Friday, December 12, 2008

A Blogger with a Slow Hand

It's gratifying on one hand that so many people have commented that I haven't blogged in a while. It means people are noticing.


Well I realized I'm actually, unwittingly, part of the latest trend in blogging: slow blogging. What I've come to understand about this movement is that some bloggers (like moi) prefer to write longer pieces more thoughtfully than the rapid-fire paced and abbreviated length entries that have heretofore defined the medium.

I do like to write longer pieces, and at the same time I've been going through a lot personally such that blogging has not been a compelling way for me to spend my free time. Why blog when you can whine about your failed romances. Just be glad I spared the Internet and faithful readers that woesome drama. There are far more interesting ones on the screen. . .

But I think of all of you out there each time I see a new movie, get obsessed with a TV show, see a play, or now, as I indulge my latest form of entertainment: play a new video game on my PlayStation 3. More on that in a minute.

Also, I've been getting more serious about painting, oil painting that is, and the occasional Mendocino barn.

I'm going to create a separate blog for my painting hobby for anyone who wants to watch my slow (that word again) progress from absolute childish amateur to pompous amateur. That would probably be an audience of one, my mother, who is always encouraging. I love painting, but I'm not good at it. Still, it gets me out of my head. When I was in high school and college I painted a bit. I was one class short from getting a minor in art. Instead I opted for the infinitely more practical minors in History and Theater. I picked the hobby back up in '08 and took lessons in the summer from Rob Langley, American Impressionist and am now studying with Kristine Reiner, American Realist. I'm trying to develop my own style, which I imagine will be somewhere in between.

But I still watch TV and see movies.

Some people said to me: I got hooked on Mad Men because of your blog. Thank you. The second season really delivered, I think. But I'm always looking for something new and meaty, something I can sink my teeth into (couldn't resist). I became obsessed with True Blood.

Vampires R Us



I should have done a whole blog entry about vampires and vampire movies. I could have compared and contrasted the salty HBO series True Blood with the moody movie Twilight. I suspect true vampire snobs will like neither—finding he former lurid and the latter insipid—but for me I fall for almost anything vampire. It’s like candy for me, or candy for me as a boy: Three Musketeers? Sure! Jolly Rancher? You bet. So different, but both satisfying.

True Blood—the series is over, but I’m sure it’s out on DVD or will be, and it's going to have a second season—is sexy, and first and foremost a vampire movie or story should be sexy. It’s set in some fictional backwoods swamplands in Louisiana, so you get a good dose of voodoo mixed in and some sultry Cajun accents, though most of the actors just play the drawl generic southern. The premise is that vampires have come out of the closet (casket), because a new synthetic blood allows them to feed without killing. They want to be accepted, and they want civil rights. Parallels to gays and HIV are everywhere, completely intentionally. The synthetic blood is like sex with condoms, it postures: it does the job but it’s not as fulfilling. And the vampires’ wish to be mainstreamed is met with suspicion, xenophobia, and out right hostility. There are liberals who accept the vampires, and then there are those that see them as sort of a tribe of goth rockers and want to be one of them: “fang bangers” they’re called.

This is trash of the highest order. But it has the Alan Ball signature (American Beauty, Six Feet Under): moody depth and unexpected three-dimensional characters--even in the minor roles. No one is entirely good or entirely evil. Ball is credited as creator, producer and director, and writer of some episodes. (By the way: name-dropping side note. I met Alan Poul at a party; he was Alan Ball's collaborator of sorts on Six Feet Under--they are both credited with producing and directing many episodes, though I think it's fair to say Ball was more the creative genius of that show. Poul is the genius behind Swingtown, though. Anyway, Poul gave me the adjective "lurid" to describe True Blood, though he had some good things to say about it too.)

All vampire stories have their own spin on the vampire myths and both True Blood and Twilight take creative liberties with the garlic, mirrors, crosses, sunlight motifs and create some new twists. In True Blood ingesting a few drops of vampire’s blood is like taking the drug ecstasy, combined with ‘shrooms and LSD. It has street value. It also has healing properties if you’re hurt. In Twilight, vampires can roam about in daytime as long as it’s not real sunny, thus the location: a gloomy northwestern town, shrouded in mist and clouds.

Twilight is very teen-age-girl. (That’s an actual adjective, by the way, because Tina Wang once used it describe her inspiration for a new collection she presented. It’s quite useful to describe many things as teen-age girls control so much of our economic and cultural lives. You may use it, but please cite verymarkmccormick and Tina Wang if you are questioned on its etymology. This will have to do until the new version of the OED comes out and we both get proper credit.)

