Saturday, May 9, 2009

Read at Tribeca: Less Than Zero

I mentioned in my Tribeca recap that I'd burned through a lot of reading material in the rush lines. Included in that pile was the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero, a portrait of vacuous, drug-addled L.A. youth culture. One of the book blurbs calls Ellis a (more) modern Salinger, but I'd say he's more of a hipster Hemingway. His narrative is similarly constructed from stacks of simple declarative sentences and little bits of two-word dialogue. Interior life was addressed obliquely if at all, a technique that was either affecting or annoying. I still can't decide which.

While reading this I did feel the hollowness of Ellis' characters seeping gradually into my own moods, which is perhaps an elegant illustration of how easy it is to fall into that pit. I felt a weird relationship to them. I was happy that my life isn't nearly as fucked up as theirs, yet I envied their rock-bottom-ness. If that makes any sense.
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Country Wisdom: Friday, May 8

First of all, hello to friends of the Goots. Since my mom got wind of this blog, it's been shared proudly -- like a piece of digital macaroni art on the fridge -- and many of you have been very kind in your praise.

Several new readers mentioned the Country Widsom, which I take to mean that it's somewhat entertaining. I was starting to get bored of it, but the outpouring of support (literally pairs of messages!) has convinced me to continue. The new idea is, this will be a regular Friday feature that cites the most memorable Southernism from the previous week, along with any honorable mentions. (Southernism, by the way, is a term coined separately by two Goot friends; maybe a name change is in order too.)

But enough dilly-dallyin' -- y'all give it up for yer new Country Wisdom of the Week(s):

I'm gonna be busier than a set of jumper cables at a family reunion. [May 2-3]

Yeeeeeeeeeehaw! Now that is some good goddamn country wisdom. It rolls off the tongue. It's funny. It's offensive in that "you can't get away with this if you're not from the South" way. And it's an expression that's vastly improved with a lugubrious sheeeit appended to the front. That's always a bonus. I will be uttering these words in regular conversation within the next month. That is a solemn vow.

Other notables:
Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. [Apr 25-26]

(But most times, you and the bear passively avoid each other out of fear and mutual misunderstanding.)

He's so poor he can't afford tears to cry. [Apr 24]

(Thus explaining why it's so heartbreaking when a solitary tear rolls down someone's cheek. It's not just the sadness, but the level of poverty implied.)

She's as unwanted as a burnin' house. [Apr 29]

(Perfect for describing crazy ex-girlfriends. Also known as the "Left Eye" Lopez Principle.)

When asked if you're going to attend a party, you might say ...
Yep, if the good Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise. [Apr 30]

Them young 'uns can act so goofy you'd swear they were born on Crazy Creek.
[May 4]

(The two-for-one creek expressions special.)

If you're tired of repeating yourself, you might say ...
I don't chew my tobacco twice. [May 5]

(Don't think I could get away with this one, but I would definitely wet my pants if it was said to me. The speaker would definitely be a man with a chiseled jaw, a prickly five o' clock shadow and a comfortable relationship with physical violence.)

He's tighter than the bark on a tree. [May 7]

(Yessssssssssss! This was the exact expression I remember my grandma using, which I mentioned in my rationale for buying this calendar. Maybe there's hope for this thing yet!)

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Friday, May 8, 2009

My Star Trek Prediction

I heard our building security guys chatting about the movie earlier this week. These dudes are not Trekkies. $90 million, minimum.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lessons from Tribeca

I've just gone through my well-worn festival program and determined that I saw 12 films in 11 days. It was a gluttonous feast. And satisfying. While I didn't love everything I saw, there wasn't an outright stinker. (Wait, there was. But I've nearly forgotten it!)

Since this year was the deepest I've ever sunk myself in the event, I figure I should summarize some of the things I've learned (both to remember them myself and to help future TFF goers).

1. Consider a festival pass if you plan to binge. I jumped into Tribeca planning late -- about a week before it opened -- and most of the interesting movies (including anything with a name actor or director) were sold out online. I finished nearly two books waiting in rush lines. While there was something Zen and communal about that experience, I wouldn't sign up for it again. If you want to see a lot of festival movies, mark your calendar for mid-March and sign up for one of the multi-ticket packages that allow you to reserve seats before the general online sale date. The premium you pay for these (about $20 instead of $15 for regular single tickets) will be well worth the time you save. If you're an AmEx member, definitely take advantage of your early purchase privileges. Assholes.

2. Skip anything with an imminent wide release.
I didn't necessarily do this, and I wish I had. It just doesn't make sense to kill yourself getting into something at Tribeca when it's going to screen in a regular (probably half-empty) theater in a few weeks. For example, why did I endure a fruitless 90-minute wait for The Girlfriend Experience when it's out in New York on May 22? The only reason to see something like that at Tribeca is so you can be the douchebag who tells all your friends you saw it four weeks early. That's not a good reason. I'd look on Yahoo! Movies (or whatever source you prefer) and cross off anything with a release inside of three months.

3. Stick to documentaries and foreign films. This is part individual preference, part savvy analysis of the film market. First, the subjective. I feel like you go to a film fest to discover cool stuff you'd never see otherwise. To me that means the newest thing by the Turkish master of zombie horror. Or a portrait of the lives of truffle farmers. Not a quirky romantic comedy with second-tier American TV actors. Which leads to the second point. Among indie movies trying to promote themselves in spring, Tribeca is third in the festival line behind Sundance and SXSW. The projects with the best pedigrees have already been skimmed off the top. Tribeca will still have some fun American stuff, but why cast about for the one decent title among 10 duds? I suppose the pecking order affects foreign and documentary fare as well, but the Hollywood popularity contest seems more strongly in play with the U.S. narratives. That said, my favorite movie this year (TiMER) was a quirty romantic comedy with second-tier American TV actors. So maybe you should ignore everything I've said.

