Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Entertainment News, 3rd Edition

Note: I started writing this in the wee hours of the morning and decided to come back to it later. Thus the discrepancy between the time it was posted and the time I say I am writing it.

Though it’s after 2 a.m., I have decided to write a blog. It will be good for me as tomorrow night I may be going to the drive-in. While this activity only occurs about once a year, it usually results in my sleeping through the second movie (I don’t know if this is standard, but where I live the drive-in movies are pretty much always double features). This is the reason I have yet to see The Pirates of the Caribbean in its entirety, a fact that is only less shocking than the fact that I don’t care. Anyway, although I list the movies I have seen recently on my sidebar, along with a vague rating (based on a standard four-star scale), I am now going to give you a more in-depth, though still brief, synopsis of some recent cinematic partakings…

Surviving Christmas – zero stars
I admit, it made absolutely no sense to rent this film in the middle of May, but I won’t go into the complicated reasons for my doing so. The point is, no matter what month you may watch this, it is unbelievably bad. In fact, if you believe me, you have missed the point – it’s worse than that. The film stars Ben Affleck as a successful-but-lonely ad exec (or some crap like that) who solicits a suburban household to play his surrogate family during the holidays. The idea is promising, especially with James Gandolfini (HBO’s Tony Soprano) at the head of the hired home. But there is only so much to be said for a film whose every joke falls completely flat. Gandolfini is given next to nothing to do while Affleck fails to commit to one character, whether the wondrous little-boy-stuck-in-adult-body or the superimposing nuisance. The result is boredom. If it’s not too late, I sincerely urge to avoid this one at all costs!

House of Flying Daggers – ***½
Foreign films are not for everyone, and perhaps martial-art films are even more exclusive. This is not the type of film everyone would enjoy, but one cannot deny that it is extremely well made. (I am not much of a martial-arts fan myself.) One must remember that these films do not cater so much to realism as they do to spectacle, and this is where House of Flying Daggers is a sure-fire hit. The plot is relatively simple. A police officer, in order to find the leader of the Flying Daggers vigilante group, pretends to rescue one of its members and lead her to safety. There are twists along the way, but like a Japanese haiku, this Chinese film revels in the poetic simplicity of its plot. Of equal—if not even greater—importance is the sensory experience with which the moviegoer is constantly indulged, from magnificent arrays of color to spellbinding auditory sensations that underlie fight sequences and love scenes alike.

Crash – **½
This small-budget, big-name feature weaves together several tales of racism in a failed attempt at both poignancy and social-awareness. Unfortunately, good intentions and competent filmmaking do not salvage the film from its otherwise forced nature. At times, it can be downright trite. The biggest flaw stems from the characters themselves, most being simultaneously underdeveloped and extreme in their prejudices. Though such closed-mindedness certainly (and sadly) exists in our society, the film thereby lacks resonance with its audience, taking viewers to a level more jarring than compelling, more caricatured than convincing. I will admit, however, than I am not a big fan of movies that seek an emotional response by delving into “nitty-gritty realism.” These films tend to show how basically everything in life is tragic and crap and nobody is really happy when it comes down to it and anything that looks positive is either a mirage or a show. This film isn’t quite that extreme, but it’s close.

The Upside of Anger – *½
I almost gave this movie two-stars, but I just couldn’t do it. Despite relatively strong acting, the story and flow of the film are terrible. Joan Allen stars as the mother of four young women, her husband presumably having run off with his secretary. Kevin Costner is her near-alcoholic, retired-baseball-player, radio-DJ neighbor. As one might expect, the two find on-again-off-again companionship with one another, Allen being the uptight, often-hateful lush, and Costner being the playful, charmingly-mediocre drunk. Apparently the film is meant to take place over three years, which is probably the first mistake. Every couple of scenes takes you months ahead with no apparent rhyme or reason. Nobody ages (even the teenagers), nobody changes his/her hairstyle, nobody does anything of much importance. The film is chock full of scenes, characters, and subplots that have absolutely no significance or relevance to the whole whatsoever. In fact, throughout the film, the youngest daughter works on a class project that is clearly meant to parallel the theme of the movie itself. But given that the film takes place over three years, what kind of class project is this!?!? It’s ludicrous! There simply comes a point when the viewer must ask, “So what’s the point here?” There does not seem to be an answer.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Potpourri No. 4

