Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Movies: Oscar, No Grouch

From an essay by Louis Menand in the New Yorker:

As long as we want to believe that creative achievement is special ... we need prizes so that we can complain about how stupid they are. In this respect, it is at least as important that the prize go to the wrong person as that it go to the right one.

So if I’m reading this correctly – and let’s face it, I’m probably not – then grousing about this year’s Academy Award nominations is a way of celebrating artistic accomplishment. Why didn’t anybody tell me that before?

Great To See You:

MUNICH, Best Picture. I’m glad Academy voters were able to look past the controversy and honor a dense, demanding thriller that’s one of the best movies of the year.

Terrence Howard, Best Actor, HUSTLE & FLOW. A fine actor giving a master class in star power.

“It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” Best Song, HUSTLE & FLOW. I don’t know why I’m surprised. If the song doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t, either. I can hear that chorus now: “Got a whole lotta bitches jumping ship ...”

Paul Giamatti, Best Supporting Actor, CINDERELLA MAN. At long last. The lesson is: if you want to be a winner, play a winner. Here’s hoping Giamatti doesn’t take it.

William Hurt, Best Supporting Actor, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. He’s in a single scene, and it’s the best one I saw all year.

Amy Adams, Best Supporting Actress, JUNEBUG. Her performance made me think, “This is someone I’ll be watching for the rest of my life.”

Wally Pfister, Best Cinematography, BATMAN BEGINS. A little love for a blockbuster that has stayed with me.

Wish You Were Here:

Jeff Daniels, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. The performance of the year, without a doubt. Confusion over whether he was a lead or supporting actor had to hurt his chances.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE in general. Noah Baumbach will have to be content with cleaning up at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Maria Bello, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. She has stealthily vaulted to the front rank of American actresses. And someday the Oscars will take note.

Ralph Fiennes, THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Career-best work overlooked despite obvious affection for the movie.

Michael Lonsdale, MUNICH. The movie’s sprawling cast worked against any acting nods. But the Supporting category seems tailor-made for Lonsdale’s turn as an epicurean information broker.

Shane Black, Best Adapted Screenplay, KISS KISS BANG BANG. A man can dream, can’t he?

GRIZZLY MAN, Best Documentary. The fix was in on this movie weeks ago. The Academy’s arcane rules also prevented worthwhile foreign films like THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED from competing. As is the case every year since time immemorial.

The Big Winner:

Believe it or not, someone had a better day than George Clooney. Former eBay president Jeffrey Skoll set up Participant Productions to make films with social relevance. The company was involved with four movies in 2005: GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (six nominations), SYRIANA (two), NORTH COUNTRY (two), and Best Documentary contender MURDERBALL. Whoever answers Participant’s phones should be eligible for hazard pay.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Miscellaneous: And Nothing But

Irony fans found much to savor in Oprah Winfrey’s public shaming of writer James Frey on Thursday. Frey defended A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, the “memoir” touting his recovery from addiction, even though it’s filled with lies and exaggerations, hallmarks of an addict’s behavior.

Then there was the spectacle of seeing Oprah, avatar of the self-help movement, forced to listen while the man who “embarrassed” her parroted its language in her face. When Frey talked about coping mechanisms and how the ordeal would make him a better person, she had to think: what have I wrought?

By the end of the show, I felt bad for Frey. I don’t expect memoirs to be completely accurate. I know how mutable the truth is.

A few years ago, a producer set out to make a film about a criminal who operated in the Pacific Northwest. The subject of the story was dead, but the producer had secured the cooperation of several of the man’s friends and family members. And for some reason, he hired me to write the screenplay.

I quickly decided that my first loyalty was to the story, my second to the facts. I was as faithful to my research as possible – but if I could condense three events into one, I would. If a fictional scene would cover the same ground more effectively, in it went. Based on a true story can be a very liberating phrase.

We’d be pitching the project and the producer would say, “This guy’s life was incredible. There was this one time ...” And as he described a scene from the script, I’d think: That never happened. I made it up. But that was just my producer doing his job. He had sizzle to sell.

