Monday, May 5, 2014

Just Let Yourself Enjoy Spider-Man 2: A Review/Essay on This Film's Successes Within the Context of its Genre

The movie is fun. It's fun! Can't we just let it be fun? There's a fine line in analyzing pop-culture between respecting the Art of the thing, whatever it is, and remembering the inherent levity of flashy, explody, building-smashy entertainment. I mean, I've seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier twice, and I still don't quite understand what happened.

Spider-Man has always been the super hero I identified with most. Sure, I wanted adamantium claws and the corresponding facial hair, but how useful would that really be? And if I'm honest with myself, I'm no Logan. Despite the fact that spiders creep the heck out of me, Spider-Man is a champion of the bookish-folk. He's a goof—always joking, to himself, for the most part, and wiry. He teaches us to laugh at ourselves, laugh at the small stuff, and laugh at the big stuff. Spider-Man is the little guy, which is why I think it makes an odd sense that he's separated (at Sony) from the rest of the Marvel group (Disney).

So, since this new Spider-Man movie has come out, reviews have been popping up all over the place, like here for Forbes (by Mark Hughes, who I think nails it), here for Wired, here for NYT and here's the ever-surly Christopher Orr's take, for The Atlantic. And I suggest you give all of them a look, they'll teach you a lot about how movie reviews are supposed to sound. The best way I can describe it is like trying to describe something while standing very, very far away. Like, you had the thing in your hands, but then hid it and ran a mile before stopping to talk about it... maybe this piece will sound the same. I wonder why critics seem, by and large, so crotchety. If I keep writing about movies, will I end up the same way? If I am crotchety while using clever, review-y jargon, does that make it better? Granted, I got pretty crabby about Terrence Malick, twice, but in a fun, funny way, right? So that makes me better, yes...

But yeah, there were a few things that this movie got me thinking about. 1) I will always be a little grumpy about the fact that every super hero movie is not rated 'R', and, by recognizing that, be okay with it, 2) The claustrophobia of villainy in superhero movies (does it ever work? How (not)?), and 3) a spoiler-laden end beat on how some bold choices made by this movie in the third act might be changing the stakes for this film genre. You know what? Scratch that. I won't go beyond saying "I think some bold choices made by the filmmakers change the stakes for this film genre."

It doesn't even have to be the thirteen-year-old in us that enjoys this film. There is a little boy in the movie who is saved by Spidey (and doesn't go bonkers, like the villain) and shows up again later to face-off against a baddie while we wait for Spider-Man to get there. That's the kid. That's the kid going to see this movie, not guys in their late twenties like me who still want to swing from rooftops and climb buildings and hear Spider-Man let loose an "Oh Shit!" whenever he's about to get clocked. This movie does a fine job in audience recognition. They know it's a kids movie, but also have to try and make the rest of us love it as well. It's hard to do! I suggest anyone in college, or (especially) beyond, use their imagination when watching this movie. Fill in the blanks. For me, Spider-Man says, "Shit!" a whole lot. I think that's what the "Spidey-Sense" is, so I make the switch in my brain.

Moving on. Be warned, I get a bit more specific concerning the plot here. The wretched Spider-Man 3 had three villains, and so does this. It seems a common consensus that the last thirty minutes of The Dark Knight were a bit of a stretch, like Nolan should have just let Two-Face kill a couple cops then disappear until the next movie, where could have by then organized his own crime syndicate. The Avengers was equally crowded, though more by heroes than Villains. Yes, Whedon new what he was doing, but since he let the audience watch the heroes battle each other, which is what everyone wanted, Loki felt more like a nuisance than actual threat. But back to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and how this claustrophobia of villainy is an inherent part of comic-book adaptations, especially Spider-Man.

Let's face it. All of these movies, however original the screenplay, are adaptations of graphic novels, and just as adaptations of traditional novels must play by their source material's rules, so must this genre. reviewers have derided the "Tangled Mess of Plotlines," how "utterly wasted Giamatti" was as Rhino bookending the film, and how Osborn's Green Goblin was shoehorned into the final act. Sure, Harry Osborn was an empty device used to move plot; he was absolutely no match for Spider-Man, and also detracted from the weight of Electro's place as super villain. But this is the world of Spider-Man, and comics. There's always something going on. Someone, somewhere is doing something they shouldn't and the hero has to stop them.  Think of the Arkham games, especially Arkham City. Batman has to, in the span of one night, take down virtually every single villain he's ever known. This is the nature of pretty much every superhero universe. Marc Webb did with Rhino what Christopher Nolan should have with Two-Face, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, was fun, shiny, sufficiently acrobatic and sentimental, all while delivering a movie appropriate for children that appeals to adults.

