Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gone Fishin'

NOTE: This is not Jermaine and Shaquita Loquacious
As you all probably know at this point, I am from (and currently live in) Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati is a notoriously backward, boring, out-of-touch town where our trends of today were everyone elses trends of last year. Where the streets of downtown basically close at 8 at night. Where there are race riots and hooker seeking mayors, and all sorts of quietly embarrassing things that I prefer not to talk about.

Cincinnati has nice things, too. It has really nice parks. It's got a really pretty skyline. It's got Skyline. It's got the oldest love of my life, the Cincinnati Reds (The FIRST PLACE CINCINNATI REDS!!!).

... as someone who has lived here my whole life, I've kinda run out of things to do after 8 pm. I've been to the restaurants. I've been to the movies and the Levee, and The Reds don't play every night. You can only go to the park so many times, and not legally after dark anyway.

And thus I found myself, along with the Tofu Muchacha and our friends Jermaine and Shaquita Loquacious (they're a married couple), looking for something to do on this past Saturday evening. We'd planned on going to see the Reds, but the game was sold out. I mean... That has happened to me exactly never times before, so I was pretty bummed. Then I remembered an idea I'd had only one week before.

Over the past 2 or 3 years (or so) something strange has happened. Cincinnati is slowly getting hipper, and with that slight hipper-ness a new nightlife has sprung forth. There are probably 10 clubs downtown that are chock-full of hipsters and graduated fratboys and skanks and all kinds of such things....

Well, last week after checking out the AWESOME production of Big River at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center (directed by The Beefy Padre and The Tofu Madrastra), the TM and I went to this new sushi place downtown (OPEN LATE!). On our way to the restaurant we encountered quite a few.. ehm... classily dressed young ladies traveling in packs toward one of or, maybe all of, the new clubs. The TM commented to me how she just absolutely loves to watch them, and how she could watch them all day.

Fast forward to a week later, and me telling Shaquita and Jermaine to come over to the house and bring their lawn chairs. Whhhhaaaaat?

That's right. We went downtown, set up chairs, and watched the night parade. And it was fucking AWESOME.

At first I was just saying we were going to go down and watch the hoes, and yes... there were hoes, but there was oh-so-much-more.

Some of the awesome things we encountered...

- A very sweaty dude who saw us sitting there enjoying the night breeze and just plopped right down next to us, as though we were doing the normalest of normal things. Then he told us about how tired his legs were. He sat there for a minute, and then as quickly as he arrived, he disappeared into the night.

- A homeless (this was not immediately clear) man, claiming both that it was his birthday and that he had throat cancer. Both of these may have been true. What was definitely true was that he regaled us with a very lengthy poem about the colors we were wearing, occasionally incorporating our names (or at least the ones we gave them). This poem went on for a solid 3 or 4 minutes, at which time he held out his hand. I assumed he wanted a high five. I was wrong. That long-ass poem cost me 81 cents. You know what.. it was worth it since it was his birthday and he'll be dead soon from the throat cancer. He was a highlight.

- A woman from Switzerland who took our picture.

- A police officer on a bicycle, who we'd seen a few times across the street, and who we assumed would make us vacate our spots when he finally made his way over to us.. Quite the contrary! He was all "Watching the people, huh? Can't say I blame you. Great night for it!" That was awesome.

- A whole lot of Chicago Cubs fans who, apparently high from a rare win over my Reds, were in great spirits. They were far more curious about what we were doing than any Reds fans. Most of whom took some note of us, and continued on their no-so-merry way.

- Some really, really fucking drunk people getting out of a white school-type bus with tinted windows. Now... this white school bus reminded me of those buses you see going to and from the prisons in movies. Either way... they were all W.A.S.T.E.D. Like ferreal. Two of the dudes were suggestively eyeing the TM and Shaquita. Then they made their way across our paths and right into a stretch SUV. Not their stretch SUV, of couse, so there was a minor scuffle between them and the stretch limo driver, who was pretty bent out of shape about the whole thing. Then the drunk dudes pretended to jerk each other off... yeah... I dunno. I guess there's something to that whole latent homosexuality in American fratboy theory that is so popular.

- Then of course, were the hoes. There was no end to crazy-ass shoes and RIDICULOUSLY short skirts. And seriously.. crazy short. Like the shortest skirts anybody's ever seen. I'm not saying they all should have been wearing something more... more, but most of them should definitely not have been displaying that much of whatever they were displaying. Really, they are a whole post all on their own. What leads them to forget that, because they are women, and men are retards, that they could wear jeans and sweatpants and still get laid, if they so chose? I firmly believe that it actually has nothing to do with luring we dumbass mens, and everything with showing off to the other women. Aaaaanyway...

