Archive for March, 2007

I was pleased a couple days ago to find a comment to my post on Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction from my cross-country friend Timothy Hughes who was enthused to find what’s become a rare film review from me, and expressed interest in hearing what I might have to say about 300, which Susan and I saw a couple weeks ago in the theater. He saw it earlier this week in Manhattan unfortunately with a bunch of poo-smells-like-flowers hipsters who I suspect shook many a shaggy head and clucked many a pierced tongue as the movie unspooled.

For comparison purposes, we left all the hipsters to stand in line at the Vista below Los Feliz Village or swarm Hollywood’s Arclight. Instead, Susan and I saw it in the No. 1 theater in the all together seedy but nevertheless beloved underground bunker that is Laemmle’s Grande fourplex downtown on Figueroa near 4th. Basically the place is in the Marriott Hotel’s basement, has small screens, less-than-stellar sound systems, seats missing armrests, rather lax clean-up crews, but it’s $8 a ticket and we can leave the house pratically 10 minutes before showtime and be in our seats before the last trailer drops and not even breathing hard.

As to what I thought of 300? I freakin’ looooooved it. Let’s put it this way; the moment I got just barely a whiff of the film through the first seconds of the first commercial I saw for it, I was sold. I didn’t care if it was good, bad, or beyond, something about it made it a must-see for me — no waiting for the DVD. And the desire wasn’t because I knew about the historic battle. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that before this film’s marketing campaign landed I didn’t know a single thing about it. I vaguely recall one of my History of Western Civilization classes 100 years ago at Santa Monica College concerning itself briefly with Sparta but nothing as specific as the monumental battle of Thermopylae.

I was so eager for it I even hopped onto Amazon and ordered Frank Miller’s graphic novel from which the film is not only derived but stylistically emulates throughout. And when the book arrived I gobbled it and all the liberties it took up with glee. It made me want to see it even more, irregardless of the poor critical reception it was garnering.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s no way I can’t be comprehensively objective here. I was brainwashed by the Matrix-meets-Sin City look of the film and irrevocably taken in by the us-versus-them underdog story. That it was based on true events was a bonus. That the film played fast and loose with those events didn’t matter one bit — and this is coming from someone who’s willing suspension of disbelief often dangles by the thinnest and most frayed of threads.

There’s a moment in the film that illustrates how deeply I was drawn in. It occurs at the moment of the first charge when the vanguard of Xerxes’ Persian forces first attempts to overrun Leonidas and his warriors. The camera moves in claustrophobically and chaotically close, showing Spartan feet being shoved backward in the sand against the crushing numbers of their enemy until eventually they hold fast and then push back against the hordes to regain some ground and engage them in battle. When they finally did get some breathing room I caught myself exhaling strongly and realized during that shoving match not only was I pitched forward in my seat but I had been holding my breath and pushing back as if I was No. 301 right in the thick of it.

I may not have time to stop and smell the flowers whenever I want but I can always spare a second and snap their picture (click image to go big):


I love the wrinkled-paper look of the delicate petals and I don’t care who knows it.


Tony Pierce just posted on LAist about photographer Mark “The Cobrasnake” Hunter being on a flight to Miami and another passenger onboard just happened to be Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who obliged the popular shutterbug by posing for a couple pix (here and here).

Wow. One could come up with several reasons why Villaraigosa’s smile is so fake (tired, busy, sick, pre-occupied) or caution not to judge with such limited evidence, but the fact is all I see is a mayor who hasn’t been in office for two years and already the smile dies before reaching his eyes. Instead of being genuine or even pretending to be it looks as if it’s become nothing more than a Pavlovian reaction, a perfunctory constriction of the maxillofacial muscles in response to a camera being pointed in his direction.

Sad, really.

My ballpoint pen of choice for some 20 years has been the Montblanc Meisterstuck. I don’t mean I load up on pallets of them every five years, like so many disposable Bics. I mean that in 20 years this is the pen I’ve carried with me and used for writing purposes great and small. Yes, I call it Monty. In fact the pen I have today is a direct descendant from the first that I bought back in my wanna-be yuppie days/daze of the mid-’80s. By that I mean that when the black resin barrel of Monty The First cracked apart in 1990, I shipped it off to Montblanc with a mournful letter regarding its demise and Montblanc responded to my plea by replacing it free of charge with Monty II.

I’ve had it ever since and today was the day it suffered its own similar and seeming mortal injury. The end of its barrel just shattered into several pieces as I was writing a check to pay a bill. There was no sound other than the clickity clatter of the broken bits onto my desk. I stared sadly at the carnage and supposed I could package it up and send it off to Montblanc just like I’d done the first time some 17 years ago with a sob story (or just go buy a new one), but instead I pulled out the superglue, hauled the desk lamp close and as surgically precise as I could be I put the tiny little three-dimensional puzzle back together (and bonus: did so without gluing my fingers together). Then for reinforcement I wrapped a piece of electrical tape around the reconstruction.


