until you've seen Kevin Spacey dance.
Last one, I promise. This one is from the Village Voice:
A bizarrely misshapen shrine erected in memory of semi-forgotten crooner Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea may be the worst biopic of the season. But it's also the most fascinating—for reasons that have less to do with Darin, the rags-to-riches lounge lizard who had lifelong heart problems due to childhood rheumatic fever, than with the film's writer-director-producer-star, Kevin Spacey. Drowning in accidental subtext, it's both queasy psychodrama and earnest ego trip, a stunt so bravely defiant of commonsense realism that it borders on the avant-garde....

It's a curious in-joke that boomerangs on Spacey, who has long sought to quash speculations about his sexuality; a queer film scholar with time to kill may one day make the case for this display of camp exhibitionism as an unconscious coming-out movie.
Drew, are you reading this? Want to catch the 7:40 show at Lincoln Square?
There's a kind of negative movie review that makes me want to see a movie much more desperately than a rave review ever could. Beyond the Sea is a good example. The New York Times writes:
The movie's a mess, and at 45, Mr. Spacey is far too old to play Bobby Darin. Yet the star captures his desperation, his braggadocio, and yes, his magnetism. As a hoofer, the actor isn't very limber, but his vocal impersonation of Darin goes beyond imitation. In the same way that Hugh Jackman portraying Peter Allen on the stage became the ur-Peter Allen, Mr. Spacey does Darin better than Darin...Many movies are hyperbolically touted as labors of love. But Beyond the Sea, with all its gaping faults, is the genuine article. It succeeds in being deeply and sincerely insincere.
Even better, from Newsday:
The good news is this: When a movie is described as bad, the question often is "But is it so bad it's good?" In the case of Beyond the Sea, yes. It's a car wreck, a sideshow. You simply have to watch, there are so many things going so terribly, terribly wrong.
How could anyone resist that? The thought of Kevin Spacey moving smugly through his own vanity project, doing arch karaoke verisons of "Splish Splash" and "Mack the Knife" while the movie self-destructs around him...That's the sort of movie I dream about. I could eat that with a spoon.

15 December 2004

So I snuck out to see Million Dollar Baby. This is a sad, mostly wonderful movie. See it alone, if you can. When you see a movie with someone else, there's a tendency to commit yourself to an opinion too soon after leaving the theater, and this is a movie that deserves at least a few untroubled hours to resolve itself in your imagination. Otherwise, there's not much more I want to say. One hint at what to expect: this is the sort of story that Lars von Trier would have enjoyed...although it certainly isn't a movie that von Trier would have made. When you see it, you'll know what I mean.
With today's release of Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, the Oscar race just got a whole lot more interesting. As Roger Ebert puts it: "What happened was, Eastwood showed it to Warner Bros., which had no plans for an Oscar campaign until studio executives realized they had an amazing movie on their hands. The first press screenings were held only two weeks ago, and word began to spread: Tear up your Oscar predictions and start over again." Sample ecstatic reviews can be found here and here. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm very encouraged. When was the last time we were surprised by an American masterpiece?
I think I'm in love with Julie Andrews, circa 1965. What can I do?

13 December 2004

Ah, the rooster battles are here again, and this time they're getting national attention. Every year we fight over cockfighting in the state legislature, and there are busloads of cockfighting supporters who show up to lobby legislators. No one has a clue where they come from, but they are surprisingly well organized for people who are used to staying way out of the spotlight.

09 December 2004

Just saw Closer. It's nowhere near perfect and vaguely miscast, but a better cast would have been far less interesting than this one, which allows us to watch the four most beautiful people in the world work through abysses of sexual jealousy that would be completely unbearable if the surfaces weren't so seductive. (Reminds me a bit of Eyes Wide Shut.) Like it or not, this movie got under my skin: I left feeling very sad, for those beautiful people, for me, for everyone. When it was over, I left the theater, took the train back to Brooklyn and walked home in the rain, even though I had an umbrella. It's that kind of movie. (Beautiful apartments, though.)
I've started buying albums on iTunes. I think this is a dangerous precedent. In the last month I bought "Pet Sounds" (brilliant, though I'm worried that after just 2 years in California I already like the Beach Boys), the new U2 album (starts out with two songs I really like, and then is mediocre; the last album started with 5 songs I liked and then was mediocre; I wonder how they know which songs I like to put them at the beginning), and yesterday I finally bought Jason Robert Brown's Parade. JRB is my current favorite writer of musicals, Songs for a New World is great, and The Last Five Years is my favorite musical (narrowly edging out Into the Woods). Parade is his best known piece of work, but somehow it took me this long to get around to listening to it. It's the story of the trial of one Leo Frank. It's a lot bigger and less intimate than his other musicals, but the music is excellent. I'll never like it as much as his other musicals, but I'll still recommend it.
The Chicago Bulls have been absolutely terrible for half a dozen years now. But it just hit me (while reading an article on a recent Knick's game and the development of Crawford) that they've traded away an awful lot of good players. As far as I can tell if they'd sat pretty they could have had the following lineup:

Center = Brad Miller
Power Forward = Elton Brand
Small Forward = Ron Artest
Shooting Guard = Jamal Crawford
Point Guard = Kirk Hinrich

That looks like a good lineup to me. Just goes to show what happens when you give a team to management who thinks that Elton Brand for an untested teenager is a good trade.
By the way, I'll be in New York City roughly between friday january 7 and the next monday or tuesday at which point I'll head to boston until monday the 17th. I'd love to see any of our faithful readers living in or near either of those cities.
I just got back from The Incredibles, which was delightful as expected. I think I spotted a cameo by the guy from the chess short. My only major complaint was the inelegance of Violet having two superpowers instead of one.

