31 May 2006

Speaking of sexually ambiguous actors (okay, maybe not so ambiguous), I've been slightly obsessed with Charles Nelson Reilly ever since he appeared on The X-Files over a decade ago, so you can imagine how tickled I was to hear about this movie. If the thought of ninety minutes of gossip and autobiographical confessions from Charles Nelson Reilly doesn't make you want to rush to the Loews 34th Street Theater on Friday night, I feel sorry for you. Anyway, I've got my tickets.
Kevin Spacey is in talks to star in the new Wong Kar-Wai film? It must be my birthday or something...

30 May 2006

Where does the time go? Four years ago, back when I'd never heard of hedge funds and Noah was still blogging occasionally, in the very first entry on this blog, I wrote a rather disappointed review of Release, the new Pet Shop Boys album, and concluded:
The Pet Shop Boys have made some of the most moving, exciting, intelligent dance albums of the past fifteen years (notably "Introspective," "Behavior" and "Bilingual"), and while I'm looking forward to seeing them at their upcoming concert here in Boston, I'm hoping for a return to classic form for their next album, whenever (and if ever) that happens.
Well, that concert is ancient history, along with the 21-year-old Harvard senior who wrote that paragraph, and guess what? There's finally a new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamental, and it's great. "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show" is the best song they've had in years, and it opens with a line that makes me laugh out loud: "I lived a quiet life, a stranger to champagne / I never dared to venture out to Cities of the Plain." (Maybe you need to be a Proust fan...) It's also incredibly sad. I had been hoping for a big messy love song with an orchestra and all-male chorus to pull me out of my current emotional holding pattern, but instead, the Pet Shop Boys have given us a political album, of all things, with wistful heartbreak binding together the rage.

It worries me. Why? The Pet Shop Boys may not provide the soundtrack to my emotional life the way they once did, but there's no question that of all the music I enjoy, their songs are the most fraught with memories. Take Release, for example. It's a mediocre album, but I find it incredibly moving, because I can't listen to the song "Birthday Boy" without being reminded of my first unemployed summer in New York; "Here" without remembering a particular afternoon that I spent alone in the Smyth Classical Library; and "You Choose" without recalling an evening in which I played that song for a special friend, who replied, "I think it's ironic." Every one of their albums is like this. I've got a Pet Shop Boys song associated with every moment in my life from age seven ("It's a Sin") to five minutes ago ("I Made My Excuses and Left").

Listening to Fundamental (another great title, by the way), I realized something frightening. When I listen to this album again in five or ten years, I'm going to become nostalgic about this moment—the weird year when I'd quit my hedge fund job and was living in Brooklyn trying to write a novel about India. I'm going to think about my twenty-sixth birthday (tomorrow) and Tamara's wedding (this weekend) and get choked up over how young we all were. And you know what? I'll bet I'd give anything to come back to this moment. That's the trouble with Fundamental. In retrospect, it's going to be a wonderful soundtrack to this period in my life, but it isn't likely to grab me and throw me into a new life altogether, which is something that I once believed pop music could do. With apologies to Natalie Portman in Garden State, I'm not sure that's true anymore.

28 May 2006

Recently, in a sort of Proust Questionnaire mood, I told a friend that the masculine virtue I admired most was energy, mostly because I don't seem to have a lot of it. I'm only good at doing one thing at a time. (For example, I seem to be incapable of working at a full-time job and writing a novel simultaneously.) This is probably why I tend to be fascinated by historical prodigies of energy, even if their ends aren't always admirable, like Napoleon, Goethe, and Ryan Seacrest.

20 May 2006

The reason for the delay in making the last post, by the way, was because I started my summer job at the N.M. Supreme Court this week. I officially had the worst first day ever (even worse than my first day with the "Summer Jobs to Save the Environment" people): I had to call in sick with a fever. If I were an employer and someone were to call in sick on their first day, I would certainly have a lot of alarm bells going off in my head. Thankfully they didn't fire me (possibly because they're not paying me) and my second and third days went very well.