At some point during the hour or so we were down there, minding our own business, I decided we were actually being MORE aggressive than any one of the drunks, vagrants, idiots, and hoes that came up and talked to us, because we were openly watching them. Everyone watches everyone all the time, but it's all sideways glances and through sunglasses and quick peeks. We sat there. Watching people walk by. Listening to the snippets of their conversations. Occasionally poking our ways into their conversations when they'd glance at us sideways and point and whisper about how we're doing what they've all wanted to do.

I can honestly say it was one of the most interesting, enjoyable nights I've ever had in Cincinnati. I can't wait to do it again.

So, Jermaine and I were sitting there, enjoying the breeze, and he said something about how what we were watching was like an ocean reef. Where all the people were different kinds of fish, and different parts of the sociological food chain, which is kind of beautiful and true in a way... Every person has their spot in the eco-system of the world, much like each clown fish and shark have their own places on the reef.

We went Fishing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife or: The Chicken/ Egg Dilemma

There's a huge portion of The Time Traveler's Wife that deals with the idea of time being circular.

It's really the old Chicken or the Egg question without an answer. Did the egg appear magically or did the chicken?

This ties into my feelings about the book and the movie versions of The Time Traveler's Wife.

I really liked the book. I found it heartbreaking without it falling deep into sentimentality. The structure of it, alternating between perspectives from Henry's to Clare's worked really well, and helped us sympathize with both people, even if we related more to one or the other.. The internal struggles of each of the 2 main characters were real and legitmately trying, and truly at the center of the book. It's interesting... Both characters have some big problems. Henry is an alcoholic at points and a drug addict at points. He's reckless. He definitely has some, at least, nebulous morality. When we first meet him in Clare's “present”, he's still dating Ingrid (who later kills herself, at least in part because of him). Despite these issues, by putting the reader inside his head, and to see the struggles he goes through, and to see his awareness of his flaws... This makes us love him. It makes us root for Clare and him together. The writer shows a definite knack for putting us in the characters heads.

Also, there were some truly beautiful moments of story-telling. I wouldn't go so far as to call the writing outstanding, in terms of language, (Audrey Niffenegger sometimes delves a little too far into the realm of pulp), but the details of the story itself were interesting and emotional.

Henry, watching his mother get killed in some sort of never-ending loop, is heartbreaking enough, but then to add the notion that "if you looked closely" you'd see him literally EVERYWHERE within the scene as all of his "selves" from different points in time appeared to watch the accident take place and yet have no way to change it.... that's not only heartbreaking, but it's tragic.

The scene where Henry avenges Clare's date/assailant was extremely disturbing, but also sort of made you want to cheer....The scene perfectly capped by his return to the present day and Clare immediately knowing where he'd come from as he did something as simple as touching her scar.

There are many small moments and details like this that make the book very readable, very appealing, and very emotional.

And then you have the movie...

I soooo wanted to like the movie. Partly because I like Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.. Partly because I really like the book, and partly because I'm a contrary sort of person, and just about everyone I talked to didn't like it.

Well... I didn't like it. I kind of hated it, actually. Maybe because I wanted to like it so much, but maybe also, because it was a bad adaptation of a very entertaining book.

It lost all of the heart. It played fast and loose with storylines. We never had a chance to invest into the relationship between Henry and Clare. Whereas in the book, we are thrown immediately into the story, and yet also have immediate investment, despite the likeable actors, I found myself not caring about these people. We don't see the growth of their relationship from Clare's perspective at all...

Henry learned about his ability during the time he time traveled at his mother's death instead of during his lovely adventure (as escorted by his older self) to the Field Museum. There's no mention of how he convinces Kendrick to help him (though, admittedly, I felt the “Kendrick, the geneticist has a kid with Downs” was a bit heavy-handed in the book.). There's no real foreshadowing with his death ,as opposed to in the book when Clare sees him right before... There's no real tension between Henry and Gomez. There's no Kimy. There's no Ingrid (or Celia), or the subsequent suicide of Ingrid that haunts Henry. There's no Ben or any of his Library colleagues. There was none of the fun, good times, between Clare and Henry when Clare is a teenager, throwing herself at him. No parties attended by Clare's friends. No Ouiga board session naming the mysterious "Henry". No harbinger of the end where Henry loses his feet to frostbite.

Most sadly, there was a revisionist ending where Henry meets Clare in the meadow like.. 4 years after his death, and then he sort of mumbles through telling her not to wait for him...and END.

