Archive for June, 2003

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June 22, 2003

Ravenous
Great atmosphere, a really wonderful and odd collection of actors, and a tantalizing first act made me hopeful; the rest of the movie didn’t. When I thought this cannibalism-in-the-American-West story was going to become a monster movie, I was rather excited. The actual story that unfolds doesn’t do much with the Native American cannibal myths it draws from or the powers we’re told people get by eating each other. That’s a real shame.

Once again, I wish the creative folks behind this picture had avoided unnecessary comedic relief. The atmosphere and tension in Ravenous is about all it has going for it. Despite the level of gore, I still wish the movie had been fiercier, scarier, and more certain in its tone. This even happens within the first thirty seconds of the movie. Seriously.

Gamers, horror movie fans, and the sort might still very much enjoy this picture, though. Acting fans and players of the Kevin Bacon game will also want to remember this movie. Otherwise, the movie is pretty much it’s advertised as; it won’t convince any viewers who come to it with doubts. Roger Ebert gave Ravenous three stars, recommending it for its surprises and blending of vampire and cannibal movies. He supposed that it was a classic dish in a new sauce. I say it’s a fine blend of sauces, which fans might enjoy the taste of, but there’s nothing to eat underneath it all.

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June 20, 2003

On The Unrestricted Evolution of the Language

The attempt to steer the development of the English language is a noble one, especially as the Internet comes to validate the very worst typists the world has ever known. The notion that English is best left to careen madly downhill is like the notion that dogs should be allowed to chew on whatever they like. Yes, it’s undeniably natural, but it is not good civil practice. If the language can be better understood, guided, and culled while it’s going downhill we’ll benefit from something more akin to irrigation than erosion.

Some words are best kept like precious antiques. Decimatenot only reminds us of a more formal era of language, but it’s original definition reminds us of how differently the people who came before us thought. Sure, I use it to mean “aw, man, just totally trounced!” like any other fella, but let’s go ahead and respect its origins. Call it trivial, if you like. That’s fine. But isn’t it great to have a word that means “reduced by one-tenth” available if you need it? It’s like having a mental connection with a dead culture; it’s being a part of something bigger and older than the decade when you were in grade school.

A fair amount of the linguistic “drift” that’s gone before us has been caused by the collision of different cultural groups and different levels of education. We have better tools for the preservation of the language now, and I think we should make use of them. I don’t think we should restrict the growth of the language, but I think a language that’s allowed to run free has a good chance of getting hit by a car.

Besides, some of us make money off the language and don’t like the idea that our marketable skills can be undermined overnight by any nabob with a bong and a modem. 🙂

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June 20, 2003

Speech Not Given
Due to confusion on my part, and my ridiculous ignorance about Catholic traditions, I never read the speech I wrote for Pat Gleason’s funeral. I thought I was supposed to read at the service, so when I got the reading Marty chose from the Book of Wisdom I thought my bit just wasn’t going to come up. So, I never printed it out. I also never finished pruning it, so I think its a little long. All the same, I really want Marty and Tony to have the chance to see it, and Nick was kind enough to ask about it, so here it is.

—————

When I walk in, Mr. Gleason’s in his living room, surrounded by stacks of books, taking in a movie, discussing theories and practices of modern coaching with Tony, confirming some legal fact or joke with Marty, and pitching set-ups to Judy, who bats them back like a practiced comedy team. He’s doing this all at once, and the man is home after working all day. This is how he relaxes, by flexing and practicing four different social or intellectual pursuits at once.

Later, Mr. Gleason is having a casual discussion, it appears, about human rights and international law, with a Brazilian exchange student from Beloit College. Picture Pat, the wise and serene elder calmly debating with the enthusiastic and curious student he just met. They’ve each got a drink in their hand and they’re each joshing like old buddies. They’ve known each other for maybe two hours at this point.

Another night, I saw Pat spring from his big chair and rush off headlong in search of a neighborhood cat. This even after he had taken Judy out for a night on the town.

Ask anyone: I talk too much. Around Pat, though, I was quiet, even shy. At first I was intimidated, being in the den of a scholar, in the home of a man who had, like, a real job; the sort that you see on television. I’d heard so many stories about him by now, it was like being around someone famous. Later, after Pat had made it clear to me that I was welcome in his home, I was still quiet, because it’s such a treat to watch the Gleason family in action. It’s awesome. I just bask in it.

The last meal I had at the Gleason house was selected, prepared, and served by Pat. I have never before, or since, had such astonishing tamales. Seriously. I have been actively pursuing a mexican food experience on that scale ever since, and I haven’t found one yet.

It might have been the general rapport at the table. It might have been Marty drawing stories of South Side Chicago bars and young tomfoolery out of Mr. Gleason. It might have been the comedy routines that Tony and Judy perfectly improvise. I think, though, that it’s this image I have in my mind of Pat buying tamales from a strolling street vendor he knows in the city. I love this picture: Mr. Gleason in his suit, casually chatting with this older gentlemen on a sidewalk in front of a gorgeous neighborhood mural of Guadalupe. They know each other, of course, because Pat’s bought tamales from the vendor before. Pat knows they’re the best tamales you can get, so he won’t buy anything else. Passersby in the scene think this pair of joking, chatty guys — lawyer and vendor — breaks some sort of social rule, but Pat doesn’t care. This guy’s tamales are the best, he’s good at what he does, and Pat doesn’t talk to social rules, he talks to people. The vendor is a person who works hard, and knows good food, so Pat makes time for him.

