28 March 2006

R for Review

I learned something very important watching V for Vendetta. Apparently movie critics were the people most affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

The reviews for this film were vicious, idiotic and pointless (Just keep reminding yourself that the NYTimes gave the Beatles a bad review the first time out, and your head won't explode). V was a great movie. Mind you, not a top ten of all time sort of movie, but it was good and smart and stuff blew up. And I'm a big fan of stuff blowing up. I would even argue that with the careful editing of a handful of voice over lines it quite simply be my favorite movie of the year, and that's with me having seen Night Watch and knowing I'm going to go see X-Men III, Lucky Number Slevin, and Brick. (Which all look like tré awesome riffs on genre and tropes. And at least one of them has Josh Hartnett in a towel. Yum.)

There were sometimes I felt the script had been Americanized. Had the director been English all the passing refrences to the US would have been out (wich felt more grafted on than the new bio warfare subplot), as would the annoying habit of characters to inform the person who has just quoted Shakespeare what play they were quoting. (Mind you, that's a thing smart people actually do to each other, but the tone is different. Less explanatory than guessing.)

But that doesn't account for Manohla Dargis' psychotic review in the NYTimes, where she lambastes the film for being infantile, for having pretentions of being smart, for pretending to be subversive when it's not and for being on the side of terrorists.

Ok. Wow. I'm sorry for your city's loss. (If it matters, the Voice, the NYSun, the NYNews, the NYer, Newsweek and most other major newspaper reviewers came more or less down on Ms. Dargis' side. Notable exceptions: Roger Ebert, the NYPost, and Peter Travers at the Rolling Stone). So let's discuss the lady's concerns.

1) Infantile. (opening line of her review: Thumbsuckers of the world unite....) Um, it's a movie! The chances of it not being infantile approach nil. And to be quite honest, there's NO WAY it's more infantile than any romantic comedy, because those purport that there is a "one" (and that out of the 8+ billion people on the planet the two characters will not only speak the same language and be economically/educationally/religiously compatible, but shop at the same grocery store), that truly f*cked up people can change, and that loving healthy relationships can be based on bets. Oh yeah, none of that's infantile wish fulfillment.

2) Pretentious. So here she pulls a triple whammy of first accusing Alan Moore of being pretentious, but of at least trying to elevate the dialogue and then she accuses V for being pretentious and lowering the dialogue more than any other film based on his work. Now the first is clearly the commentary of a person who thinks comic books are garbage and doing anything thoughtful in them is even worse. And it should be noted that pretention is never something inherent in the work, but only in the creator. Moore didn't write Maus, and he didn't write Persepolis but he did write the books that allowed those to exist. Watchmen is called a seminal graphic novel because it is. Moore's not pretentious because he's not pretending to greatness or stature. He has both of those, maybe not in Manhola's world, but he has them nonetheless. You could say this particular book fails for all sorts of reasons (which I would mostly disagree with) but pretention isn't one of its creator's faults (lunacy, maybe). Now the creators of the film may be pretentious (we'll go with pro'bly). But this is, absolutely, the best adaptation of Moore's work to film ever. From Hell turned a 500-page carefully researched historical graphic novelization into Jonny Depp mumbled nonsense (I am normally a big fan of Depp) and League of Extraordinary Gentleman was an embarresment to the English reading world, let alone the filmmakers (the first book was good, the second sucked, but that's still no excuse for the film). So maybe, in the question of whether or not the makers of the Matrix are pretentious, she may have something.

3) Not subversive. Ok here's another moment for which Ms. D. would get totally smacked down by SnarkWatch over at Believer if she was reviewing a book. (Not that I'm totally against snark, mind you.) She accuses people who think the film is subversive of being fourteen. I'll give her points for thinking a majority of fourteen-year-olds know what subversive means, but honestly, nobody's really going around screaming that this a subversive film. Most of us who know what subversive means (and like it) understand that that if it costs more than one pay check, it's pro'bly plugged into the system. But the assumption that the use of the system is, in and of itself, defeating of any non-system commentary/ discussion/ exploration is just as naive. It's ok to be anti-system within the system. We tend to forget that revolution is primarily evolutionary. You don't get rich guys like George Washington fighting nasty battles over relatively insane ideals (democracy, let's face it, is a pretty wacked out concept for most people in the world, even today) without all sorts of people who were "in-system" critiquing and thinking and talking and refining ideas. Subversion is less important than dialogue and saying something is bad because it achieves something of a higher degree of importance is odd.

