Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bobbing Along

Is it rainy and grey where you are, too? Work day not quite going as you planned? I was faced with three options this morning in class: a) I am a boring teacher, b) I am teaching something boring - hardly likely, as is Walt Whitman, or c) I have not thought of proper ways to wake students up to Whitman poetry at 8:30am. Am telling self that c) is the most hopeful option, so will try to think of more electrifying pedagogic style better-suited to ungodly hour.

Anyway, in spirit of humdrum day but also of remembering to laugh and smile about the humdrum and its relation to the beautiful, my colleague next door just gave me this copy of a poem she wrote. I love the way it laughs at itself for sublimating a bit of daily debris, and it's quite a funny poem in general, and kind of a deceptively sexy one (I think). In case it lifts your spirits, too, or makes you smile:

Rafting the Deerfield River
by Elizabeth Libbey

Motorless. Loosed. Playing the current's
slow game. Rocks just below surface
make the water seem to stand still—heart
skips one long beat, feathers, sets itself
right again, freezing out of mind's drift
the unlikeliest object into significance.
Take, for instance, this Clorox bottle

I float neck-and-neck with, will soon overtake:
no sign, surely, from the Zeus I believe
might still descend on me. Yet its emptiness
fills with my remembering until ponderous
memory overtakes me: thirty years ago, seated
drunk with my lover beside the Iowa River
I observed the miracle congeal out of noon's glare—

opaque white upstream, bobbing on down,
nodding its mythic head my way, grand as
a blue ribbon float in the Tournament of Roses
parade ... surely Zeus has better things
to do? More luminosity? I must have thought
Zeus dull drunk like us, that even a god
as old as the sky needs a little safe harbor

now and then, that Zeus should paddle on over,
follow my lover's example: snake his head
down into my lap. I couldn't breathe. To watch
those wings spread bank to bank! My life
was all going to happen at once, no need
to tread water, go down the third time, wait
for safe passage through parted waters—I'd

just cross over on the wings of a deity
as if some gentleman in a novel had stretched
his overcoat across a puddle for me, and
offered his hand—raising his head, my love
took one quick look, said, "Your swan's a
used-up bottle of bleach," and oh, so like
a boat adrift on the stream when it hits

the hard fact of bank, waking the sleeping one
who tips, then, over, flails in six inches
of water, I flailed free, came back to myself
undrowned. Hand loosed now like some
irresistible fly in the current, I can
feel Poseidon rising famished to take it, take
this ponderous vessel, this surprise bride.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Emmy Winners, aka Best Dressed

And the winners are: Kathy Bates*, Marcia Cross, Blythe Danner, Eva Longoria, and Debra Messing, with the Male Honorable Mention going, as so often, to Kiefer Sutherland. Honorable Mention for Most Improved, By Far: I quite enjoyed Chris O'Donnell's little hair experiment, and after literally decades of bombing out on awards-show fashions, especially at the height of her fame (pity), Glenn Close has lately been getting the job done quite nicely, if a wee bit unadventurously.

Special, disappointed ire reserved for Alex Kingston, if this is indeed her. Alex used to have that wonderful, full, rich head of curly brown hair, which was so lovely and so distinctive in the very sea of Hollywood blonde to which she has now so dismally subscribed herself. (Hope it's just for a role.)

* Dishonorable mention #2 concerns that the above photo of Kathy Bates isn't from the Emmys at all, because of course the WireImage doesn't seem to have bothered taking a picture of the ol' gal, even though she looked positively splendid. Note: youth culture be damned, Kathy Bates is prettier than Mischa Barton.


Emmy Live-Blogging: Final Hour

("Now I be breakin' bread, sippin' Manichewitz wine/ Pay no mind/ Party like it's 1999..." Title of the post, y'all, c'mon.)

Commercial break continues, but not quite long enough to throw together martini. Quentin Tarantino arrives onstage with Marg Helgenberger. QT instantly tiresome. Helgenberger's hair and makeup don't really complement her dress. Specifically, hair too boring for dress.

Category is Outstanding Made for Television Movie. Peter Sellers seems destined to win. Lackawanna Blues looks better; Warm Springs looks like death sentence. Crikes, though, Warm Springs wins! Branagh could not possibly look or seem less like FDR. Perhaps it's a Hopkins-in-Nixon thing, and he's good if you actually trust him and watch the movie?

Hosts of Survivor and The Amazing Race look like supreme doofuses. They give a hand to the two present-o-bots, who are apparently contestants on America's Next Top Model. They look like extras from your local brothel's production of Heidi.

Musical interludes hit new nadir (really, though) with William Shatner and Frederica von Stade (really, though) paired in a reprise of the Star Trek theme. Is single worst thing that has ever arrived into my eye.

Ellen has officially overplayed the originally funny joke with the telecast producer. Meanwhile, someone thinks we are actually going to call and vote on these performances? Why would anyone do that? Can't figure out why first and last performances were intended as punchlines, while middle two were played absolutely straight. "Fame" performance even more needless in retrospect.

Commercial break. Shakira. Martini!

Crap! Where is Grand Marnier???

Ad for Flightplan. Am inexplicably excited for probably-mediocre thriller.

Mariska Hargitay has extremely odd stage presence. When she isn't talking, it's like someone has turned her "off," like that scene in Star Wars on Tattooine where C3PO shuts down for a while.