To all of you law students who read the blog (all one of you), all I have to say so far is I'm surprised that "felony murder" and "merger" come up all the time in situations that law professors would be proud to think up. I had previously thought those complicated exams were a silly exercise; now I see they're actually somewhat helpful. Who knew?
It's taken me a little while to get this up, but if you ever loaned money to BJ, I suggest that now would be a good time to ask for it back. Yep, he won the Amazing Race, and apparently in dramatic fashion too. I only watched one episode this season, but my read (which was more or less backed up by my sources who watched more) was that BJ's team was able to win because, beneath the goofy exterior, they weren't overcompetitive jerks who got mad when something didn't go right (or incompetent, which some teams undoubtedly were). I think it's perfectly fitting; despite (or because of) all his shenanigans in college, he certainly got what he wanted in the end - attention, and lots of it. Who knows, maybe this will catapult him to TV or movie stardom as a character actor. That wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

19 May 2006

Did anyone notice that the author of that article is "Jennifer 8. Lee"? A quick Wikpdeia search reveals that indeed, 8 is her middle name. (Though I don't know if the period is necessary -- it's not as if her middle name is 832 and the initial is 8.) She graduated Harvard in 1999 and is also famous for throwing large parties and getting sued by her landlord.

18 May 2006

An article in today's New York Times points out that "Nevaeh" (or "Heaven" spelled backwards) is now the 70th most popular name for baby girls. The headline jocularly asks, "And if it's a boy, will it be Lleh?" Cute. And a little worrisome. Why? Well, in some weird alternate universe, my name must be Alec Nevaeh-Lleh...

17 May 2006

I'm sorry to see that Paul McCartney and his second wife are getting divorced. I liked Heather Mills. But I'm a little tickled by the Daily Mirror's suggestion that the split was due to "her resentment at his superior fame."

Huh? If this is even remotely accurate, someone ought to have taken Heather Mills by the shoulders a long time ago and pointed out that her husband was Paul-fucking-McCartney. He was an ex-Beatle. Resenting his "superior fame" makes about as much sense as Melinda Gates resenting her husband's superior wealth. Why are famous people so silly?
Has the Hollywood Reporter been reading this blog? Their review of The Da Vinci Code ends: "Yet 'Da Vinci' never rises to the level of a guilty pleasure. Too much guilt. Not enough pleasure."

16 May 2006

So I was watching Mission: Impossible 2 the other night when I got to thinking about my favorite guilty movie pleasures. A guilty movie pleasure, as I see it, is a movie that you can't defend on any rational level, but would rather watch on any given night instead of, say, 8 1/2 or Tokyo Story. It occurred to me that a list of those weird, bad, but delightful movies would be much more revealing than a list of my favorite films of all time (which I've blogged on several occasions). So here, without further ado, are ten movies of dubious quality that I will gladly watch again and again:
1. Beyond the Sea. As I told my parents the other day, "Whenever I feel depressed, I just need to see Kevin Spacey dance."

2. Elizabethtown. It had me at hello. Or at least at "My Father's Gun."

3. New York, New York. I was watching this again recently for the first time in about ten years. What a weird fucking movie. Travis Bickle falls in love with Judy Garland. Go figure. But as a teenager, I was so obsessed with Liza Minnelli's performance of "And the World Goes Round" that I actually performed it once, a cappella, at a high school leadership conference. (Sounds like something from a Daniel Clowes comic, doesn't it? Don't ask.)

4. The Dreamers. God help me, but parts of this movie are so good. The cinematography. The speech about Buster Keaton. And...everything, really. It just doesn't come together. And you see parts of Eva Green that you really don't want to see.

5. A Single Girl. Somebody stole my copy of this movie. I'm still mad about this. Ninety minutes of Virginie Ledoyen doing nothing in particular. How obsessed was I with Virginie Ledoyen in college? I bought this movie even after seeing her in The Beach.

6. One From The Heart. See the italicized comment for New York, New York, above. Totally insane. God, what a great soundtrack, though. And so beautiful. Don't tell anyone, but this is still my favorite Coppola movie.

7. The Mummy. You know what? I really, really love Peter Jackson's King Kong. You know what else? When it comes down to it, I probably love this movie even more. My God. Can you imagine what the world would have been like if the Star Wars prequels had been this good?

