Monday, January 09, 2006

Do We Look Awkward in the Light?

Yesterday, while flipping through the magic box, I caught two female political analysts on CNN discussing the possibility of a Condoleeza Rice/Hillary Clinton showdown in the 2008 election (their names aren't important because in my book political analysts, sportscasters and weatherpeople all rate very low when it comes to reliability.) This wasn't the first time I'd heard this bandied about and I was struck by the progress American women have made in the last century or so.
It's encouraging to know that people are letting go of outdated prejudices and moldy misconceptions about femininity. Many ultra-feminists would argue that there's still so much to be done, but frankly the mere discussion of a Hilary/Condi showdown is monumental and exhilirating. Take into account that one has maintained her dignity throughout repeated attacks from the right and then had to step out from the giant shadow cast by her devilishly charming albeit philandering husband, and that the other grew up in the racial powderkeg of Birmingham, Ala. during the 1960's and counted Denise McNair, one of the victims of the infamous Sixteenth-Street Baptist Church bombings, as a close friend. Add to that both women's remarkable accomplishments and intense drive and you have the makings of two candidates with spectacular qualifications and one very intriguing race. (Rice received her Master's Degree from Notre Dame at 20 and Clinton's ambition is so legendary that she actually takes heat for it from critics.)
That this view is shared by more than women and gay men is a testament to the leap forward this country's taken in the last 150 years. If you'd told Andrew Jackson that a woman was running against him in 1828 he'd have laughed in your face, pulled out his pistol and shot you where you stood. True, in the modern era countries elect women all the time, most notably India and Britain. But the two most obvious examples are also the most misleading. Indira Gandhi's election runs concurrent with India's maddening insistency on holding onto the past and a nationwide penchant for electoral nepotism. Indira Gandhi is, of course, Jawarhalal Nehru's daughter (India's first P.M. for those not in the know) and deceased former P.M. Rajiv Gandhi is Nehru's grandson, while Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's widow, now a power player in Indian politics...was born to Stefano and Paola Maino in Orbassano, Italy. This all happens in the 58 short years of their independence. In some ways the days of the Raj never ended in India.
Margaret Thatcher's election as Prime Minister in Britain is captivating because of her visible lack of charm and warmth; Iron Lady is not a nickname you ever want to have as a woman...ever... no matter how badass you are. This election makes perfect sense though for a country whose history of female leadership is so rich that historians named their two most storied periods after the Queens who dominated them.
A female leader of the United States though? A nation with such a brief history? Ninety years ago women couldn't vote in this country. Sixty years ago the only woman at the office sat at the receptionists desk. And thirty years ago the only woman on network news was in front of a weather map. To say American women, in particular, have taken giant strides toward social equality in this country is no exaggeration.
As with every moment of social change though, some bad inevitably stoops out of the shadows to stand alongside the good. Religion, for all its noble intent, is used in the name of war incessantly. Saturday Night Live gave us Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy, but also Joe Piscopo and Rob Schneider. The sexual revolution encouraged people to be open about their sexuality and removed it from the realm of taboo; but this same revolution, I'm sure, is directly responsible for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the ongoing decline of the American Male. I try not to shave for days on end, and I stopped putting things in my hair a few years ago; but when confronted with the Raspberry/Peach face exfoliant in a girl/friend's shower the other weekend, I knew I had to shave before I used it or else my sensitive, oily pores wouldn't receive maximum exfoliation. (The scent was divine; how sorbet tastes in your mouth, but with a lingering sweetness.)
Anyways, good/bad, Happy Days/Joanie Loves Chachi, and finally yesterday female presidency/Guys Gone Wild.
That's right, Guys Gone Wild, an all dude version of the wildly popular, highly demeaning drunken reality nude-fest Girls Gone Wild. For those who've never been up watching Comedy Central past 11:00, this is where somebody's absolutely wasted daughter is convinced by some sleazeball to take her clothes off and get in the shower, possibly with someone else's absolutely wasted daughter. Now imagine that, except in this case with somebody's son.
