Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beautiful Things

A long time ago I wrote a column about “Beautiful Things.” If I remember correctly, the premier item was “The Last Defender of Camelot” audio book by Roger Zelazny and read by “Odo” from “Deep Space Nine.” Or maybe you remember him better as the snide Butler on “Benson.”

Regardless of how you remember him, Rene Auberjonois had the best reading voice I have ever heard and holds that title to this day. Nothing else compares. It could be compared to sitting on your grandfather’s lap, in the middle of an ancient medieval inn, a fire roaring, a pig on the spit, the crowd breathlessly listening to an old man with a beard weave a tale of magic that would stay with those people for the rest of their lives. But, as I said, nothing else compares and he was even better than that.

I listened to that tape a dozen or more times over the years and never tired of it. It was a thing of beauty.

Wendy was sick last week and started to feel better Friday morning. That same Friday morning I came home from class early, sick as a wet dog. It’s Tuesday now and I’m still struggling but starting to feel a little better. We’ve had a lot of bed time so we’ve been doing some reading and watching some choice movies.

Unfamiliar with what movies have been heavily promoted in the states, I went to Rotten Tomatoes and looked over the reviews there. In my continuing evolution, I have been expanding not just my travel, but also the books I read and the movies I watch. It has been very good to me. Startlingly good in fact. I went to Rotten Tomatoes and looked over all the movies that got better than 70%, paying particular attention to those that received a score of 90 plus.

Juno – Young girl gets preggers and decides to keep the baby! Yay! Doesn’t that sound hilarious? Parents wringing there hands, self righteous little girl, trouble at school, is the father a deadbeat or upstanding? What emotional struggles will confront our heroine as the story unfolds! I can’t wait!

Gag. So not my type of movie but hey, it got 90 plus so I’ll give it a shot.

It is a Beautiful Thing.

It has been a long time since I have seen a movie so flawless. (Okay, not that long since I saw Stardust this winter, but before that, quite a while.)

I laughed harder in the first fifteen minutes of Juno than I did through the entirety of “Superbad” and “Hot Fuzz” combined. Snappy, choice, edgy funny dialogue, perfect casting and acting, a few clever twists and a happy ending. An excellent movie that leaves all the sap and drama at the door and simply takes you for a wonderful ride. Wendy and I loved it so much we watched it in its entirety again the very next day. I don’t know if I have ever done that with a movie. If I have, it’s been a long time.

No Country for Old Men – While not a thing of beauty, it is fucking great. The title turned me off and then I started to read the reviews and thought, hey, this sounds awesome. And it was awesome. Javier Bardem plays the spookiest fucking killing machine I’ve seen since… well… ever. It is hard to put into words how skin crawlingly creepy this man is in every scene he steals. In one, he goes into a gas station where “every man’s grandpa” is behind the register and they start talking. Fifteen seconds later you start holding your breath and praying quietly to your God “please do not let him kill this lovable kindly old man that reminds me so much of my grandpa. Please let him get back in his car and just drive away.” Javier Bardem radiates an icy insane malice the whole time and you can’t do anything but hold your breath and pray. Highly recommended in case you couldn’t guess.

“Gone Baby Gone” – Partially written and fully directed by Ben Affleck, staring his little brother in a tale about a crack whore’s baby who gets stolen and you can just imagine that this is going to be garbage. While not a thing of beauty it is actually great. Not fucking great, but right up there. Just barely below No Country for Old Men.

Excellent witty dialogue, perfect casting, a bunch of the butt ugliest awful looking dregs of society you have ever seen as extras, and enough twists to keep the plot moving at a breakneck pace. Casey Affleck does a fantastic job as the street smart, slight but scrappy private detective hired to find the missing girl. His unwavering sense of right and wrong in this tale of multiple shades of grey reminds me of me (except he is as tough as any man has a right to be and my last fight was in grade school) in a younger innocent stage of my life when I thought everything could be reduced to Black and White quite easily thank you. Ah, age.

Sadly, a couple of knocks against the movie. The sound is a bit garbled, and the dialogue is so heavily saturated with a Boston accent that frequently Wendy or I would ask the other “What’d he say?” There are a couple of logic bombs that crop up, but these are infrequent and not too distracting. Still, a phenomenal tale of moral crisis that doesn’t beat you over the head but instead entertains.

Charlie Wilson’s War – Again, not something I would normally watch, but it turned out to be very entertaining and thought provoking. Unlike the more recent things I’ve seen, I can’t ejaculate much more than that about it because it was a month ago, and while I loved it, the words aren’t there as to why I loved it so much. Just a great film.

Other things that got good reviews that I actually hated –

Sunshine – Embarrassingly bad. I’m going to do a thing I always do and fail to learn from my mistakes. I'll tell yu why it sucked without having watched enough to say so. The movie opens with a man sitting in a Spaceship approaching the sun. He has a little talk with the ship’s computer about opening the blinds and letting 3.1 percent of the sun’s rays in. When this happens, a noise plays along the soundtrack that sounds like dragging a cat down a blackboard.

A few minutes later he is at dinner describing this religious experience to his colleagues and talking about light is hope and love and blackness is absence of blah blah blah. The only thing that could have saved the movie for me at this point would be if one of the other crew said “Dude. Could you shut up? If this were a play that dialogue would have just ruined the first act, I mean, no offense, but you sound like an idiot” and then have everyone else laugh and throw food at him. Instead we get some touching garbage about how this is the last time people will be able to talk to their families because they’re entering the dead zone and then everyone looks solemn. The next shot is a woman picking fresh carrots out of the ground. On the ship.