Finally, allow me to suggest a bit of Tribeca etiquette. This has less to do with your enjoyment of the festival than improving the collective experience.
  • Cutting is a reality in the rush line. I wish the Tribeca organizers policed this to ensure complete fairness, but since that's never going to happen, I encourage all festival goers to limit place-holding to one or, at most, two friends. Letting in three or more is just egregious. To the few people who did this, I have no doubt that karma will catch up with you and it will be a bitch.
  • If you have extra tickets that you can't use, do the right thing and donate them or sell them to the front of the rush ticket line (or, in the case of selling, the first person willing to pay). Sure, you could walk down the line and play Santa Claus with the guy who looks like your brother or the girls in cute tank-tops, but that's a real kick in the balls to the person who's been standing there for two hours at the front of the line. A little decency goes a long way.
See you in 2010!

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Tribeca: TiMER

First of all, I want to dedicate this review to my friends Kelsey and Laura, who waited in the rain for this movie but then let me join them late and take the last rush ticket ahead of them. Wow, writing that out makes it sound way more heartless than it seemed at the time. Anyway, they are awesome.

Now, to the rambling introduction after the unnecessary preamble. In the course of 11 days of Tribeca movie binging -- not just seeing a bunch of films but talking about them in the rush lines, with friends, etc. -- I've become sensitive to the powerful, I would argue primary, role of expectations in your moviegoing experience. Before the festival there were two films that I thought I was sure to love: The Girlfriend Experience (Soderbergh + call girls) and American Casino (shadenfreudish polemic against banking greed). Thanks to the frothy buzz accompanying the first title, I wasn't able to see it (expectations can be contageous). I did get into American Casino and found it ... average. It was well done, made some interesting points; it just didn't blow me away.

On the other hand, one of my favorite screenings was a Russian shoot-'em-up called Newsmakers that I saw on a complete whim. (I'd planned to see Transcendent Man but got cold feet about a brainy doc full of deep thoughts.) Newsmakerswas not an exceptional film, but it was pulpy and brisk and just what I needed at the time. I'd describe it as a Russian Die Hard; it had that same cheesy but endearing quality. However, if I'd gone back in time and told myself it was an awesome Russian Die Hard before the screening, non-future-me would have grumbled over the insane holes in the plot, the buffoonishly inept special ops soldiers, the evil bureaucrat's Act 3 awakening of conscience. I would have left the theater deflated (not to mention deeply suspicious of my future self's integrity and possibly time travel in general). It's all about expectations.

What does this have to do with TiMER? This is the Tribeca movie I enjoyed probably more than any other, and it's because I was certain it was going to butcher its story in an unspeakable way. I'm going to quote the entire short description from the Tribeca program:

  • Finding true love is easier than ever thanks to the TiMER, which counts down to the exact time people meet their soul mates. Love-starved Oona (Emma Caulfield, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is pushing 30, but her TiMER hasn't even started counting yet. Worse, she's falling for a guy who's set to meet his true love in four months. This smart romantic comedy leaves behind the burning question ... would you want to know?
Intriguing, no? But when you think about it a second, this is the type of high-concept premise that invariably leads filmmakers astray, especially in comedies. Kelsey compared it to Freaky Friday. I prefer to call it the Idiocracy principle. It states, when you start with a crazy idea, you're tempted to make a crazy movie. You end up with cheap laughs, unrelatable behavior and lots of silly, antic scenes that lead nowhere. That's what I expected here; if this hadn't shown up in the top-10 in audience voting, I never would have waited in line for it.

TiMER never falls prey to the high-concept traps. It takes its weird alternate world, in which everyone wears wristbands that tell them when to fall in love, and fills it with utterly human characters who react the device in believable ways. They feel like people you just saw at the coffee shop down the street. The script is ballsy and precise, boring relentlessly into the paradox of dating: We want the excitement and mystery of finding a partner but not the risk of getting hurt. The movie asks us to consider, if we experienced neither of these feelings, would we miss them?

One climactic exchange gets at the heart of the issue. A TiMER-less guy attempts to profess his devotion to the very pragmatic, lovelorn heroine. "What do you want from me?" he asks.

She says, "I want a guarantee."

It's a chilling moment. What person who's spent even a few weeks on the dating scene can't relate to her character. The soulless system of quasi-arranged marriage wrought by the TiMER no longer seems preposterous; it almost seems desirable. That's the near-impossible trick this movie pulls off. Its exotic circumstances, instead of obscuring reality, bring it into sharper focus. The TiMER universe invites us to consider our own feelings about love and commitment from a different angle.

I also credit TiMER immensely for allowing its complicated story to unwind toward a messy, somewhat uncomfortable ending. The movie's power could have been skewered in an instant by a lazy deus ex machina. (This is very high praise from me; I usually nitpick movie endings to death.)

I just wish someone had told the filmmakers that In Good Company (another love story that surprised me pleasantly) had already used Iron & Wine's "The Trapeze Singer" as its bittersweet fade-out song. Still, when a movie's first glaringly unoriginal beat happens at the closing credits, you can expect to feel pretty happy about it.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Tribeca: My Dear Enemy

I went into this movie knowing it would remind me of my ex. It's a Korean film about two former lovers who are thrown together again in an all-day errand. My ex is half-Korean. I think it's impossible to properly evaluate a movie to which you feel such a personal connection. You end up thinking it's brilliant because of all the "Wow, that was just like me/us" moments. But those moments don't say much about the quality of the film. They just make you feel ... understood. Or soothed that what you went through was normal and universal. I don't know. I gave it a 5 (of 5) on my Heineken Audience Award ballot, but I'm not sure I could name three reasons why.