Besides, if it was really subversive, would somebody from the NYTimes even get the subversion? Isn't the point of subversion is that it can get past our cultural watchdogs and censors? That they don't see the subversion? Couldn't something truly subversive, parade as subversive, but poorly, making it even more subversive when you finally decode it? (Sorry, I don't think V actually does this, but even if it did, Manhola shouldn't, by definition, notice.)

4) Pro-terrorist. Oh come on. This has got to be the most ridiculous argument ever. A Shakespeare-quoting guy in a mask who fights neo-nazis has about as much in common with the current brand of terrorists as lemons have in common with lobsters (carbon and the letter L?) Saying that blowing things (even major landmarks) up is solely the provence of people who secretly hate America and Freedom and Democracy is really going to end most new construction in major metropolitan areas.

Now really Ms. Dargis, can an infantile, pretentious, non-subversive also be dangerously pro-terrorist? Face it, you didn't like the movie. It reopened psychological and emotional wounds that hadn't really closed. And that's okay. Both are okay, actually. But saying you didn't like the movie, critiquing it's form, style, writing, acting and directing and saying you felt it was too soon after major terrorist attacks is different than an attack on an audience.

I'm still not sure why she went ahead and came after the movie-going public (although it's why I went after her). God only knows there's not many of us as it is. We've become a dying breed and it seems that more than a few of the movie reviewers in the world have a lot of contempt for us, who are the meal tickets of the entire industry, from the paparazzi to the sound guys to the movie reviewers. Attacking us is just bizarre.

My biggest problem with the film is one that will have to wait for another day. But I'll tell you what the best thing about the film was:

The exceedingly lovely story of Valerie, lifted practically word for word from the original comic, juxtaposed against the terror and nightmare of Evey's ordeal. Not a moment of virtuoso filmmaking maybe, but one of the most human moments I've seen in film in a long time. And a testament to the strength of Alan Moore's writing.

Overall a very valuable movie.

27 March 2006

They Don't Love You Like I Love You

Tomorrow the new Yeah Yeah Yeah's album comes out. I'm not going to get it. Primarily because I'm broke. And I broke my CD player this morning.

But there are other reasons I'm not going to rush out to grab Show Your Bones. If Blink-182's Dammit was the song that described my feelings about getting my heart crushed in high school (and it did, basically, if you reverse the genders and remember that the guy who broke up with me hadn't had another girlfriend for at least five years after we split), then my end of college romantic cataclysm was a combination of YYY's Maps and Modern Romance. And while I don't know if going from angry and glib to bleak is any sort of emotional advancement (though it tracks pretty close my evolution from award winning purpose-driven high school student to aimless incompetent 20-something) I do know that it took Blink-182 six years before they produced another song (Lost Without You) that had the same emotional resonance for me. I expect it'll be a few years before my emotional devolution and the YYY's musical growth have another intersection. And I'm really broke.

Although I really do like the video for Gold Lion. It's some sort of hipster as hunter gatherer in a weird future/past desert with gold lame clad sorceress with witchcraft in her eyes. It's a real shame that MTV will be editing out the opening sequence after next week.

Tomorrow: F for Finally post about V for Vendetta and I sorta kinda fulfill Richard Brezsny's astrological assignment of making lists about things I love, by making a list about things Aaron Sorkin's obsessed with and I expect to see in his next show.


So today I: stained my green cords with some red stuff (apparently something bled on them in the laundry), dropped my CD player and broke the latch (we are now back in the realm of duct taping the damn thing closed), and am going to have to have a conversation with one of my two sets of bosses about how I'm going to quit my job.

But I found this really funny website that has a timeline of stuff that has happened in movies. So that was good. Remind me not to be in London in 2020, as it apparently is attacked by dragons (Reign of Fire) and is controlled by a wacko fascist government brought to its knees by a crazy anarchist in a mask (V for Vendetta). But I guess it still beats the hell out of Los Angeles in 2019 with all the replicants and noodle shop owners running around (see: Blade Runner). And more interestingly: did you know that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is set the year before Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Welcome to Mondays.

24 March 2006

Again with the Allophilia

Allophilia is an active liking of other groups (note that it is not xenophilia, which would be the love of strangers, but it comes darn close). While lots of groups of people have respect for other groups of people, it's apparently very rare for actual liking to occur.

This weekend I met a researcher (at my boyfriend's family reunion, but he's not related to my boyfriend, god only knows) of Allophilia at Harvard, where the concept has basically been created and is being studied by their social psychology people. I'd read something about it (Harvard Alumni Magazine or NYTimes Sunday magazine - can't remember.) (No, I'm not a Harvard alum, I just happen to work for one.) But the researcher guy (whose name five days out totally escapes me)was really cool and brought up something that I think was very interesting.

