Monday, November 22, 2010

Bullying on the Big Screen

You didn't ask, but I recently saw the film Never Let Me Go, and being the Pauline Kael of blogs that go unread, I thought I'd share a review.

***MILD SPOILERS (can't be too careful)***

Like The Road, Never Let Me Go has an ambiguous, science fiction backdrop that is referenced but never mapped out.

The film centers around an English boarding school deemed "special." We follow a small group of children as they tackle the travails of pre-teen, adolescent, and young adult angst; jealously, loneliness, crises of identity. It is as young adults that the characters watch these travails accelerate in messy directions.

What is refreshing is how these travails are depicted. Unlike those much loved 1980s teen flicks, Never Let Me Go showcases real adolescent jealousy and real pre-teen insolence. It is an adult look at the road to adulthood.

I suppose you could say those cartoonish 80s films are adolescent movies intended for adolescents, but then why on God's red Mars do so many adults lap them up? And not merely for nostalgia's sake. Unintoxicated grown-ups have told me that Trapper Keeper pathos was "the way it was." Really? I was a runt in a high school that wasn't a utopia, yet I never witnessed or experienced anything like the POW-style trauma those movies present as endemic to every high school in the country.

Never Let Me Go reminded me of an even better film that gets adolescence right: Let the Right One In. Let the Right One In showcases teenage bullying without the tired and contradictory motifs normally ascribed to silver screen bullies. Cinema bullies are usually thickheaded, soft-brained, and more vicious than a torturer with a hearing problem ("No really, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"). Yet despite being so, so, so very stupid (which is why they're soooo jealous of those big-hearted nerds who brim with inner-beauty!), these bullies are nearly omniscient in the way they always know exactly when to strike and precisely what everyone's innermost weaknesses are.

In reality, a good bully has to be fairly clever, or else he won't manage to keep his bullying from being detected. And bullies don't always play football. They don't all come from the wrong side of the tracks or the biggest mansion in town. Let the Right One In recreates the terror bullies inflict without portraying them as idiot gods.

While we're on the subject, if so many adults remember high school as being Lord of the Flies, why all the disbelief each time there is a school shooting? If 9th grade homeroom taught Alcatraz everything it knows, then bloody, unfocused retaliation should not continually catch the nation off guard.

Anyway, go see Never Let Me Go and Let The Right One In. And keep things in perspective. What you experienced in high school was a bad year of gym class, not the Rape of Nanking.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Still Ugly Duckling

Recently went on another Internet-begotten blind date, and must say I have never been on a date where it was so clear so quickly the woman didn't want to be there.

We met for a movie (first time I've tried a movie blind date. I'm sure there are warehouses of books advising against this), so we didn't have much time to feel each other out. Judging from her greeting, it wouldn't have helped if we'd had a lifetime.

Got off the train and strolled to the theater. The two of us arrived and recognized each other simultaneously. When she saw me, she didn't ask, "Are you Mike?" She asked, "Are you Mike?!"

This wasn't an inquiry. It was a confession of instant disgratification.

I don't know what she was expecting. As I've discussed before, my dating profile has an unimpeachably accurate photo, and fully discloses my unsightly stature. Who knows, maybe she was hoping I'd made a typo. What I'm saying here is my conscience is clean. This wasn't a bait and switch. I am not the Bernie Madoff of Internet dating.

Like I said, it was a movie date, so we had about ten minutes to chat before it started. Don't know about you, but I find it hard to get romantic traction going at a concession stand. It's a safe bet that the discussion of Twix vs. M&Ms has lead to no more than zero unplanned pregnancies.

The movie, a weighty number about preparing for premature death, also wound up being a poor choice. Never plan a date without doing plenty of research, gentlemen. Haste makes chaste.

After we'd hit the sidewalk and clumsily shared our thoughts on becoming maggot-chow, I said, "So, you want to grab a beer?"

Her response: "Welllllllll, oooo-kay."

Sure sounds like chemistry to me.

At that point I really should have intervened and said, "Look, it's okay if you go home. I won't cut myself."

But I didn't. My instinct is to always try and push through.

She lead us to an extremely happening bar. We ordered a round, and miraculously, started having a decent conversation. She had a wide range of interests and interesting things to say about them. The date seemed to be turning around. The Titanic was going to miss the icebergs after all.

The bartender queried about a second round:

Me: "Yes-"

Her: "NOOO, just this!"

Never have I seen a second beer so firmly rejected. If nothing else, she probably discovered she could launch a second career as an AA sponsor.

We left the bar and plodded to the nearby train station. We talked over each others' awkward goodbyes and insincere pledges to do it again sometime.

I remain confounded as to what this woman thought she was getting into. My dating profile contains no fine print, and she was old enough to know that frogs don't turn into princes. Maybe it's time I uploaded an audio file of me saying, "Ribbit, ribbit."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thinking Inside the Big Box

The dismal consensus among the dismal scientists is that we have nothing to deflate but deflation itself; deflation being the great evil that must be avoided at all costs!

Riddle me this: In this deflation hypothetical, the input costs of manufacturers would continually drop (thanks to forces like plunging commodity prices...a force we aren't seeing), allowing volume-driven juggernauts like Wal-Mart--the same juggernauts heralded by many of these anti-deflation hawks--to increase volume/potentially improve profits. So if the big box, "make it up on volume" approach is indeed the wisest business discovery of the last 30 years, why wouldn't an environment favorable to this approach be just what the doctor ordered?

For all the deflationist panic about falling prices sparking a "globalized Japan," where no one shops because constantly falling prices induce them to await the next price drop, we might consider that as of 2010, the world's most expensive city is Tokyo.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Unheralded Songs by Heralded Bands

"Hyacinth House" by The Doors

Not only is this song catchy and then some, it contains rock's only reference to vacant lavatories. That's right, the Lizard King actually sings "I feel the bathroom is clear." Spoken like a true late stage alcoholic.

"Across the Universe" by The Beatles

Even many Beatles aficionados seem to overlook this one. Can't imagine why. More haunting than "In My Life." More chilling than "Golden Slumbers." Yeah, I said it. You wanna make something of it, little doggie?! Well I don't, so pour yourself an absinthe martini and give peace a chance.

"(Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads

Not just an underrated TH song; one of the most underrated tunes in rock history. It was pushed as a single, but probably suffered from its association with Naked, their breakup album. Kind of like getting a threesome from your wife the night before she files the divorce papers.

"Not Now John" by Pink Floyd

The one highlight on their last album with Waters; the anti-Thatcher clunker The Final Cut. Should you ever find yourself stuck in a band you need to get fired from, you can't go wrong writing an album like TFC. Works better than a two week notice. Oh well, I still say "Not Now John" is a diamond in the rough. But not a blood diamond, mind you. Mr. Waters wouldn't stand for such a thing.

"2000 Man" by The Rolling Stones

Used memorably in the classic film Bottle Rocket, yet it has failed to incite the passions of rock fans. I don't have anything witty to say about this, so if you need a laugh, just picture Keith Richards trying to speak Chinese.

"A Quick One, While He's Away" by The Who

Talk about a song succeeding in spite of itself; wacky lyrics, hasty tempo shifts...all the makings of a prog rock Hindenburg. Yet I don't know of another tune in The Who's catalogue where each member shines so equally. The version I've linked is so thrilling you'll even forgive Daltrey for dressing like Pocahontas: The Burlesque Years.