There's a strange congruence to these two subjects. A female president, for the most part stamps out any general talk of gender inequality. A woman becoming President, for al intents and purposes, shatters the glass ceiling. Officially women now do everything men do; the qualifier "can" finally thrown to the floor, like high heels for the patent leather dominatrix boots Ms. Rice sports when in Terminator mode. Female executives, doctors, race car drivers, the WNBA, Sofia Coppola, Condi in '08 (?)...and low budget soft-core pornography.
For years I ascribed to the theory that women are inherently "better" than men. Not by a lot now, I've met enough exceptions to the rule in my life to know it's not by a lot. But still, women are directly associated with too many exalted virtues to deny their current evolutionary superiority to men. Kind, nurturing, gentle. Plus they can actually have babies. If they ever find a way to produce sperm without an actual man present then I believe that our sex will have completely run out of uses. (They don't even need us to pretend like we're fixing things anymore. They just get on the internet and find a way to fix it themselves on Google.)
Men, on the other hand, are aggressive, insensitive, bad listeners. Men are responsible for war. Men go into the forest with guns and shoot at things for fun. Men drink beer, grab themselves and spit (sometimes against each other, in the ongoing evolution of the pissing contest, seeing whose saliva can cross the greatest distance.) And yes, it's mostly men who enjoy pornography and make into the billion dollar industry it is. Any man who tells you otherwise is a liar or a priest.
But Guys Gone Wild indicated that maybe women wanted in on the action as well. So I decided to do a little investigating myself. I called all 216 girls in my cell phone...I called all 19 girls in cell phone. They range in occupation: waitress, teacher, consultant, medical resident, student etc. and are all in the process of entering the legendary sexual peak of their late 20's early 30's. Seventeen of them said they found pornography demaning and/or disgusting. Two of my more, shall we say, sexually curious friends admitted to using it "for ideas" and nothing more. Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy would be proud to know that their art does more than inspire erections.
But to a T all of them found men with other men completely out of the question.
"That's disgusting." a girl/friend of mine said sharply over the phone.
"Because it's wrong?"
"Wrong how?"
"Like in Christian sense?" I asked.
"No!" She snapped, "Of course not! It's just that men are awkward."
"You mean like clumsy... or something?" I asked well...clumsily.
"No. You're awkwardly shaped. You're thingies look funny, cause they're just kind of out there."
I laughed, "Our thingies?"
"Shut up Krishna. Your.." she hesitated for a moment because in essence she was about to demean my entire gender for what was fast becoming its only real worth on this planet, "...penises. Your penises are weird to look at in the light. It's odd enough seeing Jason's when he comes out of the shower. The last thing I want to see is a bunch of them on TV."
Our conversation ended and I decided to take a shower. Not so much because I was dirty, but I felt dirty after hearing what she said. Looking at myself in the mirror, I realized she was right. I never really considered myself in an aesthetic sense, but men are awkward in the light and our thingies are just kind of there.
So why does it exist then, why take it as far as Guys Gone Wild? Not for women. And I would assume not for gay men because the drunk, obnoxious, fratboy meatheads so gloriously represented in these films usually aren't their type, penis or not. (I'm reminded of a friend who believed all gay men lusted after each other because, as he said, "there just aren't enough of them to be picky." Ironically, he moved to Miami three months later.)
No, Guys Gone Wild exists purely because it must. Social evolution dictates it. We came out of the swamps, climbed down from the trees, went into the cave, came out, built cities, fought wars, built empires, fought wars, found new worlds, all the while keeping women at bay; "It's for your protection," "It's not a women's place," all the excuses to keep women down had a hard time fitting in the door. Once humanity settled in though and civilization found a semblance of peace, evolution followed its course and now our protection, our government, counts a woman as its third highest ranking member. Everything else is bound to follow suit. Monday Night Football and Espn to Oprah and Lifetime. Clinton in '96! to Clinton in '08! And to the dismay of apparently everyone I know, Girls Gone Wild to Guys Gone Wild.