They did a study in group conflict at Harvard that ran like this: a bunch of people were told to come in for a study of left/right brain characteristics. They had been randomly assigned to groups, but told they had been assigned based on whether they sorted a series of dots in a "left" or "right" way. The groups sat at two different tables in the same room and were given a series of non-competitive tasks. But the groups consistently and spontaneously made them into competitive tasks.

Which made me wonder about the things we are randomly assigned to in life. Personalities are not exactly randomly assigned to the bodies we live, nor are we randomly assigned to our parents (not even adoption is random, because the group of adoptive parents is self-selecting), we are not randomly assigned to our religions, ethnic groups, or gender. But: we do not actively chose these things (reincarntion and LDS beliefs in a pre-mortal existence notwithstanding). Which makes all of the groups we defend, imagine exist, create and reinforce the equivalent of sorting dots: it's all imaginary.

Oddly enough, this makes me very hopeful for the future. When the Human Security Report came out, people were trying to make sense of the 15 year decline in violence around the globe. At least one researcher posited that it was due to the internet. Aside from the millions (billions?) of man hours taken up by pornography, the thought was that the internet increases communication, and increased communication lowers violence. I think the internet also does a handful of other things (all of which have been written about better by others, but lets catalogue them for fun).

1) The internet eases (if not outright erases) geographical distances and boundaries. This can profoundly effect geopolitics as land and space becoming increasingly about the private and the public sphere becomes more and more abstract. In some sci-fi utopia the apogee of this would be countries that you as an individual opt-in to, pay taxes to, receive benefits from based on personal choice, these countries would then pay physical "authorities" (see: Transit, New York) for actual physical infrastructure based on the number of members each country has in an authorities jurisdiction. Thus, you could be a member of a country where it was legal for you to get an abortion, but your neighbor could belong to another country altogether. You would both be subject to different laws, police and courts. This will never happen, but the internet is affecting our concept of space, the way the electric lightbulb affected our concept of time.

2) The internet lets you construct your own virtual groups. This is awfully similar to the point above, but is somewhat different. Real world groups often have "important" factors binding them together. These "unchoosable" factors include race, gender and religion (the last to a smaller extent, since I'm sure the definition of any given religion is that you can join: if you can't join it's an ethnicity with a religious-like overlay). But on the internet, people group themselves based on interests, shared loves and hates, philosophical leanings, preferences in books, music and sex. These are things that have traditional been considered "non-important" or "pop-cultural ephemera" at best. But they prove much stronger when people who don't have all the blah-soap-opera-esque entanglements of daily life near each other have to talk with one another. This shows that most of the stuff we consider "important" is more habit, more proximity, than the things that actually bring people together.

3)Internet avatars! Yay for pretending to be somebody else! Yay for identity slippage! Yay for being anonymous! As soon as an individual realizes that the things that make them a member of one group instead of another are things they can disguise, ignore or destroy, the meaning of personality changes. Are you the personality you have when stripped of gender, race, class, religion, and ethnicity? Do you have a personality at all? How do people treat you the same? Different? The ability to look through someone else's eyes may be the most potent weapon available against violence because it can create understanding.

You can't understand something without loving it. We learned that from Ender's Game. And it's awfully hard to destroy the things we love.

And that's how stupid arbitrary dots have given me a bit more hope.

22 March 2006


Sorry imagined reader, but yesterday was also a bust. My superior procrastinating skills have put me WAY behind on the handful of things that actually needs to get done. And I'm not even procrastinating by blogging!

At this point my choices are to post the press release I just wrote, or give you the rundown. Thus:

Allophilia: Good
V for Vendetta: Awesome

I realized how much I miss writing the other day. I just wish I could get the rest of the crap in my life together enough that I felt ok doing it.

Wow. Once again my patheticism knows no bounds.

I have got to get out of this rut.

We'll try again tomorrow, expanding on two of today's rundown topics.

20 March 2006

Not Today

In a rush. Have to finish a press release, a children's story, a cover letter, update my resume, and if I had any sense at all, work on a couple of specs. So let me just say that this weekend was all about allophilia and V for Vendetta.

One is interesting (but may not exist) and the other proved some terribly interesting things about movie reviewers.

Tomorrow I will try to explain.

17 March 2006

New York's Tourist Season

seems to have started already. I gave directions to at least five people yesterday. There are times when I hate being a five-foot-four, entirely non-threatening, Anglo female. Tourist season is one of those times. There's a chance it was just early St. Patrick's Day revelers, but none of them seemed to be Irish.