Weird win for The Lost Prince: Masterpiece Theatre. Well, maybe not "weird." I'm such an asshole, I haven't seen any of these movies! Still, between this and Warm Springs, it sure looks like the stuffiest, most traditional programs are winning. Still, it's hard to hold anything against a woman who takes a moment to defend public television.

Alan Alda and someone who seems to be the president of the Emmys or something—you really do miss a lot doing this blogging thing—pay tribute to Brokaw, Rather, and Jennings. Alda, wearing a Red Cross pin, is an enormously credible presenter, but can I just suggest something? How about we drop Brokaw, drop Rather, and just focus on Jennings?—the one who's actually passed away, and more than that, the one who actually preserved integrity, discipline, humility, and seriousness through the full extent of his career? In fairness, I'm at least agnostic about Rather. At least there seemed like some passion and reality behind his moments of abandon and showboating. It's Brokaw who makes me want to claw myself. Jennings is the pick of this group by infinite degrees. Listen, I cried when that man died. Maybe I'll just put away the snark for a second and really take a minute to honor that guy.

Well, everything was going great until Brokaw (inevitably) broke the spirit of the thing by saluting the current, "next" generation of terrific TV news reportage. I'm sorry, do we have that?

Charlize has emerged as the go-to candidate for reaction shots at any single point in the broadcast. Meanwhile, a TV ad for her upcoming movie North Country has also got me marginally excited—is that Linda Emond? My pal and weekend guest Tim reports from the Toronto Film Festival that North Country is a deserving film, not just a cash-in Oscar stab.

Longish commercial break, punctuated by an Entertainment Tonight ad that sports a cubist, nearly avant-garde rumination on the concept of Mary Hart. Wait, that is Mary Hart. Speaking of Nip/Tuck...

Okay, that martini is made, honey. But the maraschino thing sort of eluded me, so I'm back to old favorites (read: white chocolate).

Mean-spirited Family Guy interlude that takes pot-shot at, of all people, Frankie Muniz. Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Cross, Hatcher, Heaton (yawn), Huffman, Kaczmarek. Ooh, girl, Marcia Cross is not. smiling, honey. Teri Hatcher looks gleeful, but I'm not feeling a Teri win. I'm guessing Huffman. Winner: ...

Huffman! Yay!!! I love her. (But why does the announcer go, "This is the first Emmy win for Felicity Huffman. Miss Huffman is married to Emmy winner William H. Macy." As though this is her major accomplishment.)

You go, Felicity, thanking David Mamet and even Aaron Sorkin. Memo to all Emmy watchers: when telecast ends, go read The Cryptogram. You won't be sorry.

Wait, does Felicity Huffman also think that her major accomplishment in life is being married to William H. Macy? Not a great speech, but she, like Ellen, gets a handicap.

James Spader presents Best Lead Actress in Drama. (Get ready for Glenn or Frances.) But you can just tell that Spader, as always, is thinking, "I want to strip everyone's clothes off and make love to them like those Chevys in Crash!"

Whoo, J.Gar is really working that maternity look. She really is glowing, and the hair is great. Luv.

Winner: Patricia Arquette?? She seems like an extremely nice person. And she manages to say something heartfelt to and about the soldiers in Iraq. So I'll just leave it at that.

(That sound you hear is Debra Winger peeling Rosanna Arquette up off the floor.)

In Memoriam. Anne Bancroft, god rest her amazing soul. Barbara Bel Geddes. Ossie Davis, a real, real, no-kidding hero. Howard Keel. Brock Peters. Jerry Orbach.

Kristin Davis, crushingly un-special, in a Maybelline ad. Survivor: Guatemala, which looks like the end of civilization (but not in the way they mean it on Survivor). Cybill Shepherd in another TV movie as Martha Stewart. This one's called Martha Behind Bars: It Wasn't Such a Good Thing, guaranteed to evacuate the case history of Martha Stewart from any genuine context or content. TV is like a magazine you would never read, even in a dentist's office.

That GEICO ad again!! OK, I got it wrong last time, it's a 20-yard sailboat, not a yacht. But for real. Transcription, as intoned in very grave voice-over, right over that lily-white sailing boat: "An urgent message to the people of Connecticut. As you may know, Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the nation. But we are dangerously close to losing our ranking. Thankfully, GEICO has introduced new lower rates on car insurance in Connecticut. What's more, when you get a quote at geico.com, you will receive a $25 Internet savings discount on your new policy. We strongly urge everyone to take advantage of GEICO's new lower rates. Let's keep Connecticut wealthy." This was not a joke. It's like I live in that tower in Land of the Dead, for real. Cree. Pee.

Tony Shalhoub over Jason Bateman?? Fuhgeddaboudit. I saw Monk once, and though I love Tony Shalhoub, and his speech is funny, I just can't believe that he deserves this.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Sounds like a shoo-in for Hugh Laurie. But it's James Spader! Yikes, I bet people who care are really pissed. Hugh Laurie is the Imelda Staunton of Emmy '05: Brit character actor whom the world suddenly realizes is terrific, who deserves a win that many people predict, but then he loses it to a repeat winner whom I like well enough but who seems like he doesn't need a second trophy.

