Friday, July 29, 2011

Blogwatch: Shakespeare Gets a New Representative From the Wilds of the Web

Because there are so many great blogs out there like Pop Culture Lunch Box, this is a regular feature that will give these unheralded journalism enterprises a little love.

My great friend, fellow playwright, excellent comedian, and heroic everyman superhero Dan Sullivan, I'm thrilled to report, has started a blog called Fighting Sullivan (link has expired). This is the perfect medium for such a kind of person (in the center of the picture). He is brimming with creativity and I fear that, with him now unleashing his wild ramblings upon the world, the Internet is reaching its next stage of awesomeness.

Fear for us all.

All that said, I'm awfully glad he reported on another friend's latest theatrical performance. Tim Getman recently wrapped in a production of Merchant of Venice at the Shakespeare Theater in DC and I missed it. I would normally report on such a production in the form of a review. Dan approaches it differently. This video he posted on his blog is just weird. And I can't stop watching it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sarah Silverman Finally Finds a Way to be As Unfunny as Possible

Sarah Silverman. Rainn Wilson. Lewis Black. Cast members of Parks and Recreation, Dexter, and The Karate Kid.

That's can't miss, right? Wrong. Peep World is the worst movie I've seen all year. It's about a young writer who becomes the voice of his generation based on his tell-all about his family. The movie reaches its wretched climax when the who family gets together for a dinner. Their unlikable father dies, which brings his unlikable, hateful, and disturbingly unfunny children together in a way that they never did when he was alive.

Ugh. Just forget you ever saw this review, and consider yourself lucky if you never waste an hour-and-a-half of your life on Peep Show.

* out of ***** stars

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July is For Family Fun

July has been filled with some nice family time. The month started off in the Adirondacks at Rachel's grandmother's lake house. The picture to the left is Jackson (wearing devil's horns) and his cousin Julia ganging up on their older cousin Hannah.

We also went to Fairfield, Connecticut last weekend for our cousin Stanton's 60th birthday. The party was on the beach there and we stayed at our cousins James and Ellen's beautiful house in Pound Ridge, New York. This is an area we could really live. It's got the more mountainous feeling area around James and Ellen's place (which Rachel would like) and the beach (which is more my style).

This was also a chance for me to narrow down the number of states I need to get to. Connecticut was a new one for me. So now the list is five: North Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

While in Connecticut, we took Jackson to his first amusement park, Rye Playland in Westchester. He gave it thumb's up, as you can see in the photo. And it was a good warmup for me, as the little rollercoaters hopefully got me back into shape for the big ones that are sure to be headed my way as soon as Jackson gets a little taller.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Music Reviews In 3 Words or Less: Volume 22

A sampling of what I've been listening to lately:

Yuck - Yuck (2011)
Best '90s-indie now
Touchstones: Dinosaur Jr. meets Teenage Fanclub
***** out of ***** stars

Velocity Girl - Simpatico (1994)
Melodic, bubblegrunging SilverSpring-ers
Touchstones: R.E.M. meets Juliana Hatfield
****1/2 out of ***** stars

World Party - Goodbye Jumbo (1990)
Psychedelic undergrad fave
Touchstones: The Beatles meet XTC
****1/2 out of ***** stars

Urge Overkill - Rock & Roll Submarine (2011)
'90s swagger remains
Touchstones: Frank Black meets Cheap Trick
***** out of ***** stars

Ween - The Mollusk (1997)
Bubbly, outrageous prog-pop
Touchstones: Meat Puppets meet King Missile
*** out of ***** stars

Cedar Falls, Iowa Lures Ed Helms for an Insurance Conference

If one things can be said about Ed Helms, he plays his type well. Basically the same square-dweeb turned party animal that he played in The Hangover and The Hangover II, Helms is Tim Lippe (pronounced Lip-y) in Cedar Falls, the name of this movie and also the location of the annual insurance conference that serves as the center of the action.

This is actually a brilliant concept for a movie. An insurance conference? The comedic possibilities seem endless. And while there could have been more fall-out-of-your-seat-laughing moments, the characters are so lovable that it's impossible to not get caught up cheering for them.

Lippe has never been on an airplane before, so the run-of-the-mill chain hotel seems like a wonderland to him. This is clear from the moment he arrives and hesitates to give the desk person his credit card for incidentals to the Chevy Chase-like moment when he and the gang break into the indoor pool in the center of all the rooms in the middle of the night.

He rooms with a seemingly slimy, but actually much deeper, John C. Reilly and straight man Isiah Whitlock Jr. And he gets in all kinds of situations with a winning trifecta of ladies, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, and Alia Shawkat (from Arrested Development).

An interesting tidbit: Iowa, where the real Cedar Rapids is located, failed to secure the film a tax credit, so the whole movie was actually done in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Although Helms' never seems funny to me in late-night talk show interviews, his winning streak with The Daily Show, The Office, The Hangovers, and this movie is a thing of beauty.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't Read This Post About Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron

"Harrison Bergeron" is one of the 10 best short stories ever written. And it magically takes about 10 minutes to read. I revisit it every few years, usually along with several other stories from Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece 1961 collection, Welcome to the Monkey House.

