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Monday, September 28, 2009

Jarret's Frank Film Forum (FFF) -- A Review of "Chicago"

September 28, 2009: I've long known I'd make an excellent film reviewer, but since no one has asked me -- and heretofore my voluminous opinions have been squandered on a polite but distracted general public I tend to find cornered in video stores -- I thought it perfect to bring my cinematic wisdom to this Blah-ugh! forum and start setting the record straight about some of mankind's more noteworthy movies.

I thought I'd begin with "Chicago" (2002) -- a saucy but over-produced musical that relies heavily on the ghosts of Bob Fosse (and even Ben Vereen, who may or may not be dead) to carry what often felt like an excuse to get Catherine Zeta-Jones on film in her black stockings before she blew up like a balloon from child-bearing. Don't get me wrong -- I kind of liked it (even though I watched the better part of it on fast-forward). In particular, I found the "They Both Reached for the Gun" number mesmerizing, with Renee Zellwigger (or whatever the hell her name is) proving a perfect dummy, and Richard Gere demonstrating quite impressively that his fine singing is a far better feature to his persona than that gruesome genitalia he's forever displaying on film. (Of course, I could never really bash someone who works so hard on humanitarian causes as he does, and that fact alone makes his genitals that much bigger in my eyes!)

Zellwigger, meanwhile, (or someone close to her) must answer for what has happened to her once-cute face. She looks like she was stung repetitively by bees. It's very disconcerting, and I only hope that whatever she's allergic to, she'll stop eating it immediately.

Still, despite her strangely squished face, she carried herself admirably through this picture. In particular, the last number where she dances with Zeta-Jones, she inadvertently steals the show, making the Welsh beauty's jerky, haphazard efforts seem like she's the senior member of a mother-daughter act. Please understand, I think Zeta-Jones is a particularly great actress, but this vaguely self-serving effort was a slight embarassment, and her time might have been better spent staying in and spoon-feeding her increasingly decrepit senior husband. I was reminded of the awful dance moves put on by Natalie Wood in "West Side Story," and how the hype of Hollywood sews the Emperor's New Clothes and erroneously convinces us who's "good." (Fosse would have slapped his forehead good and hard over her performance.)

Lastly, simply by virtue of her awful name, "Queen Latifah" shouldn't be allowed on a marquee, and while her voice is considerable and strong, her acting is so wooden I had a hard time differentiating between her and a desk in the same scene.

All told, it's okay, but mostly I'm glad I watched it so that I won't have to watch it again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Nakedness of Nature

September 24, 2009: Another post due, I turn to last week's overnight camping experience with my son's scout troop.

Please understand, much as I might feign the manly guise of the rugged New England boy -- (and I know many of you see me as being the zenith of strapping manhood, and I appreciate that) -- alas, I am in actuality but a frail example of modern man, strung to the numbing comforts of his technological life-support systems like a moldy yard dog tethered to his post. So to send me out into the cold woods of upstate Connecticut, regardless of the related good cause, is somewhat akin to pouring an innocent fresh-water guppy into a sour salt-water tank.

The carryings-on of the more demonic scouts aside -- the distasteful habits of the more military-minded fathers, including the one who went for laughs by passing gas at the dinner table -- it was all ultimately a positive growth experience for my offspring, and therefore for me (since I'm so codependent). It was a unique opportunity to practice patience and tolerance, to find a chance to be of service, and to -- at least for a few moments here and there -- pretend that I was something grander and more savage than the meek, wiley little city slicker I am.

The real test came at night, when it got dark. It got really dark. It was bizarre. I didn't know they still made darkness that dark. I felt constantly for the little flashlight in my pocket like it was my drugs (were I still doing them). I began to wonder what would happen if I dropped my keys, or my chapstick. This was the real wild. It wasn't for me. I'd progressed beyond this. I was too civilized. I'd evolved beyond this, as sensitive men are wont to do.