What gave me pause was when the subject’s friends and family started doing it. They would sometimes talk about events not as they remembered them but as they had been recreated on the page, in different locations and with others present. If the movie were made, it would become the official story. They simply wanted their own recollections to jibe.

The film still hasn’t been made, although there are occasional flurries of interest. Eventually this man’s story will be told, because his life was simply too colorful to ignore. If my script is used, it will be filtered by the director’s vision, altered by actors, and in all probability rewritten by someone else. And at some point, when what I see onscreen deviates from my version, I will say to myself: that’s not how it happened.

The only person who knows the truth is in the cold, cold ground. And I know if he were here, he’d lie about it. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to tell his story.

Miscellaneous: Links

Slate confirms two of my long-held beliefs: art house theaters suck, and always trust your money to a topless woman.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Meme Time: America the Beautiful and ... Action!

Explain America to someone from somewhere else by giving them 10 movies to watch.

I spotted this meme at Kung Fu Monkey and a few other sites. It’s an interesting one to think about. I was all set to let it pass when my friend Noelle asked me to take a crack at it. And around here, we aims to please.

The Searchers (1956). Let’s get the obvious choices out of the way early. Any such list has to include a western. John Ford’s film isn’t necessarily my favorite example of the genre, but it’s certainly the richest in terms of themes – our relationship with the land and the people who were first on it, the westward journey, the toll of civilization.

Chinatown (1974). The conclusion of the westward journey, and a movie that teaches a key lesson: when everything costs, someone always has to pay.

The Godfather, Part II (1974). Another obvious selection. One of the best treatments of the immigrant experience, and an unblinking look at how deeply corruption is woven into the warp and weft of American life.

Gone With The Wind (1939). That the best movie about the most shameful period in American history is a grandly entertaining soap opera says volumes.

Mildred Pierce (1945). Class in the classless society, and a sharp look at the extra burdens women must face to get ahead.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957). To be American is to be a hustler. And like no other movie, it captures the spirit of my favorite place in America, New York City. Kinetic, alive, filled with an animal indifference to your fate that only intoxicates you further.

The Right Stuff (1983). One of two movies that push my personal patriotism button. A tribute to America’s greatest modern accomplishment and to our sacred notion of teamwork, but one that acknowledges the parts as well as the whole.

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). The other film that can make me stand up and salute. A uniquely American life, and an examination of the prurient/Puritan divide.

Dr. Strangelove (1964). The shadows of WWII and the tumult of the 1960s conjoin here. A movie that boldly proclaims that the United States of America stands astride the world like no other power in the history of mankind – and that we don’t really know what to do about it, either.

His Girl Friday (1940). For presenting Americans at their best, as fast-talking cynics with hearts of gold who not only want to believe, but secretly do.

Bonus Musical Selection #1: Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Because we put on a happy face. And because the movie as an object has always represented a kind of American exemplar for me, combining individual achievement, collaborative effort, and corporate identity.

Bonus Musical Selection #2: The Music Man (1962). For making the heartland both enormously appealing and more complicated than the myth would have you believe.

Put ‘em all together and you get an interesting look at the national character. Of course, if you ask me tomorrow, you’ll get a whole new list. I will point out that none of these movies is exactly a chore to sit through. Because I, like the country that I love, am all about razzmatazz.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Miscellaneous: Feelin’ Fine

Welcome to the most depressing day of the year, according to a formula based on such variegated factors as weather, debt, and “psychic gloom” stemming from failed New Year’s resolutions. Considering that there’s not a cloud in the Seattle sky (for once), the Seahawks beat the spread, and most of my resolutions were knocked off in a long afternoon, I’m good.

TV: Bravo

Over the weekend I flicked past this network to discover that it had deviated from its format of celebrity poker, PROJECT RUNWAY, and reruns of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT to air movies. Two Academy Award winners, in fact, Chicago followed by The Usual Suspects.

Except for a brief overlap when both films were showing at the same time.

