Archive | December, 2012

Failures in film criticism

28 Dec

Things are getting serious today at TPY. I don’t claim to be a great writer, and I’m not that confident in my ability to get my point across in this post. But who cares, I’m trying. This is the point of my blog. Try not to be mad at me if I say something dumb.

David Denby is a film critic for The New Yorker. Before The New Yorker, he was a film critic for New York magazine. I don’t think he’s a very good critic. I frequently disagree with his opinions and sometimes I think he doesn’t understand the point of movies in general. I wish The New Yorker would fire him and turn the film beat over full-time to Anthony Lane, who is terrific, insightful, and often hilarious in his pans of bad movies.

Mr. Denby recently reviewed The Central Park Five. This movie is a documentary that centers around the rape of a jogger in Central Park in April 1989. Five innocent black teenagers were soon arrested and they were all convicted the next year. They spent twelve years in jail before a confession by the actual culprit and corresponding DNA evidence got their convictions overturned. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t have an opinion on Mr. Denby’s opinion of it. What struck me about the review was that it’s impossible to read it without thinking of another review of his. I’m referring of course to his famous, or maybe infamous, review of Do the Right Thing, published two months after the Central Park rape occurred, in the time between the arrests and the trial.

Do the Right Thing is a great movie that everyone should see. Mr. Denby’s review of it is probably the best-known thing he’s ever written. It’s embarrassingly bad. He totally missed the entire point of the movie.* His main concern seemed to be that black teenagers would see it and take to the streets to attack white people. His secondary concern seemed to be that Spike Lee hated white people and made a movie glorifying violence against them. He doesn’t have anything positive to say about any of the movie’s black characters. He not only thinks that they all misguided, stupid, or worse; he seems to be under the impression that Mr. Lee intended to portray them as such. Mr. Denby is effusive in his praise of Danny Aiello, and describes his character Sal as someone “who doesn’t panic easily.” He must have forgotten the part where Sal smashed Radio Raheem’s boombox with a baseball bat. I could go on. The takeaway is that reading the review today makes Mr. Denby seem like a clueless and careless racist. To me anyway.

*For a reviewer who did get the point of the movie, read Roger Ebert’s review or his essay for the Criterion Collection.

My understanding of The Central Park Five is that it does a very good job of portraying the racial tension and fear that was prevalent in New York in 1989. Mr. Denby’s review describes it thusly:

In the late eighties, crime rates were high in New York; a rancid atmosphere of fear and recrimination had taken hold, abetted by frenzied tabloids and an often abrasive mayor, Ed Koch.

Mr. Denby is very complimentary of the movie, and seems eager to follow in its condemnation of the kind of public fearmongering that was such a large part of the case against the five teenagers. It is fairly mindboggling to me that Mr. Denby was willing to ascribe to 1989 New York “a rancid atmosphere of fear and recrimination” while pretending that he wasn’t a highly visible figure contributing to that atmosphere. It was hard for me to respect Mr. Denby or take him seriously before his Central Park Five review. It’s even harder now.

SUCCESS

22 Dec

Today’s a day for good news here at TPY. Last month I wrote about the obnoxious and pervasive problem of improperly drawn striped neckties in cartoons. I was going to have a whole ongoing thing about it. That never really happened. I hardly ever watch cartoons, so I don’t have the opportunity to document the phenomenon so that I can complain about it.

The one cartoon I do watch is Family Guy. I hate Family Guy. You loyal readers remember my post about that. I just watched the most recent episode. As it turns out, Seth MacFarlane is also a regular TPY reader and my voice was heard.

success

YESSSSSS

I have won the fight. In a small and limited way. Kudos to me, and kudos again.

The first time I rode the bus

14 Dec

One thing a lot of bloggers do is tell embarrassing personal stories. So that’s what I’m doing. As always this is from memory. There may be small or large errors of fact. I do my best.

Once upon a time, I was thirteen years old. I turned thirteen in the summer of 1996. Remember 1996? I think there’s a good reason that we’ve been stuck with 80’s nostalgia for more than ten years and no one’s tried to start pushing 90’s nostalgia. Pop music then was stupid, fashion trends weren’t notable, etc. So, that’s the background for this story.