The young star of Everybody Hates Chris walks out to pitch Habitat for Humanity (way to go, li'l man), but he brings out an even smaller African-American kid called Charles who lisps through his front teeth, at which the entire audience laughs. So help me know this isn't a Behind the Minstrel Mask moment?

Hugh Jackman and Whoopi Goldberg. Hugh makes a stoopid joke about the Desperate Housewives cast hating each other. Ca-lunk. Whoopi: the nominees for Best Drama Series. Deadwood, Lost, Six Feet Under (my guess), 24, and The West Wing (the Spader and Warm Springs voters will go here, though....).

It's Lost. Sounds like a popular victory. I thought shows like this only won at the Globes? By which I mean, shows that many people love, and everyone can afford to watch.

Outstanding Comedy Series, squeezed in right at the 3-hour mark. Surely it's Desperate Housewives? Winner: Everybody Loves Raymond. Rather akin to when Jethro Tull won that Heavy Metal Grammy in '89. Not a bad speech from the producer guy, but the hipsters in the audience (Piven, Oh) look way bored, and Debra Messing is patenting the Big Fake Smile™. Everybody wonders about the mental health of Emmy.

G'night everybody, whether you do or don't love Raymond, hate Chris, or wish I'd just written a movie review instead.

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Emmy Live-Blogging: Second Hour

Doris Roberts wins agayawwwwwwwwwwwwwwn. However—even though I'm not speaking as someone who's really seen much of their shows—fellow nominees not inspiring enough to get upset about their losing to perennial winner Roberts. Perhaps new Emmy Awards slogan could be: "No Holland Taylor Performance Left Behind!"

Letterman, introducing well-deserved Carson tribute, comes across as enormously uncomfortable with emotional sincerity. Great joke from Carson, though:

Q: "Johnny, how did you become a star?"
JC: "I started in a gaseous state and cooled." Ironically, most of Emmy audience still in gaseous state.

Still, Carson: what a choice fellow. Why do we lose great TV people like Jennings and Carson but still have to deal with Brit Hume and the Rivers women? World even more unfair than already seemed.

Ameriprise? That's the name of a corporation? Criminal Minds?? That's the name of a show? Tagline: "Arsonists! Rapists! Murderers! TV's next great thriller!" Am realizing, forgot to make martini during break.

Whole Raymond cast united for presenting gig. Measures a giant Zero on personal Nostalgia-Meter. All dressed in black, in manner of funeral, which perhaps this is. Patricia Heaton, who weirdly refused to clap for Katrina victims, is utterly indiscriminate attention hound. Wow, they're really stretching this thing out.

These Family Guy inserts are kind of funny, but not funny enough to really justify their existence.

Jon Stewart wins again, hard to begrudge him. Nice tie choice. Not convinced Letterman needed impromptu tribute. Sure bet Letterman feels old!

Next inexplicable TV theme rehash features a good-looking guy called Gary Jourdan (sp?), whom I think I spotted in an edition of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful." Also Macy Gray, decked out like Ava Gardner in burgundy-colored satin. Moment evaporates instantly, even as happens, much like Ellen mini-gag with sparkler and unicycle, much like entire career of Patricia Arquette.

Montage of Guest Actor/Actress in Drama nominees includes Martin Landau over-emoting as usual. Creepy shot of Ray Liotta vomiting black blood. Liotta wins, Amanda Plummer too, which means that Angela Lansbury, who is 5 for 5 at the Tonys, still can't win a fucking Emmy after like 6,000,000 tries. What's with Emmys and Angela?

J.J. Abrams is very popular winner for directing pilot episode of Lost. Will camera cut to v.v.pregnant Jennifer Garner? No, but cut to Barbara Hershey, and then bleached-out Geena Davis.

Abrams thanks his "beautiful wife Katie," which instantly calls to mind Katie Holmes, aka Kate Holmes, aka Kate Cruise, aka Patty Hearst v.2005. Actually, isn't Abrams directing Mission: Impossible 3? Maybe he, too, is marrying Katie Holmes? Does Scientology allow for such things?

Teaser for upcoming category shows that Ken Branagh, Bill Macy, Jonny Rhys-Meyers, and Geoff Rush (I'm on first-name basis, dontcha know) are all competing. Perhaps it will be 4-way tie, and they can all share massive, Aristrocrats-style bulimic moment where they purge all that scenery they've been chewing? Or perhaps, as deserves, Ed Harris just wins this one on credit? (I'm a Harris fan. Except in The Hours. And even there, he's not quite as bad as I remembered him being.)

Turns out Mark Harmon is now silver-haired, and star of something called NCIS... what does that stand for? Remember when TV shows had actual names? Am sure it's about coroner, arsonist, rapist, necrophiliac, or similar. Anyway, in seemingly major coup, Lauren Holly has been added to cast. How will they top this? Tempestt Bledsoe? Tara Reid?

Connecticut-specific TV ad is absolutely repugnant shocker, ending with tag line, "Let's Keep Connecticut Wealthy." Single image in background is of massive yacht sailing blue sea. I. am. not. kidding. Will transcribe in full at next commercial break, so that you can possibly imagine what I just saw.

Geoffrey Rush wins, eats Jonathan Rhys-Meyers on way to stage.

Rush almost wins me over with speech closer, crediting wife as "winged woman who holds up my world molecular thingy." Re: Emmy statuette. OK, maybe had to be there.