That's it for today, I have a children's story I need to write.


16 March 2006

Words Words Words

I often end up with more books on hand than I've actually got time for. Right now I've got the second two books of the EarthSea series (checked out of the library), three books I've borrowed from my boyfriend (but am not reading), a book I borrowed from my boss, three classic sci-fi books I picked up last summer (and still haven't read), two Neil Gaiman books that I've bought as prizes for myself for completing un-fun tasks (like re-writing a screenplay and finishing my ironing), and Appiah's Cosmopolitanism which my roommate seems to have borrowed.

Right now I'm reading the third book in the Thursday Next series, The Well of Lost Plots. I loved the first one (what I would give to go that world's version of Richard III!!), but didn't particularly like the second one. But my boyfriend's reading the series and the fourth one sounds great (although the boy has given away a few plot points, much to my disappointment).

The problem with this is that, aside from the books I've got waiting around to be read, is all the books that have just been published that I need to read. Dennet's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. The graphic novelization of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain .

There's just so much to read. How do people ever get around to writing? Oh well, time to hit the books.

15 March 2006

Promises, Promises

All right, so I've already managed to miss a day. But I refuse to feel so guilty about not doing it that I just quit. This is what happens with me and thank you cards. (I still have three to write from Christmas.) The fact is, I'm really lousy at keeping promises to myself (personal goals are promises after all). It's so much easier to do things for other people. Other people are grateful for what I do, but I'm never satisfied.

Wow. I just deleted this really pathetic paragraph about what's wrong with me, and how much my life sucks. I never thought I'd become the person I am today.

Boy I really don't like myself, much do I?

13 March 2006


It occurs to me that I will never actually be able to keep up with the amount of stuff I want to keep up with. I have set my sights too high for the moment, but I'm still going to make the attempt.

The last post ended with a promise to finish explaining my thoughts on the play The Wooden Breeks. It was, as I pointed out, a BIG THEME play. It's about telling stories and being trapped and being buried alive and it's about love and it's about memory. It's about what we have to give up to get and what that exchange rate is. And whole equals less than the sum of the parts.

Why this is so its a bit mind-boggling. This is a play in which a scorned fiance disappears inside a hope chest (presumably he's gone to live in the past), an orphan boy runs around with his hand stuck in the poor box, a man grows up having never stepped outside his lighthouse and a woman sells those bells that attach to the inside of coffins in case people aren't really dead. This all happens in the imaginary and singularly bleak town of Gloom, at the center of the story being told to our orphan with the box.

The play fails in a handful of ways that are so mundane that it is almost painful to relate. The first is that it's repetitive. The audience gets that the gravedigger is creepy and threatening and the orphan boy has seen things he shouldn't have. We don't need three scenes an act reminding us. No really.

The second problem is a stranger complaint, because I'm about to say Berger didn't do something that he in fact did do. He never clearly states the character's goal, or rather he does, but immediately takes it back. You see, our dear orphan has been abandoned by his mother, lo these nine years ago. The storyteller is the missing mom's fiance (no relation to the kid). And every night for nine years he's told the kid another story about why mom has been delayed. His goal then, as stated, is to NOT tell the story. But he does. So his goal is to END the story as quickly as possible, a goal which is complicated by a magic fire that must go out first. In the real world, it's a fire that refuses to die. In the story world it's the light of the local lighthouse, which as a I mentioned before, is kept by a man who's never been outside. Of course these old flames are symbols: of the things that we protect that prevent us from moving on. The things that get us to bury ourselves alive.

Ok, so I thought the play failed (as did a lot of the audience, which seemed to disappear during intermission). But it was a big beautiful failure, which I have a lot more respect for than a safe little success. I just wish I could have sat in a workshop room with Berger and try to convince him to cut the script and move stuff around and not have the characters make large pronouncements at the audience.

Which does not explain, at all what I think it has to do with Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Maybe next time.

10 March 2006

In Which Our Heroine Despairs

I'd planned today's post to be a quick analysis of Glen Berger's The Wooden Breeks. I saw it last night at the Lucille Lortel with my roommate. At one point it reminded me of (thematically and, in a weird way, geographically) of Haruki Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

But there's all sorts of things on the web and in the news today that would make excellent jumping off points for posts I want to write. Reviews for Daniel C. Dennett's new book about religion are out. As is the State Department's report on human rights abuses. The NYTime's finally ran a review of HBO's Big Love and The Village Voice got a nice Octavia Butler obit printed. Plus the state of Nebraska is a right wing looney bin and Abu Ghraib is being handed over to people who disguise death squads as the highway patrol. And the Democrats have decided to be racist bastards in an attempt to gain a political victory rather than just let the UAE company run the ports. Plus Apple has announced a monthly subscription to the Daily Show which, combined with the cable companies' idiotic idea of al la carte channels is the first death knell of programming, channels and television as we know it (oh come on, you knew it was coming.) And finally, Harper's has an article on flash mobs that takes on the "scenesterism" of the hipster/indie movement (although, I think it fails to convey the truly hollow and pathetic nature of the ones I've dated. Yuck documentary filmmakers).