On the bottom half of the screen, I could see CHICAGO’s closing credits, provided that I squinted. The SUSPECTS titles unfurled on the top half while the movie’s soundtrack played.

You’ll have to take my word on this. I would post a screen capture, but I have no idea how to do that.

TV networks have been squeezing credits for years now. It irks me when certain nameless premium channels do it. I’m paying you people money, damn it. Let me see who the grips are and listen to the lousy Diane Warren song in peace.

But being forced to watch two movies at once is a new one on me. Thank you, Bravo, for treating me like a meth addict.

I was so incensed I was ready to put the channel block on. But I don’t know how to do that, either.

Miscellaneous: Blank You, You Blanking Blank

Comes now, via Defamer, a list of movies that drop the f-bomb with the most frequency. There’s already some controversy about the #1 title, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects. I don’t see how a movie can pack 560 uses of the word into 109 minutes unless the profanities are somehow incorporated into the credits. As in “First fucking assistant director Marco fucking Black.” I’m unfamiliar with one movie that makes a strong showing, Wiseguys vs. Zombies, and I can’t believe that Glengarry Glen Ross limps across the finish at #48. But the article features a graph, which means that it can’t be wrong.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Miscellaneous: XL

Now that the unthinkable has happened and the Seattle Seahawks are finally in the Super Bowl, I’m entitled to engage in a little bandwagoneering. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.) But I respect you people too much for that.

When it comes to my adopted hometown’s sports teams, I, like Moe the Bartender, am a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish them any specific harm. The only team I root for is the New York Mets – who, incidentally, will tear up the NL East this season. When I watch any game, be it pee-wee girls soccer or NFL showdown, it’s always with the same hope: that I will see some truly stunning displays of poor sportsmanship, bloodshed included.

It’s not like I didn’t try to root, root, root for the home teams when I moved here. I pin my failure on the 2001 Mariners. Set the major league record for most regular season wins and then not go to the World Series? You’re dead to me.

Seattle hasn’t won a major men’s sports championship since the 1979 Sonics took the NBA crown. (Obscure sports fact: the first American team to win the Stanley Cup was the long-defunct Seattle Metropolitans in 1917. We don’t even have an NHL franchise now, yet somehow Phoenix and Dallas do.) But Seattle’s title woes never impress sportswriters or other fans. I think it’s because the rest of the country resents the isolated splendor of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, some 800 miles from the closest NFL town, is like that kid from the gifted program who seems perfectly happy playing by himself. You never give him another thought, so you’re never aware of his pain.

The fact that the Seahawks are making their first Super Bowl appearance after 30 years in the league is being eclipsed by the many storylines circulating around their opponents the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most fabled teams in the NFL. The ‘Hawks are already underdogs. But I’m counting on that to work in their favor. Let everybody talk about the Steelers’ 3 road wins against the top teams in the dominant conference and Jerome Bettis closing out his career in his hometown of Detroit. Then the Seahawks can come in and quietly and efficiently get the job done.

And, yes, I’m going to be pulling for them.

Miscellaneous: Link

Cool! Muslim superheroes!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

DVD: Kontroll (2003, U.S. 2005)

In life and in the movies, I’m a subway kind of guy. In two cities that I’ve called home, they were my primary means of transportation. I’ve ridden them in numerous other ports of call. Seattle is in the process of building its own half-assed version that’s making rush hour traffic in the downtown core a ceaseless grind.

And subways may be the greatest of movie locations. Inherently cinematic, potent as metaphor – the roiling innards of the metropolis, connecting high and low. Just don’t eat anything you find on the floor. I’ve said more than once that repeated viewings of The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three made the man I am today. (When in New York, be sure to visit the Metropolitan Transit Museum and its permanent exhibit on films shot in the city’s subways, in which Pelham receives pride of place.)

So I was predisposed to like Kontroll, a movie set entirely in the Budapest subway. Literally. Every second of this ingenious, one-of-a-kind film takes place underground in the soothing glow of fluorescents. It’s part deadpan workplace comedy, part existential thriller, all brilliant. Rent it. You’ll thank me later.

