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March 6, 2013 - February 27, 2013

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't read this, Eduardo:


The 1970s Flyers. Mike Tyson on skates.

SORRY, PUCK. My wife is excited about the Winter Classic, Flyers against Rangers. The papers are devoted to showing us the high-tech graphics of the goalie masks on both sides. Slick? Yeah. But I still prefer the blank malevolence of the mask above, which Bernie Parent wore in winning two successive Stanley Cups for Philadelphia. (What he'll also be wearing in the alumni game a day before.)

The best thing about the Winter Classic is that it allowed us non-HBO subscribers to see the slam-bang documentary about The Broad Street Bullies on cable. Which we watched last night.

Jeez. The whole thing is here.

I don't even know what the best thing is. The two Stanley Cups? The fact that Slap Shot was a poor imitation of a real and much better team? The unexpected iconography of Kate Smith? The only ever fair treatment of Philadelphia sports fans in a major media product? Or the humiliation of the Russian Red Army Team, when they'd crushed the NHL's best and suddenly the most hated team in hockey was conscripted by a commissioner who loathed them to defend the honor of the NHL, Canada, The United States, and our way of life. Oh yeah. It's the last one.

Forget the Miracle on Ice. This wasn't like that. It wasn't the Olympics. It was Philadelphia. The Russians came into town riding a wave of victories over NHL royalty. The disreputable, no-talent Flyers began by preventing them from penetrating the blue line, which no one had ever done. When they'd accomplished that, they set about beating the shit out of the Russians. Who left the ice.

Until they learned they wouldn't get paid for quitting. Then the Flyers rubbed it in. The Flyers way.

In the Cold War, this was maybe the second closest we ever came to Hot War. If you've never seen the story of the Broad Street Bullies, watch it. It's not hagiography. It's a warts and all account. But as someone who had to follow this history at a distance, in Boston, home of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, a city seething with angry contempt of the Flyers, I was thrilled to see Bruins of that era acknowledging what so few in The Hockey ever do: that the Flyers won not because of their thuggery but because they could play The Hockey.

Watch the Winter Classic. It's a spectacular once-a-year event.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And a Happy New Year too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Santa Claus
Is Dead.

He had a real purpose. All gone now.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The wags are all coming forward with their lists of best and worst Christmas movies. Big Hollywood is even featuring a list of best non-Christian Christmas movies.

I'm not going to critique the lists, but I will characterize what's on them: Obsolete nostalgia that caters to adults, not children. Grown men are arguing back and forth about whether Christmas Story has finally eclipsed It's a Wonderful Life, while others are still charmed by Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Holiday Inn. I don't think anybody much cares for The Polar Express, but the Hallmark Channel is disgracing the whole subject with an endless set of treacly movies involving Santa's family and various dysfunctions therein that can only be resolved by has-been actors checking the "heartwarming" box on their fading resumes.

Hollywood, in all its native generosity, wants to give us various Bad Santas who rob banks and Christmas charities but back off at the last second in a nod to, um, peace on earth and like that.

But none of these is actually a movie for children. The only magic ever cited is that of grownups rediscovering the innocence of childhood for a day or a week at most.

What I'm about to say is heresy, but I have to say it anyway. It's all junk. And this isn't a rant about post-modernism. The problem was intensely exacerbated by the Coca Cola company, but the real problem begins all the way back with Clement Moore's T'was the Night Before Christmas (which postdates the last surviving vestige of Old Christmas, Dickens's "A Christmas Carol."). That's what separated Santa Claus from his Christian roots. When he became a "jolly old elf," he became secular, and the division of Christmas into two co-existent but contradictory holidays, one religious and one commercial, began. Why the current favorite, A Christmas Story, is almost devoid of religious content. What kid actually gets more than a tenth of the wry humor in Jean Shepard's admittedly amusing memoir? If they do, it speaks more to their observations of silly parents than their own experience. Ovaltine decoder rings? If they're laughing at that, it's only because you're laughing and they're sharing your laughter.

Even the new movies are just remakes, dressed up with sophisticated industrial allusions or the toleration of childish credulity, designed to drive home the point that Santa Claus doesn't, can't possibly, exist. The apotheosis of this intention is a new iPhone ad. Santa receives a text from Mrs. Santa: "You have 3.8 billion appointments." Ha ha.