Final Note: Shout out to "Paranoia," the Electro theme. It kicks so much ass, and even manages to complicate and develop the character. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Graham Norton, Jimmy Fallon, and the Ethics of Interviewing

Graham Norton is a UK chat show host with the simplest of formats. The show opens with the host among his audience, giving the week's guest list by somehow parodying what the actors are there to promote, then moves to a quick monologue before bringing out the guests—all of the guests, together. The celebrities sit side-by-side on a long, bright-red sofa in front of a coffee table on which rest their preferred alcoholic beverages. And then they chat, that's it. Here's a short bit guaranteed to make you smile:

There's a lot going on in this clip: the conversational atmosphere, interpersonal banter, and self-deprecating humor on both Norton and Stone's part. Graham Norton, knows exactly what his show is, as evidenced by his flamboyant outfits and over-saturated stage decoration. He does not have the budget to bring The Spice Girls on, and the bit wouldn't have been so explosive or endearing had the actress actually met the singers. This is the core of contemporary talk show television, the point is to make actors so endearing that viewers go to see their work (See: Jennifer Lawrence's antics and Kristen Bell's sloth fanaticism). I am not the intended demographic for Hunger Games films, but I've seen them. I can use my girlfriend as an excuse, but really I think I'm just supportive of Lawrence's career.

Television, especially chat shows, bring humility to these larger-than-life personalities, and if they're drinking, as the viewers at home likely are, it feels even more like these people are guests in our living room. "You're drinking wine? On a talk show?" said Emma Stone, as Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield sip red wine. It's also curious to see which guests order water, who has wine or beer, or, like Russell Crowe, Tweet's their obscure drink requirements.

I mean, who wouldn't like to spend an evening with Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, and Chris O'Dowd. By treating the interview(s) like a conversation, Norton amps the candor exponentially, and the audience is allowed a virtually uncensored hour of genuine laughter and play. The more relaxed response to swearing helps this as well. Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, and James McAvoy will appear this friday. I am more than excited.

If Graham Norton had to have an American counterpart, it would have to be Jimmy Fallon, who offers up an equal measure of candor and laughter on his nightly broadcast. Of course, the format couldn't be more different. Fallon seems to pull from his sketch-show SNL work to play what seem like a series of parlor games. Here's a look, but beware, these clips have a rabbit-hole quality to them. Soon you'll wonder where the hours went. Let's stick with Ms. Stone, as I'll be writing on the new Spider-Man soon enough:

It's cute! Whenever I see Fallon, I think of NPR's Linda Holmes' post to Monkey See on his exit from Late Night for The Tonight Show. Holmes writes, "I didn't know... that Jimmy Fallon even had an animating principal, let alone know that it would turn out to be joy, which is the animating principle of entirely too little of popular culture." Other bits from Late Night include Tom Cruise and Edward Norton smashing eggs over their heads in "Egg Roulette," and guests like Ryan Reynolds or Hugh Jackman facing Fallon in "Water War," where, as you imagine, the card game is given higher stakes. The losers get a glass of water to the face.

Fallon shapes the conversations we're having, even giving humility to outlandish characters like Miley Cyrus with the a cappella "We Can't Stop" featuring The Roots. I, for one, was much less dismissive of the young singer after seeing her with established musicians such as The Roots. This small bit complicated the conversations surrounding Cyrus; the heart in that clip removed much of the cartoonishness audiences perceived after her shift in persona.

These are examples of interviewing and media promotion at its height, which only makes the artifice of its evil twin more apparent. I'm speaking of the rapid-fire interviews that take place in darkened rooms with the film's poster as a backdrop. The journalists are mostly from websites and blogs, feel amateurish, and never have more than a minute or two with the actors. Here's an example of what I'm talking about, but beware, once you see what's about to happen, you'll have to close the video. You'll feel so bad for everyone involved, and the embarrassment and empathy will overwhelm. I, for one, cannot watch the whole thing.