This is total bullshit, because the entire book builds up to him dying, Clare finding a letter he wrote to her where he tells her not to wait, and how she's spent her whole life waiting for him, but then giving her this tiny carrot saying that one-day, when she's old, they'll meet again. BUT DON'T WAIT.

Then it cuts to her being an old lady, waiting by the window, and the book ends with their embrace. It's a truly beautiful end, and sad, and bittersweet, because it is clear that she did wait her whole life for one final meeting with him, and how waiting is all she knew how to do.... but also that you sense it was enough for her. You also think about how cruel it was for him to give her that glimmer of hope that they'd see each other again... He couldn't help it. He loved her and longed for her too, but she had to live another 50 years, waiting for that one day to come.

Did that appear in the movie? No.

Perhaps this book was doomed to fail as a movie for the same reason so many of Stephen King's books haven't adapted well... The things that make us love the characters are all internal. The writers create these rich and juicy and joyful and lustful inner voices of these people. How in the hell does a film maker/screen writer convey these voices in a traditionally presented film? They don't. Instead they make bland and disappointing crap like The Time Traveler's Wife.

I mentioned at the start of this blog that the book plays with the Chicken/Egg question, and that it somehow related to my own experiences with the movie and the book.

While I hated the movie, if it wasn't for the movie's trailer, I wouldn't have read the book. And I wonder if I would hate the movie as much if I hadn't read the book. The experiences of each colors the experiences of the other, but in which order?

Every one of the things the movie lacked were things I really felt gave the book texture. I get that there's not really a way to get every detail from a 540 page book into a 95 minute movie, but maybe that tells us that either they should have taken the chance that the audience may actually want to like the movie, and make it longer...or, crazy idea, let the book stand alone.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Time for Reflection

After the Creativity Workshop, I've found myself struggling to come up with blogs to write about. I'm not entirely sure what it is that's made me get the blogging yips, but I've always found that whenever I've had trouble coming up with things to talk about, I go back to one of the old wells...

In this case: Movies!

We're nearing the end of the Summer movie season and are about to dive (or maybe plummet) head-long into one of the 2 great darknesses of the year of movies... The dreaded Pre-Thanksgiving drought. It's not that great movies don't open then, but we're going to start seeing a ton of shitty rom-coms. A ton of sci-fi movies without the juice to justify a holiday release. That kind of thing. Mostly what we're facing are a bunch of movies only people like me will remember five years from now.

Considering the pit of blah we're about to be mired in, it seems like a good time to reflect on the movies I've already seen this year.. To talk about the good ones and the bad ones. To discuss the performances that stand out (for good or bad). To maybe even re-evaluate my rankings.

Let me talk about the rankings for just a sec. As you all know by now, I'm kind of obsessed with arranging things into orders. I love to rank things. I've always been curious how movies would rank if I kept a running tally throughout my viewings. So far, I'm pleased with the process.

Top Tier (aka: the best of the best. )
Up in the Air, Toy Story 3, Kick-Ass, Inception, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Up in the Air and Toy Story 3 are the clear numbers 1 and 2. Kick-Ass and Sorcerer's Apprentice were the 2 most unabashedly fun movies I've seen, and Inception was the most... something. I think. It's hard to tell. In any case, it takes some thinking, and that's a good thing.

2nd Tier (Aka: Good..not great, but good)
Iron Man 2, Despicable Me, The Crazies, Get Him to the Greek.

Iron Man 2 was solid and enjoyable. It had a couple of dead spots, but I did see it twice, so that does count for something. Despicable Me was fun and I liked Steve Carell's V.O. work. The Crazies was not at all what I expected it to be, but in a good way. It would have likely ranked even higher, but there were a couple of holes that I just couldn't get around. Get Him to the Greek ranked WAY higher than I would have guessed before I saw it. Maybe I was of the mood to enjoy a good movie, being all alone in Minneapolis, but I thought it had a lot of heart, actually.

3rd Tier (aka: Wait.. Did I see that movie?)
Knight and Day, Predators, Prince of Persia, Alice in Wonderland, The Wolfman, The Lovely Bones

The title pretty much says it all... I basically have no feelings about any of these.. They all had good parts and dumb parts and in 5 years I'll have to struggle to recall any details or even if I've seen it all. Every time I look at this list I remember that I saw The Lovely Bones. I also remember that I think I'd like to read the book.