Not long ago, I prophesied that with the end of the semester, my blogging frequency would increase. So far, no good. Oh well. There are reasons. Number one is that Babycakes is currently off-work. We’re enjoying one another’s company as much as possible, which means I am not sitting idly in front of a computer screen for a large part of my day. I’m also getting a lot more non-Internet reading done, which is probably a good thing for both my eyes and my faux intellectual prowess. Nevertheless, as I’m out and about, I try to keep track of anything that feels blogworthy. Nothing deserving of a full-length post has come up lately, but I have had a number of mundane observations. Among them:
  • 2006 calendars are already on display at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t look at any of them, but is there really a reason to be buying one already? It would only make sense if they actually start in June 2005 or something crazy, which wouldn’t necessarily surprise me. Not that long ago, 16-month calendars were pretty normal. But do we need something that goes longer than that? We’re talking wall calendars, people, not a day-planner that you’ll probably want to refill eventually anyway. Of course, if you never bought a 2005 calendar and you’re looking for one now, you might as well get one that takes you more than half-a-year, but is there really that big of a market for such people? I guess there must be. It just seems goofy.
  • You may not think about it, but when buying a car, you really should consider how your state’s license plate will or will not clash with the color of vehicle you are purchasing. The other day, I saw a lime-ish green Volkswagen Beetle with a foresty-green Colorado license plate. It looked horrific. With “road rage” being all the…well, rage…these days, it may be best to avoid color combinations that more-or-less solicit a desire in others to see your automobile completely destroyed. In my opinion, anyway.
  • Yet another idiosyncrasy of mine—when I eat Chinese food, I sincerely do not like to choose my own fortune cookie. I prefer everyone else in my party take a cookie first, or that someone other than myself pass them out (and thereby decide everyone’s fate). I know it’s silly, but I don’t want to be responsible for which fortune people get, including myself. Not that I think fortune cookies have any cosmological bearing, and not that most fortune cookies even bear an actual fortune (which annoys me—you generally end up with advice cookies). Still, the responsibility is too great. (What would Dr. Phil say about this?)
  • Without further ado, I hereby present my latest blog, In the Key of Orange. Don’t worry, this is not the type of blog to require a great deal of time from its readers. This is a very casual blog dedicated purely to music. The majority of posts will be relatively short, consisting of a brief reader survey or of a quick list (e.g. My Top Ten Favorite Bands, though usually something more interesting, I would hope). As hardly anyone in the world doesn’t appreciate music, I hope to get a lot of participation on this blog. Please, please, please give it a look and contribute often. As music is such a big part of my life, I believe I can easily keep this blog updated. Still, I will not move too quickly, so you should always have plenty of opportunity to chime in on any post. I have added a link to my sidebar. Let me know what you think.
The end.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pulling the Philosophical Finger

As a wannabe philosopher who loves to laugh, I find the concept of humor quite intriguing. I would even argue that comedy is a form of philosophy. But in what sense? From one person to the next, you never know what someone will consider funny. Furthermore, humor takes on various forms, from wit to sarcasm to slapstick. One might delight in all of these, but is there a common thread? When I was rather young, my dad told me that humor was the result of the unexpected. I found this definition lacking, however, when my impromptu “hello!”s during dinnertime prompted absolutely zero laughter from my family. Issuing salutations, however helter-skelter I may have been about it, did not equate with good comedy. Unexpected, yes. Funny? Not in the least.