Maybe I'll give it a shot anyway:

1) It's a great premise. How many love stories have been told onscreen? Thousands? Tens of thousands? It's not easy to find a new way to do it, and this structure probably wasn't brand new either, but it was clever enough that I didn't feel like I'd seen the same movie 10 times before. The guy, charismatic but profligate, has borrowed $3500 from his estranged love and disappeared. A year later, she shows up to collect. Within 5 minutes, the dramatic tension is established -- she wants her money; he must find a way to get it -- and it keeps the story moving steadily without the need for crazy twists or subplots. The payback quest allows the couple's real story to emerge casually, almost unintentionally, since it's not burdened with driving the action. You're not sitting there waiting for the kiss/proposal/breakup. Instead you can enjoy each little clue into the characters' romance as it emerges. As a viewer, it keeps you in the moment without being completely bored.

2) The characters are really interesting. Never mind how I might or might not have projected myself onto him, the lead guy is undeniably fascinating. He's broke yet carefree. He wields an irresistible charm with women yet comes across as wholesome, almost asexual. He's confident yet nearly devoid of typical male pride or aggression. He suffers repeated insults and embarrassments yet remains preternaturally sunny. It's a unique sketch that defies easy interpretation. Do you dismiss him as a pompous grifter or take him at face value as a hapless dreamer? In struggling to assess this complex man, you come to sympathize with his one-time love, who finds herself in the same situation. Fiercely practical, she marches stolidly through the film with emotions gurgling just below the surface. As old feelings flare up and threaten to disrupt her purposeful but potentially lonely existence, she comes to embody the classic head-versus-heart debate. And it's a credit to the nuanace of the film that right up to the last minute you're not sure which side you're rooting for. You want both characters to be happy, but you're never sure how to make that happen. There are no easy answers.

3) It touches on universal themes. I've alluded to many of these already. How do you reconnect with a lost love? Should you opt for rationality or romance? How can a couple seem well matched and completely incompatible at the same time? These questions are addressed skillfully, without ham-fisted symbolism or stilted epiphanies. They're woven into an honest, well-told love story, a precious commodity in itself.

But the most interesting theme to me, and this is perhaps where my interpretation becomes overly clouded by personal history, is that of the modern woman confounded by the notion of inverted gender roles in a relationship. With the exception of his apparently extensive dating history, the male lead demonstrates no characteristics that would be respected as masculine. The woman, meanwhile, is strong, silent, stoic, practical, career-oriented. She's successful and holds down a respectable job. He relies on flirtation (and even, it is implied, semi-coerced sexual availability) to get by. It is not a huge leap to see their circumstances as A Streetcar Named Desire in reverse (though the outcome of this movie is far different). While the woman wrestles with a number of misgivings about rekindling the relationship, this is clearly one of them.

The woman, dejected over unknown troubles at the beginning of the movie, finds herself buoyed by the man's nurturing and emotional support. However, the man's situation -- penniless and imprudent in business -- is cited (not so much by her as by secondary characters) as an impediment to any continuance of the relationship. During a conversation late in the second act, a group of characters agrees that a man must be wealthy and successful in order to keep a woman. At several earlier points, it is implied that the woman left originally when the man's business fortunes went south -- a charge she accepts and for which she expresses guilt. This seems to invite the possibility that she could get past those hangups this time around. Nor does she seem particularly drawn to the idea of a traditional marriage, as illustrated by a scene in which she tenses in disapproval as an aggressive, high-powered man with whom they are drinking humiliates his wife. Nonetheless, the woman resists any overtures her old flame makes to reconnect and seeks to keep herself at a safe emotional distance.

Their relationship is portrayed as long and complex and would surely carry a lot of baggage besides his ability to act as breadwinner. Still, that issue lurks constantly throughout the narrative. Can a woman be truly happy playing the "man" in the relationship? What interests me about this is it's a dilemma I observe (or intuit -- it's not a thing that's often discussed) pretty regularly among successful, independent women I know in New York. Yet I rarely see the issue depicted in American media, except maybe played for macho humor (i.e. laugh at the pussy who's dependent on his high-earning wife).

I don't think this film set out to address this subject in any way, and I suspect the director would find most of my analysis preposterous. Hopefully he'd take it as a compliment to the story's quality that a random blogger can find deeply resonant themes that were never intended. If not, he can at least be stoked about the 5 I gave him.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Tribeca: Don McKay

Last year, when I was coordinating Tribeca coverage for Time Out, I asked then-Film editor Melissa Anderson to write up a guide to choosing the good films based on their synopses (usually about 75 words in the festival program). She produced a wry little do's and don'ts piece, one of which was something like, "Don't see anything with the words cancer and comedy in the same description."

After watching this film, please allow me to affirm that statement.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tribeca: My Last Five Girlfriends

A quick word on my selection methodology for my Tribeca films: It was pretty random. I read through a booklet the listed the synopses and circled things that sounded interesting, but I wasn't real choosey because I'd already resolved that I wanted to see a lot of stuff. For instance, I thought this movie sounded cool because it's based on a book by Alain de Botton, which is weird since I've never read anything by de Botton and hardly know anything about him. Did I read some complimentary thing about him that lodged itself in my subconscious? Is it just the "de" in his name? Is it because the book is called On Love and I'm a sucker for Enlightenment-era titles that begin with "On"? Who knows? But to the movie I went.