Kontroll includes a sly tribute to one of the all-time great subway scenes from THE FRENCH CONNECTION. Plenty of movies have memorable moments set in the tunnels beneath the hard heart of the city. What are your favorites? Leave nominations in the comments. Remember to ask for a transfer.

Miscellaneous: Links

Takashi Miike proves to be too much for Showtime. No limits, my ass. And to mark the start of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, a reminder that winning the grand prize isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Movie: The Matador (2005)

Mercy is exactly the kind of movie you want to discover for yourself on cable, a tense, low-key thriller made with care and ingenuity. I made a point of remembering writer/director Richard Shepard’s name to see what he’d do next.

Given bigger names and a bigger budget, he delivers more of the same. The Matador, about an international assassin and a regular joe businessman who make an odd connection when they’re both stranded in Mexico City, is a modest, even slight movie. And it knows it, which makes it good, breezy fun. With all the heavy stuff out trolling for Oscar, it goes down like a margarita on a hot day.

Pierce Brosnan has traded on his James Bond persona before in the neglected The Tailor of Panama. As the hit man in the throes of a psychological breakdown, he makes the move to the dark side – and is clearly having a ball. Greg Kinnear, as always, gives good regular guy.

In the midst of the mayhem is a surprisingly moving portrait of a marriage between two people who are still deeply in love. Hope Davis, whom I adore and will watch in anything, has a small role as Kinnear’s wife that includes a gem of a scene in which she explains what her husband means to her. Her acting and Shepard’s writing are so strong that even the tubercular case behind me, spattering bits of his sole remaining lung onto the back of my head, couldn’t break the mood. On top of that, the soundtrack features songs by Asia and the Killers. What’s not to love?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Miscellaneous: Memories Are Made Of This

I wanted to ignore James Frey. Honest and truly I did. But after plowing through the Sunday Times, I realized that the story won’t die. And the bloggers’ union told me I had to contribute something.

Besides, I read A MILLION LITTLE PIECES well before Oprah anointed it for her Book Club. I thought it was a crock, a wildly exaggerated addiction memoir filled with tough-guy posturing. (And, to be fair, a crazed energy that kept me turning pages.) The fact that I didn’t believe most of this purportedly true story didn’t bother me, a sad confession in itself.

I could rant about the through-the-looking-glass reaction: Oprah blaming Random House for tagging it a memoir, the book’s fans claiming that Frey is the true victim. Or I could say that Larry David saw all this coming. After all, Kramer sold bits of his life story to fill out J. Peterman’s autobiography. The world is becoming more like SEINFELD every day, and we’re all architects like George Costanza.

Instead, I’ve decided to focus on how I can profit from all this.

I’ve always been fascinated with memoirs because I believed I could never write one. My life has simply been too boring. Trust me, I was there. Nothing but middle class white boy angst.

But Frey has shown me the error of my ways. In WRITING THE NOVEL, Lawrence Block explains how to create fiction by extrapolating one’s own experiences. You don’t need to visit the moors of England to pen a Gothic when there’s a perfectly good creepy old manse on the outskirts of town. And so, in this age, does the memoir go as well. Which suddenly gives me plenty of material.

Thanks to James Frey, I now realize that embellishments are OK – and that the one meeting of the Young Republicans I attended was an attempt to find acceptance by joining a cult. That time I downed too many hot dogs and got violently ill at Knott’s Berry Farm? That’s now an eating disorder that I bravely overcame. The guy who touched me inappropriately in Waldenbooks when I was 12 is, in terms of “emotional truth,” a history of sexual abuse. (And I was an altar boy. There’s got to be some way to work that in there.)

This is going to open up a whole new market for me. I’m going to put pen to paper as soon as I figure out how to spin my childhood trip to an Irish ice cream parlor into an alien abduction. (Both involve travel, an inability to understand what others were saying, and the insertion of something cold into my body.) Oh, yes, I know why the caged bird sings. And for $27.95, I’ll tell all.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Miscellaneous: Read More About It

I went to see the Brothers Goldberg, Lee and Tod, at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop a while back and had a fine time. Among my haul that afternoon was THE PAST TENSE, Lee’s latest novel featuring characters from the Dick Van Dyke TV series Diagnosis Murder. I intend it as a high compliment when I say that although much of it is set in 1962, at no point did I picture Rob Petrie as Dr. Mark Sloan. Although I did see Mary Tyler Moore as his wife. Go figure.