And, rather than actually sit down and try to sort out a thoughtful analysis of any of this, I spent my morning trying to hunt down an ex-boyfriend, who I am now quite convinced never existed. Or he lives in Santa Monica, which is the same thing.

Murakami/Berger? Geo-politics? The day the TV died? I hate Williamsburg?

I think it is safe to assume that the world will be a madhouse next week and I can be my anti-torture, pro-choice, anti-/pro- religious waffling self.

The Wooden Breeks it is!

Glen Berger is awesome. I want to meet him. I would tell him how much I adored Underneath the Lintel, his truly astonishing monologue of a play. It was genius. He writes about BIG THEMES: memory, storytelling, love, journey, history, family. These are the themes of the best modern theater. Plays like Arcadia, Mnemonic, Wings, TexArkana Waltz and In On It (personal favorites, all) are about these themes. And writing a good play that is also a BIG THEMATIC play is tough. It took Tony Kushner some eight hours of stage time and a whole bunch of Angels and Nietzsche to pull it off. And Berger doesn't quite.

I'll finish this later. But for now: posting for the quota.

09 March 2006

Authorial Contract

I love speculative fiction. (Are you shocked? An SF lover on the internet? Gasp!) One of the things I love is fulfillment of the authorial contract. This is an implied contract between the author and the reader. Each book has it's own contract; they promise to enlighten or entertain or educate or something. Most people sorta kinda know this, but it's not always that obvious. In SF it's pretty obvious because the first thing that happens in an SF book is reader confusion. To fulfill their contract (yes, I'm using 'their' wrong, I know it's wrong, but the times they are a-changing and grammar had better get with it) the author will eliminate the reader's confusion by the end of the book. It's nice to know that the author, who has an entire universe of strange customs, places and people, has stopped to introduce me to their universe instead of just going ahead and telling the story, my understanding be damned.

In the spirit of authorial contracts (though not this explicit) I've decided to, at the very least, outline what I might write about.

Um. . . everything.

Pro'bly not too much about writing (yes, I've read this post; yes I'm failing). Pro'bly not too much about music. And pro'bly not too much about my daily life.

But I'm interested in things like science, pop culture, ethics, comic books, the news, movies, history, comparative religious studies, stalking Neil Gaiman, economics, environmentalism, anime, linguistics, urban planning, y'know, stuff. I don't claim to be an expert on anything. Nor am I affiliated with any group. But lately, I've had ideas about the way the world is run.

I'm guessing my first few posts are going to be about fixing things. Things that can, in no real way be fixed. It's pretty fricking pretentious, but while everything I say is likely useless (is that better or worse than being detrimental?) there is some reasoning behind it.

1) I have a unique point of view. 2) The conversation is already going on.

I'm pretty sure these are the most legitimate reasons for blogging.

For those of our audience following along at home:

Michael the Girl is a blog. Its reason for existence is to help its writer (me) get over my writing related anxiety. My goal is to write and post something everyday. As part of my agreement with readers (yes, I know there aren't any, this is in the event of) I will bring a unique perspective to the conversation. And to hopefully quit being so darn meta.

But I'm not making any promises.

Blogging for fun and profit

It seems a tad obvious to say that this is my first post, but I've yet to come up with another way of saying it. Anyway, now seems to be as good a time as any to outline the reasons for and goals of my little acre of blogosphere heaven.

I graduated two years ago from a writing program and basically haven't written anything since. I'm averse to posting my actual crappy writing anywhere near real human beings. But part of this is my increasingly wacked out anxiety disorder (thank you for your advice/references for psychologists, but I can't afford it.) which I need to overcome. Thus the blog. Thus the very, very public blog and no plans to tell anyone I know about it. (I realize this means it will not be read, but I'm ok with that.)

The reason for the blog is a means to an end (mean: blog; end: less anxiety about writing) and so goals seem to be in order. I WILL post something everyday that I'm at work (I'm a receptionist, so you don't have to worry about me slacking off at a nuclear disarmament facility or anything.)

OK, simple enough.

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