Saturday, October 31, 2009

Movie Time

One day about halfway through my eighth-grade year, my art class had a substitute teacher. There was a guy in my class named Steve Butts who was at least 17 at the time, but possibly 18 or 19. He had literally not done a single art project the entire year, and the regular teacher, who was clearly a little bit afraid of him, never attempted to get him to do one beyond a gentle "Hey Steve, do you think you want to try this one today?" every once in a while.

We were doing "pottery" (if you want to call it that) the day we had the substitute. Towards the end of class, and completely unprovoked, Steve rolled up a baseball-size lump of clay, reared back, and delivered it like a split-finger fastball right to the substitute's temple. The substitute, who was probably nearing 70, sort of hunched over with her head in her hands and then went behind some file cabinets and started crying. And that was it. Nobody reported it to the principal or the cops or even asked the teacher if she was okay. Steve didn't get expelled or arrested for battery. We all just stared at our desks until the period ran out and then left. It was just high school.

There are a lot of movies about bad high schools; it's practically become its own genre. But I've never seen one that comes closer to capturing what it's like, on a day to day basis, to go to a shitty high school than The Class. It takes place in a French school, apparently in a rough suburb of Paris, but it could easily be relocated to DeKalb County.

The movie just focuses on one teacher as he struggles to keep order in his French language class, trying to teach quatrains to students who have only a shaky grasp of basic grammar. It doesn't romanticize--or demonize--either the teacher, the students (a fair number of whom are immigrants from places like Haiti or Morocco), or the school. There's no gang subplot and the teacher doesn't smoke crack, but there's no "Stand and Deliver" moment either. It's just day in, day out public school life. There's no real plot, unless you count a troublemaker (who also shows some promise) getting expelled for an episode in class that the teacher himself might have provoked by referring to two of the girl students as "skanks."

What it captures best, I think, is the low-level insanity that's pervasive in a lot of public schools. The kind where any oral presentation can turn into a shouting match or a fight and any attempt by the teacher to keep order will get him accused--openly, by the students--of being a "racist." It only teeters on sentimental for a moment at the end when we learn that one of the "skanks" has been reading Plato on her own. But the teenage actors are unbelievably good--everyone of them reminded me of someone I went to school with--and they're far better than the adults. It is a pretty remarkable movie.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rednecks and Steelers

In news related to this, a drunken Sauce was kicked out of the Manhattan for demanding that they book Wilco.

Totally unnecessary Sauce joke. I just feel like with all the Wire discussion lately we've strayed from our roots. Congrats on the wedding for real though.

Also, an article that touches on two nerdy sports issues near and dear to my heart: 1. what an asshole Larry Johnson is and how he tarnishes Penn State's good name and 2. why the Steelers and a couple of other teams stay consistently good, even though the salary cap always levels the playing field. Love the Aaron Smith quote. Interestingly (for some of you), I think the post-Vick Falcons could join the group of teams that consistently stays above the fold.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

top 5 shows (make that 10):

in the spirit of il gato's wildly popular and interesting "things i don't like, but should" thread (which sort of got hijacked by a less nuanced "the wire sucks" / "the wire is the best show ever" point/counterpoint; sorry), i thought we should put forward a few lists as points of discussion. i thought i would start with one of the most simple ones i could think of: top 5 current tv shows.

1. lost
2. mad men
3. it's always sunny in philadelphia
4. true blood
5. anthony bourdain

ok, so when i look at my list i realize it's pretty vanilla. i'll take it a step further with another 5.

6. entourage
7. house hunters international
8. flash forward
9. californication
10. curb

still not really any big shockers on there, but then again that's for you to comment (obviously i wouldn't think so). a couple exclusions that i do feel like noting, though:

30 rock - like arrested development, i think it's really funny and very "smart". but i just don't care about watching it.
the office - i really like the office, way more than 30 rock. but i still never make a point of tuning in, and old episodes go unwatched on the dvr. in fact the only true comedy that i tune in for regularly is it's always sunny.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Picture show

I like the picture show on the NPR website. Here's one with some cool pictures of famous musicians. There's one with R.E.M. eating at a BBQ joint in Athens. Is it now J.B.'s on Broad Street?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Even more thoughts on the wire

I am only putting this a new post because reading long comments is kind of a pain. Here is my two cents, keeping in mind I've only watched about 1o episodes, plus an hour long interview with David Simon with clips

In terms of storytellling, dialogue and creation of interesting characters the wire is pretty outstanding. For most books, movies, etc this is all that matters. however, the wire is subject to scrutiny of it's 'reality' because it prides itself on just and because it is so grounded in a specific time, place and slice of life. While it's cast of contributors oozes street cred, this does not mean that it is 'real' as I would use the term. I've never lived in the baltimore ghetto, but here's why I think that.