Because in the end, for every step forward we take, we're bound to get our feet stuck deeper in the mud. Freedom and empowerment don't apply only to the righteous, revolutionaries, and dreamers. In the wrong hands, freedom and empowerment lead to insult and exploitation. Whether it be the heavy-handed browbeating of FOX News that clubs you into submission and Pavlovian acceptance of radical right-wing anti-intellectualism; or the knuckle- dragging avarice of Joe Francis, founder of Mantra Entertainment and creator of the Girls/Guys Gone Wild franchise, men still find ways to plumb moral depths thought previously unfathomable. (*Moment of Bitter Irony* Francis was kidnapped recently by an associate, tied up, held at gunpoint and forced to lie facedown on a mattress and say "I'm from Boys Gone Wild, and I like it up the ass."...while being videotaped.)

I guess all of this could be a chicken/egg too, or egg/chicken...whatever. Humanity has a way of righting itself so a female president might be just the antidote to all this extremism. But just in case we're all wrong, I'll go ahead and vote for Nader.

Yeah right...

Friday, December 30, 2005

the year in the rearview

5. Spoon "Gimme Fiction": Simple, bold,
and eye-opening; like a cup of coffee after
a long night on the town. Britt Daniel is a
songwriter of sublime talent.
4. The Game "The Documentary": Stark
honesty + inspired production X ferocious mic
skills = west coast revival. The album drips
with consequence and guilt; two weapons
most rappers aren't hard enough to hold.

3. The Wolf Parade "Apologies to the Queen
Mary": strange melodies, disembodied vocals,
and two emotionally raw songwriters ; the most
unsettling brilliant album of the year.
2. Thelonius Monk Quartet w/ John Coltrane
"Live at Carnegie Hall": Two masters at the peak
of their genius converge for a truly monumental
musical and historical moment. The music
surpasses any raised expectations the pairing
creates; blazing, expressive and focused.
1. Kanye West "Late Registration": All the
hype (his own and others) aside; this album
stands alone because it is a unique instant of
ambition matching execution. West and
co-producer Jon Brion reache into every decade,
every genre, and create something dynamic
and wholly unique. Hip-hop roots itself
in this creative esthetic of
deconstruction/reconstruction; and this
album stays true to his endearingly
schizophrenic vision of a hip-hop landscape where
Paul Wall, Curtis Mayfield, and Adam Levine from
Maroon Five can co-exist. We respect Kanye
West because he continues to prove he's an artist of
blinding talent. We love him because he's not too
self-conscious to tell you that some of that glare
is shinin' off the diamonds on his chain.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

oh, canada

why isn't it cold inside hockey rinks? not that they're always the most comfortable temperature, but still, that's ice they're skating on and i'm all right in a long sleeved shirt. hockey makes sense in the winter, kind of like snow and jesus, so i watched an entire penguins game the other night. two words to describe the new nhl: fucking awesome. no icing, no scrums in the corner as if it was rugby on skates, movement, passing, space. all of this leads to more offense, which leads to more fans, which ends in better ratings. too bad they didn't do this before they stuck a skate blade in all their fan's backs by letting last season get cancelled.
also, i love that there's no ties in hockey anymore, even though i admit i'm still confused by the third number in the win-loss-? column. each shot of a shootout is quite possibly the most exciting 10 seconds in sports that doesn't involve maria sharapova searching for a ball to serve somewhere inside that thing she calls a tennis outfit. in soccer the goal is too big and the ball is too small. in some south american countries i hear they kill you if you miss penalty shots; it's that easy. but hockey is a completely different beast. a small goal and a large russian goalie that fills just about all of it evens the odds. if a hockey player misses a penalty shot or the goalie saves it maybe they show the highlight on sportscenter, maybe not. you're definitely not gonna get shot in the parking lot on the way to your car though.
the other great thing about hockey is penalty boxes. what a revolutionary concept. sometimes you feel like guys in the nba and the nfl just don't get it because really, what kind of lesson is someone making a symbolic hand gesture or throwing a little yellow flag in your general direction. hockey gets it right by actually making people sit in a little box and think about what they've done. two minutes for minor infractions barring a goal which "kills" the penalty, to five minutes in the box no matter who scores for major penalties. kind of like the difference between scolding your child and grounding them. much more effective and i get a kick out of seeing hulking, grown men who get paid millions of dollars lower their head and shuffle to the penalty box like my dog does when he shits in the house and i make him go outside and think about it for awhile.