I was suprised by the credits at the end of the film which began: "Written and Directed by Brad Bird." I just double checked on IMDB and this is the first of Pixar's films which has a single writer/director credit. All the others have at least two writers and at least two directors listed. I wonder why the change?

I watched Shrek 2 over thanksgiving and both of these films had surprising desplays of healthy sexuality. Couples who weren't just "in love," but also were clearly pretty hot for each other. Not sure what to make of this, but it's an odd trend in cartoons.

08 December 2004

Okay...so the Clay Aiken holiday special sort of sucked. I stand by my previous statements, however.
For reasons known only to myself, the other night, I downloaded a copy of Clay Aiken's holiday album from the iTunes music store. (The iTunes store is great for shame purchases: I also owe my copy of Justified to their anonymous services.) Aiken's album doesn't really stand up to repeat listenings—this ain't Abbey Road—but for Christmas schmaltz, it's pretty good.

My fascination with Clay Aiken, as I tried to explain to a friend recently, stems from the fact that he seems to have taken the shortest road in history from superstar to laughingstock, with nary a stop at legitimacy in between. I plan to be among the first on the Clay Aiken ironic bandwagon. Anyone care to join me?
Today's featured article on Wikipedia is about the Bishojo game, "a type of Japanese video game centered around interactions with attractive anime-style girls." It's pretty fascinating. Lots of interesting terminology, too, like MoƩ ("a term used to describe a genre of works featuring a 'ideally' cute girl, or the cuteness itself") and Meganekko ("a character wearing a pair of glasses who turns out to be quite beautiful once they are removed").

Of all the games listed here, my favorite would have to be Sister Princess, which is described as follows: "If you suddenly become to have twelve sisters, what do you think? More over, they are so pretty, sweet, charming...and loving you so much!" (Be sure to visit the meet the sisters page, too.)

07 December 2004

Speaking of cool inventions, here's one you definitely shouldn't try to use at a party. These guys just got a story about them on NPR, so I'm guessing that they're about to make a lot of money.

05 December 2004

Just rode a Segway for the first time. It was pretty cool. I was terrible at controlling the damned thing, although this may have had something to do with the martini and glass of champagne I'd consumed immediately prior to climbing aboard. This, you realize, is why the Roman empire fell.
It's December, so the diamond people are out in force to try and tug on your heartstrings with their brilliant (no pun intended) commercial blitz. Here's the straight dope on the history of De Beers, the biggest diamond company and the inventor of the international diamond racket. But if I'm not mistaken, I haven't seen a single De Beers commercial this year. This fascinating Economist article about De Beers's current challenges may explain why: they need to contain costs in the face of new competition. Fortunately for the cartel, jewelry stores seem to be picking up the slack. If anyone spots a De Beers commercial ("diamonds are forever"), let me know...I can't get enough diamond intrigue.

04 December 2004

My favorite line from the Wikipedia article on Alfred Kinsey is the story that he "once gave himself an unanesthesized circumcision." Which reminds me of a punchline from an old Warner Bros. cartoon: "Yeah, but I can only do it once."
Having finally seen Kinsey, I have a theory about why biopics, despite their occasional awkwardness, continue to be made and watched: they're the only movies that are allowed to treat marriage as a serious topic. Kinsey contains one of the most interesting portaits of a marriage I've ever seen in a movie, covering many years and including numerous wrong turns, misunderstandings, unintentional cruelties, but also the triumphs of a strong and convincing lifetime partnership. The biopic is just about the only genre structured to tell the story of a marriage from beginning to end, I guess. Here's an interesting thought experiment: can you name five good American movies, not biopics, that treat the story of a marriage in an interesting way? Here's one: The Incredibles. Others?

03 December 2004

Speaking of the top pop songs of all time, I've finally updated my version of iTunes to a version that tells me how many times I've played a particular song on my iPod. I'm not sure how far back the rankings go, but the results are pretty surprising. Way, way ahead of any other song is "Dry the Rain" by The Beta Band, at an amazing 250 listens. The rest of the top five: "You Were Right" by Badly Drawn Boy (180), "Caring is Creepy" by The Shins (160, and that's only since I got the Garden State soundtrack), "Left and Leaving" by The Weakerthans (112), and "I'm Not Sorry" by Morrissey (106). In ten years, I'll probably find that list fascinating or disturbing, or both.

Great songs, though.

02 December 2004

Rolling Stone has put out yet another list of the top pop songs of all time. Didn't they just do this a couple of years ago? Oh, wait—that was during my junior year of college. It has been a long time, hasn't it?

Anyway, such lists are obviously supposed to inspire indignation and rampant second-guessing, so I'll toss a couple out to get things started: are there really 162 songs that are better than "Bohemian Rhapsody?" And where's "Careless Whisper?"