In those darkened-room interviews, it's apparent that this is part of the actor's contract, and that, as part of their press tour, they need to sit in a room and have 50 two-minute interviews in quick succession. It reminds me of seeing fans getting pictures with their idols during convention photo-ops—the fans wait in interminably long lines for half a moment with the Doctor Who cast before they're shuffled off for the next random, eager fan. Then again, I should be so lucky as to ever feel my hand cramp after signing hundreds of books.

It's an issue of credibility and respect. Fallon and Norton have it, the aspiring journalists do not. The dark-room, internet journalists try to stand out, so their questions lack humanity. They are overeager, contrasting the actors' visible fatigue. But the press passes these interviews hold gives them a license for acting over-familiar, and it needs to stop.

The dichotomy I present involves the battle for Joy, Humanity, and Authenticity over forcing professionals to jump through contractually induced hoops. Can we not raise the bar a bit?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Sort of Prayer on Truth and Magic

My thumbs' knuckles fit into the corners of my eyes, the tips touch and fingered palms create parenthesis, or antlers, resting upon my nose's bridge. I think of The Pale Man from Pan's Labyrinth, which makes me laugh despite myself. The first metacarpal bone on each side seems to cradle my eyelids like a puzzle of composure setting into place.

Am I rubbing my eyes, dazed and waking? Is it a prayer, or meditation? Perhaps I attempt to hush, for moments at a time, the disquiet--the to-do lists and sorrows and failures in the lifelong quest for wisdom and betterment.

In elementary school I pressed the heel of each palm against my eyelids, keeping pressure to make vivid the clouds, bursts and shadowy geometrics dancing in the dark. I counted to thirty, at least, before releasing to see the shapes linger in light, infiltrating the waking world.
That is, until a teacher asked, "Are you okay?" In front of an entire class. 
"Yeah, fine," I said, as if confused by her concern. I doubt I knew the word hallucination at that point, unless some D.A.R.E. lecture brought it up. I was just playing a game with my imagination, like finding animals and dragons in sunny, afternoon clouds between recitations of multiplication tables. 

So I've been thinking about magic lately, and the very human need to believe. Maybe somewhere inside I know that nothing is ever as elegant as I'd like, that all those books and movies portraying worlds of adventure and import are fictions we use to hide the tedium of everyday. But is any of it real? Is Art giving us unrealistic expectations for Beauty, Love, Elegance, Truth, Or Meaning? All those capital-lettered keywords we chase about and map onto our lives. Because everyone should have their own romantic comedy, right? Joan Didion once wrote, "We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience."

I can't help but chase magic and call it nonfiction. I write down little stories and look for thematic import. Is Meaning there already, waiting for discovery? Or am I just watching shadows run from the light?

In any case, my knuckles fit well along the bones of my skull. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is This Professional? Is it Supposed To Be?: The Gamification of the Intellect, or OhMyGod Who Cares?!

I am thinking about the idea of this online persona, the lines between author, narrator, and character that braid themselves and tangle inconveniently. The address to this site is on my resume. Should it be? I'd call some of the posts here articles, some essays, and some just the mess that happens when I open my mouth.

I open my mouth a lot. And, of course, the internet has intensified this problem by exponential degrees. I mean, luckily no one reads any of this. I'm sure most of the traffic on this site comes from either accidentally specific google searches or robots (why are robots looking at my writing? I don't get it). Well, nobody's commenting on anything either way. You should definitely not cite this site in any paper that requires credibility. I'd be flattered, but you'd lose points.

But back to my mouth, why it upsets me, and why it'll probably never change. It's been this way for as long as I can remember.

Back in middle school I wrote a lot of love notes. I cringe to think any of those little, folded bits of notebook paper still exist. I see a shoebox under some girl's bed that needs to be set on fire. Middle school also involved a whole lot of chatting on AIM after school and putting up ohh-so deep away messages that enlightened all those who came across the words that obviously held extra meaning for one person but purported to be for all my friends. That was the time of the orange iMac, and more of my penchant to play with words and deliver intent. There was a lot of telling people what I thought they wanted to hear.

Unlike those notes and chats saturated in embarrassment, my inane chatterings are now widely available for anyone interested. I mean, take a look at my Twitter and all 40 followers I keep and love and cherish. I blame this low number on the fact that I deleted my Facebook before the switch, thereby losing contact after contact. [Dear employers, I quit Facebook and you should too. It's not hip anymore and only speaks to how leading-edge I really am]. But so my Twitter. It is professional and personal which clouds the "Writer" brand I'm supposed to be cultivating. The brand that speaks in articulate metaphor and uses words like "ineffable" to show that I can lasso the ethereal majesty of all the universe and human condition into attention-grabbing prose. Just take me off the bench that is this dusty corner of the web with my name on it.