In 1996 my favorite band was The Smashing Pumpkins

When you’ve just turned thirteen, one thing that sounds fun to you is hanging out at the mall. I can’t explain why this is. The mall is not fun now, and it wasn’t really fun then. I mostly just walked around aimlessly and ogled Air Jordans at Foot Locker. But when you’re thirteen, you don’t have a lot of entertainment options. The mall is free and there’s no age limit. Those are really the two main things in its favor. I guess the presence of food courts can be a plus, but most food courts are bad, even in the eyes of a thirteen-year-old.

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

Growing up in South Minneapolis, my local mall was Southdale, in Edina. People from Edina are known as cake eaters. Southdale’s claim to fame is that it’s the first enclosed mall ever built. It seems odd to think of an America without malls. Shopping at independent department stores and no chain stores to speak of. What a world. Eventually there came Ridgedale, Rosedale, and Brookdale, but Southdale always remained the biggest and best. Until the Mall of America came along, I guess, but that place is its own category. When it was new most locals viewed it as not much more than a big tourist trap. I didn’t go there very often in those days. Southdale was the place to be.

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

On one particular summer day, my friend Mark and I were hanging out at my house. We wanted to go to the mall. My parents were both at work. The mall was too far away to walk to. Being rough and tough teenagers, we decided we should take the bus to the mall. This sounded like a great idea. My dad rode the bus to work downtown every day. I had ridden with him once or twice. The number 6. He caught it on France Avenue right by our house and it deposited him at the entrance of the building where he worked on Hennepin Avenue downtown. I thought the bus was great. This same 6 also went to Southdale. This, according to my dad, who we called for advice about riding the bus. (This might have all been planned the previous day or something. I don’t recall exactly.) My dad instructed Mark and I to walk to France Ave and get on the bus. He described the various 6 subroutes, and told us that they all ended at Southdale, even if not directly down France. With this information, I was confident that I could successfully ride the bus.

Southdale in 1956

Southdale in 1956

Even with this fatherly advice, I didn’t have a very good understanding of how city bus routes work. I’d never seen a route map or thought about how the same bus could go both north to downtown and south to the mall. As it is obvious to me now, if you board the bus on one side of the street it goes north. if you board it on the other side of the street it goes south. I had ridden this bus with my dad, and we boarded it going northbound. I thought that that was the bus stop, and if you wanted to get on, that’s where you went. I had no idea that there were bus stops on the other side of the street, and utilizing these stops was how you went the other direction. You might be able to tell already that my bus trip will not go well.

Here's an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn't a cool place to hang out

Here’s an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn’t a cool place to hang out.

So Mark and I set out to the bus stop. We boarded the bus without problem. After a few blocks, it occurred to us that we were not going toward the mall. This concerned us. But my dad had said that sometimes the 6 loops around on the back roads or something before it went to the mall. I assumed this must be what was happening. Or, rather, I hoped that was what was happening. Remember, I had never seen a route map so I didn’t really have any idea where the bus should be going. Also remember that I had no idea that there were separate northbound and southbound buses. Mark was in the same boat as I was. The difference was that he was just along for the ride, so to speak. We weren’t in his neighborhood. His dad didn’t ride the 6 and tell us how to do it. I felt like the whole thing was my operation. Mark and I sat there on the northbound 6 hoping for the best.

Pretty quickly it became apparent that the bus wasn’t taking a detour before going to the mall. It was going downtown. I had made a colossal bus miscalculation. What the miscalculation was or how it happened was still a mystery to me. At this point I started going over our options. What we should have done was get off the bus. Obviously. But if we had done this we would have been standing on a street corner far away from my house. At that point I would not have been able to figure out how to get back on the bus. We could have found a payphone (1996!) and called one of my parents, but they were both still at work and that would have been embarrassing. I did not want to tell my parents that I had fucked up a simple bus ride.

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

Mark and I decided to stay on the bus. We knew we were going the wrong way. Here’s what I thought: the bus route must be circular and would drop us off at Southdale at the end of the loop. I realize how stupid this sounds.

We went through downtown. At this point we could have gotten off and gone to my dad’s office. That would have been a good idea. I don’t remember thinking of it then. And as I said, I didn’t want to admit bus failure to my parents. I was thirteen! I could do things on my own! God Mom just leave me alone!

