Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rerun: Beautiful things.

I am looking for an article and in doing so, came upon this one. It has already been posted but for those who haven't seen it, I hope you enjoy it. It has been edited and added to.

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. He has such mastery of his voice you think there are multiple cast members, but no, he is all the voices. 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, 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.

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

Wendy was sick last week and started to feel better Friday morning. 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. Very good. 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 what? 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 thing of Beauty.

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 scene he goes into a gas station where “every man’s grandpa” is behind the register and they start talking. And 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, you can just imagine that this is garbage. While not a thing of beauty it is actually great. 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.

Casey Affleck having his girlfriend threatened by a gangster named Cheese: "Cheese, if you ever disrespect her again like that, I'm gonna pull your fuckin' card, okay? So you're saying you didn't do it, fine. We'll take your money, and we'll be on our way. When it turns out you're lying, I'm gonna spend every nickel of that money to fuck you up. I'm gonna bribe cops to go after you, I'm gonna pay guys to go after your weak fuckin' crew, and I'm gonna tell all the guys I know that you're a C.I. and a rat, and I know a lot of people. And after that, you're gonna wish you listened to me, 'cause your shitty pool hall crime syndicate headquarters is gonna get raided, and your doped-up bitches are gonna get sent back to Laos, and this fuckin' retard right here is gonna be testifying against you for a reduced sentence, while you're gettin' cornholed in your cell by a gang of crackers. 'Cause from what I've heard, the guys that get sent up Concord for killing kids, life's a motherfucker."

My favorite scene is when tiny little Casey Affleck goes into a bar and starts asking questions about the missing girl. The locals don't like that, so one huge guy closes and locks the door and Casey sighs. They suggest bad things will happen to his girlfriend. He pulls out a Magnum 44 and points it at a guy's face.

I don't have an actual quote from the internet so this is the best I can do.

"Think you're tough now?"

Pistol whips him.

"Anyone else? Open the fuckin' door. Not wanting to help a kidnapped little kid? You make me sick."

Tough guy is kneeling and bleeding from his head.

My heroes are always the ones who are always in control. Nothing rattles them, they're always prepared for anything.

Sadly, a couple of knocks against the movie. The sound is a bit off, and the dialogue is so heavily saturated with a Boston accent that frequently Wendy or I would ask each other “What did 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 turned out to be very entertaining and thought provoking. Unlike the more recent things I’ve e 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. 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 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 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”, a supposed comedy. 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. I can’t believe I’m recommending this book. I just couldn’t stop reading it. 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’m down with all that shit, you know 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.


  1. This is a rerun? It's the first time I have seen it and as always, great writing. Funny you had the same idea about Juno that I did going into it, I fully expected to hate it but what a nice surprise.

    And No Country? Freaking fantastic movie, even if the ending was a little jarring the journey up to that point is worth it.

    Have you see "The Assasination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford?" Not a movie for everyone but since you are talking about beautiful things, few movies can compare when it comes to cinematography, music and story.

    It's one of Hollywoods best kept secrets.

  2. Hey, I got Quest for the Pro Tour I and II this morning for Christmas, and I'm really enjoying them. Thanks for being an awesome writer!

    Merry Christmas,
    Brad Wojceshonek

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  4. I loved Hot Fuzz. It does take an awfully long while to get going, though; pretty much the entire first third of the movie is just setup for jokes that only pay off much later in the movie. In other words, yes, there aren't any laughs in the first twenty minutes, but it gets much, much funnier. You really should watch it to the end, if only for the epic action sequence that the movie concludes with.

    My father was bored, though.

  5. Incidentally, if you want to read something really awesome:

    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

    Really, I cannot hype this enough. Yes, it's fanfic - but don't let that fool you into "judging a book by its cover" and missing out!

  6. Jamie, if you liked the book "Eat, Pray, Love" - check out the movie. Possibly the best acting Julia Roberts has ever done. Classic, powerful work. I think you'll like it - although not having read the book, I'm not sure how it compares to the written version. ;) Guess I'll add that to my reading list!