One thing I didn't consider beforehand is that in a movie called My Last Five Girlfriends, which is actually about a guy's last five girlfriends, there's a hell of a lot of exposition to plow through. Like, half a movie's worth. The director also seemed to realize the conundrum posed by shitloads of exposition, in that he emptied out damn near every trick in his bag trying to slog through all the girlfriend histories and not lose the audience in the process (or maybe he thought those were the point of the movie -- I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt). In a weird way it seemed to free him to try any technique or gimmick he'd ever thought of putting in a movie. Montage of scenes acted out by Barbie-ish plastic dolls? Great, let's open with that. A Gondry-esque giant shoe lurking as weird expressionistic symbol in the background of an entire sequence? Save it for girlfriend four!!! The director said beforehand that he was really able to make the movie he wanted. What I think he meant was, I was really able to throw in every idea I've ever written in my notebook. And, boy, did it feel great to cross them all off at once!

Anyway, it was a solid 40 minutes (or more) before we could settle into the crux of this guy's story, which revolves around the last girlfriend. Spoiler alert: It doesn't work out. So the guy is laid low, devastated. We've come to the end of his journey, lived through all these tribulations and disappointments and learned ... I don't know. Ultimately his story just feels hollow. Don't get me wrong, the girlfriend tales ring true as reflections of the modern dating experience and the final gf story is sweet at times, but the director seems reluctant to dive into the emotional core of this guy's problems. He's more concerned with making it safe for us to chuckle at him: observing the guy with a detached, lighthearted tone. The result is that we never feel all that invested in what happens to him. (It doesn't help that the boyfriend character is an unlikeable grouch; I think the actor aimed for "flawed but sympathetic" and overshot.)

The verdict: It's probably a good date movie -- innocuous and occasionally funny. Unless you're in a relationship that's failing in one of the ways depicted onscreen. Then go see Observe and Report.
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Tribeca: The Exploding Girl

The Exploding Girl is a delicate flower that is not so much a film than a Zen meditation on awkward teenage romance. I initially thought I would like this film more than I did. In the opening sequence a boy and a girl catch a ride home with a friend for some type of school break (spring?). The boy, obviously smitten with his co-passenger, inquires as to her boyfriend's plans to visit over break. The boyfriend won't be visiting, she says; he'll be too busy doing things with his parents. The boy nods and looks out the window, at which point the camera pauses on his close-up. The pause lasts a full two or three beats longer than your typical reaction shot at the close of a scene. It is a Meaningful Pause, allowing you to drink in many relevant themes from a very small exchange: the pain of the boy's unrequited feelings, the girl's doomed current relationship, the boy's timidity and resignation not to intervene, their mutual insecurity (hers shaded with an endearing naivete).

That was effective, I thought to myself. And I was encouraged because I find it's a promising sign when an artist knows how to wield a good pause. It shows confidence, maturity. He's not a slave to nonstopmotionlightssoundwhizbanglookatme bloviation. But here's the thing about the pause. It's really only effective when deployed amid bursts of meaningful action. You can't have a movie -- or a play, or a speech -- that's all pause. That's a still life. And that's what this movie was; it was all pause.

To the director's credit (and I do want to dilute my criticism because he was a bearded whisper-quiet sensitive type who seemed like he might shrink and burst into tears if you told him his shoe was untied), many of the pauses were compelling. Far more of them than had a right to be. The two leads, notably Zoe Kazan, owned their characters and put on a clinic of nuanced, silent, angsty expression. They could subtly emote like motherfuckers. But a collage of 20-second close-ups eventually runs out of steam (or never builds up any steam in the first place).

In fairness, I saw this movie under the exact wrong circumstances, rushing in from work after a busy day that started at 6am (a full three hours before my normal waking time) with a trek to Brooklyn to look at a crappy apartment. My ability to follow slowly building under-the-surface tension was not at its peak, but I think it's a bad sign when you doze off for a few moments and wake up to the same shot as before you closed your eyes, of the same character making the same blank, vaguely pained expression.

I do want to praise the director for his conclusion to the movie -- more specifically a magical final shot that was sweet, powerful, moving, everything you'd want. I can probably count on one hand the number of last movie scenes that I've actually liked, but this delivered the emotional fulfillment you want to feel right before the credits roll. And the shot -- it's not a twist or anything, but I don't want to give it away -- derives much of its poignancy from the total inaction and glacial pacing that precedes it. It's like if you're taking the interstate all day through Nebraska and suddenly you come upon an extended curve or a little rise, it feels like you're really hitting some terrain now. If this plot had a more severe arc, or a lot of raging emotional scenes, the tender moment at the end would have seemed ordinary, even precious. That would have been a shame. But there's a reason most people prefer skiing the Rockies to driving through Nebraska.
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Intro to Tribeca

Much as I'm sure you're enjoying the Country Wisdom, I'm going to give you a break (I'm thinking the CW might be more enjoyable if I decreased the frequency -- we'll see). The next week and a half I plan to bombard you with updates -- movie reviews, mostly -- from the Tribeca Film Festival, an event of which I've grown to be quite fond. I only started attending during my first year at Time Out New York, when I was privileged to get our free marketing passes one night and saw a double bill of the fabulous This is England followed by a not-terrible directorial debut from Entourage's Kevin Connolly (don't remember the movie's name).