But I do believe one key ingredient underlies all instances of humor, namely that of contradiction. One of the most common elements of comedy is misunderstanding, whether it be a case of mistaken identities or two people unknowingly carrying on a conversation about two very different things. Regardless, there is an inherent contradiction that makes the situation funny. Innuendo basks in the contradictory meanings that simultaneously inhabit a set of words. Slapstick caricaturizes natural responses to physical pain and distress, thereby creating a contradictory image that extorts laughter from the perceiver.

Many people believe that the funniest things are those that are most accurate. “It’s funny because it’s true!” is a familiar adage in our society. Satire, parody, impersonations—these forms of comedy are most successful when truth and realism are closely approximated. But I argue that contradiction is still at the root of such humor. An impersonation is funny because we know it’s an impersonation—there is a contradiction between truth and appearances. When we laugh at something “because it’s true,” we generally laugh at the absurdity that is being brought to our attention—the way we are prone to overreact to things that are either absurd or, in the end, not big deals at all. In other words, our own mental states and behavioral attitudes often contradict reality, and we find it quite amusing when this truth is brought to our attention.

Of course, I’ve yet to figure out why potty humor is loved by so many. I cringe when audiences break into hysterics over the asinine movie previews being shown at the multiplex. There are occasions when, whether or not I find it humorous, I can at least understand why someone might laugh at crude or bawdy humor. For example, the guy in the movie may struggle with uncontrollable gas while facilitating a very important business meeting. The contradiction lies in the man’s inability to maintain polite social customs during a situation that so rigorously demands it. But, all too often, brainless humor runs rampant. No contradiction is necessary. Any fart will do. Why is this? I think maturity is a large part of it. On the most simplistic level, farting and burping are social no-no’s, and therefore their presence is automatically a contradiction of social standards. Thus, from that simplistic mindset, humor automatically exists. As we mature, we require contradictions to be more eloquently presented. We know that farting exists and we know that it is socially taboo to break wind in public, and therefore the juxtaposition of these two facts does not stir in us delight.

That being said, are any of you familiar with “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship”? It is supposedly a recurring skit on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show. I don’t watch his show, but I did catch this particular skit once and I found it hilarious. The premise is that they take various television clips (from the news, talk shows, etc.) and, as one might expect, needlessly censor them in such a way as to create the illusion of explicitness. My 16-year-old niece was too mature to find these funny, but if you can handle the insinuation of extreme profanity and vulgarity, these clips will be right up your alley. The final one is meant to be a “best-of” for the entire year and is easily the most explicit. Should you even wish to attempt these, please watch the first one first, then decide if you'd like to continue!


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Poophead - Who Knew it Was a Compliment?

In an effort to celebrate the end of the school year, I thought I’d write about knowledge. Funny enough, if you type “knowledge” into Thesaurus.com, one of the synonyms with which you will be provided is “poop.” I can’t say I’m overly surprised, as this has been a suspicion of mine for quite some time now. I am happy to know that I am not the only one who believes that scholarly creativity is very much akin to bullcrapping, that blessed skill which I cherished throughout high school and, admittedly, many a times in college. As I’ve worked my way through “higher education”, I have become more and more convinced that bullcrapping and creativity are, if not one and the same thing, then nearly-identical twins. After all, what is bullcrapping but the ability to make crap up and then eloquently support it? Isn’t this what creativity is? In fact, I dare say that a talented enough person could, prior to examining any source material, devise a paper topic and, upon viewing the source material, produce a captivating article that ties the two together.

For example: several months ago, Babycakes and I had plans to hang out with my sisters. When we arrived at my older sister’s apartment, they were watching an Elvis Presley film that happened to be on cable. Though it was nearing the end of the film, I soon began commenting on its blatant homosexual overtones. This was a joke, of course, but as the movie went on, I found more and more evidence to support my theory, namely that the movie dealt with Elvis’ struggle with same-sex attraction. Needless to say, if I invested the necessary time, I’m sure I could produce a half-decent essay entitled, “The Homoeroticism of Girls! Girls! Girls!” But so what? Apparently, you needn’t even be human to concoct such poppycock—just check out this recent post by Johnny-Dee. Like Johnny-Dee, I find this “very humorous” indeed.

