Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Poll Survivor


For the last few days the Five-Thirty-Eight's odds have been hovering around a solid %75 for Obama, so maybe it's time to let the ugly fist of electoral tension stop brutalizing your heart with vice grip force. Maybe now the fist is just punching your heart, like that weird friend you had who kind of wanted to start a fight club in high school. Maybe your heart's just getting a deep-tissue massage and the fist is attached to the arm of a stoic German matron who subscribes to the Elbows Are Essential school of masseusery. Maybe you can rest thinking that, although your stomach is oriented slightly sideways, it probably won't get turned upside-down again, at least due to election stuff. Maybe.

Nate Silver's statistical arcana still leaves Romney with a %25 chance of prevailing. A week ago it was %30 and although 1 out of 4 is pretty darn close to 3 out of 10, the former fraction is significantly easier to stomach. So the odds are decent, and they might continue to break toward Obama as November 6th closes in, but they might not, and even if the current numbers hold steady, a 1 in 4 chance of Romney's shit-eating rictus beaming American exceptionalism across the free world for four years doesn't quite cotton to yours truly. Not to mention the auspicious reelection prospects of an incumbent Romney in 2016, who would likely be enjoying an economic recovery that will probably happen regardless of this election's outcome. So, I don't know, there's also the Elizabeth Warren thing: the great progressive hope. She soared onto the scene in a flaming chariot, sunbeams licking her flanks. Here was a true liberal zealot, a bullshit blowtorch whose ability to beautifully articulate the modern GOP's moral bankruptcy with an air of populist outrage should have made her run to reclaim Teddy Kennedy's senate seat from Scott Brown a pro forma exercise in totally fucking destroying a dude. Instead, earlier this year when Brown's campaign launched accusations re: alleged exploitation of her Native American heritage, Warren got all awkward and lost points with the more fickle portion of the Massachusetts electorate, irreversibly narrowing the race. So now the polls are a dead heat, and all the Obama-disillusioned liberal folks whose desperate Warren 2016 pipe dreams help them through the rougher nights have to deal with the %50 chance that, after this election, they will cry and cry.

But probably don't freak out, even if you're a little sad about the President Obama / candidate Obama dichotomy. Even if it seems strange to you that climate change was a non-issue in an election season during which Mother Nature seems to be giving the wake-up call thing a real honest shot. Even if, despite the progressive push for vitally necessary Wall Street regulation, income inequality is growing more quickly under Obama than Bush. Just relax. The economy is probably getting better. And hey, while I was writing this a new poll came out. Apparently Warren is gaining a significant lead, maybe. Hopefully it'll hold. You'll just have to wait for more numbers to trickle out and tense your abdomen accordingly.


Я люблю тебя Ya loobloo tebya / I love you

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I'm Back (The Movie (Sequel to We're Back))

OK, well, I'm living on the west coast now, going on 50-something days. I'd been on the verge of hitting it big in Massachusetts for 25 years or so, and just a few short months ago I decided it was time to be on the verge of hitting it big someplace else. Oakland is where I'm at and it is pretty alright. The weather is nice, the people are laid back, and the hobos are inCREDibly aggressive. Having somewhat settled in, the mildly surreal stomach-pit vertigo of violent geographical resituation is finally subsiding and I guess that means I will be making a half-hearted attempt to resurrect this fledgling butthole of a blog. So:

I like California. It's dirty here. Dirtier than Massachusetts, but the scuzz isn't really anybody's fault. Per capita street-garbage in Oakland is sort of about equal to your average east-coast urban grunge-sprawl and it's not that bad generally. The major difference is weather: in California there are no free car washes (My Protege's rear-windshield is so encrusted that I'm surprised it hasn't suffered a lewd-message-carving at the fingers of some passing goon. I should really do something about it). The East Bay's midday sky glowers with a psychotically invariable shade of blue that I used to think only existed in Technicolor. This is a place where clouds are unlikely and overcast mornings roll in like minor holidays. Seasons aren't much more than a formality and, less than two months into my lease, the thought of precipitation is receding in my mind like the voice of a dead relative. In these circumstances it might not surprise you to learn that things stick... Without the occasional blast of rain, grime creeps along sidewalks and alleyways unabated. The sunbaked filth curls colors a few hairs toward the golden-ochre-browns, and so the ubiquitous three-story Victorians languish alongside pastel stucco cubes like well-toasted marshmallows. The cumulative effect of all this is that Oakland, California strikes the weather-beaten east-coast transplant as quite the sunny place; not just a land under the sun, but a land of the sun; so sunny, in fact, that the relentless daylight sears into the cityscape its own enervating gunk. This may sound gross, but I kind of like it. It feels lived-in.

The necessary flipside of endless summer is obvious: weather here is kind of boring. The sunny days can bleed into each other and, if you're sinking into the right sort of droopy malaise, the eternally pleasant climate becomes as effective of a deterrent for outdoor activity as any torrential downpour. I kind of miss the wild extremes of NEAP (New England Atmospheric Phenomena); the way adverse weather patterns can tug at your mood and turn an otherwise unremarkable smear of a day into an unexpected punctuation mark, or just make you super wet, also. I guess I might sound a little down on the sun, but really, it's cool. Good weather is good, and it's a little exciting, in a perverse way, to look at a 10-day forecast and see ten identical pictures. ALSO, major plus: without NEAP, nobody in California can ever get SAD*.**,***

* Seasonal Affective Disorder.