8. The Way of the Gun. Good movie? Not really. But it has lines that I never tire of quoting. ("I promise you a day of reckoning that you won't live long enough to never forget.") A great score. Oh, and the way that James Caan holds up the flaps of his jacket to show that he isn't carrying a gun? The best thing he's done in twenty years.

9. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Actually, this is a great movie. I'll defend it to anyone. I just can't defend its current position on my Best of All Time list. (Number twelve, in case you were wondering.)

10. Days of Thunder. Honestly, I picked this one pretty much at random. I can't explain it. I don't know where it comes from. But I'll gladly watch any movie where Tom Cruise rides a motorcycle.
I'm sure that I've forgotten a few. I've left off movies that are enjoyable solely as camp (the musical remake of Lost Horizon) or when filtered through some sort of weird homoerotic misreading (The Jungle Book 2). More interesting is the question of whether I can predict whether or not a movie will be a guilty pleasure in advance. I sure zeroed in on Beyond the Sea pretty quickly. (Any Kevin Spacey movie made after 1997 is a good bet.) And I have a good feeling about The Da Vinci Code. We'll find out soon enough...
Update: it turns out that the phone number in the Spider Monkey ad is just the phone number that you call to get the time and temperature.

That raises the question of who bought the ad in the first place. Here are some possibilities:

1. It was a joke to rile up animal lovers like me. (Most plausible.)
2. It was a misprint.
3. It was a coded signal. (Most intriguing. Unfortunately, I don't know who it would be targeted to, and I don't have any clues about what the code might be. Maybe if I were a cryptographer or a puzzler I'd have better luck.)

13 May 2006

In this week's edition of the Weekly Alibi, Albuquerque's alternative weekly newspaper, the following ad caught my attention:
Live Spider Monkeys!
$20/Each Delivered to Your

Now, I'm no expert in the primate trade, but I thought that sort of thing might be illegal. (If so, it wouldn't be the only illegal ad in the newspaper - there are always ads for "escort services." But that's a different story.) I decided to go online to find out more about spider monkey sales. I found this website, which gives horrific testimonials about why owning primates is a terrible idea; basically, people get primates because a) they're lonely or b) they can't have kids. The baby primates are cute - they drink from bottles, wear diapers, etc. People evidently try to treat them like children, even giving them Christmas stockings. Then the primates grow up, and all of a sudden...

"Yes, I still miss the end of my finger...severe nerve damage left it completely numb, and that was just a deep gash from a squirrel monk. Li'l stinker!!!"

"I thought Kaylie was the perfect child. I bottle-raised her from infancy. She slept with me, went to do shopping errands with me and was part of the family. When she was a baby capuchin, I would never have imagined that as a three-year-old Kaylie would attack me with no warning. The nerves in my hand and wrist were so severely severed that I will likely never regain use of my hand despite all of the surgeries I have endured."

Besides the recurrent theme of permanent nerve damage, monkeys can impart diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis, and simian Herpes. Fun!

(My own limited experience with monkeys as a child backs up these testimonials - when we were in Mexico, a caged monkey grabbed my little brother's hair and didn't let go for quite some time. He still laughs about what a grand time that was.)

I then decided to check my state and local laws. Luckily Albuquerque is very animal friendly - our mayor was recently re-elected on a dual platform: a) he promised to build a road through a sacred Native American site and b) he likes puppies a lot. Puppies are on the evening news oh, every night. So sure enough, the city code says you're not allowed to sell or own spider monkeys without a permit. I e-mailed the city about the ad. We'll see what happens...

11 May 2006

A lot of good cinematic friends appear in The Onion A.V. Club's list of "10 Character Actors Who Should Be In Every Movie." But where's Brian Cox?
I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-read guy. I've read all of Shakespeare. I've read Homer in Greek. I've even read Tristram Shandy, for chrissake. So it was something of a shock when I looked at the results of the New York Times survey of the best American novels of the past twenty-five years, and realized how few of these books I've actually read.

How few? Zero. I haven't read a single one of the books that got two or more votes. And yes, that includes the top five: Beloved, Underworld, Blood Meridian, the Rabbit Angstrom novels, and American Pastoral. I did read half of The Human Stain, but gave up after the movie reviews spoiled it for me. And that's about it.

