Archive for October, 2005

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Phoenix/Chicago

October 28, 2005

Unlike you, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about Phoenix. Sure, I knew Phoenix was there, but it seemed to have everything under control, never made much noise, so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it. That’s what happens when you’re “The Best Run City In the World,” I guess.[1] Maybe it’s also what happens when you’re the largest capital city in the U.S.[2]

What’s really jumped out at me is the number of connections between Phoenix and Chicago, and I don’t mean flights. So many notable Chicagoans have spent time there, you’d think it was in Michigan. Here, then, is a short list of some points of contact between Phoenix and Chicago:

  • Phoenix is home that other Wrigley Mansion[3], La Colina Solana (“the sunny hill”), where the Wrigleys hung when they weren’t at the Wrigley Building in Chicago. Or their place in Lake Geneva. Or their other place on Catalina Island. Or the one in Pasadena. Good lord, they were rich.
  • Capone, I’m told, used to frequent the San Marcos hotel and resort in Phoenix. According to one source, it was built for or by him. He’s also known for something he did in Chicago.
  • Phoenix’s Taliesin West and the Gammage Auditorium were both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who had some roots in the Chicago area. His third wife, Olga Milanov Hinzenberg, died in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1985.[4]
  • Dennis Farina (Get Shorty[5], Snatch, Law & Order) was a resident of Phoenix for a time. He was also a Chicago police officer for a time.

I’ll be in Phoenix tomorrow. Er, today.

[1]”In 1993, Phoenix was selected as the “Best Run City in the World”, also known as the Carl Bertelsmann Prize, by the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany, a branch of Bertelsmann media company. It shared the honor with Christchurch, New Zealand.” — Wikipedia.org
[2]”Phoenix is the largest capital city by population in the U.S., and the third largest capital city by area in the U.S. (behind Juneau, AK and Oklahoma City, OK).” — Wikipedia.org
[3]Meaning “not Wrigley Field.”
[4]Olgivanna lived “as a disciple” of the Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff, whatever that means. She and Gurdjieff influenced the formation and structure of Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. Before, I thought the Taliesin Fellowship was just a kind of mass apprenticeship, slavery-for-fame-type organization, but when you add an Armenian mystic to the mix it all starts to sound kind of Hitean.
[5]”No, no. Fuck you, fuckball.”

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Chicago Confusion

October 27, 2005

In the comments to the previous post, some confusion has arisen about Chicago, t-shirts and The Alley. Actually, the confusion is about the World of Darkness book called Chicago, which tore me apart and ate my insides a couple of times over the last few months. The shirt the, uh, werewolf on the cover is wearing is, yes, an Alley shirt, Kate.

Anon, this is why you’re confused.

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Cheap Bullets

October 24, 2005

In 2000, while messing around with a indy comics outfit called Soon Studios, I wrote the script for a one-shot story called “Cheap Bullets.” I recently came into possession of the image files again and reassembled them into a PDF edition of the comic. Here it is. Enjoy.

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Where Invariable = 0

October 24, 2005

Those wonderfully dry cats over at Languagelog.com have hit on a pet peeve of mine today. Invariably is probably not a word that should be used by journalists. Even media columnists and entertainment reporters should stop using lazy, self-glorifying tricks like this in their writing.

When a columnist or reporter unsarcastically writes that others are “always” saying something, or that a phrase is “invariably followed by” another phrase, they’re attempting to shine themselves up at another’s expense. They’re saying, “everyone else tries to get away with this trick, but I caught them!” They’re saying, “I’m hip to what’s happening, and from my position at the heart of the action, I see what’s what.”

Here’s the story: Nancy Franklin wrote in The New Yorker, “No one seems to be able to talk about Commander in Chief without also talking about Hillary Clinton, whose name is invariably followed these days by the phrase ‘who may or may not run for president in 2008.'” Geoffrey K. Pullum, at Languagelog.com, took that claim for a spin and Googled it. Hits: 1 out of 6,150,000. And that one doesn’t even count:

And that one hit for “Hillary Clinton, who may or may not” is not about running in 2008. It’s from a 1998 article about Cherie Booth (wife of UK prime minister Tony Blair) wearing a necklace said to contain magic crystals barring harmful computer rays and stress. The sentence runs: “One of Booth’s few fellow-travellers is Hillary Clinton, who may or may not have suggested the stress-busting necklace but who has reputedly sought the aid of spiritual guides, summoning up Eleanor Roosevelt from the White House ectoplasm.” So it would appear that absolutely no one has ever followed the words “Hillary Clinton” with the words “who may or may not run for president in 2008” in any forum that Google can find. The statement is hugely, monstrously, grotesquely false.

As I’ve put it here, though, this is nothing more than caviling pedantry. Mr. Pullum touches on the real substance of this issue in his article, which is tangling untrue linguistic statements with actual nonlinguistic cultural issues.

Thoughts?

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Covers and Their Point

October 23, 2005

At the grocery store, I walked by a copy of Amy Tan’s new book, Saving Fish From Drowning. Since then, I’ve been trying to locate and identify my opinion of that title. I know I think the cover is lousy, what with it’s blandly airy line spacing and unstimulating typeface. It’s worse than merely boring, it’s routine and derivative.