Late night didn't bring sleep, but there were a terrifying variety of strange sounds bubbling throughout the camp. Our scout leader snored incessantly, and the baritone echo rumbling across the small meadow made me sure at one point that a black bear had entered the area and was foraging about for the remains of our pork-and-bean dinner. Around 2 a.m. I thought I heard a cougar -- that awful hissing snarl so familiar to anyone's whose been chased by one. He crept stealthily into camp and began considering who to eat first. I held my breath, re-experiencing that faux defense mechanism of childhood, wherein you hold your breath and pull your feet close, hoping therefore the enormous mountain lion won't be able to rip your tent open and chomp your skull. Several minutes later, however, I realized it was someone pulling their tent zipper open and shut, so that was a relief. Yet another disaster averted. Still, I kept my feet close, as well as my flashlight and chapstick.

It wasn't all bad, of course. At five a.m., stumbling my way through the site to the latrine -- (I'd had to go all night, but was trying to be rugged) -- I got to see a wealth of clear white stars speckling the sky. I stood observing them for a beautiful breathless minute, until I realized I was literally standing on the corner of someone's tent. I scuttled away like a frightened vole, tripped on a rock, and ultimately hit my head on the metal pole suspended over my tent.

All in all, it was a valuable and cherishable experience, except for a lot of it. I won't say everyone is ready to journey to the wild, as I have done, but for you city-fied gentry, it may be time to start considering the value and opportunities of facing your forestry demons and becoming one with the bitter soil that is nature at her buck-nakedest ...

And until next time, my time is up ...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rant of the (Former) Education Consumer (Part I)

September 17, 2009: Astounded by the ongoing stupidity of the education system in America -- mountains of fatuous fallacies moronically held in place as gospel, and perpetuated through a bureaucratic business-minded approach to teaching that's blindly supported by a moronic public bred fat and stupid on sound-bite thinking -- I thought I might take a turn at spewing some of my more vibrant insights into pedagogical practice and the like.

But then I thought, Why bother?! No one cares. I wrote an excellent syndicated column -- "The Education Consumer" -- for two years, and all that came of it in the end were some pleasant emails from a few impotent fans, and some bitter raised eyebrows from a few disgruntled education hacks hiding behind their administrative masks.

Also, I feel my Blah-ugh! is about making you laugh, or at least smile, so why tire your mind with all that's wrong here in the 3rd Dimension. It's not as much fun, anyway.

So screw the education system and its ongoing insanity. If enough parents feel good about turning their kids into parodies from a Pink Floyd song, that's their business. I'll keep my focus on The Brady Bunch, rodent mating habits, and this new (old) great picture of me I just added ...

Next time (or perhaps not): Why homework, content focus, standardized testing, and superintendents are all stupid wastes of time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Very Brady Analysis (Part I)

September 14, 2009: As it's touched our lives so vehemently, it's always worth space (unlike Sherlock Holmes, for you dedicated readers) to add a few more insightful words about The Brady Bunch.

Unlike your typical past analyses, which focus on the more obvious elements of the show -- like how hot Marcia was, or Jan's ongoing self-esteem issues -- I thought I'd go a bit more in-depth, and examine the show not only in relation to Robert Reed's homosexuality, but Barry Williams' enjoyable and sometimes candid tome "Growing Up Brady" (where he shamelessly reveals his attraction to Florence Henderson, as well as the flagrant nepotism that tarnished the shaky reign of creator Sherwood Schwartz).

When considering the Brady family, I feel it's important to take an honest look at Mike's almost saintly involvement with each episode's problems (except of course the last, when he was sloppily written out of the script owing to Reed's refusal to participate -- and who can blame him, with such a silly storyline?!). While he generally played golf every Saturday morning -- and we all know his archietecture work kept him busy (and sometimes too busy, as was the case when Bebe Gallini sought his services), Mr. Brady was almost always around to lend an ear, float an epigram, or lovingly slap a bottom. My belief is that part of Mike's motivation to be such a dedicated husband and father lied in some inherent guilt woven into the character by the great Reed, who saw room to inject a modicum of his own gayness into the family dynamic. You see, Mike Brady, while obviously not the active alternative lifestyle individual that Reed was, may have had some very subtle latent tendencies at work. Part of his coping mechanism (and a handy manner of fostering his own denial) was to maintain a very busy lifestyle, coupled with a nagging need to always be available, never show his anger, and often give advances on allowances.