For the first part of our trip, the bus had been a pretty happening ride. All kinds of people on and off. The 6 is a pretty busy route. France to Hennepin through Uptown and downtown. But now we were past downtown. Over the river. No new people were getting on the bus. But a lot of people had gotten off. Mark and I were sitting on the back row of seats. This, obviously, is where the cool kids sit in any situation. As long as there were a lot of other people around, I felt OK about things. As the passengers dwindled, I got more and more nervous. Adding to this was the fact that Mark and I had absolutely no idea where we were. Downtown was as far north as my knowledge of Minneapolis geography went at the time.

We had been on the bus for a long time. It was probably dinnertime by now. Our best case scenario now was that the bus would loop around, we could get off at my stop and go home. I was really hoping that this would happen. I was starting to doubt it. The bus kept going. It wasn’t turning around. I didn’t know where the bus would have to go to make a loop to Edina, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t happening.

Eventually, Mark and I were the only passengers left on the bus. This was bad news. My hope was rapidly fading. After a little while alone on the bus, the driver pulled into a parking lot. We could have been in Wisconsin by now for all I knew. We must have been on the bus for an hour and a half by now. He turned back to us and said, “OK guys, end of the line.” Oh no. I said something like, “You mean this bus isn’t doing back down to Southdale?” The bus driver coolly informed us that, no, that’s not how it worked. We got off the bus.

I looked around the parking lot. We were at Rosedale. Hey, a mall! Success!

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently. Hey, it looks like every other mall! What a surprise!

Rosedale is in Roseville. Roseville is a suburb that borders northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 1996 I had heard of both Roseville and Rosedale, but I had no real idea where they were. It’s not exactly a popular destination for anyone who doesn’t live there. I’d probably been there at some point to play baseball or something, but I’d never been to Rosedale before. Rosedale isn’t even the best-known mall in Roseville. That distinction would go to Har Mar Mall, which has an interesting name and is the namesake of R&B sex symbol Har Mar Superstar.

Har Mar Superstar doesn’t really need a caption

Mark and I discussed things briefly. We would have to make a phone call. The good news was that my mom would now be home from work. The bad news was that I would have to tell her what happened and ask her to come pick us up.

My mom was very surprised to hear that I was at Rosedale. She found the whole thing hilarious, in fact. So did my dad. So did Mark’s parents. I did not see any humor in the situation. Even now my parents will bring up the bus fiasco and laugh about it. They’re right to laugh. I imagine it’s the kind of story that parents love to tell about their kids.

My mom agreed that the best thing to do would be for her to come pick us up. The good news was that we had some time to hang out at the mall until she got there. Awesome! I think we just walked around for awhile feeling like idiots. Jesus did I feel like an idiot. That was probably the right way to feel, all things considered.

OOPS

OOPS

The International Society for the Standardization of the Spelling of Names rulings 12/13/12

13 Dec

I bet you loyal readers thought that this was some one-off gimmick and I’d just forget about it. Absolutely not. We’re doing important work here at the Society, and we’ll never abandon it. Today’s rulings all seem pretty obvious to me, but that’s part of the problem. Join us and help to prevent atrocities like people named Kliff.

RACHEL. Rachael is becoming more and more common. It drives me crazy. There’s no historic or logical reason for it. Just because Michael has an “ae” in it doesn’t mean you can throw it into Rachel because you think it looks cool. Rachel is an ancient name. It’s from the Old Testament. Its original English translation, without any extraneous vowels, is a prefectly balanced name. Stop fucking with it everyone. I’d suggest that you start calling Rachaels “Rachayel” because that’s how their name is spelled.

GREGORY. GREG. Sometimes we have to discuss nicknames or shortened versions of names. Hey, idiots–there are only two g’s in Greg. Gregg is stupid. There’s no reason for it. It looks bad. I really can’t understand why anyone would think it’s a good idea.

CLIFFORD. CLIFF. This entry was sparked by the news that one Kliff Kingsbury has been named the head football coach at Texas Tech University. Yes, Kliff. Jesus. My guess is that Mr. Kingsbury’s parents liked the idea of giving their son an alliterative name. This is pretty common with c’s and k’s. Just because you can switch the letters without changing the pronunciation doesn’t mean you should. Misplaced k’s always make me think of Krusty’s Komedy Klassic from The Simpsons. Everybody watch the clip below and absorb its lesson.

The other thing that Mr. Kingsbury made me think of is the trend of parents giving all their kids names starting with the same letter. Kliff made me think of this because of Roger Clemens, who famously gave all of his kids K names because he got a lot of strikeouts. I don’t have the words to express how horrible that is. Here’s a general rule to follow: If you have three or more kids and all of their names start with the same letter you’re an asshole.