Last year was less of an outright joy, in that I had hatched an ambitious plan to supercharge Time Out's TFF coverage ... to middling success. Besides catching a few interesting films, I was working 12-to-16-hour days and generally losing my mind over nonresponsive Tribeca organizers, petulant writers, intractable Web bugs and everything else. The event, or, rather, my overreaching scheme to dominate its coverage, served to concentrate and heighten the mounting frustrations I was feeling with Time Out and push me toward a righteously indignant point of no return. Immediately after it concluded, I began interviewing aggressively for other jobs, which led to my escape into the position I now hold, which led to a much greater disillusionment with work and media and the meaning of life, which led to a bleak pre-holiday doldrums that was almost certainly a mild depression (it runs in my family), which led to the current confused, conflicted, just-turned-30 crossroads in which I now find myself.

In a way I could blame Tribeca for launching me into a pre-midlife midlife crisis. But I'm not going to do that. Like I said, I enjoy the event. Our film critics at Time Out always carped about Tribeca and said the New York Film Festival screened much better films (which it inarguably does). They complained that Tribeca lets in too much stuff that's silly or vain or weird -- "indie" in the worst sense. I don't disagree, but I like Tribeca for those same reasons. I like that critics don't like it. To me there's a good-natured, big-tent vibe about Tribeca that I don't get from other festivals (except maybe SXSW). Sure, these movies may be flawed, it seems to say, but come on in, check them out and applaud these scrappy guys for making an effort. Even among the filmmakers who sometimes introduce the screenings there's a gosh-I-hope-you-like-it-ness that you're just not going to get from the auteur darlings of the critical film community.

So there's my paean to Tribeca (guys, you can Paypal my endorsement money to It's a little solicitous, a little disorganized, a little rough 'round the edges, but who among us isn't? It's a festival for the common man, and I dig it.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Country Wisdom: Wednesday, April 22

He's so bad he can make a preacher lay down his Bible.

I think we can all agree this one should be retired, in light of recent church improprieties.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Country Wisdom: Tuesday, April 21

If you're explaining something obvious for the third time, you might say ...
You're looking at me like a calf at a new gate.

Alternately, you might say ... You're lookin' at me like someone who's just heard someone say, "You're looking at me like a calf at a new gate."

You know, whatever works for you.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Country Wisdom: Monday, April 20

Mama is always so busy you'd think she was twins.

Yeah, I didn't post Friday or over the weekend, but those were about as lame as this one. Plus, my mom's a gemini so you could say she kind of is twins. If you're into that.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Country Wisdom: Thursday, April 16

When something is for certain, you might say ...
Is a frog's butt watertight?

(Sorry. Some are bound to be duds. And it's sad to see them using the PG version of R-rated expressions.)

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Close Call

Occasionally at work I listen to the All Songs Considered podcast (which led to a short-lived obsession with Carrie Brownstein, but I'll leave that for another day). This afternoon I was struck by the awesomeness of one of the songs -- head-bobbing and everything -- and I checked to see what it was. On the podcast this is harder than it sounds because the show is not divided into discrete tracks; you have to look at how much time has elapsed and guess at how far along you are in the song list that accompanies each episode. So I scrolled down and concluded I must be listening to ... Ryan Adams?!

Ugh. On the scale of unpleasant surprises, this falls somewhere between finding there's no prize in your cereal box and learning you're descended from Hitler (closer to Hitler). Imagine my relief, then, to discover that the song I liked was actually the next one on the list, by some indie band named Okkervil River. So, hurray, there's a sliver of hope for my coolness after all.

Here's the song:

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Country Wisdom: Wednesday, April 15

Owing to my recent trip to Mexico, this daily feature is off to a less than daily start. Also, it's so late after my unpacking that I'll be technically posting on the 16th, but screw it. If you expect professionalism, go read Gawker (or, rather, don't).

The calendar says (special tax day edition):
The revenuer knows more ways to take your money than a roomful of lawyers.

Things I like about this: (1) it has either invented a word -- revenuer -- or introduced me to one I've never heard before, so it's like a Word-a-Day and Weird-Phrase-a-Day all rolled in to one, and (2) there's no artifice to it whatsoever. Engaging a roomful of lawyers would be very expensive; it's just a fact. Whereas a lesser phraseologist might have been tempted to be clever "... more ways to take your money than a Palm Beach divorcee" or wacky "... more ways to take your money than a six-armed magician," this author has remained committed to the goal of unassailable truth, even at the peril of saying nothing very interesting.

The lawyer reference, while numbingly dull, does give me a chance to promote some upcoming material I hope to post within the next month. I shot videos with my parents in Mexico in which I ask them what I should do with my life. In one of them my mom and I debate whether she shamed me out of attending law school.

And since I missed a week, below are some of the Country Wisdom gems that were skipped:

If you're talking about someone who's a little worse for wear, you might say ...
Looks like he's on the backside of hard times. [Apr 14]

(Bears the distinction of using an expression in the set-up--"worse for wear"--that's pithier than the pithy saying itself.)

Just because a chicken has wings doesn't mean it can fly. [Apr 13]

(Probably usable in a looks-can-be-deceiving context, but it doesn't thrill me.)

There's nothin' like eatin' food so yummy that if you spill any on your chin, your tongue will beat your brains out tryng to get at it. [Apr 11-12]

(Again with the brain injury obsession. Though I like the image of my cerebral cortex oozing out my nostril to try to sop up a dribble of especially rich gravy.)

If that ain't the truth, then grits ain't groceries and eggs ain't poultry. [Apr 10]

(Don't know if it makes sense, but THAT's how I want my Country Wisdom to sound. I might pull this out at my next tech networking event. Random entrepreneur: "Facebook needs to find a business model soon." Me: "If that ain't the truth ...")