Monday, December 12, 2005

see no evil

"white people be going 'why do you hold your things?' Cause you took everything else, mother fucker."
richard pryor 1940-2005

fool's gold

Directed by: Steven Gaghan
Rating: as messy as the exxon valdez

why do people think gaining weight is the mark of great acting? it's all de niro's fault. everyone's always talking about how much weight he gained when he played jake la motta in 'raging bull', the 'astounding physical transformation.' and they're right, his physical commitment to the role is amazing, along with the absolute ferocity of his performance: the primal streak of viciousness that underlies all of de niro's work, but most specifically his films with martin scorcese.
the problem though is that de niro already staked his claim to greatness in a series of films that required no weight gain at all. starting in 1973 until 'raging bull''s release in 1980, de niro made 7 films including 'mean streets,' 'the godfather: part ii,' 'taxi driver,' 'new york, new york,' and 'the deer hunter.' groundbreaking, influential, timeless. there are a million superlatives one could pour all over these films, but none of them required him to gain weight.
so all these actors search for legitimacy by playing people who are out of shape, which makes an odd sort of sense for hollywood, the only place in the world which gives people awards and accolades for gaining weight.
and oddly these are the thoughts that swirled through my mind as i watched george clooney and the 40 lbs. he gained for his new film 'syriana.' actually, to call it a george clooney film is a bit misleading. there are so many actors, and so many stories in this movie i got that nervous feeling i get sometimes when i'm at a bar on sundays trying to watch five football games at once, and can't keep track of all the scores.
'syriana' is about oil. about how people lie, steal, cheat, and kill; for and because of it. about how it is an undercurrent of all of our lives, whether we accept it or not. that a film like this is even possible in today's political climate is remarkable. steven gaghan, george clooney, steven soderbergh et all set out to change the world with this picture. but sadly, in the mad rush to inform the public about the seedy nature of the oil industry and our government's explicit involvement in said deception and corruption, the team behind 'syriana' forgot to make an actual movie. gaghan, who directed and wrote the screenplay along with ex c.i.a. agent bob baer, throws too wide of a narrative net to create a taut thriller; invests no time in building his characters and in the process loses any sense of epic drama; and with all the fictional plot elements lacks the bare-bones impact of straight documentary.
'syriana' follows a similar structural pattern to 'traffic' (written by gaghan,) connecting four narratives to tell one overarching story. his direction lacks focus though, and the small moments he presents us with to humanize the characters, such as jeffrey wright's alcoholic father or george clooney's angry young son, are dealt with in such a hasty manner that they become distractions, almost as if you were watching a completely different movie starring the fat george clooney from 'syriana.' gaghan jumps from one narrative to the next, almost as if on a timer, and the audience is never given time to fully grasp the nature of the character and his motivations.
not surprisingly, the one instance where gaghan plays his cards right is in the narrative depicting a young man's transformation from oil field laborer to holy warrior of the jihad, just as in 'traffic' it is through the eyes of benicio del toro, an outsider, that we bear full witness to the vagaries of the international drug trade. gaghan manages to humanize what we consider monstrous, and in the process open our eyes to the fallability of american government and industry. we are no different from colonial nations that rose and fell before the united states; we want no cultural exchange or exchange of ideas, merely any natural resources or anything else of worth. we take oil from the middle east, diamonds from africa, labor from south america and asia, all at minimal expense. mazhar munir, who plays wasim khan the laborer turned mujaheddin, uses his childish, innocent face to convey beautifully all the doubt, fear, and desperation that lead to such a horrific decision. if only this entire film could be as starkly honest and affecting as these scenes.
many of the other performances in the film, however, come out flat; victims of cutting room floors and poor directing decisions. with attention divided between so many stories, each one felt like a dry stream drawn from a shallow river. clooney shows moments of fire as wronged c.i.a. man bob barnes, but mostly we are left with silent shots of a tired man who looks short on breath, and bares a tremendous resemblance to george clooney if he were to gain fifty pounds. matt damon is left with no room to show how he deals with the loss of his young son, and amanda peet, playing damon's wife, is given a woefully underwritten and underrepresented role. gaghan's choice of two of today's most boyishly charming actors in damon and clooney, who at 44 still seems to have the youthful energy of a 25 year old, to play such unglamorous characters might fill the seats, but it doesn't help the story. people want to see damon and clooney having fun and playing it loose, which is when they're at their best. to see them toiling and wearing away under accumulated pressures (and clooney under accumulated fat) draws the audiences attention away from the message of the film.
finally, 'syriana' comes off as wholly effective diatribe. the audience draws out of this unfocused, unfiltered picture some very uncomfortable truths. the most important truth is expressed through a fine performance from jeffrey wright as corporate lawyer bennett holliday. wright, an actor of breathtaking versatility, is the vehicle through which gaghan shows us the corruption and capitulation of the american government and like many of us, wright hides his exasperation and shock with a smirk and a shrug, because he grudgingly accepts what the rest of us give scant thought to: that whether we like it or not, oil is still king.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