So, should you be the type of person to find faux intellectualism (whether detected as such or not) extremely enjoyable, here is an idea for your next soiree: as guests arrive, hand each of them a small scrap of paper. Have half of them write down the general theme of a potential academic paper (e.g. the effect of poverty on crime, sexual discrimination in the workplace, etc.), and have the other half write down the name of a fairly well-known film. Mix the movie titles in one hat and the paper topics in another hat. Once everyone has arrived and enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres and small talk, have guests take turns randomly pulling a piece of paper from each hat. That person then has to argue, as persuasively as possible, how the two things “naturally” coincide. You’ll get gems like “Marxism in The Wizard of Oz,” “Peter Pan and the Oedipus Complex,” and so on. And if you’re not throwing a shindig, you can still try this quite informally with as little as two people. Just have each person come up with one of the two topics and, once both persons are ready, say them aloud. I tried this with my sisters just the other day, and it was generally quite surprising how much potential seemed to exist in the combinations we came up with. If you try this, I can guarantee you one thing—once all the laughter has died down, you’ll be pooped.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Know What I Meme?

The school year is finally over. My Greek final wasn’t so bad because I didn’t expect it to be good. It worked out about as well as could be expected, and though I hadn’t gotten less than an A- on any other assignments or tests during the semester, my final grade is a B+. Once I finished the final, this is the exact grade I expected, so I guess I’m fine with it. I knew my performance was mediocre enough that my grade would be affected, but I felt decent enough about it not to expect too big a dip. In Latin, I got an A, which is also what I’d expected. My other two grades (Deductive Logic and Women in Ancient Greece & Rome) have not yet been posted. Up until I took the finals, I would have expected an easy A in both of these classes. Now I’m a little bit iffy. I made a decent blunder on the Deductive Logic final, one that could hurt me enough to drop me to an A-. As for the Women class, I didn’t study enough for the final and ended up answering several questions kind of half-heartedly. Either way, I think it’s impossible for me to get less than an A- in both classes, so I won’t complain. I’m just glad to be done.

In completely unrelated news, Kieran has compelled me to respond to something called a meme. From what I can gather, it is the blogging equivalent of those survey e-mails with which friends constantly bombard your inbox. You know the type: “Question #48: If you were a TV dinner, what kind would you be? Question #49: Would you rather drink sand or rubber cement?” and so on. Here’s how this particular meme works. Below is a list of hypothetical occupations. After you’ve cut-and-paste them to your own blog, you’re supposed to choose three of them and finish the thought (be it a sentence, a paragraph, or whatever). Apparently, you’re then supposed to “tag” other bloggers and force them to continue the meme (I don’t think there’s a rule with how many people you tag, but three seems to be the standard). Because most of the blogs I frequent have either already done this or are specialized blogs dealing with specific topics, I hereby tag Amie-J, Andy of Vermont, and Michèle. Still, I hope anyone who is interested and/or bored enough will go ahead with this. And most importantly, I hope they will enjoy it!

If I could be a scientist...
…I would be like Stephen Hawking. Well, not completely like Stephen Hawking, but I’d be a super-intelligent physicist as he is. I’d write profound bestsellers. My special area of interest would be time theory. I’d shed light on some of philosophy’s greatest questions, and perhaps I’d raise some new ones. I’d connect to God through the study of His work and feel constantly in awe. My curiosity would motivate me, but it would also be frustratingly insatiable once I realized the vastness of what I was studying. I’d probably get very little sleep.

If I could be a musician...
…I’d write the songs that make the young girls cry. Actually, I’d write songs that would make anyone with an artistic heart cry. And I’d write songs that would make everyone happy, too. I’d write all kinds of songs, and I’d sing them with unabashed passion. I’d play lots of instruments—guitar, piano, keyboard, drums. I’d want to be competent enough to sit down at any of them and have a good jam. And when someone else was sincerely touched by my music, I’d feel more understood and loved at that moment than at any other time.