On excessive talking
She gets tuckered out from her own chin music. [Apr 8]

(Up to now, I've understood "chin music" to mean a baseball pitcher's throwing at a batter's face. That the same phrase could mean a brushback and a stream of conversation seems dubious, and I suspect it's just misused here.)

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A Surprising Discovery

I really fuckin' enjoy Berlin (the band, though I'm fond of the city too). I'll even post the song that led to this discovery. Judge away!

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Things I'm packing for my trip to Mexico

Acid-resistant jumper
Track jacket
Vest (Kevlar)
GPS rescue beacon
Last four months of Esquire
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (ironic value not intended--I just happen to be reading this right now)
500 Helpful Narco-Terrorist Phrases (Berlitz Series)

Who's ready for a carefree tropical escape?????
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Country Wisdom: Tuesday, April 7

Yeeeeeehaaaaaw! Unholster yer six-shooters. Grab yer butter churns. Defile yer cousins and do-si-do. Today is the opening salvo of America's soon-to-be favorite daily* funnybone-tickler: Country Wisdom. (For the verbose and self-involved recap of this segment's origins, read the previous post. Allow me to suggest, as well, that you read these posts aloud in your cheesiest Boss Hog accent. You'll enjoy them 428% more, or your money back.)

Today's calendar page says:
If you're talking about someone who's not too bright, you might say ...
If his brain was dynamite, he still couldn't blow his nose.

Now ... maybe I'm not too bright because I don't get it AT ALL. I guess it's an attempted play on blow your nose/blow up your nose. As in, if one's brain were dynamite, it should be easy to blow (up) one's nose. But like most of these, the analogy falls apart on closer inspection. If my brain were dynamite, would it actually be easier to blow up parts of my face? How would I ignite the dynamite? Is there now a fuse intertwined with my ear hair? And how would I even form an intentional thought to light the fuse, given that I have a cluster of explosives where my brain used to be? I'm imagining that would leave me in a pretty vegetative state.

Or is it that in the world of the dynamite-for-brains, blowing the nose should be the same as blowing up the nose? As though the violence of a massive snot expulsion would cast off intra-cranial sparks which, in a person of high intellect, would set off the brain dynamite. Whereas a person of lower intellect wouldn't have sufficiently combustible mental stuff to cause nasal obliteration. I guess that metaphor works, but you have to admit it's bizarre in the extreme.

Furthermore, none of these exporations adresses the fundamental paradox of a highly intelligent person, whether of normal or dynamite brain, choosing to blow up his face. Let's say I did find myself in the situation of having powerful explosives in my skull. Wouldn't it be a sign of mental acuity (or at least good judgment) to refrain from blowing up my nose--or anything else? In what kind of society are the leading thinkers required to prove their brainy bona fides through conspicuous self-combustion? If this species of person did exist, evolution would have weeded them in a couple of generations. Certainly they wouldn't have been around long enough to spawn a linguistic meme adopted by some tribe of proto-hicks and passed down for millions of years until it reached our beloved Page-a-Day calendar. And short of that, I can't imagine where this expression could have come from. I guess it's just one of life's mysteries.

*By daily, I mean whenever I think of it or want to do it. For instance, I'm leaving tomorrow for Mexico and probably won't maintain the daily schedule during that time. Unless my drug lord captors are into it; then I will spell out the address of my holding location using the first letter of each paragraph of of the post. I sure hope the U.S. Consolate in Mexico City is paying attention to this.

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Country Wisdom: The Origins

A quick observation about writing a blog: It takes a lot of work/creativity/motivation to maintain a blog. You blink and a month's gone by. (That last statement is also an early favorite for my tombstone epitaph. But I digress ... )

Country Wisdom is a feature I've wanted to add for a while; I was just waiting for the right day (see post above). It's based on a delightful Page-a-Day calendar I bought for myself last holiday season. Bearing the irresistible title Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit 2009, this datebook bills itself as a collection of colorful, folksy expressions for use in everyday conversation. It immediately appealed to me for two reasons (three if you count the title).

1. I want to speak like an 1890s farmhand. My grandma on my mother's side was raised on farms in Iowa and Saskatchewan, and she's always sprinkling her speech with these incredible old-timey sayings. They're quick and casual and steeped in agrarian metaphor. (About one of her miserly brothers she might say, "He's tighter than the bark on a tree.") If I could, I'd follow my grandma around and collect these phrases like snow globes. They're effortlessly descriptive and possessed of an easy charm you just don't find much in language anymore. Think of the expressions we've added in the last 25 years. "Tell me about your vacation. I want the full download." Just writing that makes me want to shoot myself. This calendar, I hoped, would give me the same linguistic gems as grandma without the fuss of a cross-country flight and questions about my marital prospects.

2. I want to recapture my Southern roots. Not that you'd know it from meeting me today, but I was born and raised in South Carolina. It wasn't exactly a Green Acres upbringing. My hometown is blandly suburban and full of Rust Belt transplants, and my parents are liberal West Coast hippies. Whatever Southern influences and dialects that did seep in during my SC years, I began extinguishing around age 12 when I decided I was moving away for college. (I didn't want to seem weird.) What no one told me is that Southern mannerisms come with their share of benefits. If you can get past everyone suspecting you're ignorant and racist, you'll find that Southern folk are also thought to be friendly, honest, polite, disarming, flirty, sexy and plain ol' fun to be around. (Fact: Pharma companies regularly target Southern fraternities and sororities for likable kids that can be molded into bubbly sales reps.) I carelessly tossed all this aside. But I figured with a little twang and some choice pearls of Page-a-Day farmin' wisdom I'd be ready to inherit my destiny as a gentlemen plantation owner for our times (or at least a guy who gets laid at Brother Jimmy's).

