Archive for December 31, 2007

Funniest. Commercial. Ever.

Heard on the radio, for some herbal supplement:

Did you know that lack of sleep or insufficient sleep is one of the chief causes of fatigue?

Monday Movie Review: Two Movies About Women

This week, I saw two movies that satisfy Bechdel’s Rule. It is remarkable to see women who seem real in the movies, and then again remarkable that it is so remarkable, if you know what I mean. The movies are a true-life drama (A Mighty Heart) and a ditzy, sexy romantic comedy (The Truth About Cats & Dogs). They share a deep feminist sensibility without ever doing that “I’m talking about feminism” thing (see: Something’s Gotta Give).

A Mighty Heart (2007) 8/10
When Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman) is kidnapped in Pakistan, his wife Marianne (Angelina Jolie) and his colleague Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi) work with the authorities to try to find and rescue him.

Asra Nomani has written that she is unhappy with the way A Mighty Heart is not about Danny Pearl; she felt betrayed by that. But the movie feels to me like it isn’t meant to be about Danny, who is, after all, off-stage for the drama being shown. Indeed, his story might be told, and told beautifully, but this is a different story.

I struggled with the chaos of the movie; a legitimate portrayal of what it felt like to be in that situation, or needlessly chaotic film techniques?

But in the center of the chaos are two remarkable women, and as I watched, I was struck by how not-movie these women were; they seemed like women I might know. They were smart, thoughtful, aggressive, angry, needy, analytical, focused, and compassionate. They were simply human. They were never “the women” cast in a movie to add a little color and costume and tits. There was nothing cliché about them. This was particularly striking for Marianne Pearl, who was never reduced to “the wife,” or “the pregnant wife,” and with that growing belly, that had to be a challenge to the filmmakers. Because yes, she was a pregnant wife, but also a journalist and, well, a human being.

And again, I reflected that this shouldn’t be so striking. That human women shouldn’t be such an oddity.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996) 8/10
Dr. Abby Barnes (Janeane Garofalo) is a veterinarian with a pet advice radio show. When an attractive caller (Ben Chaplin) wants to meet her, she convinces him that she looks like her gorgeous neighbor Noelle (Uma Thurman). Complications ensue.

People kept telling me to see this movie, but the identity-switch plot made me cringe. I finally broke down, and yeah, there’s a couple of cringes, but it’s somehow nothing like the description sounds. First, because the self-consciousness of the cringey switch is a reflection of Abby’s own self-consciousness. Second, because there’s a crucial scene on the phone between Abby and Brian (Chaplin) that is so warm and lovely that it legitimizes the ensuing shenanigans, and finally, because the friendship that develops between Noelle and Abby as they weave their ridiculous lies is lovely and rare.

Seriously. Two women thrown together. Attracted to the same man. And…choosing friendship as a priority? Did you see that coming? And not necessarily, y’know, being martyrs, but recognizing the value of it. Considering it. Exactly as if they were human.

Because they are. Human women. In a script, get this, written by a woman. That includes female masturbation (and someday soon I’m writing a whole post on that subject).

Seeing these movies made me a little sadder about movies in general, because I shouldn’t be writing this post. It shouldn’t be, hey I saw movies in which women were actually friends. And human. And thoughtful. Two of them! Made only eleven years apart!

Public Paganism and a Watered-Down Approach

Gus diZerega writes about a public Pagan Solstice ceremony he was distressed by. He was disturbed by a sermon in the middle of the ceremony, by the political content of that sermon, and by a guided visualization that was entirely scientific, with no mythic or spiritual content. These things (sermons, politics, science), he points out, can be good, but are at odds with the purpose of Pagan ritual:

Changes like these when repeated and institutionalized are how a religion with a new focus is gradually tamed, and brought into harmony with the status quo. If sermons become a component of Pagan ceremonies, participants will increasingly be called upon to become passive vessels filled by whatever words the preaching Priest or Priestess feels called upon to say. If the altered awareness of trance and ecstasy is replaced with hypnotic introductions to scientific orthodoxy, we end up being more dependent on the competence of those giving the sermons and less on the Gods.