If I could be an innkeeper...
I’d revel in a life of simplicity. I’d live in the Pacific Northwest and run a bed-and-breakfast type place and/or rent cabins. I’d enjoy meeting the tourists and I’d make sure they were well taken care of. I’d keep things quaint and charming. I’d love that my job afforded me the luxury of being home around my family most of the time. I’d read a lot. I’d close for the holidays. I’d be there to see my children grow up. And maybe I'd learn to garden after all.

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an innkeeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a circus clown....(by Greg)
If I could be a llama-rider...(by Ogre)
If I could be a bonnie pirate...(By Teach)
If I could be a servicemember...(By Jeremy)
If I could be a business owner...(By Blue944)
If I could be an actor... (By Blue944)
If I could be a rich girl... (By V)
If I could be a witch...
If I could be a racer...
If I could be an assassin... (by Sex)
If I could be a Muslim cleric… (by JL)
If I could be an appliance...(by kieran)
If I could be a super-evil-genius... (by kieran)
If I could be a TV dinner… (by Benny K)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

I Wanna Be Sedated

24 hours to go until I’m done with finals. However well or poorly I may do, it will nevertheless be over. This is a thought that thrills me to no end. As I’m sure most students know, there comes a point when everything once strived for—academic excellence, an impressive GPA, pride in the face of your instructors—all of it goes out the window. All that matters is finishing. Truth be known, it’s a good thing that this quasi-obliviousness sets in. It’s a defense mechanism, and a very necessary one. There simply comes a point when one can no longer bear the mental responsibility of actually caring. If I were to care at this point, all hope would be lost—my brain would simply implode. And that certainly wouldn’t help my GPA.

Alas, I look very much forward to 12:30pm, May 5th, 2005, the long-awaited moment of academic emancipation. Finally, I can turn some attention to those things that have sorely been missing from my life lately. Currently on the backburner:
  • Personal hygiene. At least as it relates to the cleanliness of my apartment, which currently makes me want to puke.
  • Reading for pleasure. Anyone paying attention to the sidebar will notice that the list of books I am “currently” reading has not changed for months. Well, get yourself a windbreaker, because the pages will soon be a flippin’!
  • Brainless entertainment. Okay, I’m already doing a decent job of squeezing this in. Part of my current mental breakdown includes unjustified homework/studying breaks to watch Space Ghost: Coast to Coast or Strong Bad e-mails at Homestarrunner.com. But, 24 hours from now, such activities will be adhered to with religious fervor. At least for a few days.
  • Singing. Not professionally, of course, but by golly, lately I’ve had a hankering to put on some good CDs and sing-along with giddy, reckless abandon. Living in an apartment makes such joyous exuberance a little less attainable, so I’ll probably have to borrow a car with a CD player or go to my parents' house when I know nobody’s home. Either way, it’s time to stock up on lozenges because these vocal chords are about to teach Gerber the true meaning of being strained!
  • Yet another blog. While Orange Theology has been no sweeping success, I nevertheless plan to unveil yet another blog. This one, however, will not be as serious, nor will it even be a blabbering type of blog (per se). Instead, I’d like to create a blog dedicated purely to music lists. For example, I might list my five favorite albums, quintessential songs of the 1980’s, etc. The posts will be quick and easy to read, nothing demanding or lengthy like you often see here. I will, however, hope for readers to share their thoughts (even country music fans). A regular installment will likely be a “this song vs. that song” survey, where I ask readers to share which song they like best out of two. (Out of curiosity, does anyone reading my blog think they’d be interested in seeing this?)
And so it is. As promised, I hope to up my blogging regularity soon. For anyone who is keeping track and is interested, my Latin final went well last Friday. I feel fairly confident that I got 100%, though this usually means I missed something really stupid and obvious. My Deductive Logic final, I know I botched up some things on. Plus, I ran out of time, as did most people from what I could tell. I was literally seconds away from completing it, but my teacher is a stickler and I chose not to test him when he told us to put our pencils down. I’m really hoping I can still manage an A in that class, but we’ll see…