So this is me: a Twitter of literary retweets and curiosity that attempts personability; a private Instagram, and this blog, but there is one other thing I do and should probably stop. I text. Remember those AIM chats? Well this demonic iPhone in my pocket is like having the old AIM program open at all time. I'd like to take this moment to apologize to pretty much everyone who's number I have. I am sorry you are subjected to pretty much my ceaseless train of thought. I send you pictures of nothing and expect you to be enraptured, I send you tweet-like clips of anything and everything that reminds me of you. You do not respond, but that does not stop me. I just expect you to like engaging in a never-ending conversation with me because we can't hang out in real life. Is it noteworthy that I never get messages from anyone like those I send? See, I deleted my Facebook account, so all that useless junk that used to exist as status updates now gets sent directly to you. I like to share. Hey, at least it's all positive, right? I don't text to complain... right? I send only messages of joy?

But yeah, it's still Facebook, and if Facebook has taught us anything, it's that we're all the most important person in the universe, with the most unique and creative voice and perspective in all creation. And I majored in that belief. Creative Nonfiction: the idea that if I think hard enough about my little, unimportant life, themes will emerge for others to glean Truth and Meaning.

What schlock; majoring in Facebook. Maybe that's why I hate it so much. [Dear employers, I am so social-media savvy that it's postmodern. Why don't we delete your online presence... now that's leading edge]. We have gamified voice and intellect. The currency is likes and upvotes and retweets, and I am living below the poverty line.

In the end, the point is that a line exists. How much of yourself do you push onto others? You know that point in conversation where you stop caring about the other person? Well they no doubt have that line for you, too. How short is it?

I'm not very good with secrets and lying, but I am learning to keep my mouth shut.

I might see the new Captain America this afternoon, so maybe you'll see a post on that later (saying so is making me accountable), I've been watching too much Supernatural on Netflix, so I expect I could come up with some thesis on that (I'm sure that show's been written to death, but it's an interesting genre-show that knows exactly what it is, and calls our attention to it... it also seems to exist inside Neil Gaiman's universe, which is intriguing me). And Game of Thrones has started back up, so I could always join the many, many voices blathering on about what's going on there.

Friday, March 7, 2014

So I Read an EBook

There are many, many essays out there on this subject, I'm sure, but I thought I'd take a stab at my experience regardless. Not too long ago, my father gave me his iPad as he upgraded. I neither needed, nor desired the device, but there it was. Of course, the thing was old—1st Generation, even. The apps consistently quit on me and the battery drained quicker than the gas gauge in my Jeep (also a hand-me-down from my father). So, I upgraded to a new device for which I really couldn't articulate the need.

I love the history, weight, and culture that comes with writing. The old technology and smell of love and poignance found in old books. I write with a fountain pen. I try to find excuses for using my typewriter. But... but I just finished reading a Game of Thrones book on my iPad mini, and it was pretty fun. I read A Feast for Crows, the fourth book, in an attempt to get a jump on the upcoming season of the show. Little did I know that the previous season of Game of Thrones only covered about half of the third book... so I flung myself into a treacle-sweet pool of spoilers and mediocre, modifier-laden writing. I finished the 600+ page book in a couple short weeks. Now, any English major is capable of much more than this, especially on a deadline. After graduation, however, the pace slows considerably. I've been focusing on short stories and essays while averting my eyes from that blasted Infinite Jest glaring down from my bookshelf with condescension. I'll take you down one of these days, Mr. Wallace.

Back to Mr. Martin, and the writing that frustrates me more than his silly beard. Sure, it wasn't literature, but it's cold out and sometimes you just need something with swords in it. On the story itself, I will only say that Westeros should have much, much more magic. Mild spoilers find their way into the rest of this paragraph, so be warned. Hands should be regrown, or golden hands should be made to move. Broken backs should be realigned (if Batman can be fixed by a rope...). There's my two cents.