So I bought the calendar. I eagerly awaited the new year so I could start amassing my new kernels of chicken-fried wisdom. And here's what I got:

Flirtin' with a married woman is as safe as if you were in Abraham's back pocket and him fixin' to sit down. [Jan 3-4]

(Um, sure.)

You'll sit a long time with your mouth wide open before a roasted chicken flies in. [Jan 5]

(Can't argue with that.)

Gettin' a politician to do somethin' good for our country is like tryin' to poke a cat out from under the porch with a rope. [Jan 9]

(I guess. Do a lot of cat owners do this?)

The easist way to eat crow is while it's still warm, 'cause the colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow. [Jan 10-11]

WTF??? Now I'll admit, I didn't grow up in the deepest, backwoods part of the South, but it was still the South. (Our state museum used to sell pencils with the phrase "First to secede".) I've never heard anyone utter any of these things. Or anything close to these things. And why would they? The phrases don't exactly roll off the tongue. Plus they're weird and often nonsensical (roasted chickens don't fly!).

And it's not like the subsequent weeks brought a whole lot of usable material either.

If someone is acting like a martyr, you might want to say ...
Get down off that cross 'cause someone else needs the wood. [Jan 13]

(You know, for burning witches.)

On Living in Sin
Now there's a couple that ate supper before they said grace. [Jan 17-18]

(I wish people did say this one.)

If your child is stalling over doing a chore, you might want to say ...
Time to paint your butt white and run with the antelope. [Jan 29]

(Trust me, there are no antelope in the South. Maybe this was translated from Dr. Spock's Bantu edition?)

There are times in life when you're caught between an angry bull and an angrier bull. [Feb 13]

By this point it was clear that the original mission of the calendar--to augment my conversational arsenal with laser-guided smart bombs of country charm--was lost. And a new purpose had emerged: Entertaining the hell out of me.

Each day at work I rushed to my desk and yanked off another page, giddy to see what crazy shit the calendar held in store. On some mornings, I swear, this is the only thing that drove me to get out of bed and lope into the office. It was a reliable pick-me-up, like a new puppy ambling into your lap when you get home. So I thought, why keep this to myself? From here on out, I plan to post each day's expression and perhaps offer a little commentary, if it warrants. Not all of them are as uproarious as the snippets I've repeated above, but I've found some type of entertainment value in nearly every one. Plus, I'm hoping these semi-canned updates will get me more in the practice of adding to the blog.

So there you go. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why I Want to Get Married

Paul Rudd's voice mail message in I Love You, Man.

(And I know that's not a great reason. Hopefully the future Mrs. Goot never reads this blog.)
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Conversation With God

I gave up a while ago trying to describe what I do for a living. For everyone's sake I refer to it as "Web stuff" (also known as "Internet stuff"), and let the inquiring party form their own mental image of me in some converted loft space sipping cream soda, playing Space Invaders and recapping the latest Dimitri Martin skit with my fellow nerds in saggy chinos.

In any case my job requires me, in part, to cruise around the 'Net -- the triple-W, we sometimes call it -- and look for new or interesting features that we should steal for my company's sites. (The stealing works exactly how you'd think. We employ Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and a team of droll but highly specialized thugs to break into our competitors' facilities, cut a hole into their server vaults with lasers and surgically remove the precious microchips we need. Then they escape stealthily on jet skis.)

In the course of my investigations this morning, I came across a fantastic little time-waster called iGod. It's basically one of those artificial-intelligence language programs that holds a conversation with you by repeating snippets of what you say. Imagining one of these as an electronic portal to the Lord is pretty brilliant and way more entertaining than it should be. I just amused myself for 10 minutes with the following exchange:

Me: i had dirty thoughts
God:Do you still have dirty thoughts ?
Me: yes
God: Take it easy.
Me: i can't help myself
God: What is stopping you?
Me: nothing. it's so easy to have them.
God: Not a thing? Do you think robots can do it.
Me: maybe, but i doubt they would have such a vivid imagination. God: Perhaps. The anonymous "they".
Me: no, no i'm talking about the robots. keep up, God.
God: Are you serious? Are you serious? Yes, it is the topic. Chat amongst yourselves.
Me: whoa, don't get angry. no one needs to get struck down today.
God: Would whoa ever get angry? Ah. That is a rather sweeping generalization about people.
Me: are you speaking in the 8th dimension right now? I think it's true what they say, your wisdom is sometimes too great for mortal comprehension.
God: At this moment Yes, I am talking in the 8th dimension. they say my wisdom sometimes too great for mortal comprehension something.
Me: now you're just getting saucy with me. can we get back to my problems?
God: Why now? Do you think I should tone it down? Do you mean you and me? Check back later and see if I learn the answer to that one.
Me: Listen, Big Guy, you should tone it however you want. Sorry to have disturbed you.
God: I am listening to you. Compare that to small Guy me should tone it however me want. There is no need to apologize. Why do you want it?
Me: Did you almost just quote me a Tupac lyric? If so, I know heaven will be everything I always wanted.
God: No I didn't almost just quote you a Tupac lyric. What's it like? How do you know? Can you think of one instance where it never happens?
Me: It goes, How do you want it? And you said, Why do you want it? I guess they aren't so similar when you think about it. Your wisdom is unerring.
God: I believe I have heard that somewhere before. Oh my gosh I sent you the wrong reply. Maybe some of them are. Do you mind if I tell other people you say I am wisdom is unerring.
Me: Did you just turn this chat over to your 12-year-old daughter? Your mood swings are confusing the fuck out of me.
God: No I didn't turn this chat over to my 12 year old daughter. What's it like? I have no reason to do that to you, .
Me: What do you mean, what's it like? You're surprisingly unfamiliar with human experience, considering you're omniscient and all.
God: Sorry that was an obscure remark. I will tell my botmaster you said I am surprisingly unfamiliar with human experience considering I am omniscient and all.
Me: Now you're telling me God answers to a "botmaster"? The foundation of my beliefs is shaken beyond repair.
God: Why now? I will tell my botmaster you said I am telling you God answers to a botmaster. I have never heard about it.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bite-Sized Reviews: Once