Santa Claus -- otherwise known as St. Nicholas -- was once a Christian not a commercial symbol. He wasn't magical; he was a sliver of divinity. He was each child's introduction to the consequences of moral obligation. If you'd been good, he would reward you. If you'd been bad, you might get sticks and lumps of coal in your stocking. He was a Christ figure in children's terms.

I remember. I remember worrying whether I'd been good or bad and how that might be judged by someone who didn't necessarily hear all my excuses. My earliest memory of critical self-reflection. And then, when Christmas morning came and there were presents instead of coal, I felt joy. So I am not such a bad boy after all. That's the message of Christian redemption in a nutshell. Kindergarten Christianity.

All gone now. Even the oldest of the most revered movies postulate Santa as a kind of idiot who exists only to bring delight to children one day of the year. Unless they're conveying the dark truth that Santa is a figment of childhood imagination, best responded to by learning the truth sooner rather than later or, more sentimentally, later rather than sooner. (Poor Natalie Wood.)

So Santa Claus is dead. The MSM revels in stories about drunken Santas at malls, unvetted Santas who might be child molesters, Santas who are coached to keep children's wishes within their parents' economic means, and on and on. My parents once walked a similar but far less deadly tightrope: the street corner Santas were his helpers, as were the department store Santas, and the Clement Moore poem was a Christmas Eve ritual almost akin to confession and absolution: Yes, all is forgiven and he is on his way; you can sleep peacefully tonight. A kind of preparation for Communion. Why, perhaps, we reciprocated with cookies and a beverage for the one who was going to sanctify us by his presence.

One final point. I know it can be argued that the Santa question has been rendered moot by time itself. The myth is corny, inconceivable, preposterous. No wonder there hasn't been anything new in a couple of generations. Adult nostalgia is the only possible corner of Christmas in which Santa can still exist at any level.

But this, too, is a falsehood. The extraordinary success with children of all ages of Harry Potter points the way toward a new Christmas classic -- if only anyone wanted to make one. Is there not room in a Harry Potter type universe for a new version of St. Nicholas who does indeed see and remember what each child has been up to and rewards or admonishes them individually? He doesn't have to be fat or jolly or small, and he doesn't have to have a factory filled with toy-making elves. He's a spirit who guards and instructs the children, fabricating their gifts on the fly from the goodness of their own souls. That's his inspiring energy. He could look like Dumbledore or Gandalf. He could be a little bit frightening even in his goodness, which mix has been a staple of childhood fiction from Hans Christian Andersen to the Brothers Grimm to Charles Perrault.

I don't know about you. But I miss the old guy. Maybe, like Lazarus, he too can rise from the dead. If we could just stop thinking that Christmas is about us and our memories rather than the kids we pretend to adore.

Verloc debuts:
Occupy: FAIL

You have to know the rules to win the game.

AS LENNON WOULD SAY, I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE... I have a letter I wrote to the Occupiers. No way to deliver it. They are persons of no fixed address. So I'm posting it here instead.

Dear Occupier:

Ha ha. I notice your little tantrum fizzled out. It must have been quite a high, though. Even big shots in a sympathetic national media pretended your high ideals are what made you camp out in the parks. But, deep down you know that wasnít it. A sign carried by one of your comrades that read, ďWe want more, you have moreĒ was closer to the truth. And now that youíre back in your cozy room above your parentsí garage, I can tell you something you donít even know about yourselves. What you are really demanding is much more than money. What youíre saying is, ďI demand happiness.Ē As in, you expect someone else to do whatever it takes to make you happy. Someone else? Do you mean me? No one said what was in it for me.

I could call you a spoiled, pampered brat, but that doesnít seem to cover it. A demand like the one youíre making has to be deeper than that. It must come from an emotional corruption, a character deformity. Yeah, thatís what you have. You feel that happiness is your right and you demand that it be given to you by someone else, in unlimited amounts. I know who you are -- youíre a student who racked up huge debts and canít get a job. Now you feel itís not your fault and youfeel entitled to debt forgiveness and an easy office job, despite not having any employable skills. That would make you happy for a while, wouldnít it? But what about the person, the organizations, the nation expected to provide it? What was it you said about them, the lenders whom you would loot and employers whom you would rob? Oh yeah, I remember: You called them the evil 1%. And you expect them to guarantee your happiness. You snot.

