Saturday, February 07, 2004

Today's bizarre link

A site devoted to the subway system of Pyongyang, North Korea. Check out those chandeliers.

A while back I blogged (scroll to the bottom) about the unauthorized use of Tom Skerritt's head in an ad for an herbal sex remedy. I finally found a picture of the ad. It unfortunately seems to be from a newspaper, so you don't see the blue alien in all her blueness; also, the ad is in Spanish, which somehow makes it even funnier. I look at the image and I can't stop laughing.
Changing the subject

This from the New York Times: "As Michael J. Copps, an F.C.C. commissioner who has long argued for stricter regulation, put it, 'I think [Janet] Jackson's escapade illuminates the need to tackle this issue and enforce the law.'"

I have a theory that the F.C.C. official is really referring not to the notorious wardrobe malfunction but to "Escapade," the track on Jackson's classic Rhythm Nation 1814 record. And that he doesn't like the song very much. But there's not a law against appealing (if slightly overproduced) dance-pop. Is there?

P.S. The article's accompanying picture of John Ashcroft is hysterical.

Friday, February 06, 2004

That was the name thereof

I have the habit of naming inanimate objects. It's something a lot of people do in a small way--they name their cars, for example. I have named my car. But I have named many other things.

This is in part something I picked up from my grandfather, who had a way, not unlike our president's, of giving people private nicknames. The difference between Grandfather and the president is that when Grandfather gave someone a name, other people started using it, too. For example, my grandmother's name was Lurline, but he inexplicably called her Josephine, and so did many other people.

My habit also stems from the naming of computers, a practice I learned at an office where I once worked. A computer on a network needs to have a name that distinguishes it from other computers, so whenever this office got a new computer, whoever would be using it generally named it. I named mine Conrad, ostensibly after Joseph Conrad but actually after Conrad Bain. My friend Dave named his Kuhn, after the science historian Thomas Kuhn.

I realize now that this new kick of naming things started when I set up a computer network here at the crib. I named my computer Faron, and Ereck named his Cookie. My old computer was named Hank, and I have an external hard drive named Loretta. An old laptop of Ereck's is named The Emerald City, and until I destroyed it by spilling mineral water on it, I had a tiny laptop named CharleyCompaq. And last night I named my Palm device Pac-Man, because it kind of looks like Pac-Man.

I named my truck Red Boy, even though the truck is golden in hue. This also goes back to my grandfather, who owned the truck when he died a couple of years ago. When I was a kid, Grandfather had an Irish setter--red, natch--that he named Red Boy, and this was like Grandfather, to name a thing after its essential characteristic. I loved Red Boy a lot, so the truck's name is at once a fond remembrance of the dog and a gently tweaking tribute to my grandfather.

I hope the naming does not get out of control. Ereck and I have a new bed, and we named it Vger (pronounced VEE-jer), after the omnipotent alien force in the first "Star Trek" movie. We also have named our apartment: Claude, after the culturally snobbish but ultimately well meaning character in the Canadian television series "Degrassi High."

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Special victim

Ereck and I have a new ritual wherein I smack his ass and scream, "Richard Belzer!"
Boy band

I finally got around to listening to the Beatles' Live at the BBC, the two-CD, 1994 collection of songs the Fab Four recorded for BBC radio in the early 1960s, when they were new stars. And the discs are a revelation. These songs were recorded before John Lennon and Paul McCartney were at the peak of their songwriting powers, of course, and while a few originals do make welcome appearances, the bulk of the material is American rock and roll, R&B, rockabilly and the like. Many of these tracks ended up on early Beatles records, like "Roll Over Beethoven," but many more are new to me as Beatle songs, and they are sheer joy. These Beatles sound like (and I mean no slight by this, only the highest praise) a great cover band that has a great time playing great songs.

Listening to these discs, I am surprised by how deeply the young John Lennon's voice moves me. It's true that when I was a moody teen Lennon was important to me, but that had more to do with his later Beatles songwriting than with his singing. To be honest, the Beatles' releases from the time they recorded these BBC tracks left my adolescent self cold; I associated early Beatles stuff with screaming teenagers, and I imagined that if screaming teenagers appreciated this material, then I was way too sophisticated for it.

What I failed to grasp is that the teenagers screamed because they wanted to fuck the Beatles, individually and collectively. This is a legitimate want--one of the top three things music does best--and that sex appeal really comes through in the singing of the 23-year-old Lennon. McCartney's singing is fine here, if a little precious; Lennon growls and screams like a polecat. Hubba.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

But what about the DiCaprio code

I don't read much fiction; I'd generously estimate that novels make up 10% of my leisure reading. But on my dad's recommendation I recently picked up Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (Random House, $24.95), the ubiquitous bestselling gnostic suspense potboiler. And I enjoyed it. I find the history of early Christianity fascinating, and the book has a lot of that. It's the sort of novel you wish had a bibliography. There also is double-crossing and international intrigue and a crazed albino monk.
Killer Bs

Yesterday my career reviewing B movies progressed nicely, as well it might: for B movie critics January and February are like Christmas, Easter and the Super Bowl all in one. Over the holidays moviegoers gorge themselves on top-shelf product, and now is that quiet time--with the Oscars still weeks away--when the studios slip loads of stuff into theaters that no one much wants to see. In the modern movie era, I wonder if a major, blockbuster hit was ever released in January?