we're on our way home

october 9th, 1940-december 8th, 1980
it never crossed my mind that he was also a libra. why not?
this still makes me sad.

when the man comes around

i do not sleep well anymore. this started about a week, exactly a week ago. thursday, december 1st, the day that splits my past and my future. on that day i heard a tap, tap, tapping on my door, our doorbell yet another victim of my dad's limited scope of what was necessary in a modern home (i.e. "i didn't have a doorbell growing up, so why do we need one now?" this can be expanded to other things as well, "i didn't have heating growing up, so why do we need it now?" or "a toaster? we didn't have toast growing up, so why can't you eat your bread cold?") i am amazed, at times, that he actually grew up in the same half of the century that i did.

my excitement grew. it was me who called a week earlier and made the appointment. it was me who stumbled across a deborah johnson, the best phone salesperson i've ever run into, who informed me of a spectacular deal on on-demand digital television (less than our normal service by $7.00, but more channels than i figured humanly possible to ever watch all of.)

or maybe not.

it was me who opened the door and let in the cable guy.

it took him 13 minutes to install the digital cable box and program the remote. i counted each second in my mind as i watched this fidgety, slight little man with a red hat ply his trade. he handed me the remote and started talking to me, but the words drifted away as i began to devise a plan. a wild, maniacal, twisted plot.

to watch everything on tv.

as i began to close the door on the cable man's face, he gave me a strange look. an adult puzzled by a child's fascination with the simplest of high-tech objects, the universal remote, as if i might put it in my mouth any moment and attempt to eat it as i would a banana. as if my simple mind couldn't grasp the complexities of digital cable, the awesome magnitude of the intercyberglobotech industry.

'you sure you don't have any questions?'

'no, thanks for everything.' i shut the door and held my breath, heady with the possibilities that stretched out in front of me.

fuck the intercyberglobotech industry. what's on hbo?

i made my way back downstairs. i left the lights off so that all that greeted me as i felt the carpet on my toes was the soft blue glow of the digital cable guide. i began thumbing through each page with the page down button, progressively processing the amount of time i'd have to spend in front of the magic box to fulfill my goal.

i started watching digital cable 7 days ago. it is true what people say about television. it's mostly shit, actually to quantify that, i'd say it's about 80 percent shit. the 20 percent that's not shit is divided as such: 13% is sports, which are nearly impenetrable (barring player salaries and at the very least on the playing field) from the vagaries of commercialism and capitalism. 4% belongs to hbo, which is a considerable amount for one channel. the other 3% belongs to the rest of television, the other 400 or so other channels.

the amazing thing about all this shit though; about all this crude, artless shit....i can't stop watching it. i try. i've been trying for 7 days now. but every time i leave the basement and come back to the light of the first floor, a part of me remains on the sofa, a faint imprint of my soul. it is this part of me that i convince myself i get back everytime i return to the wash of blue light.

tv is the great magician of our times. the houdini of the post-cold war world. we watch in hushed anticipation for its next great trick. deciding a presidential election, putting a man on the moon, the beatles, monday night football, mtv, playboy channel, pay-per-view, digital, on-demand.

on-demand. we are no longer slaves to our tv's. or at least that's what they want us to think. thursday nights spent watching the cosby show, monday dinner with archie and edith bunker, sunday evenings with the simpsons. we used to limit tv to the twilight hours, a way to fill in the monotony of darkness. george carlin said in a recent special that we never left the cave. he's right, it's just that our fire is the tv.