4th Tier (aka: I Fucking HATE this movie, even if it's not the objectively worst thing I've seen).
Twilight: Eclipse, and Hot Tub Time Machine

I wrote a whole blog about what was wrong with Twilight and I tried 3 times to write about what was wrong with Hot Tub Time Machine. I can't rank them at the bottom, because I don't think any movie that makes me have the kind of virulent hatred for it has to be doing SOMETHING.

5th Tier (aka: I honestly don't recall this movie.)
Cop Out, and Percy Jackson... Lightning Thief

I believe this was a Kevin Smith movie. There are some people in it that we've seen. I think. I dunno.

6th Tier (aka: Um... Not good at all)
When in Rome, Leap Year, Daybreakers

2 Rom-Coms and the most disappointing movie about actual vampires to come out this year (as opposed to Twilight, which isn't about actual vampires). The Rom Coms aren't bad simply because they are rom-coms. I like good Rom-Coms. In fact, I didn't actually hate either of these movies, but to say they were enjoyable or... good... in any way would be a lie. Daybreakers is... I remember being really annoyed by the whole business. And finding it implausible. When you find a vampire movie to be "too implausible". You know that's a problem.

7th Tier (aka: The Worst Movie I've Seen All Year)
The Bounty Hunter

I mean... It's the only movie I wish I'd not seen at all. It just makes me so sad that The Tofu Muchacha and I spent actual money to watch this. It's so fucking bad. Gerard Butler has ruined at least 2 movies that I've seen. Jennifer Aniston's fame remains completely baffling to me. The whole business just sucked.

After looking at the tiers, I think I can live with the list as it is. Seems pretty solid.

What do you think? You guys seen any of these?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bringing the Hate

Don't you worry, Bee Pee. I got your back.

Brandon Phillips, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman, was one of my favorite Reds before today.

After today he may be my all time favorite.

You see... Brandon Phillips brought back one of the greatest traditions in all of sports. A tradition that has fizzled and died under the surge of free agency and hyper-rich athletes who all live next door to each other in Orlando and Scottsdale.

Brandon Phillips brought back the hate.

Here's what he said about the St. Louis Cardinals:

"I'd play against these guys with one leg. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”

Thank you, Brandon Phillips. You have made me smile one of the most sincere sports-related smiles I can remember.

I will always remember talking to my dad about baseball as a kid, and hearing about how when he was growing up, he HATED the Los Angeles Dodgers. I re-confirmed this with him today... He said "We all hated them. We hated everything about them. The way the played. The way they acted. Everything."

In the 60s and 70s the Reds and the Dodgers were the two best teams in the National League. They were always fighting and competing and hating each other. And it was great. That's where rivalries come from.

Then, as free agency gained steam and players played for multiple teams over the course of their careers and they got richer and more detached, the rivalries fizzled. Too often you'd see first basemen chatting with runners at first base. You'd see catchers and batters exchanging friendly words between pitches. It makes me fucking sick.

I am sad I never got to see the days when a Juan Marichal would beat Johnny Roseboro with a bat at home plate.

I'm not saying there should be REAL hate. I don't wish bad things for Chris Carpenter in his personal life, but do I want the Reds to shove that baseball up his whiny ass every chance they can get.

It's good for sports to have rivalries. It's good for fans to have teams to root against. They made musicals about how much people hated the Damn Yankees back in the day, for god's sake.

I love what Brandon Phillips said. Even if it's not true (it is true. totally true) it's a throwback to the days when the players didn't all live in the same gated communities in South Beach in the off season. That's only a good thing.

Tonight, in response, the Cardinal's catcher Yadi Molina started proving Bee Pee right by acting like a little bitch and whining that Brandon huwt his feewings. Then they fought. Like enemies should. And it made me laugh and smile, because finally... FINALLY I have MY Dodgers. I have a team that I can unequivocally root against every minute of every game. I did anyway, but this makes it even better.

The Reds are finally good again. They are finally good enough to have a rivalry that means something. It's pretty freaking awesome.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Improving on the Silence

This past weekend, The Tofu Muchacha and I ventured to the delightfully temperate and not-at-all humid North of Southern Michigan for the First Annual Three Oaks Creativity Weekend.

This event was organized and hosted by the great Gregg and Caroline Fraley. They invited creative minds from around the country (and the world, really) including myself and the TM, and had 19 of us RSVP. I admit to feeling a bit of trepidation about the weekend in the time leading up to it. I like to think of myself as being creative, but there's a big different between a self-gloss and being thrown into a group of people who make their livings being creative and teaching other people to be creative. It's daunting.

Well... I can say unequivocally that while it WAS intimidating at different points, when I was confronted with something truly profound (I'll get to it), it was also the most warm and encouraging group I've been a part of in a really long time. If there was ever a group in which to take some big risks in creation, this was it.