So last night found me at a virtually empty Eastgate Cinemas, where I first caught the Owen Wilson crime farce The Big Bounce and then the hip-hop dancing extravaganza You Got Served. I liked them both.

Owen Wilson cracks me up, though of late I have mostly seen him in small roles in films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Meet the Parents. So The Big Bounce is refreshing because, like Shanghai Noon, it lets Wilson shamble amusingly through a starring performance. And the film's stunning Oahu locations were a welcome respite from Wisconsin in February.

You Got Served took me to another warm locale, South Central Los Angeles, where teams of inner-city youths settle their differences in fancifully choreographed dances. The story is every sports film you've ever seen: will the underdogs win? (I'll give you one guess.) But the dance sequences are sensational and funny, if overedited. I confess there's something I don't understand about the very premise of the film--does this elaborate dance subculture really exist? But the film has cameos by Lil' Kim and the MTV network itself, and I guess they know better than I do.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Black tie? No, denim on denim

Anyone planning to get married this spring really should consult whoever costumed the 1972 wedding of Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
Harmonic convergence

Ereck and I caught up with the Coen brothers comedy Intolerable Cruelty at the cheap cinema the other night, and I remembered why the cheap cinema is cheap: this was one beat-up print. It looked okay, but the sound was dismal. This became apparent during the visually arresting credit sequence, under which Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" plays. I take very few things in life utterly seriously, but that recording of "Suspicious Minds" is one of them, and I was disappointed to hear the song mangled so badly.

That said, the soundtrack featured one of the most wondrous things I have heard in many a moon. Let me say that I'm always grateful when a film shows me something I have never seen before. That's especially true of good films like Intolerable Cruelty but also applies to bad films. Case in point: last year I reviewed the Samuel L. Jackson film No Good Deed and found it dreadful, but the sight of Milla Jovovich playing the cello momentarily took my breath away.

Well, when I was watching Intolerable Cruelty, I had the unusual filmgoing experience of hearing something I've never heard before. Halfway through the movie there is a scene set in Vegas in which two characters marry in a Scots-themed wedding chapel. The scene ends with a woman playing the Simon and Garfunkle classic "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on bagpipes. Only a brief portion of the song is heard, and the incongruous pairing of song and instrument seems mostly intended as a sick joke. But it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I'm getting a little misty just thinking about it.

I should reveal, without shame, that I'm a sucker for bagpipes, the most misunderstood instrument this side of the accordion. My love for the pipes almost certainly is a product of my Scottishness, several generations removed from the heather but, I like to think, never very far from it.
My bad

When I first saw this headline on the New York Times web page:

Bush Bets America Agrees With His Fiscal Priorities

I thought it said:

Bush Bets America With His Fiscal Priorities

Monday, February 02, 2004

What a difference

According to this New York Times story by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Geraldine Fabrikant, the entertainment conglomerate Viacom may soon sell its stake in Blockbuster, the video chain, in the face of "the threat that video-on-demand offerings by cable operators could make renting a physical DVD or VHS tape obsolete."

I wouldn't shed any tears if Blockbuster went away. It's a terrible store. The moratorium on NC17 films is only one of several reasons I steer clear, and I haven't visited an outlet in almost four years. But thinking about Blockbuster's possible demise does give me pause. Blockbuster used to be very important to me.

The opening of a Blockbuster in my hometown of Nashville, sometime in the mid to late 1980s, was the source of much excitement for me and my high school chums. Before that, I had of course rented my share of videos, but I always did so at one of the neighborhood stores, which always seemed a little dodgy. In fact, many of the early ones in my neighborhood had various unsavory sidelines, like guns and pawning. The mom-and-pop video stores also were never very well lit, and while I don't think I had many complaints about the selection back then, they always seemed vaguely unclean.

So Blockbuster seemed like a revelation because it was clean, well lit and well organized, and I seem to recall that in the 1980s at least, the store carried titles difficult to find elsewhere. So I patronized the one in Nashville, and when I moved to Chicago, I kept going to Blockbuster because, yes, the mom-and-pop store in my neighborhood was discomfiting.

But all that Blockbuster-going ended when I came to Madison, home of wonderful Bongo Video, a locally owned video store that has everything a locally owned video store should have: pleasant staff, good if not vast selection, and a comfortable, homey vibe. I said adieu to the corporate lairds at Blockbuster long ago, and it appears that others are doing the same.