I don't have an excuse for this. Maybe I was just waiting for some of these books to assume canonical status. Well, here it is. I'd better get cracking. But still, it's a little sobering to realize that while my knowledge of pop music peters out around the mid-80s, and my knowledge of movies is current up to last weekend, my knowledge of American literature doesn't go beyond Gravity's Rainbow.

If the survey had been extended to all English-language novels of the past twenty-five years, I might have been able to come up with a good nomination. (The Remains of the Day, perhaps?) But do you really expect me to admit that my favorite American novel published in my lifetime is Nicholson Baker's The Fermata? Don't be silly.

05 May 2006

I've always said that the Mission: Impossible series is a triumph of branding over content. I mean this as a compliment. The only thing that the movies have in common with one another—or with the original TV show—is a title and a theme song. They don't share a cast, a style, or even a particular attitude towards the material. Yes, the lead actor remains the same, but who is Ethan Hunt, really? Depending on the installment, he's either a clean-cut hotshot, a rock-climbing triathlete, or a softie and family man. James Bond never went through so many changes, even when he woke up looking like Daniel Craig.

But this indifference to spiritual continuity is actually the series' greatest strength. There's no fear of this franchise becoming tired, because there isn't really a franchise at all—just a star, a brand, and the bare bones of a genre. Every Mission: Impossible movie starts as an empty but extravagantly funded vessel that ends up occupied by the turn-ons and obsessions of whoever happens to be in charge. The crazier and kinkier the director, the more interesting the movie becomes.

This is probably why the latest installment is a bit underwhelming. Don't get me wrong: Mission: Impossible III is a highly proficient, cleverly assembled thriller. It's fun. But it isn't a movie that anybody is going to hate, and that's too bad. The first two movies, especially Mission: Impossible 2, were gargantuan riffs on the action genre by two extraordinarily uneven, idiosyncratic, and brilliant directors who had been given a blank check and the world's biggest movie star. The result was a pair of movies whose excesses were often in bad taste, but weirdly awe-inspiring.

Mission: Impossible III, by contrast, plays like first-rate television. Even here, 24 has raised the bar considerably. I still have vivid memories of being blown out of my seat by Mission: Impossible 2, and this installment lacks the same willingness to be ridiculous. Instead, it's smart, tasteful, and surprisingly sane—but a sane Ethan Hunt compares poorly to Jack Bauer. What this franchise needs is a great director who is a brilliant technician, but also crazy. Werner Herzog, anyone?

04 May 2006

Should a university deny admission to an applicant based solely on the fact that he worked for the Taliban in his early twenties?

That's the question facing Yale as they endure criticism for considering the application of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban diplomat and spokesman.

It seems to me that refusing admission based on his previous career and ties with the Taliban would set a horrible precedent. Yes, we are at war with the Taliban. Yes, they were (and are) horrible to women and religious minorities. But there are a lot of regimes around the world that do unsavory things, and that doesn't prevent officials from those countries from studying in the United States. The Chinese military has had a number of its officers spend time at the Kennedy School of Government, for example. And there are a number of Latin American regimes where relatives of officials have received American educations. Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, studied medicine in the UK while his father was president. Are we now going to say that, if you are connected to a regime that has done something bad, you aren't allowed to study in an ostensibly open educational setting?

Another problem is that different people see regimes through different perspectives. While the Taliban is easy to condemn, there are sharp and honest differences of opinion over the moral righteousness of countries like China, Israel, and even the United States. If some foreign country thinks the U.S. is guilty of war crimes, do we want Americans with government experience be precluded from studying in that country?

Unless Hashemi himself is accused of specific crimes, or unless we think he's a spy, he shouldn't be denied admission solely on the basis of his prior service with the Taliban.

03 May 2006

My accounting professor, in the last day of class, decided to impart to us some wisdom he's gleaned from spending lots of time at banker's seminars. One of the banker's rules of thumb, he claims, is to never lend money to one of the five P's:


The professor couldn't figure out why plumbers were on the list. While "pimps" doesn't make much sense - who asks for a loan as a pimp? - maybe it's a proxy for something like race (I hope not) or flashy young males in general. The policeman is an interesting addition - they have stable jobs and seem to be upstanding people. As for the poets who read the blog, I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to lend you any money.

(Notice that the only non-controversial group is politicians. No one trusts those guys.)