Patrick Dempsey isn't hard to look at, is he? Gives award to Stephen Hopkins, auteur of Blown Away, winning the great derby of B-list directors over Joseph Sargent and Fred Schepisi and the admittedly, unironically great theater director George C. Wolfe. Meanwhile, Ellen Pompeo seems to be wearing dress made out of reassembled medical scrubs, in manner of disastrous prom dress in Pretty in Pink.

In which it becomes clear that The Life and Death of Peter Sellers keeps winning awards so that cameraman can keep cutting to Charlize Theron. Oh, but third time isn't the charm; Charlize suddenly looks bored. (Hey, why wasn't Emily Watson nominated?) Peter Sellers writers bombing out with speech full of one-liners. Oop, cut back to Charlize: she looks happy again. Good sport, that one.

Icy shard of fear spikes into heart as Elizabethtown ad is slathered across TV. Feel obligated to see it, but expect the worst. (Last-ditch hope was Dunst, but Venice and Toronto reports actually singled out for especial criticism. Considering low opinion of overall movie, Dunst must indeed be bad.)

A thought about pharmaceutical commercials: why do they sell pills, when the ads are 50% full of reasons not to take said pills, descriptions of possible side-effects, list of circumstances under which self must not take pills, and general, panicked self-exoneration from near certain death caused by taking pills? I mean, why not also sell matches on TV with repeated warnings not to play with matches or, indeed, use matches?

Lead Actress in TV Movie: Halle Berry (looks v.dire as Janey Crawford), Blythe Danner (my wife!), S. Epatha Merkerson (still getting her Piano Lesson on, all these years later), Cynthia Nixon (looks, sounds like Easter Bunny), and Debra Winger (not here, is probably calming Rosanna Arquette through major anxiety attack).

S. Epatha!! Big surprise, clearly delighted. Amazing speech opener, as she gropes her own bosom: "Oh my God, I actually wrote something, and I put it in my thing, and it fell down there, and I can't find it!" She isn't kidding. She keeps trying to feel the speech beneath her dress, somewhere around her breasts and stomach. Funniest speech of night, by long shot.

Jon Stewart attempts improv follow-up joke, which leaves wrong aftertaste.

Okay, listen, I'm only going to say it once: Jon Stewart is a little overrated. Was worried this would happen: Stewart's social consciousness has turned into a kind of schtick, which gets easy applause.

Montage of nominees for Comedy Series Writing reveals Raymond to be dog of category, though it took 11 people to do the work of 2.

Fantastic line from Arrested Development writers: "We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the Academy has now rewarded us twice for something that you people won't watch!"

Phenomenal, confident Kate Winslet ad for American Express.

Is it such a great idea to invite comparison between TV stars and Kate Winslet? Is there anyone alive who doesn't wish to be Kate Winslet?

Okay, second hour basically over. Best Dressed: Same people as before.

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Emmy Live-Blogging: First Hour

Have never live-blogged awards show before. Always thought would be enormous distraction. Especially re: only care about one awards show (duh). Am therefore experimenting with Emmys, which I don't really care about, to see how feels, etc. Have not seen Emmys in at least 10 years - am marginally curious about shindig, am wondering if movie stars will be present. Love Ellen, love to love Ellen. Hope someone has integrity enough to slam Pat Robertson on her behalf. OK, maybe is not right occasion. But Robertson is national cloven-hoofed nightmare, let me just say.

(N.B. Okay, I just read that Robertson-vs.-Ellen was an internet hoax. My bad. But it's still not hard to believe he said it, is it??)

Speaking of nightmares, Melissa Rivers just managed typical degradation of classy actor: MR asks Jeremy Piven to pick question from bleacher-fan out of hat. Question says, "Would you sleep with a stranger for $100,000?" Why do we like actors enough to watch TV and to watch awards shows, but yet hate them enough to subject them to insane and asinine questions?

Joan Rivers is talking to Hugh Laurie. Has no idea what he's nommed for. Jesus.

Opening number = horrid, horrid excrescence. Even Allan Carr rolls in grave. Black Eyed Peas = hopelessly bizarre band. Band members are not discernibly "in" band. More like people who always happen to be around when/where "band" is performing. Is Fergie under gag order, or similar? Please don't make her dance. Oh. Sweetie...

Ellen is off. Perhaps has had difficult, emotional, distracted week responding in deeply personal way to massive, calamitous tragedy in hometown. (ed.)

Good joke about North Korean People's Choice Awards and another good one about how losing "doesn't mean you're a bad person, it just means you're a bad actor." Bad batting average for opening monologue, but is okay. In vast Golf Game of Awards Show Hosting, Ellen gets major handicap, because we love her. (Look at Portia sitting with E's mother!)

Great closer line from Ellen: "Winning an Emmy is not important. I think we all know what's important in life—winning an Oscar. Those are for movies. Man, I'd love to host that show." Indeed, Ellen.

Why Brad Garrett? Have only seen Raymond 3x or 4x, but Garrett seems really boring, esp. re: Jeremy Piven. Even in short telecast clip, Piven is hilarious.

Funny moment with Sean Hayes pretending to be asleep, drooling, while winner is announced. Do Emmys go for that Golden Globes silly/drunk vibe? Hope so. Will majorly leaven experience of watching awards show where stuff like Judging Amy is contender.