There is a surprisingly good show on tnt or tbs called raising the bar that essentially goes day to day in the life of public defender. once you've stopped laughing about my comparing a zach morris vehicle to the wire, read on. One of the writers for the show is a guy name David Feige, a longtime PD in NYC who wrote a great book called indefensible--as knowledgeable about what's real in that world as one could be. With such great source material, the show absolutely deals with real issues for pds. At the same time, it deals with these issues through characters and specific storylines that are, in a statistical sense, unreal--meaning they could exist but represent no substantial amount of a PD's caseload/clientele. Are there times when DA's violate discovery rules? yes. Is it in murder cases where they hand you a foot-thick file the day before your innocent client has a trial? No. Yes, the wire is better in the standard ways that you would analyze art, but the creative source for rtb is every bit as deep and real. If Feige can/has to take license with reality for dramatic purposes then anyone can/has to.

So does the wire? In my limited viewing I would point to two examples of such alteration. 1. Deangelo Barksdale--the conflicted, reluctant, thoughtful, chessplaying murdering drug dealer. Could he exist? Yes. Does he exist in any meaningful quantity? No. But he is clearly a key character in the show and one it leans on to illustrate the complexity of this world. 2. A speech by someone (perhaps Deangelo) that was in the interview, where he essentially says to some white quasi-authority figure "we know you white people don't care about us, that's why we sell drugs." Of the clients i've dealt with in that situation, probably less than one percent have both the self awareness and personal eloquence to make such a comment. Truthfully, I would love if my client's were like him--it would make my job much easier--and if i was trying to depict them sympathetically I might do the same things. Simon's initial point (poor black teens with no way out rejected by white society) is true, his execution of it through a character is far fetched and not real in any meaningful quantity.

On the other hand, there are aspects of the wire the seem very likely to be real. I am sure they know how to depict street level drugs sales accurately. I feel confident that they are accurately reflecting the workings of a successful drug operation. Mechanical operations are when the street cred of the creators is most helpful--depicting who these people are psychologically and why they do what they do is much dicier, and is always filtered by the subjective interpretations of the creator along with external forces such as the need for drama.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out (if for no other reason than to downplay my own interest in his cantaloup sized testes) that Il Gato's dislike of Simon is a little shaky as a reason to dislike the show. I have a bad feeling that if you discount artwork produce by assholes your book, cd and movie collections are going to be mighty small.

P.S. Wilco kicks ass.

For El Gato Grande

My favorite pre-1965 movies (off the top of my head, in no order)
1. The Third Man
2. Nosferatu
3. Double Indemnity
4. Teenagers from Outer Space (the mst3k version)
5. Casablanca
6. Yojimbo
7. The Seventh Seal
8. Orpheus
9. Bridge Over the River Kwai
10. The Guns of Navarrone
11. The Bicycle Thief (seriously, it's kinda good, I'm not just trying to be cinematically literate/cool)

5 years at the PD's Office

As you get older, monumental events/numerical achievments become less and less frequent. For me, this is one. Hoping that blood pressure and finances allow me to be write an equivalent post on some futuristic version of 4ks 25 5, 10 and 25 years from now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Things I don't like, but should

Recently I ran across an article in the Onion's AV club about music, movies, etc. that you should like, but don't. Not things you should like because they're supposed to be good for you, like classical music or Dickens novels. But things that, based on all the other things you like, you really think you'd like but for some reason you just don't. I thought it was a neat idea and deserved spreading, meme-style.

I'll get it started off with Things Il Gato Really Should Like, But Actually Cannot Stand:

1. The Wire
2. Hitchcock movies
3. Wilco (all of it)
4. Donnie Darko

There are others, but I want to hear everyone else's dark secrets.


I guess this idea works better if you explain why you don't like said cultural object. Although numbers 2, 3, and 4 really irritate me, the real problem for me is #1 "The Wire."