For years, tie-ins were the bulk of my reading diet. Not by choice; they were all that Pat’s Pharmacy, the only place that sold books in my neighborhood, carried. I would get weirdly put out when novelizations veered from what was in the movie, like when all the characters in GREASE the book worried about ‘using protection.’ I didn’t remember any numbers about that. But hey. If you want strict accuracy, buy a Fotonovel.

I have few regrets in life. One is that I never took Rosemarie to see Florida’s Neil Diamond Bobby Palermo at the Ramada Inn in Clearwater. The other is that I didn’t buy the novelization of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai when I had the chance. By all accounts, the film’s writer Earl Mac Rauch used the book as an opportunity to flesh out the world he created. Some fans like it more than the movie.

Plenty of top novelists have toiled in the tie-in field. A partial list can be found at the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers website. Co-founder Max Allan Collins has had his own work adapted for the big screen with THE ROAD TO PERDITION. He’s also penned dozens of tie-ins. In this interview, he explains how you novelize a movie that you don’t like.

Magazine: The New Yorker, 1/16 issue

Eric Konigsberg’s article on the life and death of a child prodigy isn’t available online, but it’s worth buying the magazine for. It’s one of those classic New Yorker pieces that uses the prism of a small story to look at whole swaths of the world.

TV: 24

The great Peter Weller joins the show later this season. I eagerly await his first scene with Kiefer Sutherland. Those two voices combined should trip every seismograph on the West Coast.

Friday, January 13, 2006

DVD: Grizzly Man (2005)

If I’d seen this movie in 2005, I would have sung its praises in my year end wrap-up. Which is a good argument to stop doing those wrap-ups; I’m never actually finished with any particular year. Allow me to climb to the rooftop and sing its praises now.

Werner Herzog’s documentary about Timothy Treadwell, the self-appointed defender of Alaska’s bears who was ultimately killed by one, wields almost indescribable power. It’s not only a gripping psychological portrait but a meditation on nature, on cinema, on identification and transference, on the many definitions of community. It’s the most dense film I’ve seen in ages – the only comparison I can think of is another documentary, Capturing The Friedmans – and one that will yield more treasures on repeat viewings.

The movie has had such an impact on me that I refuse to watch the parody version that’s currently making the rounds. I even refuse to link to it. Although I’m sure the ambitious among you can track it down on your own.

Miscellaneous: Link

LA Weekly recounts the story of Eric Red, the screenwriter who had a hand in some of the biggest horror films of the ‘80s and then killed two people in a bizarre traffic accident that was a prelude to a suicide attempt. It’s a long article, but worth it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Movie: Showgirls (1995)

This is how swamped I am with work. It’s International Showgirls Appreciation Day and I’m too busy to weigh in on the subject.

Which is too bad, because I had a dilly of a post planned. I was going to start by saying that of course Paul Verhoeven set out to make just this kind of movie. Why else would he direct the supporting cast (Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan) to give campy, knowing performances while insisting that star Elizabeth Berkley play it deadly straight? I would then segue into my controversial belief that Ms. Berkley’s work as a sociopath rebelling against an uncaring patriarchy can only be compared to Maria Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Finally, I would declare my admiration for screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and recount the complicated tale of how he left a message on my voicemail last year that I’m still trying to convert into my computer’s start-up sound.

But sadly, I don’t have time. Instead, all I can do is point you toward some good people who are marking the occasion, and say that I’m more of a Jade man anyway.

Miscellaneous: And Another Thing ...

