Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's A New Box On The Right

It's really self-indulgent. This post is the proper place to give me a hard time about it.

The Great Gatsby

As is often the case with great works of literature, I was introduced to The Great Gatsby in high school, and promptly hated it, dismissing the classic as "A second-rate soap opera". But as time has passed, I have sometimes found myself wondering if perhaps the fault was not in the book itself, but rather somehow was something personal, if there was something I had missed in the slim volume. Impossible as this scenario sounds, I decided to re-read the book, just to make sure. And you know what? Most high schoolers are stupid. But man, not me. I was five kinds of brilliant.

You see, The Great Gatsby essentially is a brief soap opera, dealing with high-society shenanigans in the early 20th century; full of lavish parties, lengthy car rides and characters who are not what they initially seem to be (NOTE TO CINDI: HE DIES AT THE END). Based on the headlines I am assaulted by every time I attempt to buy groceries at a supermarket, there remains a thriving market for this sort of thing, though a basic level of literacy is no longer a prerequisite for those wishing to partake of it. Unfortunately, it completely fails to grab me. I feel much like I do when reading Jane Austen, recognizing the quality of what is before me, but simply uncaring. It's great that Jane recorded massive manuals of upper-class British dance etiquette, and when I find myself in a situation calling for a knowledge of that protocol (Should be any day now), she'll be the first source I turn to. But until then, she can sit on the shelf (The shelf in question belongs to someone else), unread by me. Same thing here. If I need to know the proper way to conduct an affair while living in 1920s NYC, Fitzgerald it is. Until then, I will pass.

Or I would if not for one thing: The prose. Regardless of how little I care about the events on each page, The Great Gatsby is far beyond wonderfully written. Every image in the book is fully formed, each far more clear than it could possibly be in any picture, moving or static. Opening to any page at random will yield a line so well-formed that it will not inspire, but rather make you wish to never write anything ever again, for it will pale in comparison to Fitzgerald. Just by way of example, I let the book fall open, and it chose pages 34 and 35. Upon page 34 resides a sentence stating of a character that

She came in with such a proprietary haste and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here.

Instantly, you know exactly what that looks like. This happens on every single page. It is borderline-amazing, and makes the book so much better than the sum of its plot that it really must be read to be believed. So go forth from this place and do so. And then return, gawking at my suboptimal sentence structure, mocking me in the comments for them. Actually, don't. That would be mean. Instead, forget about the Great Gatsby. Click on the ads and mail me blank checks. Ideally while chanting my name. That is a much better use of your time than spending two and a half hours bombing through a canonical work of Western Literature. Because these B and N keys don't seem like they're going to fix themselves, and all this copying and pasting isn't a ton of fun.

Oh God No

I can't even bring myself to put this video on the blog. Katy Perry is releasing an MTV Unplugged performance. Please god, make it stop.

Friday, October 9, 2009



Friday, October 2, 2009

I Am Racist Jesus

Prelude - This post is a review of the movie Gran Torino, which came out last year. Now, if you're interested in the movie, you've had plenty of time to see it. But in deference to anyone who hasn't while secretly harboring the desire to do so, allow me to warn you that this is going to contain spoilers. In fact, now that I think about it, it's more a short essay on the movie than it is a review. Too bad my delete key is broken.

Gran Torino supposedly is Clint Eastwood's swan song, and the movie shows it. Eastwood is present in every scene, dominating the movie with his craggy visage and the rasp that age has left of his voice (He is officially in contemporary Cohen territory at this point). And while the movie itself is fairly good, it winds up seeming a bit self-indulgent as a result of this. Then there's also the fact that the ending is so over-the-top ridiculous that the phrase 'ham-handed' does not even begin to do it justice. But we'll get to that.

Eastwood plays a man at the end of his life. His wife has died, and he has strained to nonexistent relationships with his children and grandchildren. So what's a man to do? Well, why not sit on the porch with his dog at his side, drinking PBR all day, observing the downfall of the neighborhood? This is how he spends his time, using his personal definition of 'downfall of the neighborhood', which can be nicely translated as Asian people moving in. That's right, Clint plays a racist character, obviously still haunted by his experiences in the Korean war and unwilling to attempt to befriend (Or even acknowledge) his new neighbors. That is, until the presence of a totally non-stereotypical Asian gang sets off a chain of events involving Clint slowly coming out of his shell in a fairly predictable, drawn-out fashion. The movie addresses the sensitive topic of racism with a sense of humor, the highlight of this being two seperate scenes set in a local barbershop featuring Eastwood and the barber hurling ethnic slurs at each other (Maybe if more people had a bit of humor about things our society would be less sensitive and angry, and then rather than dying of heart disease, people would die two years later from type-2 diabetes. I have a dream). There's a running dialogue between Clint and the priest at his local Catholic church based around Eastwood's wife's request that this priest gets Eastwood to go to confession. And that's 90% of the movie. It's fun in a slightly offbeat yet predictable way. Now let's get to a very detailed discussion of how it ends.

By this point the gang violence hits a point where it needs to be stopped. Clint being the local war veteran who has gradually stepped up to become pretty much the neighborhood patriarch by this point (As well as having the coveted title of Guy In Every Scene), it is apparent that this will fall to him. So he goes at night to confront the gang. We are now at the point when I am going to be stating massive spoilers left and right. Let's start with one in a parenthetical, all caps (NOTE TO CINDI: HE DIES). There then is a lengthy confrontation on a front lawn between Eastwood and the gang members that ends when he quickly reaches inside his jacket and is shot approximately 5,000,000 times. He dies, with his hand opening to reveal that he was going for his lighter to fire up a cigarette, and was actually unarmed. The gang is arrested, and the neighborhood is saved. Yay! Heavy-handed ending? A bit. But we haven't got to the best part. After Clint is riddled with enough bullets to supply a third-world military coup, he (Totally coincidentally, I'm sure) falls to the ground in the exact shape of the cross (Yes, he took confession earlier). I AM RACIST JESUS is not proclaimed, but would be about the only thing that could make this more ridiculous.

At least, that's what I thought at the time. Little did I know that the ridiculous factor would shortly be turned to 11. After this we have a scene of the reading of his will, which features some more humor in the form of ethnic slurs (It was funny. That sentence makes it sound like it wasn't. Again, stupid delete key). The titular item is given, not to a family member, but to one of the Asian kids from next door who Clint de facto adopted. And then the movie gradually fades into the credits over a minute-long shot of this kid driving the car, listening to a faux lounge-jazz number on the stereo. But what's that? The vocals! Dear god, it's 956-year-old Clint Eastwood rasping out a lounge number (Dear Heather joke goes here)! And cut to black. Yes, that's the ending. I did not think, upon viewing the climax of the film, that the denouement would be able to up the comedic ante. But dear lord, it certainly did. For a film that attempts to take a serious-yet-light approach to a heavy topic, the fact that I have tears of joy in my eyes remembering it probably is a result the production team would be proud of. However, I'm not so sure they'd be happy about the reason.