Literally, every person I talk to about movies, books, tv, music on a regular basis with and agree with at least 20% of the time LOVES this show. And I simply don't get it. Well, I get certain aspects of it. Is well directed? Yes. Is it well cast? Yes. Well acted? Yes. Do I care about it at all? No.

I've thought a lot about it, and I think my problem with the Wire is it's basic premise: that criminal life is just as complicated, dare we say sophisticated, as law-abiding life. The ganglord is a CEO. Isn't that basically the premise of New Jack City? The Godfather? The Sopranos? It just seems played so out. (Don't get me started on the "detective who can't play by the rules".)

"But," you say, "The Wire is so authentic. It is so accurate." Bullshit. How would you know? Seriously, explain to me how you could know that the Wire is an accurate representation of life in a Baltimore slum. You can't. It just seems like it's accurate. Which means is it merely naturalisitic, not realistic. Well, so are all sorts of other tv shows.

Worse, though, is the show's attitude that it isn't just accurate, but important. David Simon has turned his Stendahlian mirror on innercity Baltimore and exposed the corruption of the cops, the indifference of the school board, the basic humanity of the junkie. I'm not buying it. David Simon is a self-righteous dick, and if you doubt me just watch his appearance on the Daily Show, in which he cannot abide a single joke being cracked while he and John Stewart discuss his beloved civics lesson disguised as a Dickensian serial. The whole thing is just insufferable.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here and there

1. So I watched the much hyped Paranormal Affairs last Saturday night (midnight showing) and came away...satisfied. I don't really think it's the scariest film ever, although I guess it's probably in the top 10 or 20, depending on what scares you in a movie. Tense is the word I think best describes it. From the initial relatively minor indication of the presence of something in the house to the only slightly flawed last 20 minutes, there's an occasionally chill yielding tension that most horror movies I see the days don't really understand. There are some hollywoodisms near the end I guess Paramount couldn't resist not putting in. But other than that, it's a good movie.
2. Getting excited about potentially seeing my favorite band ever in reunion fashion. For old times sake, here's a cool little New Zealand TV special that I assume was put out right around or before Slanted and Enchanted.

The band Mark Ibold mentions is the 3-Ds and the nice little song SM is air guitaring to is right here:

3. I now teach one kid named Michael Jordan and one kid named Michael Irving.
4. About to go get some ribs to eat during the Alabama-Ole Miss game. BBQ in California does not really compete in any way with BBQ in Alabama or Georgia but I've heard this place is good, and it's in a shitty neighborhood, so I'm crossing my fingers.
5. Here are some nice albums I've purchased lately: Raekwon-Only Built for Cuban Linx II, Times New Viking-Born Again Revisited (they sound better on vinyl, in my opinion), Studio One Dub, Bob Dylan and the Band-The Basement Tapes, Girl Talk-Night Ripper. I also bought a Deltron 3000 cd and a Handsome Boy Modeling School cd and sold them both back within weeks.

Friday, October 09, 2009


homeboy / former roomie AG ties the knot tomorrow. a hearty congratulations to my good friend lo these many years. i'm looking forward to the "fiesta" themed rehearsal dinner tonight, as well as the [sure to be alcohol soaked] irish catholic wedding tomorrow. will get to jam many brews with brownbear, LB, and other old collegiate chums. so cheers to you, AG.

speaking of this continued slew of nuptials, the sauce is getting married saturday as well. two hill street penal leaguers doubling up on fall weddings. he had a nice wedding related [non]event at L kings last night. in any event, a grudging congratulations are offered to my lethargic friendly adversary.

so the wifey and i are jetsetting over to san francisco next week for a work conference. honestly i'm pretty hyped about this. we all sort of believe implicitly that san francisco is the coolest city in the country, right? i'm juiced to check it out. will be cool to visit khoff as well (who, in case anybody is not aware, is now practicing renewable energy law and living in downtown berkeley; charmed life, anyone?). anyway, we'll be there for a week, so if anybody has any sightseeing/dining suggestions feel free to offer them up.


so obama won the nobel peace prize. even as one of the bigger obama backers you'll find, it does seem a little premature. then again, i do think the change he's already brought to our international reputation is historically significant.

man, this is boring. sorry.