now television does on a daily basis what mankind has dreamt of and written about for years; manipulating time for its own benefit. you can watch anything, anytime, anywhere (well, almost) you want. imagine modern television as a drug, visual crack for our brains; highly addictive, and way more accessible than cocaine was in the 80's. we know its bad for us and we can't get enough of it.

seven days and still i can't say no. the military channel taught me how tanks are put together, and bobby flay outdueled iron chef sakai in international battle trout. eric idle sang a silly song about freedom and isaac mizrahi showed me how to arrange flowers.

i haven't slept soundly for seven days.

what's on hbo?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Directed by: Mike Newell
Rating: Spellbinding

734 pages. 734 pages and the girl that went to the movies with us actually complains that they left stuff out. leo tolstoy's 'war and peace' is 1392 pages long, and the film version with audrey hepburn and henry fonda ran a lean 208 min. (or 3 hours and 28 min.) so if 'harry potter and the goblet of fire' is 734 pages long and the movie ran for a 157 min. (or 2 hours and 37 min.) then mike newell and the team that created the latest potter film did a hell of a better job of being true to the source material than is even within the realm of imagination for vidor's 'war and peace.' its exactly this sort of infantile criticism (coming from a woman over the age of 25 oddly) that any director tackling previously written material faces, especially material as fanatically revered and loved as the potter franchise. alfonse cuaron's interpretation of the third book, 'harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban,' finally made the films feel as magical as the novels. newell's film feels much different than 'azkaban,' not because it fails to capture the spirit of the books, in fact it succeeds admirably in this respect, but because he plays to his strengths as a director much as cuaron did before him.
many years ago newell directed a small romantic comedy called 'four weddings and a funeral' and then followed that three years later with a mob suspense film, 'donnie brasco.' oddly, it seems to be these two films that help newell shape 'goblet of fire.' j.k. rowling's fourth book is a sprawling mix of coming-of-age romance, tense suspense, and moments of incredible violence. in 'four weddings' newell captured the ups and downs of being single a bit too late in your life. taking great care with the younger actors in his cast, newell gives visual form to the achingly funny moments of adolescense that rowling so astutely observes in her books: boys are infuriating, girls are confounding, and no matter how simple our english is with each other we will never, ever understand what the opposite sex really means. being a teenager is, above all else, immensely confusing and newell strikes a delicate balance of humor and keen emotional insight in these scenes.
the other part of the film, and the one of ultimate importance to the rowling's overarching story and to harry potter fans the world around, is the resurrection of lord voldemort. here, in an attempt to streamline the story and make it fit the parameters of a feature length film, newell does in fact leave out much detail; tinkering to the point of removing characters and reinterpreting scenes to fit his narrative (something he was forced to do with characters based on real, living people in 'donnie brasco.') amazingly, none of this takes away from the lurking, unavoidable sense of dread that rowling creates in the book (as a very vocal fan of the potter novels, i accept all the criticism of fanboys and fangirls out there with this statement: get over it, newell did what he had to do.) once ralph fiennes finally enters the scene as lord voldemort once again given physical form, the film crackles with searing energy and life. fiennes looks like a fully paralyzed man given the ability to move again, stretching his skin and cracking his unused, withered bones. even though he's only in the film for roughly 20 min., fiennes gives a delicious wicked taste of the evil we're in store for.
overall the cast impresses. surrounding the young stars of the film with experienced, talented actors like brendan gleeson (who gives a wild, manic, inspired performance as mad-eye moody) , michael gambon, maggie smith, and fiennes; is the best acting education these relatively unexperienced actors can receive. daniel radcliffe, rupert grint, and emma watson have obviously learnt a lot in the past four years and they do an excellent job of carrying and conveying the emotional weight of the events occurring around them. hermione granger says at the end of the film, 'everything's going to change now, isn't it?' if 'goblet of fire' is any indication of the growth and change of the franchise from film to film, i can't wait for 'harry potter and the order of the phoenix.'

Thursday, November 03, 2005

every picture tells story

title: closer
medium: ink
artist: laura isabel menendez