** Full disclosure: I'm near San Francisco, which has weather.

*** California is cool.

Monday, June 18, 2012




Thursday, June 14, 2012

No Longer Relevant Prometheus Review, Part 1: Self-Indulgent Prologue

The Jordan's in Natick, Massachusetts sits on a lone hill overlooking the exhausted commercial sprawl of route 9. From the outside it resembles a mid-sized, multi-story mall with magenta-neon signage that radiates a kitschy sort of seductive glamor. The sign, together with a gaping colonnaded archway, draws a steady flow of humanity towards the main entrance, and the address, 1 Underprice Way, more or less speaks for itself. For those of you who don't reside in the Massachusetts/New Hampshire/Rhode Island area, Jordan's is a furniture store that bills itself as "Not just a store, an experience!" Inside you'll find an air of amusement-park whimsy in facades designed to evoke crowded New Orleans streets paralyzed at peak Mardi Gras (complete with hourly animatronic "FX shows") as well as a bunch of other crazy stuff. I haven't been to the store recently enough to describe it in too much detail, but the first few sentences of the website's blurb do a pretty good job: "CARS CRASHING through walls. Helicopters flying inside. Elvis Presley."

At the opposite end of the building, normally accessible only through a labyrinth of furniture-showrooms, is thTempur-Pedic® IMAX 3D Theater. At night, a massive bank of lights on the theater's exterior cycles through softly pulsing colors and simple, abstract patterns that occasionally coalesce into a rudimentary American flag. I was walking towards the display from the Jordan's parking lot when the flag happened. It was a Thursday night, about 20 minutes before the 12:00 AM show of Prometheus, and I wasn't sure how to feel.

For midnight screenings, Jordan's employees let theater-goers in through a non-descript side-door tucked away in a corner near the light show. Daytime patrons are forced to make the aforementioned journey across the building, which is, without a doubt, the result of some shrewd, mildly nefarious corporate intent. The side entrance sends customers up a utilitarian stairwell, and despite the guiding hand of an occasional usher, it made me feel kinda trespasser-y. Once I reached the lobby (through a push-barred door opposite the actual entrance) I found myself wedged between the concession stand and the line, which was already beginning its inexorable drift into the darkened theater. The (mostly male) crowd spanned a pretty broad dork-bro demographic. Attire ranged from tattered comic book shirts and spacious black jeans to vibrant polo tees and leathery flip-flops. They seemed like habitual blockbuster devotees, and could be described in one word as Whedonesque. I followed the line, secured a less-than-ideal seat, and soaked in what was left of the simmering home-stretch aniticipation.

Every screening at the Jordan's Tempur-Pedic
® IMAX 3D Theater kicks off with a bit of Eliot Tatelman's folksy solicitation. Tatelman is the figurehead of the Jordan's brand and possibly the most widely recognized local ad personality in the bay state.* Simultaneously bald, bearded, and ponytailed, Tatelman's monolithic projection proselytizes the virtues of his wares, reminding the audience that the theater's seat cushions are made of "guess what? Tempurpedic material!" He then describes the sound system (13,000 watts) and "buttkickahz", the subsonic amplifiers that rattle your seat during all the most expensive parts of the movie. Tatelman's promotional spiel gives way to the trailers, which in this case consisted of gravely serious 3D dwarves singing a song, Nolan's final crack at the Batman franchise, and something else I can't remember. A brief IMAX intro launched numbers and stardust into the audience, promising "MIND-BLOWING IMAGES" and "EARTH-SHATTERING SOUND". Sinking into the Tempurpedic material, I reminded myself that Prometheus would obviously be nothing like Alien, that it could still be a cool movie in its own right, that a knee-jerk anti-blockbuster attitude was kind of uncool, that Aliens had succeeded as a megabudget spectacular, and that I could probably coast through on the visuals if it came down to it. I mean, worst case scenario: it would be an interesting train wreck to pick apart for my dumb blog.

(Part 2, eventually)

* Eliot and his brother Barry operated as an inseparable spokesduo until 2006, when Barry left the company to pursue a career in show-business. He's now involved in cosmetics.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Lot of Words About Cul-de-Sac, or Netflix Art Fix: Episode Whatever

Underage sexual predation notwithstanding, Roman Polanski is a pretty great director of Serious Movies. His classic and most singular films follow protagonists who unwittingly find themselves drawn into low orbit around some strange and terrible unknown. His works are populated by enigmatic strangers and fraught with diabolical forces. They ripple with seething tension that almost never breaks the surface, and are punctuated by fleeting glimpses of the murky forms writhing beneath, obscured by the psyche of a character, the walls of a labyrinthine apartment building, or the streets of a desiccated city. If, by the end, the truth is exposed, you can bet the revelation will be a dark one.