Enjoy the soundtrack; skip the perfunctory star-crossed romance.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gastronomy of Garbage: Dunkin' Donuts Waffle Sandwich

I can't tell if I have no goals for this blog or too many. Among the goals I may or may not have is to become America's foremost critic on junk food. My qualifications:

* I eat a lot of junk. When I think about the portion of my diet that's produced by discount chains, it feels like a personal failure. My parents would weep. But shit happens - might as well make the most of it.
* I recognize good food. I grew up in a foodie family. I consume and appreciate haute cuisine; I just don't feel compelled to enter the rat race of 20 billion writers and critics and bloggers jostling to find the right bon mot to describe David Chang's latest pork preparation. Many people do this well; far fewer -- and none that I know of -- are willing to offer the same attention to the crappy, pre-frozen end of the dining spectrum. Which leads to my final advantage.
* I don't condescend to the product. This is the most important trait. Kudos to those people with the time, money and/or commitment to eat only grass-fed, humanely slaughtered meat and organic, fresh-off-the-farm produce. Most of us eat crap sometimes. We know it's not made from quality ingredients. We know it will make you obese if you have it too often. But we eat it, and like anything else we eat, some of it tastes great and some tastes awful. To me the Big Mac is a delicious burger. The Angus Third Pounder (ironically, marketed as a more refined product) is an atrocity. Within the realm of highly processed, systemized, machine-prepped food offerings, there's no reason we can't separate the triumphs from the catastrophes. And there's no reason I shouldn't be the man to do that.

With that typically brief introduction, I'm here to comment on a newcomer to the scene: the Dunkin' Donuts Waffle Breakfast Sandwich. I won't even leave you in suspense. The thing is fantastic. It follows the evolutionary path that can be traced back through the McGriddle, the bagel sandwich, the croissant sandwich, the biscuit sandwich and, if you want to be expansive about it, any Lumberjack's or Hungry Man's breakfast that's ever been served at any diner in America.

If Zeus needed a hangover cure ...

It combines the salty crispness of the breakfast meat with the fluffy sweetness of the breakfast griddle and wraps them around the timeless morning ballast of the egg. While the flavor combination is tried-and-true -- a near-Platonic ideal of the Western breakfast -- the Dunkin' offering takes it a step forward, distilling the heavenly taste triad into its most concentrated on-the-go essence. What separates the DD Waffle Sandwich from similar attempts at maximizing the meat-egg-bread trinity, notably the McGriddle, is its ability to be simultaneously doughy and light, like a fine bread pudding.

A staunch gourmet might prefer to see a greater crisping on the outside of the waffle, for textural contrast. I almost prefer its uniformly squishy mouthfeel (I often enjoy things less al dente than is officially prescribed). I also like the way the pliable little delicacy instantly conforms to whatever grip you apply to it, as if daring you to squeeze it into a ball and shove it down in one sweet bacony bite. (And I encourage any YouTube exhibitionists to do this and post the results.)

In short, the Dunkin' Waffle Sandwich may represent the very pinnacle of the breakfast sandwich form. I don't know where we go from here. Perhaps if a new generation of food scientists invented a way to enwreath the egg layer in an atoll of ketchup-infused tater tots, we'd have a superior morning option. But I fear that's like me hoping for my great-grandsons to develop the ability to fly. Until that leap of unexpected innovation, I'll be shoveling down as many of DD's waffly morsels as my cholesterol will allow. Thank goodness my Dunkin' franchise is 24 hours.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Smoking Kills, and Creatively

Now, I like schadenfreude as much as the next guy, but I try to draw the line at laughing over legitimate tragedy and human suffering. Then you see something like this -- a headline I noticed on some building's news scroll while walking to work -- and it's like the universe is testing your moral character.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

This is a blog

I don't know why, but somehow I feel the need to begin this blog with an announcement of its creation. This seemed really clever and logical a week ago when I was thinking: Your life sucks; maybe you should start a blog. But now it's clear that such a statement is weird and pointless. The mere existence of this post is itself an announcement of the blog's being. I could have written about ponies or Lost mythology or Fantasy Football sleepers and not this meta bullshit about how I have a blog but you already know I have a blog because you're reading the blog. It would be like a baby emerging from the birth canal and chirping, "Hi. I'm a baby." Which would be notable only because, holy fuck, a baby is talking and also because it apparently feels a unique sense of self as distinct from the world around it. Our surprise wouldn't be about the information conveyed in the statement ("I'm a baby") but in the implied level of cognitive advancement of said child. Which would be crazy, Tin Drum-level shit.

Perhaps that's a more appropriate analogy than I even intended. I'm not telling you anything interesting here ("I'm starting a blog"), but perhaps I'm demonstrating a flair or precocity in the telling that makes you want to see more. To follow the development of my wee baby blog as it grows into a vigorous, fully realized media empire.

Or collapses under the weight of extended metaphors.
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