William Shatner = snore. Am more focused on losers: Alan Alda is funny tearing up speech, and self is apparently Last To Know that Naveen Andrews dates Barbara Hershey. V.v.g.

Am sort of surprised by Hugh Jackman, and also by Hugh Jackman's Wolverine beard. (Earlier: suppressed minor acid reflux upon hearing that Halle Berry is, indeed, back in X3 - whyyyyy...........) Jackman always thanks wife first. Is nice. But still surprised Jon Stewart lost.

Blue Man Group, then Zach Braff? Cue again: whyyyyy...........

Supporting Actress in Drama = Women I love, and also Tyne Daly. Means Daly will probably win, but want Danner.

YAY! Danner! Most beautiful woman in Hollywood? So possible.

GAHHHHH!!!! Stockard Channing looks like experimental leather-stretching process.

May have to abandon live-blogging, as well as abandon entire life, to make personal Haj of seducing and marrying Blythe Danner. Surely Derek, Sean will understand. Lovely, lovely, lovely speech. Classiest and most beautiful woman in Hollywood? Is amazing.

TV ad for In Her Shoes, one of my most-anticipated movies of the fall. Toni Collette + Curtis Hanson + Shirley Maclaine underplaying for first time in life (well, in this life, har har).

GAH! Here's why hate TV: repellent ad where we listen in on emergency 911 call from heart attack victim is bad enough, but when followed by Ashley Judd hawking make-up product and CSI: Miami peddling lurid rape-murder premise, is even yuckier. Sorry, all, am anti-TV snob. Shows cannot possibly be good enough to put up with ads.

Ellen is always funnier in short filler segments than in monologue. Bit with Emmy time-keeper is classic.

I hope everyone is keeping straight: Derek is husband, Sean Penn is Movie Star Husband, Blythe Danner is New Wife, and Paul Newman is Movie Star Husband Emeritus. "Paul Newman could not be here tonight" is obvious euphemism for "Paul Newman never comes to sockhops like this." Btw: I bought (from eBay) same b&w snapshot of Paul Newman that is his classic "couldn't be here" insignia on awards shows.

Jane Alexander is classy, terrific actress giving classy acceptance speech. But must also say: Kathy Bates is consistently among the best-dressed attendees of all awards shows. She is always so, so lovely, and she never gets any credit for it. Again, she's looking fab, and in a new color! Powder blue.

Why are they doing these faux TV theme recitals? Even with marginally clever, satiric Neil Patrick Harris intro? Some girl who plays someone called "Veronica Mars" is trying to sound like Beyoncé, but in cruel hoax, sounds more like self when self sings Beyoncé songs in shower. TV show hilariously cuts away to slack-faced dowagers clapping. Approval from this set could feasibly be more dispiriting than no applause at all.

Expected winners as Best Guest Actors in Comedy series, Bobby Cannavale and Kathryn Joosten, actually stuck presenting Best Director of Variety, Music, or Comedy Show —an award you would only include in overlong telecast if you were, say, the director of a Variety, Music, or Comedy Show. Winner is director of Olympics Opening Ceremony or similar, with improbable name of Bucky Gunts.

And now Outstanding Writing of Variety, Music, or Comedy show? Wha.... oh, wait, is worth hilarious collages of writing teams, especially Ali G team. Is so dirty and hilarious. Why is this okay, but Janet's nipple is crisis? ........ Okay, only Ali G and Conan segments were worth it. But clips from Daily Show with Jon Stewart are so hysterical that it's nice to see him winning.

So far, Emmys are snooze, but liveblogging fun. More fun with maraschino-flavored martini. Back for next hour.

Best Dressed So Far: Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, and Blythe Danner, with excellent hair and makeup from all three.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Clementine Is Here!

The muse, official mascot, and minor celebrity of Nick's Flick Picks, Amanda Moore, has just called to let me know that her 7lb., 4oz. precious bundle of love arrived into the world yesterday, at 3:14am. Which means that Clementine Deane Nelson is already a girl after my own heart: a late-late night owl! That's what I consider a very good sign, as is sharing a name with the best character from an American movie in recent memory.

Amanda and her husband Nate—adorably snuggling up to Clementine here while sporting his very own Murderball goatee—have always done everything their very own way, which is part of why I love them so much. So Clementine is about to be celebrated like no other baby in the history of time may ever have been celebrated: by having her father race a two-person bicyclish thing that he has personally designed and built in the spitting image of a woman in labor. The race will be in Detroit this Saturday, so clear the roads, people. And give it up for the adorable Clementine, who I must say would make quite a dashing pair with Henry Emmett Hutcheson. See what happens when cute babies get born to wonderful people? Turns out I can get as giddily heteronormative as all the breeders on the block.

Love you guys!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Personal Ad

If you are the woman who yelled at a vacationing Condi Rice in a shoe store a few days ago, admonishing her that getting her Manolo on was perhaps not The Thing To Do while New Orleans sank into the water and while offers of aid poured in from other countries.... e-mail me, and I will find a time and place to hug you.


Dawn of the Desperate

As my dismay and horror at Katrina's aftermath linger, and in many ways keep building, I'm bothered by how many of the images emanating from the disaster rhyme with those of our most sickening horror films. Last year's Dawn of the Dead remake, which so powerfully distilled feelings of abandonment, of terror at one's own neighbors, and of desperately fragile, ramshackle communities under siege, keeps coming back as a visual framework for the Katrina photos, particularly those in and around the Superdome. With the exceptions that...

