Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Terrible Sonnet

I know attachment is the deadest end,
Yet oftentimes I dwell on things gone by,
And rend my soul to nothing one can mend,
And think on those to whom I've said, "Good-bye."
There's one who's sorely missed as days do speed --
Dear friend, you were, well lov-ed in your time.
Oh! Nothing can assuage my deepest need,
And nothing will e’er exculpate the crime:
To leave the grapes untended on the vine;
To end the race before it has been won;
To pour the juice before it can be wine;
To let the harvest spoil in the sun.
Oh, Arch Deluxe, you never had the chance
To amble out and join in on the dance!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Grups Award #4

The Grups Award (for generalizations that seem astute but aren't) hasn't been given in a while, but it's mostly been due to my own laziness, not a lack of eligible articles, people, and publications. Today I'm awarding a Gruppy to a trio of film critics: Anthony Lane of the New Yorker, Stephanie Zachariak of Salon, and Keith Phipps of The Onion's AV Club (though Mr. Phipps's award-winning comment is from a piece in Slate). Why are they collectively winning a Grups Award? For gloom-and-dooming movies because of a perceived bad year in 2006.

Anthony Lane:

My saddest moment in a movie theatre came a month ago, when I screened “All About Eve” to a bunch of acquaintances, one of whom came up to me at the end. “What happened?” she asked.

“Well,” I replied, “Anne Baxter got the award, and Bette Davis sat there all steamed up, and George—”

“No,” she said, tapping her foot, “what happened to movies like that? Movies with four great parts for women and lines you want to quote? Where did they go?”

No idea, but they sure as hell aren’t coming back.

Stephanie Zachariak:

The loss of an artist like Rpbert [sic] Altman would be difficult to bear in any year. But his loss cuts even deeper because he came of age as a filmmaker in an era when people could still be galvanized by movies, when there was time to refine our likes and dislikes, to parse our passion for or ambivalence about a picture before the next weekend's wave would roll in. We don't need more movies in our lives. We need more time, a commodity that's in short supply for almost everyone I know, to be able to catch at least some of these movies on the fly and define for ourselves which ones really matter.

Keith Phipps:

I saw a pattern of settling into acceptable mediocrity in 2006, and it worries me.

Sigh. Oh, those glory days! When were they again? The gone-for-good fifties, Mr. Lane? The galvanizing seventies, Ms. Zachariak? Apparently even 2005, according to Mr. Phipps, was so vastly superior to 2006 that we should all drown an eye unused to flow for the golden age of cinema which apparently ended just last year.

Now, I'm no big city film critic (audience: "Ooooooh!"), but I find it very very hard to believe that any year that gives you movies like "Idlewild," "Children of Men," "Idiocracy," "Pan's Labyrinth," "Borat," and "The Proposition" could be defined as settling into mediocrity. In 2006, there were plenty of daring, personal movies (both successes and failures). And speaking of "Children of Men," I had quite a nice conversation after seeing the movie with the people I saw it with. As I do with, you know, most movies I see. And a movie that causes us to "parse our passion"? I had to practically wear ear plugs to avoid walking into a conversation about Borat -- and at least some of them had to be high-minded enough to count as "galvanizing." Yeah, movies still make people talk about movies and refine their tastes.

(If Zachariak wants movies to do more than that -- the word "galvanizing" is troubling to me -- I feel the need to point out that film, like all media, does only what it can. It would be nice to think that "M*A*S*H" and Bob Dylan ended the Vietnam War, but it didn't happen that way. At the beginning of "Slaughterhouse Five," Vonnegut writes that when he told a friend he was writing an anti-war novel, she replied that he might as well write an anti-glacier novel [but I suppose we'll be able to judge the effects of a pro-glacier movie with "An Inconvenient Truth"]. I remember a play, I think by Ed Napier, where a character makes fun of Berthold Brecht's "alienation effect," saying, "Well, look how good it worked on the Germans." I don't think she meant it like that -- that movies should affect social change -- but I started rambling and couldn't stop myself. So there.)