As a spiritual community we need to be very careful. Popular interest in our practice is greater now than ever before. We are becoming respectable. But those newly interested in us interpret what we do from within their own framework, and it is natural and appropriate for us to seek points of common understanding within their framework to explain our ways. Yet if we go too far along this path we lose sight of where we began.

Jason was impressed by Gus’s essay, and asks:

I wonder if any of my readers have experienced similar public rituals? Do you think there is a danger that modern Pagans are watering-down (or altering) practice to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience? If so, what should our reaction be?

I have certainly attended watered-down ceremonies, and ceremonies that didn’t feel very Pagan, although not quite like what Gus describes. However, I am not as concerned as Gus.

It is true, and disheartening to me, that part of the Pagan community is moving in a direction that is more socially mainstream, and less of a true alternative. A new set of window dressing on the same old same old. Pagans who are anti-nudity. Pagans who are anti-feminist. Pagans who find dancing around bonfires to be in poor taste.

Many of those Pagans are newer to the community. Not that it’s a newbie syndrome or anything like that. Rather, they are representative of the rapid growth that Gus notes. People now tend to enter into Paganism quickly. They don’t often go through a long period of seeking, because they get their needs met readily through books and the Internet. As a result, they don’t necessarily see the need for inner change. Paganism can be fit into one’s existing lifestyle and values, rather than questioning and changing those values in response to one’s Paganism.

And again, disheartening. Distressing even. But also inevitable, and not actually endangering to the core of Paganism. Watering-down is the bridegroom of public accessibility. But there is still the other Paganism, and people still seek it.

What happened with this movement is the esoteric preceded the exoteric. Oooh, big words. What I mean is, the secret societies, the Mysteries, and the spiritually transformative experiences were the bulk and focus of Neo-Pagan religion when it began. It is only in the last ten years that the exoteric; the outer, the public part of Paganism, has really taken over the perception of the nature of the beast, so that people can think the public stuff is Paganism. While there’s a certain synergism to that (the more people think it, the more the Paganism they practice will reflect that, and the more likely the next person will have the same perception), it isn’t completely a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is still not all that difficult to find out that there’s profound esoteric religion in there, both ecstatic and disciplined, and with no diluting agents anywhere in sight.

Over the years, I have realized that my path is not at all threatened by this other path, the Beltane-and-Samhain casualness, the “Christian Wicca” (huh?), the lecture-about-ritual in place of ritual. All of these have their place. There are people whose needs are met by these things. And those people will never replace the rest of us, who cannot be satisfied by a little bit of religion, who don’t want to hear about the Gods, only to be with Them and feel Them and know Them. Ultimately, we’re running parallel paths.

And that’s okay.

Looking to 2008

Roberta tagged the whole wide world with this meme about what you think 2008 will have in store.

1. Will you be looking for a new job?
No. I mean, disaster could strike, but I’m very stable in this job and I’m a stable type person.

2. Will you be looking for a new relationship?

3. New house?
No way. Maybe in 2009 or later, I’d like to own all four walls but not now.

4. What will you do differently in 08?
Let go more; control less. Hah! But no, I think I really will.

» Read more..

Computer goes wooga-wooga-bap


Past couple of weeks, if there’s something in the USB port and you touch it, the computer sometimes just turns off. Like, bap. Off. With the darkness and the not-on-ness. From touching the USB port.

And okay, it’s been the holidays, and Arthur’s been sick, and I just haven’t had the time or energy or spare sanity to deal with this shit.

Last night, Arthur went to bed without removing his USB drive, and my knee touched it, but instead of bap it was wooga-wooga-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. With scary messages and a black screen that says ZOMG!1! or something like it. So finally I had to turn it off (bap). And then I figure, okay, turn it back on.

Not so much.

I was so frustrated. I can’t believe how addicted I am to sitting on the computer in the evenings. Not to mention the not blogging. I actually had to read a book. The horror!