1. The dozen holdouts in Dawn of the Dead had a cavernous mall to themselves; the horror wasn't compounded by stepping in each other's shit or waking next to corpses.

2. The Dawn crew was trying to keep the dangers locked out, rather than being themselves locked in by an unimaginably backward "rescue" effort.

3. Less than half of the strandees in Dawn were people of color, virtually all of them skewing middle- or upper-middle-class, and so there was nothing systematic or socially determined about their plight.

4. The people who might have rescued them were actually, presumably, dead, rather than being so tardy in arriving and so flippant in public comportment that you'd think they were dead (paging Mr. Bush and the upper Administration).

5. The horror in Dawn was compounded by the omnipresence of guns, which some of the desperate survivors started turning on each other. (Wait, there's no difference there.)

6. No one knew what caused the rising up of the dead in Dawn. Anyone paying attention knew exactly where Katrina was coming from, not just in the context of days of climatological forewarning, but in the longterm context of telltale signs: virtually unchecked anti-environmentalism and global warming; slashed budgets for levee upkeep; massive drainage of resources by an unnecessary war and a re-elected administration with socially destructive priorities; willful discounting of the many scientific, governmental, and journalistic Cassandras who saw this coming; and entrenched social schisms that simmer away and erupt in such an emergency. Even our national surprise comes tinged, at least among people I'm talking to, with a strong sense that something like this has been coming for a long while. Too many roads all leading in the same direction. Who needs a Bible when prophecy is this harrowingly easy?

7. The terrifying nihilism that consumes Dawn results in death for almost everyone. The terrifying nihilism that has been catalyzed in and around New Orleans is a hot thing, geysering to the social surface the deficiencies in our government and the prejudices in our own society—as though these things were ever less than obvious to begin with. Living in a country where all of this inequity and lethal stratification has been crystallized for everyone to see is going to be no mean feat. What figure, even in art, do we have for how a society moves on or recombines after something like this? Who will lead us?

Katrina and its aftermath are more terrifying than even the fictional and impressively terrifying scenario of Dawn, much more terrifying than 9/11 if you ask me (not to indulge in the morbid act of sizing up grotesque tragedies), and, however unwanted, as with the worst horror movies, the sequels to Katrina—social, emotional, fiscal, medical, even natural—will be multiple and awful.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Best of 2005...So Far

Since Tim Robey has got his favorites of 2005 posted, I figured I may as well take the bet and post my own choices of the best that this paltry movie year has had on offer up through the summer. The fall and holiday seasons should juggle these lists a good bit (hell, they'd better!), and since things have lately been on a relative upswing, quality-wise, I'm hopeful that the final laps toward Dec. 31 will be worth taking the time for. As of the moment, though:

Best Picture
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
The Holy Girl
Land of the Dead

Best Director
Jacques Audiard, The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Lucrecia Martel, The Holy Girl
George Romero, Land of the Dead
Todd Solondz, Palindromes
Gus Van Sant, Last Days

Best Actress
Joan Allen, Off the Map and The Upside of Anger
Jennifer Connelly, Dark Water
Radha Mitchell, Melinda and Melinda
Connie Nielsen, Brothers
Natalie Press, My Summer of Love

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Romain Duris, The Beat That My Heart Skipped
Bruno Ganz, Downfall
Terrence Dashon Howard, Hustle & Flow
Birol Ünel, Head-On

Best Supporting Actress
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Happy Endings
Taraji P. Henson, Hustle & Flow
Debra Monk, Palindromes
Mercedes Morán, The Holy Girl
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Arnold, Happy Endings
Terrence Dashon Howard, Crash
Michael Peña, Crash
Mickey Rourke, Sin City
Jim True-Frost, Off the Map

Best Original Screenplay
The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Rebecca Miller
Crash, Paul Haggis
Happy Endings, Don Roos
The Holy Girl, Lucrecia Martel
Palindromes, Todd Solondz

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard & Tonino Benacquista
Dark Water, Rafael Yglesias
Downfall, Bernd Eichinger
Mysterious Skin, Gregg Araki
Off the Map, Joan Ackermann

Best Cinematography
The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Stéphane Fontaine
Head-On, Rainer Klausmann
The Holy Girl, Félix Monti
My Summer of Love, Ryszard Lenczewski
Nobody Knows, Yutaka Yamasaki

Best Sound
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
The Holy Girl
Last Days
War of the Worlds

Winners would probably be Beat, Audiard, Allen, Howard, Monk, True-Frost, Holy Girl, Downfall, Holy Girl, and a five-way tie for Best Sound, one of this year's few consistent pleasures even amid inconsistent pictures. If I had my arm twisted, I'd probably go for Last Days, though truly, all five are hard to vote against.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Happy Birthday, Derek!

It's a big day in the FlickPicking household, as my partner turns 32. (What do you mean you can't make that out?) Thank goodness we've been to so many weddings lately, since in addition to all the happiness we felt on those occasions, we also managed to scrub ourselves up a little and have some nice photos taken. This is hard to do in the grad-student world, and maybe even in the academic world in general, so enjoy these, hot off the press. On the left are the two of us at Bill & Betsy's wedding this past weekend; on the right is Derek at ModFab's wedding two weekends ago.