The other Kindle book I've purchased is a cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo. It's a great cookbook, but the author also has an app, which might be more friendly for digital consumption. The Ebook isn't the most user-friendly. I can't quite "flip through" the thing as I'd like. I have to open a menu, hit "contents," then "recipe index," and find what I want to cook. And, if some recipe piques my interest, the detour will make me start the process all over again. menu-->contents-->index-->recipe. I should have gotten the app—plus, most of the recipes are posted for free on the website already, so what exactly did I pay money for, a pithy introduction?

I'm not reading all crap. There are many book samples in my Kindle app, and I'm sure I'll get excited one night and just buy them all, but what is interesting me the most is my growing love for online literary journals. Brevity is an absolute favorite. And I just found Pank, Diagram, and Wag's Revue. I must say, reading these magazines online is immeasurably better via tablet than hunched over my laptop. I have an entire folder with shortcuts to endless new writing I can enjoy free and piecemeal. I pay more attention to my twitter feed—the calls for submissions and little writer's corner I follow.

Have you a tablet? Go look for me in Squalorly or Pithead Chapel... Then come back and say nice things to make me feel like a writer. What journals do you keep up with? I may still have a deep-seated need to hold my writing in hand, to feel the tangibility of ink and paper bound, bearing my name, my words. I cannot bestow sentiment upon this tablet like the books I've loved (...yet), but it does rank a close second for convenience, so long as I stay focused and avoid the Internet's many distractions.

The biggest surprise has found me just now, as I finish this post on the iPad. I think there must be some special level of hell for writers who compose by such means. Should that be the case, find me in an armchair somewhere. I'll have smuggled this thing past the guards.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

On Exercise

I've been trying to either go for a run or a swim every morning. With the swim, there's at least a sauna as my carrot-on-a-stick, dragging me to the gym. But when I run, I need to trick myself into getting out the door.

First, I'll direct you to a comic by The Oatmeal, here, titled "The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distance." Now, the two miles I slog through can hardly be classified as long distance (or "running"); I'm still working on making the whole thing in one solid go.  Here are a couple moments from early in the comic, and they will no doubt encourage you to read the rest:

"Let's go home! We've got gravy to eat and naps to conquer!"

I cannot defeat The Blerch in outright combat. He is too strong. He bludgeons me into submission with warm blankets, calm music, coffee and the idea of a hot shower...

I have to be sneaky.

I lie to myself, literally. I always thought of that phrase as an abstraction—something you say to others, like, "Ohh, stop lying to yourself." Meaning, You're annoying me with idiocy. You're fooling yourself. Who knew anyone could be so thick. The phrase meant a lack of self awareness. In my circle of friends, we sometimes call this "Danny-Logic," but you'd have to know Danny to understand that. You have stubborn friends, no doubt... you get the idea.

But I literally, almost audibly lie to myself. I think, "No, you're right Blerch, three cups of french-pressed dark roast and a few sesame bagels slathered in a stick of butter and half a tub of cream cheese is definitely the way to start today. I'm not going to run. Let me just throw on an old t-shirt and some gym shorts." 

It's like talking to this guy: 

Yes, yes, let the laziness flow through you
"I'm not going to run," I say, "I'm just going to put on my shoes."
"I'm not going to run. I'm just going to get some ice water ready."
"I'm not going to run. I'm just going to play really upbeat music and see what the front porch looks like."

And I'm off. After one block I have this moment, without fail, where I think, "Well shit! I actually made it out the door." Twenty minutes later I'm back, sitting on the porch listening to the morning sun dance with birds chirping applause my way, praising the Gods for turning water into an elixir of life and beauty. Of course mass texting comes next; who am I kidding. The birds can shut it, I need real live recognition that I've done something positive with my life.

It's nice, feeling showered and productive all before morning even starts. Plus, I usually prefer a grapefruit or yogurt after running, which feels good. Then again, giving up bread is proving to be far more difficult than cigarettes. You mean an entire baguette and block of brie isn't healthy? What madness is this!

After I'm clean and caffeinated, it's time to start over. "I'm not applying to jobs, just taking a peek at what work is out there..." 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Music, Take Me to Transience

Sure, I have a few gigabytes of music cluttering up my phone. But, over the last few years, it's done nothing but gather dust. The files are difficult to get rid of, though, even in those moments of anti-smartphone angst when I want to delete every stupid, superfluous app that adds nothing to my life and is, I'm sure, everything that's wrong with society today. I look through my library and try to decide what needs to go, where to make room. "Awhh, but I like this," I say. "I might be in the mood for it later."

No. No I will not.