So, with this being my general estimation of Polanski, it was funny to find out that much of his lesser-known early films dabbled in comedy. At least, out of his first four features, two could be billed as such. Cul-de-Sac is the first of those two (the second is The Fearless Vampire Killers, a lavish, big-budget, Hammer-esque kinda thing). I mean, I guess it makes sense that he gravitated towards more straight-faced fare as his career developed, what with the grim, tabloid-wracked state of his personal life and his relative lack of comedic validation (at least compared to the ubiquitous praise + profits heaped on his harrowing Hollywood-produced juggernauts), but it would have been pretty cool if, say, in every third film he injected a comedic framework with his thematic interests. This is what Cul-de-Sac accomplishes, and it's great.

Cul-de-Sac isn't really a straight-up comedy. It's more of a tragicomedy with a smattering of nihilism. The story opens with a couple criminals stranded on a oceanside causeway, both too bullet-damaged from a botched job to drive their vehicle, which is slowly being overtaken by the rising tide. They end up taking refuge in a small island castle that's inhabited by an effete, cue-balled British man and his frivolous, manipulative, slightly cadaverous French model-wife. The more able criminal (arm wound as opposed to mortal gut) is a gravelly American archetype: the steel-wool-five-o'clock-shadow-vocal-cords-like-sandpaper-drink-and-smoke-'til-I-die-but-not-without-a-touch-of-humanity tough guy sort; the other an impassive, bespectacled Brit who accepts his lawless doom with aloof dignity (his flashes of character are pretty awesome / subtle). They take the couple hostage and from there things end up getting a little Stockholm-y. The cinematography is minimal and frequently claustrophobic, and the bleak coastal setting, medieval architecture and chiaroscuro lighting (fair amount of black silhouettes against overcast skies) were super-remeniscent of The Seventh Seal. It's actually pretty funny too, mostly in that quiet, art-house, kinda way, but I did laugh out loud a few times (once with gusto).

Despite it's humor, the movie is still pretty distinctively Polanski. Knife In The Water is a close analogue. Both are claustrophobic chamber dramas in which a couple interacts with an ambivalent and potentially dangerous outsider (excluding the British criminal here because he pretty much does nothing but die), and through that interaction ends up being alienated from each other, themselves, etc. (so much alienation), both derive tension from implicit violence, and both prominently feature bodies of water, which is superficial, I know, but interesting. The element of the unknown doesn't really exist in this film though. As a result it feels a lot safer than Knife, or any other Polanski psychodrama. This sense of security and humor plays into the film's spectacular ending, which whiplashed me between tragedy, hilarity, and existential desolation so quickly I couldn't help but smile at the beauty of it. So uh, watch it if you feel like it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Strandjungs, Here We Come

Ok. I don't really want this blog to be nothing but youtube embeds followed by brief commentary. Substance will happen at some point. With that said, here's a youtube embed followed by brief commentary:

I'm not really sure how Germany feels about The Beach Boys these days (Google Trends has the German language ranked eighth in "The Beach Boys" search volume. So, apparently people have been searching "The Beach Boys" fairly often from the... German.. language... I don't know*), but I do know two things:
  1. Kraftwerk loved** The Beach Boys
  2. Apparently EMI circa 1963 felt it was commercially expedient for Brian Wilson and co. to record a German version of "In My Room"***
The Beach Boys ended up steamrolling the Rhineland so quickly with their surf-pop blitzkrieg that EMI never bothered to release the German single, which languished for decades before surfacing on a rarities compilation. It's an interesting artifact, even if it's most notable aspect is the band's deft navigation of a language with which they were (probably) totally unfamiliar. I don't speak German though, and there's definitely a chance that, for a native German, this is the equivalent of mangled J-pop English. But whatever, the point is that the Beach Boys transcended language barriers in their conquest of Europe, influencing even the severe and ironic Teutonic-electronic godfathers (see list, item 1****).

* It just tracks the searches from google.de, duh.
** Past tense referring to classic Kraftwerk. Their mercurial lineup makes current Kraftwerk attitudes re: Beach Boys difficult/pointless to gauge.
*** The song title translation isn't literal. "Ganz Allein" -> "All Alone".
**** Sorry for so many Kraftwerk references, but I did find out about this recording through Kraftwerk-related reading, and I can't guarantee that future Future posts won't mention Kraftwerk qua Germanic Beach Boys (if, you know, the subject drifts in that direction).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wet Tangerine Dreams

So I've been reading Kraftwerk - Man, Machine and Music. The book mentions a pretty scandalous concert that Tangerine Dream and Nico put on in 1974. The venue was the Reims cathedral, and the scandal was such that the Catholic church decided they had to reconsecrate the place. The book didn't go into detail, but I imagined some clergyman perched in a balcony beneath clerestory windows, frozen in terrified indignation as the wild, cosmic reverberations of TD and Nico assaulted his sense of propriety.  A quick Google search revealed the church's primary beef to be a little more on corporeal side of things; after the crowd dispersed, there was a fair amount of pee on the floor.

I haven't listened to the concert itself (which you can download here for free), but this youtubed portion of Nico's performance is cool. It must have been a pretty celestial experience for the members of the audience not preoccupied with incontinence issues.