Another aspect of Mike's "condition" can be seen in relation to Alice Nelson. No raving beauty, Mike (who employed Alice long before Carol and her girls entered the picture) understandably holds no particular attraction toward her, and yet the comfort level he demonstrates with her in the household can be seen as another indicator of his latency.

Next time, I hope to examine some of the bedroom dynamics between Mike and Carol, and also discuss just what makes Marcia so hot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Three Favorite Writers

September 11, 2009: My three favorite writers are Matt Perry, Lindsay Porter, and Shannon Woolfe. This slightly odd group of as-yet unknowns has consistently demonstrated their skill, sensitivity and committment to all that's special about the written word.

Like myself, they forge earnestly onward through the sometimes bitter, sometimes beautiful world of publishing. In process, despite the pulls of professional body English, their focus remains on the quality of each phrase they commit to the page, and each idea they're able, through considerable skill, to raise from the primordial ooze of untethered thought.

I look forward to the day when their individual works are recognized and find the kind of rich admiration they deserve. Until then, I'm only too glad to be among their most dedicated followers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sophistry of Studying Sherlock Holmes

It was mere coincidence that I stumbled upon a volume of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" at a used booksale this summer. (I didn't know a new movie was imminent.) Delighted by the story, I bought another book, then secured an enormous annotated volume from the library to continue my enjoyable Sherlock Holmes journey.

While I continue to love the stories -- you can't go wrong with pleasantly written Victorian-era London stuff -- I was shocked to discover the puzzling and comical plethora of footnotes that accompany this big volume. This particular one draws from a wide range of Holmes-philes, most of whom seem delusional in their seeming assumption that Holmes is a real person. And no exaggeration, the amount of copy devoted to footnotes literally exceeds the writing itself.

Never has the pedantic rambling of so-called scholars seemed so ridiculous to me. While the notes sometimes share interesting nuggets -- mainly those that explain the time period in context -- many of them involve conjecture relating to Holmes' real life, and a bizarre analysis of his choices, and related inconsistencies, as if he were real. It's like a collection of nerd notes on Star Trek episodes.

Most humorous is the off-handed manner in which Arthur Conan Doyle probably wrote these stories. It's no secret he found them somewhat beneath him, and had to be paid exorbitant amounts of money to write more and more. (He even killed Holmes off at one point so he could stop having to write the things.)

Reading the enormous number of fatuous footnotes -- I opened to one at random just now that applauds Holmes' ability to determine hair color by moonlight, and challenges readers to do the same -- I find it rather pathetic. As a writer, I know that all those inconsistencies and truth-stretches were simply the result of Doyle wanting to finish his pages so he could get off to his favorite bar, or some Fleet Street floozy he was frequenting. He never gave those stories a fraction of the unwarranted attention these pedantic fools continue to offer it.

That all said, I'm not sure it was even worth this space to point that out ... But it's been a week since my last entry, so ...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Today's My Birthday

September 3, 2009: Yes, today is my birthday, and I'm angry with all of you who've forgotten. At the same time, I want nothing more than to be left alone, so it's just as well you didn't try to contact me. The people I really appreciate are those who are sitting home thinking nonstop about me, but are too scared to intrude.

While I intend to refrain from the self-indulgence common to most "blogs" as I move forward, I thought it appropriate to allow myself one entry as a throwaway gift -- an opportunity to share on some of the things I love and hate about life, humanity and this fetid world around us.

There are so many things I hate, though, I'm not sure where to begin. Men who wear loafers without socks always seems to top the list, as do people who don't signal when driving. Bleu cheese is another thing I can't abide, along with little dogs, advertising and marketing, waking up early, small talk, and obnoxious children.

Meanwhile, there are many things I adore, beginning with Halloween, eggplant parmigian, autumn, massages, roulette, Steven Spielberg, pumpkin patches, pumpkin pie, writing, coyotes and wolves, playing softball/baseball, reading, the moon, drawing, playing music, clouds, rain and snow, taking walks, and of course anything to do with my kids.

I also like Christmas music, stargazing, hamburgers, playing hide-and-seek, incense, anything made before 1975, intimate discussions, trains, egg creams, James Bond, and jigsaw puzzles.

I could go on, but I'll spare you until next year. For now, give yourself a great day and I'll try to do the same!