The truth is, I've become a listener of radio. It started with Pandora, but those ads started making me want to throw heavy objects across the room. Then I found 8Tracks, and my life hasn't been the same since. Now, this is not a promotion for the site, but I will say that it runs through user-created mixes, and there are no pop-up ads or videos that take over my speakers. Sold. Make a mix, tag it, throw on some eye candy album-art and voilá, welcome to the most human level of interaction I've ever found on the web. I very much connect with and appreciate the strangers who bring music to my life. Sure, I can bookmark songs for download or purchase, but I just keep tabs on the mixes I enjoy.

Do I miss the songs once they're gone? Yes. Like listening to Philadelphia's public radio, WXPN, and wondering what I just heard, I want to hold on to those feelings evoked. I want to download and store and recall emotion at will, but life doesn't work that way. I'm learning to let go—live in the now—and all that clichĂ© crap. There will be more great music, more poignance, and this type of loosely-guided yet sufficiently random radio keeps me on the edge of the unexpected.

* * *

I've moved four times in the past two years—by myself, because I have a thing about asking people to help me move, but that's another post—and very much of my life has been discarded in the process. At some point, moving becomes like thru-hiking. Every ounce you pack is one more you must carry, and God do they add up quickly. I carried my ex's box of photo albums through countless states from the east coast to the west and back again. I don't think she looked at a single one of those pictures in all that time, so what do we keep? The objects given life by sentiment? Lose the furniture. Take a long look at the clothes you've accumulated.

In the last move, from Montana to Delaware via SoCal, I lost a box containing all of my nicest clothes. My dress socks, my better belts, slacks, button-downs—gone. How could I lose an entire box? And why did it have to be everything I liked the most? I still have all those cruddy t-shirts that have shrunken to a nearly embarrassing point, but gone are the things I actually miss.

In moments like these, I imagine Rafiki blasting me over the head with his Gandalf staff, saying, It doesn't matter, it's in the past. I think sometimes we all need to be beaten by a mandrill, don't you?

In my next move, which I hope to happen soon, I'm already tempted to ditch my television and leave the PS3 behind. Good riddance. I will, however, be taking my boxes and boxes of books to every new place. Is that irony? Selective reasoning? Maybe, but I've deleted a few mp3 albums, so that balances the weight... right?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

These Are My People

Happy Post Labor Day, everyone. Some of us are back to school, others back to work. As you may not know, I spent yesterday driving my way into central Pennsylvania from the Delaware border to drop off my son with his mother. It's a long day; especially, I imagine, for little Hank, who is 12mo old and still coming to terms with the torture-device that is his carseat. He does as best as can possibly be expected, but seven hours is a long time for anyone to be in a car, and my soul was making the same noises in SE Pennsylvania as Hank's little lungs were as he finished his trip to NW Pennsylvania.

The upshot about this trip is that I get to catch up on my podcasts, chiefly "Pop Culture Happy Hour" with Linda Holms and her wonderful panel at NPR and "Improv For Humans" with Matt Besser, whom you will surely recognize after a moment. This particular trip was devoted to "PCHH," and so will this post, for the most part.

But before I get to that, I'd like to speak briefly on the wonderful medium of Podcast. I'm not sure why many of these people do them. Is Bill Burr's "Monday Morning Podcast" a type of publicity? Do they get paid? I know "Improv for Humans" has advertisers, but the time these people put into such elaborate productions baffles me. Granted, I'd do it in a second if anyone would listen to me, but (and I'm getting to the point here), I can barely keep up! I can't keep up, really. "PCHH" goes live every week. And so I put it to you, when do you keep up with your podcasts, if not in the car? Should I listen while I clean the house? Perhaps over coffee as a morning ritual, or... I don't know. I need to find the time. I suppose the answer is linked to this blog, in that I need to better organize the time I spend at the computer. If the "PCHH" crew can come up with an entire hour of material concerning the media-steeped world I inhabit. Not only that, but this crew is able to speak for an extended time without spoiling the movies about which they talk. Sure, having seen the show/movie in question helps, but I've been inspired to try, or give a second chance, to many things thanks to the discussions I've heard (and audibly responded to) here.

Every single week, a group of affable, quirky editors and writers at NPR sit around a table and speak in a educated, critical vernacular about things I know. I have studied literary criticism for many years, and absolutely love to hear that this voice can be used to speak on pop culture. Critical thought has a place in film and television.