So we’re heading into a three-day weekend, and according to Seattle Weekly none of the outstanding year-end releases – like Match Point and The New World – will be opening here on Friday. What gives? It’s not like I live in the sticks. Seattle is one of the most movie-mad cities in the United States. The Golden Globes are on Monday, for Christ’s sake! Get these movies out there.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Miscellaneous: Sensory Deprivation, Day 4

All praise to St. Clare of Assisi. The new TV arrived early this morning. Our long national nightmare is over. I was even able to pick up THE IPCRESS FILE right where I left off.

Several people have asked what kind of set we bought. Rosemarie and I didn’t rush into this blindly. We signed up at Consumer Reports and considered whether this was the time to do a full upgrade. High definition, liquid crystal, MacPherson struts, all the bells and whistles.

Ultimately, we decided against it. Cost was a factor, as was the fact that optimally you want to sit at least a good six feet from an HD set to appreciate the image. We can’t really do that at Chez K without invoking the wrath of the feng shui gods. That will have to wait for our eventual home theater, once the big Hollywood/cancer research administration money rolls in.

In the meantime, we opted for what the store dismissively calls a “direct view” set. We did choose the Sony model that Consumer Reports named best of the type, though. That’ll show ‘em.

So far it lives up to its billing. Watching football this afternoon, I could see the spittle fly.

Understand that I had no choice but to write about this interregnum. Talking to friends was no help. They fall into two categories. Either they don’t own a TV and cannot feel my pain, or own more than one and can offer nothing but pity. Now that I have my own set again, I say to hell with the lot of them.

One positive experience: at no point in the last four days did I accidentally encounter the three most annoying people on television while changing channels.

In Douglas Adams’ THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE, galactic president/outlaw Zaphod Beeblebrox is placed inside the Total Perspective Vortex, the most effective torture chamber ever devised. It shows the subject his exact relation to the sprawling infinity of the universe. The awareness of one’s own insignificance is guaranteed to break any being’s spirit at once. But when the egomaniac Zaphod comes out, he feels even better about himself.

That’s what this experiment has been like for me. I’ve learned something today. Life is all about proportion. I’m fine with the amount of TV I watch. I like having one set in the house that I can turn on – and off – whenever I want.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go fire up the original KING KONG on the newest member of the family. I want this relationship to get off on the right foot.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Miscellaneous: Sensory Deprivation, Day 3

At this stage in the TV-free experiment, I expected one of two reactions.

First, madness. There would be a monstrous odor, senses transfigured, and I would beseech Yog-Sothoth to save me.

The other would be an insufferable feeling of accomplishment. I’d tell anyone who would listen how I’ve been plowing through the collected works of Anthony Trollope, making artisanal butters and sleeping the sleep of the dead since ejecting that glass-eyed time burglar from my living room and my life.

Neither one is the case. Besides, those who know me will tell you that I’ve been into artisanal butters for years.

My actual reaction is an unhappy medium. Yes, I’m getting more done, but not very much, because watching TV never conflicted with work. In fact, a lot of that extra work consists of longer-than-usual posts about how I’m spending time without the TV. We don’t use the boob tube much, but we use it well.

What I miss is TV’s ability to fill those lulls in the day. Listening to JEOPARDY while fixing dinner, catching a SIMPSONS or SEINFELD rerun when I’m through with work, flipping channels for a few minutes when I know I ought to be heading for the gym. The ability to waste time is what separates us from the animals, and TV is our most effective means of doing that. Without it, I’ve had to come up with ways to waste time. And believe me, that’s hard work.

R.I.P. Lou Rawls

In college, I developed the Lou Rawls Law. At any gathering, if you sing the first line of the late singer’s best known song – “You’ll never find ...” – someone will always come in with the piano line that follows. Always. I’ve tried it in classrooms, at parties, in meetings, and it never fails. What better testament can there be to the man’s talent?

Miscellaneous: Link

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz – whose review of Mallrats spurred Kevin Smith to make CHASING AMY – kicked off the new year with a new blog. His cantankerous post on how critics have unfairly maligned the latest Star Wars movie is food for thought.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Miscellaneous: Sensory Deprivation, Day 2

How am I faring without TV? Just fine. Just fine. Justfine. Justine. Justine Bateman. She was in FAMILY TIES. Remember that? Man, that was a great show.