Now, on to "All About Eve" and it's quotability and the fact that it's never coming back. I thought about "All About Eve" and after I sorted "Sunset Boulevard" from it in my head, the only quote I could come up with was, "Hold on, it's going to be a bumpy ride." Then I thought, "Wait a second? That doesn't seem right. This seems like a 'play it again, Sam' moment." Hmm. So I looked at the IMDB memorable quotes page and saw that I'd misremembered it. "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." I also saw that I did not remember ANY OTHER LINE from the movie. This isn't proof that the movie isn't well-written, but, well, it just doesn't have the place in my relatively smart, relatively thoughtful brain that Anthony Lane imagines it should. And why should it? It's an artifact from another time. Reading the memorable quotes, they feel stagey and weird. Now, T.S. Eliot took great pains to remind us that the present's artistic endeavors are only possible because of the past, and I agree with him, but times and fashions change and works of art are at least partially a product of their times. Why aren't there movies like "All About Eve" anymore? For the same reason that in fifty years movies like "The Big Lebowski" or "Eternal Sunshine" or "Three Kings" (or, or, or) won't be made anymore: shit happens.

If I were a less thoughtful person, I might be inclined to despair over the lack of good film criticism "nowadays," but that's not the case. All that happened is that three critics, while going over their year end lists, got struck by bouts of getoffmylawnism brought on by a year of seeing mostly mediocre, forgettable "entertainment." Well, too bad. Go watch "Sullivan's Travels" and do your job: review movies, not the state of movies (that last bit goes for you, too, David Denby).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Google Image Definition: "Performance Art"

performance art: [noun] People standing around in various states of dress, sometimes in black and white, usually holding their arms at odd angles.

Used in a sentence: Everyone was happy to see that this time the performance art was in color and naked from the waist up with hands crossed out in front awkwardly.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pizza Quest: Roundup #1

[Here are reviews for a few pizza places I've been to recently. All of them will be added to the Pizza Quest pages. Click here for the entire list.

PINCH - Park Ave. b/w 28th and 29th

I ran in one night and grabbed a slice...or, uh, quadrangle or whatever the appropriate pizza unit would be to describe six inches of pizza thing (PINCH stands for "Pizza by the Inch," so you order a number of inches off of a big slab of pizza). Dude. This is not good pizza. The crust was insubstantial (not thin - weirdly airy and fall apart-y), there was too much damn cheese, and the sauce was weirdly sweet. I finished it and thought, "That's the best Ellio's pizza I've ever eaten." If I were in a more charitable mood, I might try to spin that as a compliment. Feh.

Sullivan Street Bakery (Hell's Kitchen location) - 47th St. b/w 10th and 11th
**** (but it doesn't matter)

The bread at Sullivan Street Bakery is one of my favorite foodstuffs in the world. And so is the pizza. The pizza -- thin, crispy, and square, served room temperature with no mozzarella -- is made out of deliciousness. They offer only a few varieties, but all of them are excellent. The potato and rosemary is my favorite (the thin sliced potato gets crispy around the edges and tender in the center), followed by the marinara (tomato sauce, and, err, that's about it). The problem is that while amazing, these slices don't scratch my pizza itch. Meaning, if I think to myself, "I could go for a slice," a slice of Sullivan St. pizza won't satisfy me half as well as the crappiest slice from Mr. Super Crappy, himself, Famous Ray. It depresses me to say that, but I still love you, Sullivan Street Bakery. Please don't be mad at me.

Mariella's - 8th Ave. b/w 56th & 57th

Oprah's friend Gayle was sent on a quest for the best pizza in America. She went to three places - first, the one she went to in college, second, what is oftentimes called the best pizza in the US (Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ) , and third, Mariella's Pizzeria in New York (at the suggestion of her driver). This was a quest in the same way that purchasing boneless chicken cutlets is hunting. I'd had Mariella's a couple times and had literally no memory of it, so I decided to give it another chance. This is far from great pizza. In fact, it might not even be good pizza. The sauce was way too sweet and had too much oregano in it. The crust was tough and chewy. The cheese blanketed the pizza completely. Actually, blanket is too gentle a description. The cheese suffocated the pizza like a plastic bag. I also got a white slice (mozzarella and riccotta) and it was even worse. Bland riccotta and that layer of mozzarella without even bad sauce to break things up. There are several better pizzerias within a five block radius (John's on 58th, Sacco's on 8th, even the two Angelo's -- one on Broadway and one on 57th), let alone the entire city. While people having irrational love for a pizza place is nothing unusual (*cough*salandcarmines*cough*), this is particularly disappointing because Oprah's word carries, I hear, some weight. And so, Oprah viewers will come to New York. And those tourists will go to Mariella's. And they will think that's what good, NY pizza tastes like. Don't believe the Oprah-generated hype.