Then the screen went black. Because I had turned it off.

Going to restart the sun doesn’t require a garden. If you need a garden on a ship it’s because you’re going on a fifty year journey to Alpha Centauri to have a look around.

“Hot Fuzz” was lacking, well, humor. 20 minutes into it neither of us had laughed once and turned it off.

“Superbad” was super awful. An hour into it I had smiled once.

Been reading some very strange books for me as well.

“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. If you need the medication again, go ahead and take it – I will love you through that as well. If you don’t need the medication, I will love you, too. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love, I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.”

From “eat pray love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

My mom gave this book to Wendy for Christmas and she loved it. I picked it up afterwards, highly skeptical, but found myself immediately engrossed. One of the kinder things someone once said about my writing was “If you wrote a calculus textbook I would buy it and read it.” This is the same thing I feel about this woman’s writing. She writes about her messy divorce, her completely unstable mental state, and then spends four months in Italy, four months in India, and four months in Indonesia doing her combined life’s dream. And it’s all fascinating. Half the stuff she does I couldn’t care less about. Hell, ninety percent of it actually, but she pulls you in and makes you care and makes you turn the next page to see what happens to her.

The above quoted passage is when the author is about to lose it. She communicates with her inner self by writing her worries down, has a moment of calm and then another voice speaks to her and writes something in response. She thinks she is speaking to herself, I’m pretty sure God is writing to her. Reading that passage above always makes me tear up (yes, I’ll make someone a fine wife someday) and I’m not sure why. Probably a host of reasons. Because I want to be able to say that to someone and have them believe me? Because I want someone to say that to me? Because that’s how I view God talking? Don’t know, but it does fit my image of God. I don’t believe he wants me killing people in his name and I don’t believe he cares what food I eat (as long as its not babies) and I don’t think he cares what clothes I wear or who sees my hair. My view of God is “I will always love you and I will always be there.”

I don’t like to think too hard on it though. I mean, Bush is still in office, so…

Bird by Bird by Anne Lammot is the best book on being a writer that I have ever read. It is your typical “How to sit down, force yourself to write and improve” handbook but so very well done. Filled with insightful anecdotes and lines that make you laugh out loud. Like, while telling her students they should hate and revile anyone that doesn’t encourage their writing, treat them like dirt… she pauses and says “I’m pretty sure Jesus drinks himself to sleep when I talk like that.”

There’s some imagery for you.

It takes you though her successes, failures, the unimaginable agony of doing a book entirely over for the fourth time, stories of her childhood, her alcoholic family and her father’s eventual death from brain cancer. And illuminates how you can do it too but don’t expect much. I see myself reading this many times in the future as my writing career eventually comes back into focus.

“Charms for the Easy Life” by Kaye Gibbons. I don’t know. Maybe I'm already someone's wife. I can’t believe I’m recommending this book but honestly, I just couldn’t stop turning the pages. While sick, I read it in less than a day. I just love tales about women working for the war effort, a young woman who finally meets the man of her dreams, wise old grandmas. I AM DOWN WITH ALL THAT SHIT, YOU FEEL ME, HOMIE?

Wait, I hate all that shit! Why did I read this book? Again, like the movies and the other books, it’s not so much the subject matter as the writer. Beautifully crafted, well written, (unlike this sentence which is already redundant) a few laugh out loud places, a lot of comeuppance to bad people and an easy read. I enjoyed it. It’s not “eat pray love” or “A song of Ice and Fire” but I couldn’t put it down despite continually wondering why it held my attention so raptly.
Go forth and make the coffers fat for those who deserve it.


  1. " I can’t ejaculate much more than that about it because it was a month ago, "

    Sorry to hear that old man.
    Hear they make pills for it.

  2. How could "Sunshine" suck if it was directed by Danny Boyle? Oh wait, there is no Ewan in his films anymore so it has to blow... Any Danny Boyle film without Ewan = big KAKA!

  3. It's funny you mention The Last Defender of Camelot. I was trying to find a copy of the audio book on cd earlier this week and once again Amazon failed me.

    I'm debating on making my own with my mac.

    Superbad was super funny. Maybe I just related better to the material because that was how it was like growing up with my friends and I.

    Charlie Wilson's War - I'm not going to watch a film about a man that successfully engulfed the former Soviet Union into it's own version of Vietnam and helped provide funding and training for the Afghan Mujahideen. He and others have denied that any funding went to Bin Laden, but really, if you fucked up that bad would anyone ever admit it?

    Alternate historically speaking, if we didn't stick our noses in that business I think we'd have a few less problems with militant Islam.

  4. Joshie,

    Spot on analysis. I can't add a word.


    Charlie Wilson's War - I'm not going to watch a film about a man that successfully engulfed the former Soviet Union into it's own version of Vietnam and helped provide funding and training for the Afghan Mujahideen. He and others have denied that any funding went to Bin Laden, but really, if you fucked up that bad would anyone ever admit it?

  5. Gone Baby Gone was good, but I was amazed at how many times you can use the F word in a sentence. Is that Ben Affleck's style since both Gone and Good Will Hunting had the same vocabulary?? or do people in that part of Boston actually talk like that?? Watched Stardust too...Loved it, especially the part with the voodoo dolls, wouldn't you just love to have one of those around once in a while?? Since we don't have the option of cable in the sticks of Idaho we watch ALOT of movies, Thank God for Netflix!!