I have some news for you. Your little scam is old. Way back in your grandparents' time, some dude named Salinger wrote a short story, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, about two broads sitting around boozing on an icy afternoon. But the story's really about you. The host is miserable (like you) and convinces her friend to stay and guzzle scotch instead of going back to work, and as the drinks go down she starts crying over the long-ago death of her lover. The guy was poor but could always make her laugh, and thatís all she remembers, because to her that meant he would always make her happy (happiness as a gift -- sound familiar?). She was promised the gift of happiness and didnít get it. But the kicker is. she wound up marrying a serious man, one who actually provided everything needed for her well-being. But she is still miserable and hates her husband. See, she wants laughter, which is an emotion of happiness, but she doesnít get it that happiness is nothing if itís not derived from a fundamental well-being. Character deformity: her emotions are disconnected from reality and will never be real. Sheíd be miserable with either man; she will always be miserable, no matter what, and she will always be a sinkhole of wants. Can you relate?

You're playing a rigged game, and youíre late to it. Have you taken note that your demands were not met? Youíre like the last looter at the store who finds nothing but broken glass and empty shelves, and as a final blow the police finally show up and nab you. All the other looters already got the goods and left the last vandal to take the rap. Thatís you. Take a last look at the devastated store as they slap on the cuffs and haul you off. All the news about the struggling economy, unemployment, hopelessness, debt, default, and misery -- thatís the legacy of the other looters who already took what they wanted because they feel entitled to happiness, just like you. The only difference is that now no one is replacing the glass and restocking the shelves, because they expected someone else to do it. Which, sorry to break it to you, will be you, as terms of your parole.

But guess what? The old producers of the things you want and believe yourself entitled to are tired. They canít and won't support a degenerate generation of thieves. Which means it's your generation that will have to become the new producers required to support the waves of new looters to come Itís all fixed -- thatís how the game ends.

Oh. Whatís that? No one told you the rules? Hmmm, thatís too bad. Jokeís on you. Ha ha.


I didn't really mean that "Ha Ha" part. I meant HA HA. Or HA HA HA. Unless I meant, Gawd help us. Yeah, that's the one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Subtitles

Too many words. About everything. The music is overwrought too.

SOMETIMES I REVIEW.... They're about to release a movie called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring the Brit stick named Daniel Craig. Doesn't give me much hope for its success. I've never seen an actor with less emotional range, including Finns I've reviewed in the past. His James Bond is sullen, humorless, and downright dreary. His subsequent Cowboys & Aliens effort cements him as a diminutive Brit version of Schwarzenegger's terminator, with a method acting tic or two offered up as evidence of empathy. If I were casting Hamlet, I'd pick Jason Stathem and even Vin Diesel over Daniel Craig for the eponymous role because of their greater capacity to connect emotionally with audiences. Are we clear?

But with all the hype I've seen for this movie, I finally broke one of my semi-cardinal rules and watched the Swedish original of which the Daniel Craig vehicle is a remake. The semi-cardinal rule has to do with subtitles. I don't like reading movies. Although the lady of the house has succeeded in getting me to watch subtitled Russian and German film classics, which has led to other abominations against my popcorn movie soul. I never do it for fun, but this time it was a calculation. There are now three of these movies featuring the same characters. and if they've convinced Hollywood to take a chance on doing something different, maybe there's something worth watching.

The good news? There is. The bad news? Hollywood -- even with abundant Brit help -- has no chance of doing it as well as the Swedes. The most extreme violence in this very dark movie is sexual, something Hollywood can't render truthfully or objectively, but only coyly and leeringly, or politically. It's central in this case, however. Rendered in Scandinavian terms, coldly and without blinking. And with very few words.