Yesterday was smooth sailing, largely because we spent the evening selecting the replacement set. It’s slated for delivery on Saturday, which is earlier than I expected. Customer service. It’s what makes America and its India-based call centers great. With any luck, I’ll be able to catch some of the NFL wild card games this weekend. Although frankly, I’m more of a highlight show fan. Had the TV been working, I would have spent part of last night watching HBO’s Inside The NFL. But it’s available on demand, so no problem.

On demand is one reason why losing the TV hasn’t been much of a sacrifice. The shows we never miss aren’t on now, and when they are we can schedule them at our convenience. The TV works for me, not t’other way around.

It wasn’t always thus. I used to have a line-up of shows for every night of the week. But I started to feel like I wasn’t getting enough work done, so I made a deal with myself. I’d give TV up for six months, just until I cleared some stuff off my desk. Then I could go back to my deadening, soul-sucking routine.

You can see where this is going.

Name any big show of the last 10 years – FRIENDS, ER, LOST – and the odds are I haven’t seen a minute of it. I don’t even have much interest in catching up with series on DVD. I’ve never understood the impulse; it’s like congratulating yourself on your dieting success by bingeing at an all-you-can restaurant.

I’m not immune to the siren song of television. The NBC version of THE OFFICE has won me over, and some weekends there’s nothing better than a LAW & ORDER marathon. But mostly, I have a long list of shows I would regularly watch if I regularly watched TV: HOUSE, MONK, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.

So, you might well ask, what do you use the TV for? During the day, when I take a break from work, I’ll usually reach for the remote. This is what follows:

- Turn the TV on, which is always tuned to a cable news network. Watch it until I am completely disgusted.

- Thirty seconds later, flip to MTV Hits hoping to see a Shakira video. End up with a Mariah Carey video instead. Repeatedly say how much I don’t like her until it dawns on me that this may mean I secretly find her attractive. Quickly change the channel.

- Watch 20 minutes of a movie I have already seen.

In the evening, it’s Netflix DVDs, movies I’ve recorded off cable, and Comedy Central. Oh, and crap. Glorious, I-can’t-believe-they-aired-that crap. Like last night’s season premiere of Dancing With The Stars. George Hamilton? Jerry Rice? I’m bummed that I missed that. I genuinely am.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Miscellaneous: Sensory Deprivation, Day 1

Ask any scientist. For an experiment to be useful, it should be planned in advance. One cannot charge recklessly into the process of discovery.

Still, that’s not about to stop me.

Last night, I set the DVR to record The Quiller Memorandum. As I was already in an espionage frame of mind, I started watching The Ipcress File, a movie I’ve always enjoyed.

Halfway through a bizarre brainwashing scene, the picture went wonky. For a moment, I thought the TV was simply getting into the spirit of things.

“Looks like the cable box is acting up,” I said to Rosemarie, offering my complicated but optimistic theory.

“No,” she said, “I think it’s the TV.” Her rationale was much simpler: if the cable box was at fault, we’d have no picture at all.

As always, she was right. Within minutes, the verdict was in. Our television set was dead. We’d had it for a while, but I figured it had a few more years left. Perhaps my expectations are too high. When I was a kid, we still had an old black-and-white set that looked like something out of The Twonky. When we moved to Florida, we gave it away. For all I know, it’s still working, picking up the old Dumont network.

We’ve started shopping for a replacement. So far, we’ve come to one conclusion. For reasons too convoluted and boring to go into here, the most convenient option would be to have the store drop off the new set and take the old one away. The problem is that such deliveries must be scheduled 3-5 days in advance.

Which brings us to the experimental portion of tonight’s broadcast. With apologies to Harlan Ellison, how will the subject fare without a glass teat at which to suckle? Tune in and find out.

We’re not totally cut off. Thanks to the new computer, we can watch DVDs. And the timing couldn’t be better; I’ve got several projects demanding my immediate attention, and over the weekend Rosemarie said that this year she’d like to read more in the evenings and watch less TV. She’s also suggested that it should rain ice cream, so if you go out, bring a hat. Or a cone.