On the other hand, it is the title that stuck out to me from the shelf when I walked by. Must’ve been a dozen books there, but that’s the one I noticed and remembered. For the most part Amy Tan’s titles do that to me. The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Opposite of Fate are great titles, though I can’t speak to the quality of the books, since I’ve never managed to dig any deeper than two dozen pages into an Amy Tan novel. (Two reasons: 1) I haven’t even opened an Amy Tan novel in almost ten years and 2) when last I did, it featured no androids, no detectives, no gunplay, no ancient civilization and no futuristic cityscape. These are not judgments of the work.)

While I understand all the reasons why book covers are 45% author’s name, I’ll never like it. I vastly prefer the covers of lesser-known authors, whose works have to be sold on their content rather than their lineage. Some great covers — covers that I’ve envied and enjoyed on the shelf, that I’ve picked up just to touch and admire — from recent years. If the author isn’t listed, it’s ’cause I haven’t read the book. I’ve just liked the cover.

One thing we can conclude from the above is that Will loves matte covers. I’ve looked into this, and it’s true. He really does.

As an example of a cover that fails utterly, look at Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek, which is confrontational, witless and cold. Not at all right for what’s supposed to be a book of funny, insightful memoirs and self-deprecation. (Granted, I haven’t read this book, so maybe it is standoffish and gray.)

Sometime soon, I should make a list of those covers that jump out at me at the bookstore, but that I still haven’t bought. II just don’t buy books on impulse anymore, and that’s a shame. I wonder who does.

What books have you bought that you became aware of by the cover, not by a recommendation or a “Somebody else wants you to buy this” link on Amazon?

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Stay

October 21, 2005

Watch carefully. Stay is a beautiful film, with shots and transitions packed so densely with visual ideas that it’s possible to miss key dialogue while you’re poring over the details. This is a movie that shows how visual effects can be employed to create amazing eye candy that doesn’t involve space aliens or explosions. The story is a slow build, but don’t be fooled. The visual tricks start almost immediately.

It opens with a dizzying car wreck on the Brooklyn Bridge. After that, it spends almost all of its time exploring a New York City that’s almost all glass and concrete. Every scene is set in a space defined by glass or populated with clear plastic. Over time, the cast of characters begins to double back on itself — “Didn’t that guy in the store also play the dude on the train?” It’s wonderfully done.

Watch the way one scene falls into another. Notice how dialogue is repeated and pay attention to what strangers say to our characters on the street. When you see that Ewan’s character has apparently gone from a mezzanine hallway to a downstairs lobby, don’t assume that’s a sloppy cut. It’s not. Stay is too tight, visually, for that. It’s meticulously prepared. Lazy readers will get confused or bored, but you like to look closely and you understand that transitions aren’t just some Final Cut effect a director chooses off a menu, so you’ll get more out of this picture. This is a director doubling or tripling the power of a modest screenplay. Stay is a very small little story, but it’s a rich experience.

Here’s the rub: Don’t believe everything you read. When you see a critic say, “Stay attempts to justify the entire price of admission with its ending twist,” you’ll know you’re reading the work of a lazy reviewer. When you read reviews that call the movie “blurry,” you know that you’re looking at the work of a reviewer who doesn’t watch very closely. Go to Rotten Tomatoes, for example, and you’ll see a bunch of reviews that go so far as to seem bitter. The reviewers brought that with them. The movie didn’t do that to them. I think people came to Mark Forster’s movie fed up with M. Night Shyamalan’s movies.

As pretentious and ridiculous as it sounds, the experience of Stay is building towards something, but the story isn’t going so far. This isn’t a movie that get’s solved by a twist ending. It’s story is pretty short, and if you’re paying attention you know pretty much everything that happens before the end comes, even if you don’t completely understand everything yet. That’s fitting.

Director Mark Forster (Finding Neverland) said, “I wanted to make it clear right away to the audience that the story they’re about to see isn’t taking place in reality. I wanted them to know that the lead characters are intertwined, so they can go on this journey into an alternate, imaginary reality without feeling manipulated.” On the one hand, then, this isn’t a twist movie. On the other hand, you’ll enjoy yourself more if you know less going in. “I think it is better to look at this movie almost like a window – you have to look through the visuals rather than simply at them,” said Forster. “It’s a story that, because it is all a dream, is wide open to all kinds of interpretation. The only thing as the director that I am able to control are the visual clues – and the rest is up to the viewer.” It’s not a rational movie. It’s not a thriller. It’s an instinctual drama.

When Stay comes out on DVD, I’ll see it another couple of times, just to sift through it. It’s not going to be a big success, and it probably won’t change your life, but I’ve been thinking about it for days since I saw it. I want you to see it, too, so we can talk about it.

Recommended.

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Three Unrelated Things

October 20, 2005

1. Special thanks to Jeff Tidball for turning me on to nms at SourceForge.net. It is because of him, and the excellent free program support from nms, that I finally have my coveted random pictures appearing in the upper right-hand corner.

B. Our hamster, Kinkajou, is losing her hair a little bit. Her neck now looks like that of any old lady’s. She sleeps a little more and eats a little less. She’s creeping past the average lifespan for a hamster, and it seems that her time is running out. Also, when she drinks, she rinses her mouth out. It’s darling.

  • Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost both copies of the Glory soundtrack I had. For a time, it was a staple of my soundtrack collection. Now it’s been years since I heard it and, suddenly, I want very badly to hear it again. Dammit.

Aren’t you glad you asked.