by its cover

The A.V. Club’s recent column on contributors’ pop-culture rules has sparked similar discussions among my friends and acquaintances and fellow online forum users internerds. I quickly realized that though I have no firm rules, I do have a great many rough guidelines. Whew, a great many!

– I almost never see films in a first-run theater, where the fools in charge let other people in, too, with their cell phones and their chatter and their candy wrappers. That’s not a pop-culture rule but an avoid-temptation-to-criminal-assault rule. Crowds, cost, and the threat of poor storytelling all diminish my patience with other people and/or nonsense, so clearly a blockbuster in a first-run theater is a perfect-storm situation for me.

– Because I like to be surprised by entertainment, I rarely research enough to apply the Bechdel test before the fact, but I do notice and appreciate when a filmmaker or author:
1. has two or more named female characters
2. talk to each other
3. about something other than a man
just as if they were real people or something.

– I will watch any movie directed by David Lynch, David Cronenberg, or the Coen Brothers, and probably more than once, even if I wasn’t crazy about it the first time. These directors more than any others have earned my trust and gratitude, despite a few misses and a very few absolute stinkers. Oh, Terry Gilliam, I can’t say no to you, either, you hapless bastard.

– I will watch almost any Shakespeare adaptation, with or without the text intact. Yes, the one set in a greasy spoon. Yes, the one in post-war Japan. Yes, the kids’ movie rip-off.

– I don’t mind if a sensible adult thinks my choice of entertainment is silly or juvenile or embarrassing. Maybe I see some deeper value there; maybe I just like the silly thing. I’m not easily embarrassed. Or, uh, I am, but I’m also used to it.

– I am unlikely to sit still for a straight-up romantic comedy. Ditto a straight-up war movie. Indeed, anything that looks like a formula Hollywood picture, with characters slotted into a template, is of no interest.* I am especially not interested in the whitewashed Hollywood bio (see A Beautiful Mind) or other Oscar bait. I skip a lot of blockbuster movies and feel no pain over it.

*Unless is is a horror movie, in which case I miiiiiiiight tolerate the formula. I don’t know why I might, but I might. Additionally, with a horror movie, the low-budget/no-budget risktaker entices me far more than the splashy, shiny big-money movie. The no-money filmmakers have to push their creativity and plan their storytelling instead of relying on special effects and retakes.

– While we’re on the subject of formulas and failure: no Michael Bay. NO. NO. No, Michael Bay, No! I thoroughly respect the appeal of stuff blowin’ up real good. I don’t want to see stuff blowin’ up all sloppy.

– I shy away from remakes, especially English-language remakes of contemporary foreign-language films. However, a few marvelous remakes have made this more of an inclination and less of a rule. Criminal comes to mind: the original is fantastic, the remake is different but fantastic — I loved both. And I am the rare J-horror fan who actually preferred The Ring to Ringu.

– I do not like to see brief short stories transformed to full-length features. Padding rarely improves a story, but if it’s a favorite story, I almost always give in and watch it. For this reason, I am dreading The Yellow Wallpaper, but happily for me, it’s evidently stuck in some post-release limbo.

– I will [never/almost never] choose to watch a Jim Carrey or Robin Williams slapstick comedy. I will often watch Jim Carrey in a dramatic role. (Yes, this means I watched the hilariously, gut-splittingly awful The Number 23. Youch.)

– I will try reading almost any author or story once, in any genre or type: literary fiction, popular fiction, pulp fiction, academic no-fiction, popular non-fiction, graphic novel, whatever. Sometimes, I can’t make it more than a 20 pages before giving up in disgust, but I do try it in earnest. (I even tried to read The DaVinci Code out of curiosity, but its prose made me very cross indeed.)

– I believe that sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover.



The Fella and I went out in the wee hours, hoping to spot a meteor or two. Scanning the sky, I said, “I think I see —“. Then I squinted slightly and stepped forward

… because, when dealing with astronomical distances, that extra 18-inch step makes all the difference.


updated to add: Even better than the Ode to Joy clip (at the end of this entry) is Beaker’s Habanera with The Swedish Chef and Animal. Enjoy!

Students at Danvers High School in Massachusetts are forbidden to utter the nonsense word meep.


Evidently, the students have appropriated Beaker’s all-purpose word for their own constant use, to the annoyance of the faculty and administrators. The principal’s balanced, sensible response, which was not at all silly, misguided, or destined for spectacular failure: he prohibited students from uttering the sound meep. Well, that oughta do it.

Two aspects of this story puzzle me, to startlingly different degrees.