One last Kliff Kingsbury note. Today’s news really makes me very aware of my own aging. I remember when he was the quarterback at Texas Tech. I watched him play. He put up monster numbers. And I wasn’t really young then, either. High school probably. Now he’s the head coach. Wow. When I was a kid people always talked about coaches’ playing careers, but I never remembered them and only knew them as coaches. Now I remember not just the pro careers, but the college careers of these people. Get off my lawn, etc.

The Eastern Catholic League redux

11 Dec

Hey, loyal TPY readers. Remember my post about how the Big East basketball schools should split and form a new league? Well guess what. Looks like some Big East athletic directors and presidents were also reading. That’s right. I’m a visionary.

I made a couple small errors in my original post. I didn’t realize Creighton and Dayton were Catholic schools. It also looks like these guys don’t want anything to do with St. Joe’s. Too bad. I know Villanova has some kind of dumb beef with them or something, but they’d be a good fit. They’re also talking about Butler, VCU, et al. That would sort of kill my idea of a Catholic league. Even though I’m not Catholic, I like the idea of those schools having their own conference. Here’s my revised lineup. Ten teams, 18-game double round robin conference schedule.

Dayton
DePaul
Georgetown
Marquette
Providence
Seton Hall
St. John’s
St. Louis
Villanova
Xavier

This is a good conference. Apparently the current Big East hoops schools will only get like $1.1 million a year from their new TV contract. I think this league could do better than that without dead weight like Tulane and UCF dragging them down.

Again, your main takeaway: I came up with this idea first. I am prescient. I have great ideas that everyone should listen to. This is why my blog should be required daily reading for everyone. Even on days when I don’t have a new post. EVERY DAY.

Small cultural differences are baffling and frustrating

8 Dec

I bought a new jacket a couple months ago. I like it. It’s a good jacket. I bought it online from a store in the UK. It took awhile to get here, but it still wasn’t that expensive, even with international shipping. It’s called a Harrington jacket. Mine is a knockoff of the “authentic” brand of Harringtons, but those are like $300 so fuck that. I’ve been wearing it regularly and I haven’t seen anyone else wearing a similar jacket. I like that. I am so fucking hip sometimes.

The jacket in question

The jacket in question

I mentioned that the jacket is from the UK. This particular jacket has given me a lesson in European clothing. Apparently, zippers there are backwards. In the US, the zipper pulltab* is on the right side. We have all operated many zippers in our lives, and it’s easy to grab the pulltab, insert the pin on the other side of the zipper into the slider, and pull it closed. I can do this without looking or even thinking about it in about two seconds. I cannot do this with my new jacket. I have to focus on holding the pulltab to ensure the slider is flush with the top stop with my left hand. Then I have to carefully insert the pin all the way into the slider with my right. I can’t zip it while walking. I have to stop and look down. People on the street must think I’m an idiot. In short, zipping this jacket makes me look and feel like a three-year-old.

*I was sort of stumped about what to call this so I spent some time looking up zipper terminology.

It doesn’t seem like this should be difficult. It’s the same thing I’ve done countless times, just reversing the roles of my two hands. It amazes me that our brains are wired in such a way to make this operation difficult. I assume it’s just using our hands in an unfamiliar way. Or maybe it’s just difficult to use a zipper with our off hand. Is this how left-handed people feel every time they operate a zipper? That would be horrible for them. Although I doubt it because if that was true why would Europeans make zippers backwards? They obviously don’t see their zipper style as such. Maybe one of my readers from the brain surgery community can explain this.

In conclusion, I wish Europe would get their act together and start manufacturing zippers in the correct American manner.

The Legion of Honor

7 Dec

Some blogs have movie or TV or book reviews. Here’s a museum review. Not like a museum exhibition review, because you see those sometimes too. Just an overall museum review.

Thumbs up for Neoclassical architecture

Thumbs up for Neoclassical architecture

The Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in San Francisco. It’s on the top of a hill in the middle of a golf course. The golf course aspect is weird but overall it’s a really cool place for a museum. Lots of great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County and such.

I told you it was a great view

I told you it was a great view

The Legion of Honor is a cool name for a museum. Its full name is “The California Palace of the Legion of Honor”. Boss. The building is a replica of a palace in France. There should be more palaces in the US.