Because I'm going to spoil "Harrison Bergeron" (I won't vouch for the 1995 Showtime film, which couldn't possibly be any good), I would highly recommend you go read the story instead of this blog post.

The year is 2081 and the government has been able to successfully place handicaps on everyone to make them all equal. The U.S. Handicapper General, Diana Moon Clampers, has taken 14-year-old Harrison Bergeron away from his parents, George and Hazel because he is a genius whose handicaps are not working well enough.

But it only takes a few pages before Harrison breaks out of jail. A newswoman says "he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous." The handicappers had never been able to keep pace with Harrison's intelligence, despite his large earphones and glasses that made him half-blind and gave him "whanging headaches." To offset his good looks, he had to wear a rubber ball on his nose, shave his eyebrows, and wear black caps on his teeth.

Harrison bursts into the news studio and smashes all his handicaps on screen. He is revealed to be "a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder." And he plucks up a ballerina standing nearby to be his "empress."

Barely a moment later, Diana Moon Glampers enters the studio and mows Harrison down with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. George and Hazel, watching the whole thing on their TV, forget seeing their son's execution after a minute or two.

Pure brilliance. I feel like consumerism and the fact that every town has a McDonalds and a Wal-Mart is one way everyone's become equal, or at least the same. However, the endless choices we have on TV (not to mention the web) compared to when Vonnegut wrote this, when everyone watched the exact same shows and had much more similar frames of reference, has gone in the opposite direction from what the author envisioned.

***** out of ***** stars

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What F. Scott Fitzgerald Had Against Jelly Beans

An odd thing: Over the years, I've read hundreds of short stories by a handful of my favorite authors (Poe, Vonnegut, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Capote). But, other than a few select classics, I rarely remember them.

One of the reasons I started Pop Culture Lunch Box was to jot down things I should remember from the things I read, watch, or see. Kind of like an, uh, journal. So my next endeavor is to reread F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age and try to remember it so I never have to read any of its lesser short stories. (As a bonus, the Kindle edition is free at Amazon, even though the Library Journal review there curiously calls the collection "nice if you can afford it.")

The first story, "The Jellybean," takes place in small-town Georgia and was apparently co-written by Fitzgerald's wife Zelda. The Jelly Bean is 21-year-old Jim Powell, who is immediately described as an unappealing character coming home from the war in trousers that are too short and too tight.

He is invited to a party with his childhood friend Clark Darrow. Clark has lived a full social life and is a sought-after commodity by the ladies, while Jim is completely stunted and detests girls just as he had as a boy before the war. At the party, Clark asks Jim if he thinks Nancy Lamar, a girl who does "crazy stunts" and is dating the son of the owner of a safety-razor company, looks beautiful.

Somehow, Jim and Nancy end up sharing some strong drinks and a chat later in the evening. It's not long before she kicks aside her chair and stands up to announce her devoted love to Jim Powell - whom she calls King of the Jelly Beans - to the entire party.

Well, Nancy is obviously very drunk and that's pretty much where her night ends. But Jelly Bean leaves the party and walks the streets thinking about a successful woman Nancy had told him about and how unmotivated he'd been so far in life. He later tells Clark that he has decided to stop being a bum, go fix up his aunt's farm, and start a family.

But just a little while later, Jim the Jelly Bean turns into a pool hall on Jackson Street "where he was sure to find a congenial crowd who would make all the old jokes - the ones he knew."

This is a pretty depressing story, but at the same time, it's a brilliant look into how delusional we can be. Moments of brilliance and great ideas often flash past us, but only the truly motivated people turn those moments into something substantial. The other people are, well, jelly beans, which I guess in Fitzgerald's world means the ordinary people who don't stand out in a crowd in any way and float through life as just another jelly bean in the jar.

**** out of ***** stars

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Midnight in Paris a Literary and Artistic Delight

Midnight in Paris would land somewhere in the middle of my list of the best Woody Allen films. The famed director is clearly still at the top of his game, with the only difference from his work of the 1970s being that other people besides him play the "Woody Allen role."

This time it's Owen Wilson as the neurotic protagonist. He does a great job navigating an era (1920s Flapper expat Paris) that has been fascinating to me ever since my two favorite novels became F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

And the performances of the actors who play the legends of that time are wonderful. When Owen Wilson, playing an L.A. screenwriter on an extended vacation to the City of Lights with his non-supportive fiancee and her lousy rich parents, slips into a time warp each night, he comes alive befriending the likes of a respectively sensitive and crazy F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, a surreal Salvador Dali, an unthoughtful Pablo Picasso, an artistic guru Gertrude Stein, and a rowdy Hemingway (with this movie released in a timely way, close to the 50th anniversary of Hemingway's Idaho suicide).

Allen's brilliance balances on his humor (Side Effects and Without Feathers are still two of the greatest comedy essay collections ever known to mankind) and his insight into how the times we live in never seem as interesting as other historical periods. We're disillusioned, and that's a big part of what makes Midnight in Paris so timeless.

Not to mention, the opening sequence is almost as good as a round-trip ticket to Paris. All the sights are included.

**** out of ***** stars