Good as new. Or old, as it were.

Even though the black tape blends in with the color of the barrel nicely, perhaps setting an adhesive cast around the pen barrel’s busted nose isn’t a very dignified addition to such a dignified writing implement. But it will have to do because this particular pen and I have been together a long time and through a lot and I’m not ready to say we’re finished. Monty II and I have been to college together and Italy and Greece and Brazil and Argentina and across the United States. Monty II survived my 1994 motorcycle accident and rode with me all the way down the coast for the 475-mile bike ride from San Francisco to L.A. back in 2003. We’ve signed documents important and trivial. Written stories and ideas. Taken notes. Cut countless checks. We’ve doodled.

But perhaps the fondest memory of Monty II came when it was stolen from me back in August 1993 in Sherman Oaks and miracularously recovered several days later in Long Beach. It’s a longish story that you can read here if you’d like in the form of a column that I wrote about the enterprising ordeal for the fall 1993 Pierce College Roundup when I was its editor.

Suffice it to say me and Monty II have been through a lot and I want to go through some more together.

You knew it was inevitable that someone would take an issue, right? In this case it was some guy whose YouTube screenname is Dink65. And his issue is with the post I made there of a short clip you might have watched of my first attempt up Fargo Street this past Sunday. In the video it shows my last few feet of forward progress as I attempt to wend my way back and forth about halfway up the steep street, ending abruptly as I draw up to another entrant and was forced to semi-evasively move around because he was stopped, after his own unsuccessful ascent, and stationed directly in my path perpindicular to the curb. Immediately I mumble something like “I could’ve made it past you. It wouldn’t have hurt for you to move.” As he emptily said he was sorry I then do what he should have done out of consideration for anyone coming up behind me: I moved off the street onto the driveway that was right there beside him.

Seems pretty cut and dry to me. That cyclist’s lack of awareness contributed to me stopping, didn’t it? Nope, not according to Dink65 who saw it entirely different and felt compelled to post this brilliant comment:

“Uhh, you went right at the guy. How is it HIS fault? He was only taking up 2 extra feet. There was a car parked on Fargo most of the morning that didn’t cause any issues, why should a bike parked matter?”

Since I’m only allowed a 500-character response on YouTube, I excised all the “who the hell are yous?” and “where do you get offs?” and kept my reply on-topic:

“Actually I saw the car present an obstacle to several entrants. The point is he had the responsibility to move off the course to the driveway (that I dutifully bailed out onto) and he didn’t and instead presented a 5′ wide obstacle (not 2′ as you incorrectly observe). As to my going right at the guy, I went where my bike took me and where I had every right to go. He however had every choice to get out of my way. And didn’t.”

With such a limited amount of reply room I didn’t have the luxury of wondering where Dink65 got off thinking I was blaming the guy. Sure, in the description I included with the video (below), I expressed myself in exasperated and demonstrative form, but nowhere do I directly put all the responsibility on him and his laissez fair approach to evacuating the road. Instead I simply use his actions or lack thereof as an educational tool:

“Let this video be a lesson to all and especially the #@$$!%*& who aborted his climb and then got in my way by not getting the hell off the dang course. If you abort a climb up Fargo with others coming up behind you, it’s best to WASTE NO TIME GETTING OUT OF THE FREAKIN’ WAY!!!”

I even prefaced my post on the matter with “I’m not one to make excuses, and in fact I may not have made it up to the tippy top of Fargo Street this morning even if the gentleman I’m approaching hadn’t ever been born.”

Instead I primarily blame my lack of technical skill on such alien terrain for that — and for not being able to negotiate around him. I certainly would have been able to continue on another few seconds at least (as I did on my second attempt) if he’d not been where he was… and there may have been the possibility that I somehow could have kept the momentum going onward and upward, but we’ll never know.

The only thing I know is that out there on the internest now matter how you think something is crystal clear and indisputable there will always be an idiot out there to say you’re an idiot.

UPDATE (03/28): So Dink responds to me saying “I went where my bike took me” with a semi-aghast and accusatory “aren’t you in control of your bike?” before settling down with more sympathy for the dude who bikeblocked me saying maybe he just was “getting his wits” together following his own failed attempt.

As to the control issue I wrote that under such strenuous conditions in such alien terrain control is debatable and in fact I was amazed that I avoided hitting him. And to debunk Dink’s assumption I went to the long version of the video and pulled stills and posted them here on Flickr showing just how much sympathy this guy deserved since he basically parked himself on the course loooooong before I got up to him.