I’ve already missed the Letterman/O’Reilly smackdown, which doesn’t sound like much: a cranky guy crankily tells a blowhard that he’s a blowhard, no doubt followed by analysis and gloating by Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann. I also missed the cable networks’ disastrous coverage of the attempted rescue of the West Virginia miners, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper learning the truth from an unlikely source.

Something tells me I’m going to come through this just fine.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Miscellaneous: Knight’s Work If You Can Get It

Starting out the year on a high note: Sir Tom Jones.

Miscellaneous: Sentences I Never Thought I’d Type

The road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle.

In other gridiron news, teams from every city I’ve lived in won their divisions. I hereby offer my services as a good luck charm to the San Francisco 49ers. The missus and I won’t require much, just a rambling manse in Pacific Heights. It’s a small price to pay for a return to glory.

Movie: Eye of the Devil, aka 13 (1967)

Wealthy French landowner David Niven receives a mysterious summons to return home because the vineyards are dying. I stumbled onto the second half of this horror movie when I was about 10, and what I saw I vividly remember. Stark black-and-white photography. Lots of fish-eyed shots of the locals. The eerily beautiful brother and sister who were a little too close (David Hemmings and Sharon Tate). People in black robes running around in the woods, like a high-toned version of ‘Coven’ from American Movie. And an ending that weirded me out but good.

I always wanted to see the film in its entirety, so I recorded it a few months ago. I only got to it recently. Not because I was scared, smart guy. I’ve been busy.

Alas, it didn’t hold up. Deborah Kerr should have figured out what was going on much earlier. Still creepy, though.

Even creepier was the short that Turner Classics ran after it, a promotional film called “All Eyes on Sharon Tate.” It was a bit of behind-the-scenes fluff on Tate’s first substantial screen appearance. There are shots of her dancing in swinging London discos with Hemmings, a quote from Niven in which he calls her a “bird,” and many predictions of a rosy future for the actress which sadly never happened. A fascinating artifact.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Miscellaneous: New Year, New You, And By You I Mean Me

The epiphany came in December 1999. Instead of knocking oneself out to mark the end of the old year, the key is to start the new one off right. So the focus of the festivities here at Chez K shifted from December 31 to January 1.

We still enjoy New Year’s Eve, usually by taking in a movie (this time, it was Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto, which I enjoyed). And we’re always up to ring in the new. Thanks to the aftereffects of a big bottle of wine with dinner, we welcomed 2006 with Trader Joe’s cream soda, which looks just dandy in a champagne flute.

Then we turn in at a sensible hour so that first thing in the morning we can head out for a hearty breakfast, accompanied by Bloody Marys. The drinks are essential. In fact, the hearty breakfast is really just an excuse. It’s my theory that setting the tone is paramount. Begin the year by treating yourself and only good things will follow.

All I know is that since Rosemarie and I instituted our January 1 kickoff breakfasts, life has been on a steady upswing. In 2005, we had script sales, major promotions, and multiple TV appearances. Frankly, we could use a year off, but it looks like we’re both only getting started.

As for 2006, I have a few resolutions.

- Spend less time in the blogosphere. Things seem to be getting a mite dark out there. And political sites aren’t the only ones subject to the echo chamber effect. Pop culture blogs not only tend to cover the same subjects, but to react to and obsess over other posts on those subjects. I don’t have time to squander on that anymore.

- Broaden my reading range. I watch movies from all periods in all genres, but when it comes to fiction I tend toward contemporary crime stuff. This year I finally got around to a number of books I’ve wanted to read for years – A FAN’S NOTES by Frederick Exley, THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand, MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN by Marguerite Yourcenar – and they were easily the most enriching experiences of my year. I want more of the same.

- Order more obscure cocktails in bars.

My thanks to anyone and everyone who stopped by to listen to my blather in 2005. Here’s wishing you health, happiness, and at least one Gibson in 2006.