Totonno's - 2nd Ave. b/w 80th and 81st St.

Tara and I had nearly the same experience at the uptown Totonno's as at the 23rd St. location. We ordered a half-plain/half-sausage-and-garlic and it was good, but not great. It's like a blurry photocopy of the original in Coney Island. The same kinds of tastes - - coal oven, good cooked sauce, fresh mozz, same taste to the crust. Yep, it's the same kind of pizza (Genus: Totonnus), but not charred enough, and just not plain ol' amazing enough (Species: Underwelmicum). As a bonus, they do have signs up making fun of the pizzeria next door that sells pizza by weight. I can't remember them exactly, but it's sort of like, "Why the hell would you buy pizza by weight?" Okay, I'm exaggerating. Slightly.

Pepe's - Bridgeport, Ct.

Yes, yes. I know the original Pepe's is in New Haven, and, yes, I know I haven't been there...but I was in Bridgeport. What do you want? Cunningham took me and Tara to Pepe's, where the pies are irregularly shaped, sliced into narrow wedges, covered in strange toppings, and ginormous. Oh, and they're pretty good, too. It was in the same pizza family as Modern Apizza and Sally's (unsurprisingly), but was a bit better than either. Again, the crust wasn't charred on the bottom the way I like it (though it was a coal oven, what gives, Connecticut?), the cheese was slightly overcooked to my tastebuds, and it was a bit chewier than I prefer, but it was quite good. We got a small white clam pie (excellent) and a large (meaning: huge) pie split between plain and bacon (good). Bacon? Yeah, bacon, pancetta's unruly, nitrite-filled cousin. The bacon was a bit much, I have to admit, but the pie was pretty tasty. Bridgeport, like New Haven, also has a line to get in. We waited a good half-hour early on a Saturday evening. While waiting we looked in on those who were already eating, comfortable and warm, and felt deep stabs of envy. So, if you want good pizza and an opportunity to break the tenth commandment, head to Pepe's in Bridgeport!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Randominnyc Explainer

Slate's Explainer apparently can't answer all the questions it receives, especially those of somewhat dubious validity. Anyway, instead of mocking Slate, I've decided to pitch in, to shaaaaaare the looooooad.

Q: Why do train whistles at night always sound lonely and mournful? Not so in the daytime.
A: Because train whistles are made from unbaptized babies and unbaptized babies always sound sad at night because that is when they feel their separation from the Almighty most acutely.

Q: Lasers are now powerful and small (at least I think they are), so why don't our troops carry laser guns?
A:Because lasers can't go through overturned tables. Watch GI Joe, people.

Q: What would happen to the stock market if a meteor impacted the earth? What would happen to the global markets and the U.S. market? Say a meteor hits inside U.S. borders and takes out two states.
A: The price of Meteor Insurance, INC would likely go down somewhat.

Q: How clean is bar soap in a public bathroom? Is it "self-cleaning," since it's soap? It seems like a health hazard to me.

A: What Five Year Plan are you currently living under that there are still bars of soap in your public bathrooms?

Q: Why do humans die so young? In biblical times, people lived for several hundred years; now living to 100 is considered a long life. What happened?
A: Why do leprechauns no longer hand out gold? Why didn't that genie grant my wishes? Why doesn't Sparkles the Unicorn come visit anymore? The answer: Fake shit doesn't happen.

Q: Just suppose, one day someone wants to sell you an old gold bar. You don't know if it belongs to any treasure, and you can't find out if there is any reward for it, if it was a lost treasure. How would you go about melting it and selling it? The same would go for a gemstone about the size of a dinner plate. How would you go about selling it? If you're living in a country that is corrupt and you cannot trust the government, or anyone else, what can you do?

Q: What is the richest religion? Scientology has a lot of Hollywood stars and I think they actually make their members give money, but Catholicism is a very old religion with its own country. Also, Islam has a lot of members but I don't know about their money situation.
A: Scientology is that friend with the nice apartment who misses his credit card payments. Catholicism is your aunt with the house in Westchester who gives out pennies on Halloween. Islam is that guy who works weekends as a cab driver even though he doesn't have a taxi license.

Q: Are UFOs confirmed to be from other Alien Planets?

A: Yes. That "U stands for Unidentified" thing is a fucking smokescreen.