I have no idea if that’s what Pat’s encounter with the tamale vendor was like. I do know that tamales tasted better when Pat bought them from a guy he knew with a cart. I know they taste better at the Gleason’s kitchen table.

I know Pat saw right through the acts people put on around him. It was a little scary, actually, to be figured out so quickly by a total stranger, because normally you assume that someone who sees through your act will reveal you to others, judge you, or refute you. Not Pat. He shared information with you, made you smarter, and talked with you as though you already knew the things about yourself that he figured out just by looking at you.

That’s how Pat knew good folks. That’s how he taught his kids to spot the good in people, even if those people couldn’t see the good in themselves. That’s how Pat knew the best guy to buy tamales from.

Those tamales were so good. They were savory as a great conversation, spicy like a good joke, and as satisfying as a favorite restaurant. It was like eating a delicious secret. I’ll never have another tamale that good. But at least I know I can stop looking. I sat at the best table in the house and had the perfect tamale.

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June 19, 2003

The Pendulum Blows
The aforementioned cheque is now gone. Speeding ticket (my first), serious automotive repair, etc.

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June 11, 2003

The Pendulum Swings
I’ll be returning to Chicago shortly for Pat Gleason’s funeral. I’ve been asked to read something at the funeral, and I’m attempting to write something for the occasion. I’ll be typing in the car with my new laptop, I guess. That I was needed urgently back home but was unable to get there for three days is very distressing.

Meanwhile, the same day that Mr. Gleason passed away, I received the largest single cheque I’ve ever been cut. It was payment for writing, no less. Strange days.

Today, Sara and I go out in search of clothes suitable for the service and then drive the length of Wisconsin. I’ll be in touch over the weekend, though. Lots going on, in general, these days.

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June 5, 2003

William Fucking Shatner
My brother witnessed a parade of recognizeable faces at a Starbucks in Studio City recently. Some of these folks amount to faces you’d know, like the Warden from The Shawshank Redemption, or names you’d know, like Eric Estrada. A guy from Star Trek VI was in there, too. All of this leads up to, culminates with, you guessed it, accompanied by his two dobermans, the master of the double-leg body-slam and the Starfleet axe-handle karate-chop, the man who was both Kirk and Hooker: Shatner.

My brother has long maintained that William Shatner should do the Cher thing and just become “Shatner.” Although I’m not sure I agree, I have absently adopted the habit all the same. More often than not, now, I just say Shatner!

Tyler Durden: Who would you fight?
Narrator: Shatner. I’d fight William Shatner.

Noise: Ella Fitzgerald or David Sedaris, I can’t tell which.

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June 3, 2003

Books, Movies, and Single-Engine Interceptor Aircraft
Homicide: Life on the Street is a joy on DVD. Highly recommended. These first two seasons are not my favorites, but they’re great television all the same. I’d seen more of these shows than I’d thought I had back when the show was on the Lifetime cable network, and it’s great fun to watch unexpected people appear on the show: Luis Guzman, John Waters, Juliana Marguiles. Good stuff.

Sara and I caught The Italian Job last week as a means of decompression. It’s a light, tasteful, and often classy picture that strays surprisingly far from formulas considering how closely it sticks to the rules of both heist pictures and vengeance dramas. The obvious dialogue that gets set-up at the beginning of the picture isn’t used in the last three minutes of the movie but in the middle, and the characters actually recognize and make use of these call-backs when they occur. It’s these sorts of little touches that make the film a bit more respectable, on top of its somewhat thin characters and implausible action. Not that the characters and action are a chore, quite the contrary. Director F. Gary Gray just knows where his priorities are: in a stylish, funny, exciting two hours with handsome locales, terrific music, and a delightful cast. The Italian Job doesn’t ask much of its audience, but if you just sit back and let it do its thing, it’ll do all the work that’s necessary to entertain.

I picked up the new click-able Crimson Skies game rules yesterday. If this is what Mr. Weissman is choosing to do with his MageKnight fortune, that’s just fine with me. The $7.95 rules box has everything you need to play this collectible miniatures game. Except for the miniatures, of course; none of those. You get more than your eight dollar’s worth, though. It’s a great package that takes full advantage of its flavor and material, with a handsome leather-looking box and string-tied envelopes suitable for holding all the game’s little pieces. Splitting the game into rules and miniatures is probably a fine idea, though. This way, the kids can buy plastic planes without knowing anything about the game, and gamers like me can start playing with a low overall investment and a choice of beginning armies. I have no idea if it’s a satisfying experience to play, and I’m not crazy about the twin-game approach, but so what? It’s a looker, and if they want to give me a whole other game to go with my pulp 1930s dog-fighting game, I’m fine with that. I can’t wait to get Wagner, Slayer, and Marty together to give this a shot. (You fellas will have to buy your own planes, though, at $15 a pop.)

Which reminds me: The Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary is back early from the printers. This book has been around the office since before I got here, and it’s finally going to meet the gamers. I’ve got fingerprints all over this book, too, so I’m very excited to hear what sort of response it gets. We’ll see, I guess.

Coming soon: my review of A Mighty Wind, for Jim.

Noise: classic jazz from down the hall.