As I was saying, it’s easy to see why teen-age girls have made Twilight a box-office success. The narrator is a misunderstood, not altogether geeky nor altogether popular and pretty, teen-ager, with a huge heap of angst on her shoulder. Of course she is starting at a new school and the only guy she likes is the vampire (it’s like me at a party: if there’s one straight guy there. . . oy!). And it’s easy to imagine the rest, which is my way of reminding readers that I’m not much for plot summaries. See Twilight for the moodiness, the somber romantic tone. It’s like a Smith’s song. And see True Blood—more Kurt Cobainish—for a weekly dose of sexy, dark, Cajun mystery, some horror show thrills, and the image of Jason Stackhouse’s butt (Ryan Kwanten). It’s in every episode, and I would say it’s worth the price of TiVo. (I swear this could be a drinking game—it’s laughably consistent)

Movies
I've seen a lot of movies since I last wrote. I want to do a best of '08--maybe I'll get around to it, but meanwhile, here are some mini-reviews.


Happy Go Lucky--Mike Leigh's new film. He's never done any film that's un-interesting. Check out Naked and Vera Drake. His movies tend to be very, very dark, teetering on the razor's edge of overwrought and emotionally profound. This one is different. It's about a cockeyed optimist. You'll wonder if it's really a Mike Leigh film until a pivotal scene with a driving instructor who calls her on her happiness. I've always said moodiness is not a victimless crime, referring to someone whose emotional state roller-coasters, but even aggressive positivity can be mean in a way as we learn.


Slumdog Millionaire--If you only see one movie in the next few months see this. I don't know a single person who wasn't moved by it. It has that formulaic underdog-makes-it-big plot that so many movies rely on, from Rocky to Billy Elliot to Seabiscuit. I've written about that pattern a few times in this blog. But because the hero comes from the slums of India, and because his wretched life is not sugarcoated at all the fairy tale ending really soars.


Milk--The story here is Sean Penn's performance. Sometimes I wonder why I blog at all about exceptionally good performances that have been widely lauded in the press, but I do think that Sean Penn's work here is astounding, some of the best I've ever seen. My friend Greg said he's channeling Harvey Milk, and it feels like that. There's a scene where they're celebrating an electoral victory of a proposition which would have, in the 1970's, made it legal to fire gay teachers. Its a transcendent moment, because Penn projects the joy so powerfully. I thank Penn for this--we need all straight people to do what they can to advance civil rights of gay people to care enough about us to be inconvenienced and to sacrifice their time and money. To be brave. We can't do this alone. We don't have Harvey now. He was brutally assassinated.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button--I was disappointed in this movie, because the pace was lugubrious, but I did like a few things about it: the message (find what you like and be it). I liked the supporting role of Benjamin's mother, Queenie (Taraji P Henson). I hope she gets an Oscar nomination. Pitt's role was understated, but the art direction and score were overstated, so you get the feeling that this film was pumped up to be an Oscar contender. It's contrived for that goal--you can almost hear it being pitched: "Blanchett and Pitt play characters that age over 60 years during the course of the film!" Well that's a triumph of make-up if nothing else, and computer generated graphics as they had to morph Pitt's head on a smaller body for a good part of it. I did admire Blanchett as she moved into middle age and beyond. She wore the weariness gracefully; I believed she was an aging dancer. The movie is just overly-ambitious. I would have liked to have the same story done with half the budget, half the time, with actors half as famous.


Revolutionary Road--Quite liked this movie in the way I like emotionally charged domestic dramas and period pieces like Mad Men. No I'm not going to compare it. The New Yorker review said that's annoying since this movie is set in the 50's and Mad Men is in the 60's, but it does that have that slice of truth about how suburban women perceived themselves and were perceived as social objects before The Feminine Mystique, The Female Eunuch, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, Virginia Slims, Charlie perfume, and That Girl. I don't mean to be glib. The reviews I've read can't seem to agree about the meta-themes of this movie: Is it about a feminist polemic or a commentary on suburban angst or the institution of marriage? Is it general or specific? I think what makes it art is that it is all of these things. I'm wondering--and I would love to hear your comments: Are movies about bad marriages, or rather love / hate relationships like The Squid and The Whale, Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf, and Revolutionary Road somehow more compelling to those of us who grew up in chaotic households? I certainly love a movie like this where the characters psychically eviscerate each other--so long as there's redemption. Honestly there's not much in this movie. But it underscores what for me is the greatest requirement of a relationship: to see someone and be seen. If you don't have that: expect tragedy.

Quick TV note:

Damages is coming back. FX is running first season catch up sessions. Try to catch it so you can be a part of the second season. Glenn Close is riveting. I promise. She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for this role. This is, like Mad Men, True Blood, and a few others, must-see TV.

So What Else Have I Been Doing?
A new genre to my blog: Games. Yes, I've given in, but only for what they call "rhythm games." I have a Playstation 3 now and two games Guitar Hero World Tour (like Rock Band), and Sing Star. I have just one word for this whole world: addictive. I know that gamers look down their noses at TV: they would rather play. But when I'm playing I always think: I should watching TiVo. So don't worry. I haven't turned into a teen-ager . . . yet. But like Benjamin Button, I do feel myself getting younger and younger every day.

Happy New Year everyone. I hope it's better than '08. I'm going to the inauguration. I'm in a state of optimism for many things. Thanks for your patience as I let the blog go for a while. I will keep it up in '09, but I do think the slow blog is -- let's call it a "slog"-- probably my genre. Stick with me, please. And know that your comments and subscriptions keep me going.