TM and I did a cold read of a small portion of a play we're thinking about presenting to our local theatre group, and we got truly invaluable feedback, support, and suggestions. I feel that we now have a much clearer direction in terms of how to make this, basically unpolished, play work for a real audience. In that completely selfish way I really couldn't be more grateful.

Aside from our personal contribution to the group, we also experienced some really interesting workshops. Units presented by people at the absolute peak of their creative fields.

I will talk about what I feel I can fairly discuss without betraying the privacy of the proceedings...

I learned, on an extremely basic level, how to paint on water or "Suminagashi". Let me tell you that this is something that BLOWS MY MIND. I am so drawn to it as an art form, and yet after seeing the advanced, amazing professional prints by our teacher (Amy Lee Segami) I realize it's an art form where there is no pending mastery. I have the basic idea of it, and yet I look at her work and think "How in the hell did she even start to do that?". That's the kind of art I want to be a part of. I have already ordered my first bottle of Sumi Ink.... It's just the combination of technical, beautiful, metaphorical, and meditative that I really seek in an art I want to work at. I really look forward to e-mailing Amy with my questions and continuing to explore the world of suminagashi.

I learned about the brainstorming technique known as the "Cafe". It's a method of creating a dialogue that is less about solving an ultimate problem, but coming up with as many possible factors. I like that the interpretation of ideas and more of a dialogue ABOUT ideas. I don't know that I'm really explaining it in any real coherent way, but I really found the freedom of dialogue without being tasked to find solution very liberating. This was led by Paula Rosch, who was there with her husband Frank... two of the nicest people I've met in quite a long time, and both of home contributed a great deal to my experience over the weekend.

I have never been much of a meditation guy... I have a very difficult time leaving my mind out of my mind.. if that makes sense. I have a tough time clearing my head. Well... I met a guy named Joe (from New Jersey... I wish I got his last name... I hate being inconsistent), who is essentially an expert at meditation, with his preferred vehicle for it being the Labyrinth. There are many kinds of Labyrinths... Gregg and Caroline have one (originally laid out by Joe himself) on their farm. TM and I missed the initial "Lab" session on Friday because of a long drive after work, but I had one of the most interesting meditation sessions I've ever had the next day in what was more of a quadrant labyrinth. Joe has this interesting way of starting the process, that I found more effective than any other I've tried... Basically putting yourself into the labyrinth and then taking yourself back out of it. I know that doesn't make sense on the page, but it worked. I found myself working into some real moments of clarity. I think the process Joe laid out really engaged a more logical part of my brain by breaking down the meditation into steps. I'd not experienced that before, and I found it very useful..

Perhaps the most interesting experience I had was the one I can probably discuss the specifics of the least. Mark D'Alessio was someone I would have liked to talk to more over the course of the weekend, as he nearly always said something of value, but spoke about half as much as anyone else. Maybe he's the smart one. Mark, it also should be noted, seems to get a lot out of Silence retreats. Something I'm not sure I could do at all. He's getting ready to do an 8-day retreat, and I wish him luck. Anyway... He introduced us to a method of problem solving that is so simple, you feel like it's been around for hundreds of years... Oh wait... It HAS been around for hundreds of years. He introduced us to the Quaker concept of the "Committee". The most simple explanation is that a person with a decision, problem, question, issue selects a "committee" of his/her peers to essentially act as interrogators, without the interrogation. The committee is only permitted to ask "honest" questions, which means that they are questions for which the asker has no agenda and doesn't already know the answer. The questioning is intentionally paced with pauses for silence and the Focus Person has the option to take as much time as needed to answer (or not answer). There are never any suggestions or opinions given. It's primarily intended to provide the person with the problem with the means to work out the problem on their own, using questions asked of them that have no agenda and no desired response. It was incredibly powerful as a way to work out a problem, and I found it really interesting. I can't go into the specifics of this particular experience, but I hope to have another opportunity to be a part of it.

I'm leaving people out, and experiences out, but it's late and I'm not sure I could really get more in depth even if I wanted to... I'm still processing a lot of it.

It was a really interesting and valuable weekend, and I hope that I justified my spot in the group in some small way... I hope to get a chance to go to another of these in the future, and experience the full retreat. Good times. Good times.

Oh...and the picture at the top is the result of a group painting exercise presented by the very interesting Whitney Ferre... She didn't arrive until they day we left, and I wish she'd arrived sooner. She seems to have a really interesting viewpoint on the place of art in the overall creative process.