Happy birthday, [[nice try!!]]!!!! (Pet names deleted to protect the innocent and to spare the easily disgusted.) It's been a hard week to feel joyful, but a good one for reminding us of our various good fortunes. I sure am a lucky son of a gun.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

More on Urban Submersion

Even from as far north as Hartford, I am having a hard time shaking my reactions of fear, sadness, and sympathetic outrage as more and more reports and images arrive from the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Reuters posted the above photo on the New York Times website in order to contrast these identically scaled aerial photos of New Orleans taken, respectively, on March 9 and August 31. That's not a color tint, or at least not for the most part. The chromatic scales of the photos do seem a little different, but what you're really seeing is side-by-side evidence of this cataclysm.

Obviously, and by my own admission, I am never prejudiced in our president's favor, but the fact that it took him two days to get back to the White House after Katrina hit land (consumed as he was by dopey and redundant public appearances and grinning photo ops) strikes me as putrid presidential behavior, even worse than those nine minutes or whatever he spent reading My Pet Goat in 2001. To compare his demeanor and the tenor of his remarks from Washington with the visibly, palpably stricken Tony Blair we all saw after the London subway bombings is a study in character discrepancy as glaring in its juxtaposition as are the photos above. When Tony Blair is KO'ing you in contests of emotional accessibility and tangible fellow feeling, you're really scraping the bottom, George.

But here I am letting myself get distracted by symptomatic scapegoats and the kind of political rhetoric that has only fed our national sense of helplessness for years... when what we need to do is actually help, or at least feel like we can help. Money. Phone calls. Places to stay. More money. If I can find addresses to send care packages of food, diapers, toiletries, clean clothes, etc., I'll post them—if you already know of reliable destinations for these things, please make them available in the Comments section below.

P.S.: Okay, the Red Cross would know, and they say that sending individual shipments of clothes, food, and other buyables is usually counter-productive, because the costs and labor of organizing and moving all this stuff make it much more practical to collect locally. (Though, if you live locally, look alive.)

Meanwhile, what are we supposed to make of Reuters reports that people are rising up angrily at gas station attendants, demanding to know why gas has passed $3/gallon? Haven't these people been watching the news? What is with this modern capacity (or is it simply American?) to be aware of massive tragedy but still be shocked, shocked, in the words of Captain Renault, when the traces of that tragedy show up at your own doorstep? Or, as it were, in your filling station. Here is someone thinking a little more clearly, and a little more long-term. I'm not trying to stoke hysteria here, but this shit is scary. And frankly, it's especially scary because so many of us, however much we feel grateful and self-conscious for what we have, are nonetheless spoiled beyond belief into the illusion of inexhaustible plenties.


If You Can Handle It...

...this piece from the October '04 issue of National Geographic offered an extensive and poignantly before-the-fact profile of the extreme risks to the wider New Orleans/delta region and, indeed, the whole country in the event of a Category 3 storm. Keeping in mind that Katrina was a Category 4 by the time it hit the Delta, and a Category 5 only hours beforehand, read the article and bear in mind that the scenarios and ramifications it describes, heart-sinking as they are, may actually not be as bad as what the region will have to face.

As so often, my source for this article is the terrific and mad-as-hell blog Brilliant at Breakfast, which is indispensably story-rich and wide-angled all the time, but it really shines in times of crisis like the one we're heading into now. (Check, too, the updates on French, Canadian, and German programs to assist the decimated Gulf region.)

Anecdote of things to come: a friend of mine walked into a grocery store yesterday in upstate New York, noting that gas at the station outside was selling at $2.85/gallon. He walked out 30 minutes later with his groceries, and gas had already risen at the same station to $2.99. Looks like I might be having some more company on the sidewalks and crosswalks for a while.

Again, my heart and my money are going out to everyone in the Gulf region. Meanwhile, lest we forget, almost 1,000 people died in that false-alarm stampede in Iraq at the beginning of the week, and as heavy as all of our hearts are, I hope we're all finding room for everyone who needs it.


Your Fall Reading List

The official Bugle of Nick's Flick Picks (actually swiped from here) is proud to sound off twice this morning for two new blogs that I have added to my blogroll and my BlogLines and which you should be adding to yours, too.

First, I recently met Mr. Queering the Apparatus through a close mutual friend, and I'm delighted to get to know him better, cyber-wise or otherwise. He's a graduate student in the English department at U of Maryland College Park, and given how many of us lit-crit types haunt this blog, I hope we'll all share our joy and our feelings of commiseration! The first several posts have been witty and far-ranging, including a link to Ann Coulter saying something so dumb that it's even dumber than it is mean, and that is one mean fact-twisting beyotch, so we're talking really dumb. Seriously, you'll be surprised even at her.

In even greater news, my favorite working film critic, on the web or in print, remains Tim Robey of London's Daily Telegraph. Perform an advanced search with "Tim Robey" as the writer's name, and note how both his full-length pieces and his one-sentence epigrams are brilliantly thought, succinct, frequently hilarious, and utterly reliable. If you've been enjoying the comments by "tim r." on this blog, you already have a taste of this very good thing. Now, un-hemmed by the length and topical restrictions of a newspaper, Tim has got his own blog called Mainly Movies where he'll report on whatever he's been watching, including his elected slate at the imminent Toronto International Film Festival. His current write-up of Last Days and other nouveau Van Sant is a perfect encapsulation of why I love this guy so much.