Every week they end the program with a segment called "What's making us happy this week," and that's what I intend to do with this blog—amp up the things I find to make me happy.

What's making you happy these days?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Embracing Self-Deprecation With Mumford & Sons' "Hopeless Wanderer"

So I found what I'm going to write about today... and it is awesome.

I'm wrestling over whether to write before or after the video, but spoiling the cast of this video would just be cruel, so please, plug in your headphones and enter fullscreen. It will be well worth the time spent:

If you notice, the video takes a full minute to reveal who we're watching, and hiding beneath that glorious plethora of facial hair are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, and Will Forte. Now, that's what I call comedic tension. With the arrival of this music video, and the stitches in which it had me, I am forced to see Mumford & Sons in a new light—a light of humility and humor, self-awareness and understanding.

I've enjoyed the music of Mumford & Sons despite myself, trying to keep them at arm's length. Maybe that's because my beard is more sad than suave, or because, while I dig the banjo, the sound takes over, and everything sounds about the same on the instrument... to this listener. But goodness is their music catchy, and yes I would dress like that if I could afford it, or pull it off. Bow ties are cool.

What I'm leading us towards here is that adjectival atrocity of the English language, the word "hipster," its vague connotations and elusive definition. Merriam-Webster defines the term as "A person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns," Which I guess works. I think in terms of ostentatious irony, or smug eccentricity. The creation of Self as parody is inherently pretentious, and mustaches are a dangerous affectation in that regard.

Again, jealousy may be a factor here, but this video, in all its homoerotic glory, smashes preconceived notions into a realm without "fashion glasses." I cannot get into Wilco, I think, because I pick up on a vibe that they're already enough into themselves for all of us. But Mumford & Sons put the issue to bed—I say, "Alright guys, I'm in." I can't even use the word "parody," because this video does not mock or deride, but exalt.

In self-deprecation we find common ground across differences. So what if your Nike High-Top sneakers are my Ariat Round-Toe boots, why be smug? The more entrenched your facade and persona in the mode to which you belong, the more important character and humility becomes. After all, laughing at yourself is always more fun than laughing at others.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I See You're Pulling at My Heartstrings, Mr. Stiller

Do we not all envision lives of such poignance? Of so vivid an imagination? In my own life, I wrestle with the validity of those capital-lettered ideals: Love, Adventure, Elegance, even Writer. All that which we translate from life into art, writing, and film is prone to hyperbole. I mean, we watch movies on larger and larger screens, turning homes into cinemas, paying obscene amounts for theater tickets. It's no wonder we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves.  I'm told I hold myself to unattainable standards, dooming myself to a slight sense of failure in every day. But creation is at the heart of Beauty; "essay" comes to us from the french as "to attempt," and that's the key.

James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" speaks to this power in creativity, as realized on screen by the incomparable Danny Kaye in 1947. Now it took me a moment to reconcile, but Ben Stiller is the man to pay Kaye tribute. They even have a similar jawline. Add "Dirty Paws" by the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men, and we have a trailer that has me misty-eyed five months away from the December 25th release date.

I want my imagination to block out the reality against which it works and allow me waking dreams. Instead, reality's unforgiving nature persists, however out of focus I let it blur; the actions of my imagination are overlaid upon rather than transposed with waking life.

I often get frustrated at magically real movies and engaging characters. I want the job at Time with Adam Scott flicking projectiles at my head grade-school style ("Are we having fun yet?"). This notion speaks to my chosen profession as nonfiction writer, my penchant for jumping into the movies and characters I see.

My favorite example of this idea involves the 2006 Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell in arguably his best role as Harold Crick. The main players of this film include Ferrell, an IRS auditor going through something of a (justifiable) crisis, Emma Thompson as a reclusive, chain-smoking writer-at-typewriter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, the tattooed, left-wing Harvard student turned indie baker, and Dennis Hoffman, the elbow-padded literature professor. And I want to be every one of them; they each speak to something within me—variant lives I can see myself living. Even Queen Latifa as a writer's assistant to Thompson. Given the day, I want to give it all up and make cookies all day, or hole myself up with my writing, teach what I love, or put on a suit and head to the office. As a writer of nonfiction, I will have all the archetypes!

There is power in the heights to which we strive, in language and art, even when the mundanity starts creeping in, keeping you from that Romantic Comedy you know your life should be.