One thing I like about the Legion (I’m calling it the Legion from now on) is that it’s a fairly small building, and it seems content to be small. One thing I don’t like is museum expansions and additions. They’re always a big architectural mess. I love the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It’s a beautiful Beaux-Arts building with a giant International Style disaster tacked onto the back. The mishmash is depressing. A big part of the problem is that museums are under pressure to be adventurous and bold architecturally. The idea is that buildings holding art should be art themselves. This is dangerous. I think too many museums hop onto architectural trends that end up looking dated very quickly. The MIA mentioned above being a prime example.* Here’s how to do a museum: build it and then fill it with art. If you run out of room either start making hard decisions, build something new, or build an inconspicuous addition. The Legion of Honor has gone with the third option–they just added a basement that doesn’t really change the building. (This might be incorrect. I assume the basement is newer. It feels like it. I could be wrong.) They should be applauded for it.

*I’d make an exception for museums focused on modern/contemporary art. I can see the logic in that case. The Walker, also in Minneapolis, is a nice example.

What a great museum building

What a great museum building

Ohhh noooooooo

Ohhh noooooooo

The Legion’s permanent collection isn’t spectacular or large, but it has a lot of variety while retaining some sense of focus. It’s unapologetically a museum of European art. The collection spans from the middle ages to 1900 or so, and they have works by a lot of famous painters you find in museums. There’s a lot of early religious art, which isn’t my favorite. I still enjoy looking at it in museums. It’s amazing to think that there are pristine paintings from the 1400s on display in America. That’s a long time ago.

The most well-known work is probably one of Monet’s big water lily paintings. I saw a special show of two of his giant water lily canvases in Kansas City once. That was impressive. Like 8×30. Just huge. Monet painted the one in the legion between 1914 and 1917. It’s tempting to think of art history as a sequential series of events and schools and trends. 1917 was a decade after the emergence of Cubism and the same year as Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. The general idea is that Impressionism ended in the 1890 or so, and it’s hard to make yourself think of all these things as overlapping and interrelated.

The Legion also has a lot of sculptures by Rodin, including a huge cast of The Thinker in the courtyard. I like Rodin, but sculptures like this don’t really thrill me since there are so many identical casts around the world. There isn’t the same feeling of seeing a one-of-a-kind piece. Still good though.

This is a good statue to have in the courtyard

This is a good statue to have in the courtyard

The Legion is a fairly small building, and I mostly like the way its laid out. The building is like a big “U” with the entrance in the middle. There are 20 or so galleries, in mostly chronological order from one tip of the U to the other. This is a perfect way to do it–except that the entrance is in the middle. You have to walk through half of the museum to get to the start. That’s not ideal. Although honestly it wouldn’t really work to make the tips of the U the focal points of the building. It would really diminish the courtyard and the sense of the building having a front, so to speak. I guess I can manage.

The current special exhibition at the Legion is decorative arts on loan from the Louvre. These are pieces from the collections of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. It was pretty good. Bowls and tea services aren’t usually my favorite, but this was an impressive collection. The best part were several snuffboxes that were given by the French royal family as gifts to foreign diplomats. They were gold, enamel, or jade, often with miniature paintings and encrusted with copious amounts of gemstones. Diamonds mostly.

I couldn't find a snuffbox picture so here's a gold coffee grinder with an ivory handle

I couldn’t find a snuffbox picture so here’s a gold coffee grinder with an ivory handle

I’m a member of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the Legion and the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. Members get free admission, which I enjoy. When I have to pay admission to a museum, I always feel like I have to get my money’s worth and I have to see everything and spend a lot of time at the museum. That’s not always the best way to do it. I like that I can just pop in whenever I want and see what I want and it’s no big deal. Maybe not everyone feels this way. I’m a pretty cheap guy.

One of the cool things about the Legion is that it was the place where the museum scenes in the movie Vertigo were filmed. Vertigo is a great movie. Some might even call it the greatest film of all time. I don’t want to get into explaining why Kim Novak goes to the museum in the movie, but I think you can watch the scene without spoiling the movie. Seriously, watch the whole movie. I should watch it again and then visit all the filming locations in the City and write a blog post about it. That’s a good idea. I bet no one’s ever done that before.

The Portrait of Carlotta is just a prop painting and isn’t in the museum. That’s a shame. It would be cool to see it.