Same goes for the movie as a whole. I've seen the Daniel Craig trailer, which speaks the world to me. They're trying unusually hard to do a faithful remake, but even in the scene fragments they show, they feel compelled to explain and verbalize what the original merely shows without remark. And by casting a ham like Christopher Plummer in the pivotal plot role, we're guaranteed more scenery chewing than the original eschews so effectively.

Oh. Did I forget to tantalize you? Here's the teaser. A disgraced journalist is sentenced to a term in prison because he's been found guilty of criminal libel. He has six months before he has to begin serving his sentence. A mysterious third party hires a security firm to investigate him. An eccentric researcher (i.e., paid hacker) at that firm does the investigation and concludes that he was set up. The attorney who heard her conclusions arranges a meeting between the journalist and a tycoon who is harboring a secret sorrow. The beloved niece he regarded as a daughter disappeared in the 1960s without a trace. He suspects members of his own family, several of whom had Nazi ties during WWII. Now approaching death, he wants the mystery solved.

Meanwhile we learn that the eccentric researcher has a criminal past, a history of violence, and is on parole. A new parole officer begins to harass her sexually while she continues to follow the fate of the journalist she believes was set up.

So, yes, the journalist and the mysterious hacker do ultimately join forces to pursue the solution of a forty-year-old maybe crime, and there are twists and turns, and more twists, and additional turns, and emotional complications, and more violence, murder, and, of course, more turns and twists. Almost all of which are delivered to us in such matter-of-fact terms that some loony-tunes casting director got the wrong idea that a dead carp like Daniel Craig would be perfect for the male lead.

I don't see how he can be. The two key roles in this movie -- which is incredibly suspenseful and absorbing -- are complicated, contradictory characters. The journalist is both strong and weak. He's a bulldog in his profession but baffled and in denial about how to handle direct assaults on his person. The girl with the dragon tattoo is similarly afflicted, but neither an opposite nor a complement. She's a kind of perpendicular. As a hacker she's a relentless and thorough problem solver, driven not by ethics but outrage and obsession. Attacked in person, she is an archetypal and, when necessary, lethal Nemesis. But where the journalist is emotionally vulnerable, she wears an iron carapace of cold. Their work as a team is sometimes brilliantly effective and sometime tone deaf, on both sides.

Can Hollywood do justice to this? Can Daniel Craig? I doubt it. Let's not forget that Swedes know something about playwriting. Where Brits always think more words are the answer, Swedes think fewer are a better answer. There's a scene in the trailer up top which is, once again, very close to the original. Where Daniel Craig says "Put some clothes on. Get rid of your girlfriend," the Swedish version contains no such Brit ordering about. The dragon girl is already clothed, the journalist observes the girlfriend exiting the bedroom and asks if there is any coffee. Everybody, including us, knows what has been seen and WHY IT ISN'T IMPORTANT. Why the dragon girl eventually comes to trust him.

I actually appreciated the subtitles. So much is unsaid, unspoken, that it becomes easy to imagine the entire movie as a set of interior monologues for which subtitles are a graceful necessity.

I've avoided spoilers. If you can find a way (Netflix, etc), see the Swedish version.

Pretty sure you'll be as enthralled as I was.

P.S. On the other hand, here's what Americans do well:

Gina Carano. The Girl with the American Flag Tattoo.

Can't wait.

Some Personal Business

I'm only grimacing because I'm holding the damn camera
at arm's length. Can't explain the scratches. I'm thinking
Raebert detected the scent of Cheeto and licked the lens.

SHE OBJECTED TO THE PIC. So Lady Laird didn't like my Egotistical Senile Old Fool portrait. She seems to think it's insulting to her for some reason. Why I'm correcting the record. Thus, your very own photographic portrait of InstaPunk.

Of course, I never have only one agenda. FINE ARTIST is threatening (see Comments) to do a portrait of me when he loses his bet about Ron Paul. But I won't be sitting for any portrait sitting. Other artists have worked from photos. So can he. I suggest something along the lines of a St. Nuke version of the above:

I have an iPhone, my PhotoShop back... What stands
†in the way of my boundless self-aggrandizing ego? Zip.

Or, maybe, after all these years, I thought I should finally introduce myself, so you could finally put a face to my annoying voice.

You're welcome but not obligated to send me pictures in return.

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