Keep your chin up, everyone, as we head into September!


The Screen Scene in Hartford, CT

First off, happy birthday, Karen and Nadine!

Next, friends have been asking since I've moved what the moviegoing situation is like in Hartford—what's available, where I'm spending my time (and, as ever, all my money). So, at risk of boring the rest of you, I thought you might want to know that Hartford has four major moviehouses, all of which I can walk to from campus or from home, and all of which are totally creditable places to see a film. So here, in the order I experienced them...

Right square on Trinity's campus is CineStudio, a single-screen, non-profit theater that some visionary Trinity grads remolded out of an old chemistry building in the early 1970s. That description makes CineStudio sound small and desperate, neither of which it is. In fact, it houses one of the four or five biggest screens I think I've ever seen in a commercial theater, complete with a beautiful silk curtain that rises before each show and falls at the end (all very Moulin Rouge!) and a rack of iridescent stage lights, visible in this photo, to pull all the color possibilities out of the curtain and surrounding space. Trinity faculty and students pay $7, while greater Hartford pays $8—a bargain given the immaculate presentation and projection quality. Absolutely no food or drink allowed; none is even sold in the theater, so no one is chomping CaramelCorn while, say, Maggie is reminding Frankie about ol' Axel. The first movie that CineStudio ever showed was The Lion in Winter, hence the griffins, fleurs-de-lis, and maroon/gold color schemes that still prevail in the space. Scrumptuous. Seen so far at CineStudio: the pretty but exasperatingly empty Eros, the mid-50s oil opus Giant, and the thrilling blends of eccentric images and exquisite sound elements in The Holy Girl.

The other, equally sensational non-profit cinema exhibitor is RealArtWays, which houses a running program of top-line art films, as well as true independents like Face, King of the Corner, and Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. RealArtWays is also home to four units of gallery space, live music and readings, occasional performance events, and an all-day coffee shop that doubles as a concession stand at showtime: you can even bring your beer or wine into the plush theater, which has absolutely crystalline projection. On the third Thursday of every month, RealArtWays hosts its "Creative Cocktail Hour," which is free of charge to members and includes a full bar, a brand-new gallery exhibit (with the artist usually present), and a local or regional troupe of jazz, Latin, or other atmospheric music. Extra points for staying in a neighborhood without much else to call its own. Seen so far at RealArtWays: the year-topping tour-de-force The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and my new favorite Van Sant film, Last Days (which is to say, it's only a little off-putting and opaque).

Both of these theaters are single-screen enterprises limited to one or two shows a day, almost always of the same movie. The options multiply a little at Cinema City, a four-screen house for popular art films that is owned by the Crown corporation. Cinema City isn't much too look at, and it's the hardest theater to reach for this dyed-in-the-wool pedestrian; it's literally hunkered down at a dead end, behind an abandoned-looking Days Inn and across the street from a weedy, fenced-in air strip. Truth be told, along my 35-minute walk to this theater, I have to cross the airport's access road twice, and then a third time, I cross an exit ramp that carries you to Interstate 84. Not ideal. And the earliest and latest shows of the day, in the general 2:00 and 9:00 timeframes, evaporate from Monday-Thursday. Still, this Little Theater That Could keeps four movies per week coming to Hartford that might not otherwise. I saw the mordantly peppy Happy Endings and the impressively moving Murderball here, and it would have been my go-to site for 2046 and Broken Flowers, too, if I hadn't caught them already on trips to NYC.

Finally, the regular multiplex is a pretty luscious outfit in its own right. The Crown Palace & Odyssey includes 17 plus-sized screens in stadium-style formation, sound levels more reasonable than in most comparable theaters, and $6 shows before 6pm. (The last matinée for each feature, each afternoon, is reduced even further to $5.) One screen features permanent captioning for the hearing-impaired, and mothers with noisy babies are gently invited/encouraged to attend their own matinées on Wednesdays. I've had a pretty good batting average here as multiplexes usually go; I admired how much layering Hustle & Flow snuck beneath its straightforward surface, I almost died laughing at Mario Cantone's Liza Minnelli impersonation in The Aristocrats, and just today, on the bigger-than-big Odyssey screen, where I had to move to the second-to-last row just to contain the whole screen in my line of vision, I blissed out on the clever, unpretentious thrills of Red Eye.

So yep, that's 10 theater visits in 31 days of living here—and I was out of town for two of those weeks, so you do the math. Where the movies are involved, my wallet is a sieve, and a rather wide one at that. As you'll note from my new sidebar items, which not only record my most recent trips to the theater but announce what I'll soon be seeing, Cinema City will be host to my Friday afternoon double-feature of March of the Penguins and The Constant Gardener, while RealArtWays goes the way of the Grizzly Man, and the Palace & Odyssey's stock gets ready to drop with The Brothers Grimm (what if it gets nodded for Costumes and I missed it??) and The Transporter 2 (what can I say, I loved the first one). CineStudio will mostly be recycling hits I caught earlier in the summer, but come September 14-17, I'll finally get a look at Me and You and Everyone We Know and, if I play my cards right, the urban-dance documentary Rize.