Since I just mini-ranted about 24 in my previous post, I want to take part of my lunch hour to mini-rave about the absolutely marvelous Stranger Than Fiction that apparently came and went last year just long enough for me to read a brief good review in Entertainment Weekly or the L.A. Weekly and put it on my Netflix list.

I need to admit that I had huffed and puffed after the last Will Ferrell comedy I’d seen (Anchorman, I believe) and swore never to bother with another one (disclosure: Talladega Nights is somewhere down deep on my Netflix list).

So with little real knowledge of Stranger Than Fiction’s subject matter or plot I put my faith and hope in its atypical Will Ferrell-starring title and Susan and I spun it in the DVD player this weekend with fingers crossed that it wasn’t the same stuff that it seemed Ferrell was more than happy to poop out again and again (Blades of Glory anyone?).

And it isn’t. Far from it. Quirky and smart and touching and wholly original and to me very Charlie Kaufman-esque, the film (written by Zach Helm and beautifully envisioned by director Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer) affords Ferrell a chance to put away his usual one-note affable shtick and deliver a brilliant and marvelously nuanced performance as a seemingly ill-fated and lovestruck IRS auditor, well aided by a fantastic supporting cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Queen Latifah (even a goofy cameo by a basically unrecognizable Tom Hulce).

What’s tragic about Stranger Than Fiction is that the boffo box office’s worth of ticket buyers* who always seem to support his redundant and one-dimensional comedy stylings (however amiable and goofy they are) didn’t really care to look underneath all that silliness and find not only a fine and intelligent film but Ferrell proving he is one terrific actor who can make reign it all in and make you laugh and cry at the same time.

*According to the Rotten Tomatoes website  Anchorman
made $84 million and, while Stranger Than Fiction
only brought in $40 million.

It was a welcome relief that Ferrell could reverse engines and bring out such a restrained and memorable performance. And whenever I get around to watching Talladega Nights ($148 million) I’ll be doing my best to remember it and hope for more.

At the risk of damaging any tenuous perception that I have an intellect, my must-see-TV list consists of the following programs:

  • 24
  • American Idol
  • Lost
  • Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
  • Survivor

Susan and I were both into Heroes pretty diligently, but then it went on a lengthy mid-season hiatus around Christmas only to come back rather sluggishly which waned my enthusiasm big time and I missed the last two or three episodes — which I promptly stopped feeling guilty about when I found out the show went on yet another recess (that I don’t think is over).

I’m now about ready to give up on 24. Though it induces a facial tick/seizure everytime Keifer Sutherland has his Jack Bauer say “noo-kyoo-lure” instead of “nuclear” in exactly the same assinine way as Duh-bya does… that odd homage is a minor point and one I can get past.

What I can’t put behind me is the bullshit. Be it absolutely useless scenes detailing various of the lesser players’ entanglements be it romance or revenge driven, or cookie-cutter characters such as the hellbent and irrationally agenda’d vice president dead set on nuclear retaliation against a Middle Eastern country (to be named never), it’s all just cheaply written and weakly realized.

This week they even gave us a minor civilian character who seemed an amalgam of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman and Leonardo DiCaprio’s in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. What’s scary is that when pressed into the service of Jack to nab one of the bad guys he seemed to be the only one in the damn show who follows and executes orders. Pretty much the whole rest of them are in some throes of lust, jealousy, deception, drinking, bigotry, insubordination, doubt, blah blah blah blah blah. What gave the writers and producers the idea I give a crap about these people beyond their ability to kick ass and take names?

For gawd’s sake last week in the midst of a nuclear bomb-equipped drone launched by terrorists toward San Francisco, you had a distraught Jack stopping traffic on the main floor of CTU headquarters to angrily demand the file of Audrey — his love interest last season — who he’d just learned had been killed in a suspicious traffic accident… in China… where he had been imprisoned for several years. WTF Jack!? You are the last one to slow down the wheels of justice!

And as to the shoe-horned announcement that Audrey’d been offed? Hmmmmmm. what is it the church lady used to say? How… conveeeeeeeenient!

Pretty much since its inception, I’ve always rushed to the show’s defense and said that even when 24 is bad it’s still some of the most riveting and entertaining stuff on TV. I’m not so quick to say that anymore.

It still may be riveting but the more the show’s powers deem it necessary to fill an hour with the Chloe and her off-the-wagon ex-husband subplot, or with Ricky Shroeder as some tough ass racist jackass named Doyle, or Regina King as the president’s conflicted sister, the badder it’s gonna get and the less inclined I’ll be to keep coming back for more.