Anyway, this morning I said to myself, it’s a machine, not a person. A night’s sleep isn’t going to help it. But I couldn’t resist so I just pushed the button.

And it came on.


Take the Sci fi sounds quiz I received 78 credits on
The Sci Fi Sounds Quiz

How much of a Sci-Fi geek are you?
Take the Sci-Fi Movie Quiz canon s5 is

New Name for Christmas with the Family

House of Decibels

Figure it out.

Racist Comedy Gaze

So I watched some standup comedy special on Comedy Central. It was a couple of weeks old, but I have a DVR, so there you go. It was a single live performance featuring Dave Attell, D.L. Hughley, and Lewis Black. They performed their routines in that order, and then came out and did a thing together.

At some point, I became aware of the way the camera moved through the audience. You know what I mean; the audience members laughing in response to something the comedian has said.

Everyone shown in the audience for the white comedians was white. Everyone shown in response to Hughley was black.

I don’t get it. I mean, what’s the purpose of that? Is it scary to show white people enjoying Hughely? Does that provoke white anxiety in some way that eludes me? Are Black and Attell so unfunny to blacks that it would be implausible to show black audience members laughing at them? Are the camera operators, incredible as it seems, unaware that they are making racial choices?

There’s certainly a quantity of racial content in any comedian’s routine. Hughley does humor that is more black, Black does humor that is specifically Jewish (and Attell just isn’t fucking funny). And none of that feels racist or problematic. But the audience stuff; I had a real problem with that, and I just. Don’t. Get it.

Merry Christmas

No trivia today. Go be with your families.

By the way, Sun came back. Phew.

Monday Movie Review: Once

Once (2007) 10/10
A Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) meets an Eastern European girl (Markéta Irglová) and they form a friendship that changes both of them. (The IMDb lists this as a 2006 movie, but the awards and such are listing it as 2007.)

I kind of wonder what a professional critic does when confronted by the “nothing much happens” kind of movie. Once is extraordinarily simple, to the point where it almost defies description, yet any reviewer would want to describe it, inasmuch as a description might persuade someone to see it, and it’s worth seeing. But why? Ah, there’s the rub.

The unnamed guy (Hansard) works in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and sings on the street. By day he sings popular tunes to earn tips from passers-by; by night he sings his heartfelt originals. It is at night that the unnamed girl (Irglová) stops to talk to him. She has heard him during both day and night, and loves his original material. He is resistant to her conversation at first; he’s trying to play, not chat, but she is fascinated by him and persists in discussing music, finally getting under his skin by getting him to agree to fix her vacuum. She brings it the next day, and they discuss her own background as a pianist. The conversation is filmed as they walk; charmingly, she drags the vacuum along behind her like a bright blue puppy.

The movie is more than half musical performance, all in the context of musicians making music, and communicating their unspoken feelings through their music. There isn’t a direct lyrics-to-plot relationship; it’s more the level of intensity these people allow themselves is only available when they play, sing, and compose.

This isn’t a conventional romance. From the first, the girl recognizes that the guy’s songs are about a woman he hasn’t gotten over, and she encourages him to find her and win her back with his songs. Yet the friendship they have, as supportive and good and genuinely friendly as it is, seems constantly tinged with a longing to touch and love. Most of which is expressed simply in Hansards enormous blue eyes gazing at her, and Irglová’s delicate, careful turning away.

This is a low-budget film that looks like a home movie, and such films often annoy me. I don’t think looking cheap is a virtue, and I don’t like a shaky camera. But the camera doesn’t shake, and naturalism is the heart of this film; the naturalism of the music, of the characters, of the dialogue; it works perfectly.

What else can I say? The girl’s encouragement inspires the guy and allows him to want more and try for more than he’d dared before. Together they rent a studio to record a demo; neither would have achieved this without the other, but this is never spoken. How people react to the music is persistently delightful.

There are small Irish movies that are relentlessly charming. They whack you over the head with the charming sledge hammer. Look! We’re charming! See how quirky and Irish and quaint we are! Once has nothing in common with those movies; it’s populated by people, not quaint characters, and it is always true to itself.