First, the minor puzzle: since when has “meep” been an expression belonging only to younguns? I’m old enough to have watched the original broadcasts of The Muppet Show, and whenever I’ve had occasion to utter a tiny meep! of dismay or alarm, no one has seemed too terribly perplexed by it.

Second, the major puzzle: has this principal or any member of his administration ever, I dunno, met any high school students? Barring that, have they ever interacted with any group of humans? Have they any basic understanding of human psychology?

A quote from the second link:

“It has nothing to do with the word,” [Danvers H.S. principal Thomas] Murray said. “It has to do with the conduct of the students. We wouldn’t just ban a word just to ban a word.”

No, because banning a word will not work, and in fact will be counter-productive. The administration has now identified the word as a guaranteed provocation and enshrined it in legend.

In solidarity with the Danvers High students and for the sheer delight of it, I offer you: Ode to Joy, performed by Beaker.


Fashion your own Julia Sugarbaker rant, courtesy of NPR. Before you read the text, make a quick list of:

an appetizer
a famous criminal*
an inexpensive retailer
a small amount of money
a metal
a breakfast cereal
an environmental problem
a popular gadget
a junk food
a reality show
a kind of candy
a sporting event
a historical figure named “John”
a celebrity named “John”
an article of clothing
a home electronics component
a chain restaurant
a city in the southern U.S.
a popular toy
a literary figure

You will insert these, Mad Libs style, into the text of the rant. My rant:

I would rather spend two hours sharing a plate of escargot with Claus von Bülow* than watch a woman who apparently purchased her intellect at Claire’s Boutique for three dollars a satchelful chase twenty-five men with biceps made of zinc and heads packed with Cap’n Crunch.

Because when future generations look upon what we have left for them, which may by then be little more than melted icecaps and millions of non-biodegradable pedicure eggs, I fear they will conclude that they would have welcomed bread and circuses if only they had realized the alternative was Funyons and MILF Island.

[sits down and crosses arms, but then immediately stands back up]

And let me tell you a little something about romance: Handing out roses like you are a mascot throwing Pixie Stix to the assembled hooligans at a cockfight is not my idea of romance. Romance is a man who knows the difference between John Adams and John Mayer and who is capable of putting on a pair of shoes without scratching his head as if he is connecting an iPod docking station without the instruction manual.

So do not ask yourself why I do not particularly enjoy a television show where the assembled male candidates represent romantic prospects inferior to the workers on the night shift at the Applebee’s in Valdosta. Ask yourself whether, after a lifetime playing with a cultural paddleball and dancing on the grave of Henry James, you will ever…recover…your dignity.

*or, in this case, a defendant in a murder trial.

The Happening: a movie review

happeningLike many moviegoers, I was thrilled by M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, and I positively shivered to think of the exciting stories he would tell a generation of viewers.

Sigh. I keep hoping…

The Happening (2008) is a frustratingly vivid illustration of that hope, sustained and smashed in one blow. Revolving around a mysterious but pervasive danger, graced with witty art direction that winks playfully to the viewer in almost every scene, and blessed with a potent use of ambient sound, this movie should be good. Better than good — it should be a work of subtle menace on par with Hitchcock’s The Birds.

But it ain’t. The problem, as so often in Shyamalan’s films, is in the dialogue and motivations: the tone-deaf, stunted interactions between the cardboard cut-outs who prop up the story. It’s infuriating to see the central characters used as mere wind-up toys driving the plot — especially when the peripheral characters hint at such absurd richness.

In a fever of frustration, I finally opened the DVD audio menu, switched to another language, and discovered to my delight that with the dialogue obscured a bit, the film’s visuals and sound well up and mute the petty stupidity of its script. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s an effective and fun little chiller. The bad news: if you’re fluent in Spanish. French, and English, you’re out of luck.

Confidential to M. Night S.: This is how far I will go to avoid your dialogue. Stop writing. Stop writing. Sweet fancy molasses, man, stop writing.

To Whom It May Concern

I am horrified in retrospect. I applied for a job two years ago and just now looked at the cover letter I attached to my resume. It began “Dir Sir or Madam”… I suppose I was still so caught up in German at the time that “dir” (meaning you) completely slipped my notice. Hey, you sir, you are not dear to me.

Am loving the new place so much. It’s not the high life we had in Mandurah, but I am so completely happy, especially with all the garage sale/second-hand store finds. Today I bought a jarrah bookcase for $30 at a market in Dallyelup (or however it’s spelled–everything ends in ‘-up’ around here.) Tomorrow we’re calling the removalists to see if our goods from Alice are arriving. They’re supposed to be here before Christmas and I’m counting on that because some friends are coming down for New Year’s which is also JM’s and my tenth anniversary. Ten years. Holy cow. So much to unpack, so much to celebrate.