A Message from Bill the Chimp: Media Operations That Are Too Smart for Me

The following media operations have regularly helped distribute articles and meaningful information that are too intelligent for me or you to comprehend:

– The New Yorker Magazine
– Harper’s
– The Atlantic Monthly
– The Nation
– Review of Contemporary Fiction
– Anyone who disagrees with my basic position

These are the worst offenders. In the months to come, we (meaning…well, me) expect to add more evil names to the list. We recommend that you use more drugs, park your asses in front of the television, raise your families in squalid poverty and vote Republican. These operations may actually cause you to think. It is dishonest to expect the American public to attend school, read thoughtful magazines , form opinions of their own volition or question the establishment in any way.

P.S. Shut up!

P.P.S. Yes, shut up!

early morning

this morning i had a bowl of cereal

it was a big bowl and there were many cornflakes

thank you bowl of cereal

i talked to noah cicero about the bowl and he suggested that i use it again

i set the bowl aside to be washed and engaged in more empty banter with noah

noah is my best friend

noah is my only friend

everyone else should probably have one friend

too many friends spoil the broth

if everyone else has only one friend, then they should also probably have a blog

there they can express themselves

and publicly embarass themselves with tales of trying to get a fun gig

i am a genius

you can be too

Mabuse Fatigued

Ladies and gentlemen, the brain is thoroughly fricasseed, we can’t seem to sleep (hence 4:00 AM audio engineering jobs) and we’re on the verge of total collapse. We’ll see you on the other side once we’ve rested. Happy holidays.

One last thing (with a shift to first person singular):

As for this (yeah I know he wants attention with all the recent Maud-bashing but what the hell), the true nonsensism at work here lies with those who continue to believe that “you-are-with-us-you-are-against-us” dichotomies exist within literature. For the record, I read the New Yorker and enjoy a handful of the stories. But I am also a strong proponent of what Bill Buford has called “dirty realism.” However, the notion that reading an establishment story automatically makes you an establishment thinker (or, for that matter, “an intellectual liberal,” which I am, as Marxist as I can be at times, not always) is about as ridiculous as suggesting that because you immerse yourself in one perspective or world view, you are irrevocably attached to it. (And how fucking George W. Bushian is that, Mr. Lin?) I think it’s the duty of any serious reader to read as widely and as disparately as they can. The snobberies or reverse snobberies we attach to refusing to pick up something because it’s science fiction or because it’s popular or because it’s “chick lit” or because it’s too experimental or because it’s poetry or because it was published in The New Yorker or because it was endorsed by Dave Eggers or someone at n + 1 or because all the hipsters are reading it really pisses me off. It is nothing less than an extension of genre ghettoization. It is, let’s get right down to it, a kind of literary racism. A book is a book is a book, mothafuckahs. And if lazy thinkers are going to badmouth a title or a genre without reading it, why don’t some of these cretins so quick to condemn actually cite a few fucking examples from the text to back up their shit, yo? To do otherwise is to offer meaningless cocktail banter to make people feel smart and good about themselves but to essentially encourage their descent into the cerebral charnelhouse. To wallow in labels or dichotomies without actually delving into the text, providing examples and telling us why New Yorker fiction is bad, to not consider that sometimes a rose grows on the dunghill — in short, to imply on a regular basis that the whole expanse of literature is without a single grey area is to remain a clueless and inveterate moron.

The Bat Segundo Show #16

Author: Aimee Bender

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Still missing. A conspiracy theorist has been enlisted to account for his disappearance.

Subjects Discussed: Attention to precision, Flann O’Brien, strange logic, Monty Python, first-person voice, Steve Erickson and The Black Clock, Jeffrey Eugenides, multiple personality disorder, grading papers, publishing short stories with dirty titles in literary journals, Prince, George Carlin’s seven words, sexual perversion, Mary Gaitskill, storming the gates of GQ, quotation marks, the visual quality of words, SAT words, the thematic components of three parts, literary Darwinism, evolutionary biology, playing God, setting limits, genetically based aesthetics, imagination vs. “hysterical realism,” verisimilitude, Robert Coover, mathematics, permission, fonts, and the short story vs. the novel.

[SPECIAL NOTE: Because of one particular story in Willful Creatures, this podcast proved so unexpectedly raunchy that a swivel chair was actually damaged during the course of mixing this podcast. We fully understand the sentimental value that some people have for their swivel chairs. So, if you are playing this podcast in a work environment, you have been warned.]

Needlessly Snarky (Due Possibly to Being Subjected to Fourteen Listens of “The 12 Days of Xmas” Over the Past 72 Hours) Roundup

Black Swan Green

At the risk of coming across as feverish Harry Knowles types, we have in our hands the galley of David Mitchell’s next novel, Black Swan Green. We cannot confess how we got our hands on this, as several extremely nice people may be incriminated. But we will be taking a spin with Mitchell’s latest opus over the holidays and will attempt to report what we can as soon as we can.

Return of the Reluctant — The Year in Review

Another meme from Mental Multivitamin: The first sentence of the first post of each month in 2005.


Ladies and gentlemen, our research is done. We are, of course, beyond grateful that someone out there has seen fit to provide indelible evidence demonstrating just how malleable Mr. Lipsyte is in a supine position. Harold Pinter is cashing in his chips? Pope John Paul II, long reported to be suffering from ill health, began early training for the Roman Catholic Triathlon this morning. Back from Coachella. While we’re on the move, Lauren Baratz-Logsted was kind enough to offer us an essay about her experiences with reading reactions. The gang at Long Sunday talks with RotR fave China Mieville. Finally, one of our esteemed colleagues had the balls to point out the obvious. A prescient article from Scientific American (2001). I was very skeptical. Hot on the heels of Michiko slamming Banville into the ground (with an unusual silence from certain quarters), Notes on Non-Camp points to this profile, which claims Michiko to be “the most feared book critic in the world.” Congrats to Mark, Pinky (so “out there,” apparently), and Lee Goldberg for mentions in this extremely strange L.A. Times article.

Thanks for the Meme-ries

The latest one is from OGIC:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: Paralegal, Disc Editor, Register Operator, Target Snack Bar Lackey.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Kieslowski’s Dekalog, Mike Leigh’s Naked, Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Four places you’ve lived: San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sacramento, San Jose (in short, Northern California all the way!).

Four TV shows you love to watch: I can’t answer this because there are in fact only three television shows I watch: Lost, Battlestar Galactica and (oh what the hell, everyone needs a guilty pleasure!) Smallville.

Four places you’ve been on vacation: Vacation? What’s that? Berlin, Oregon County, Vegas, Zamora, California (don’t ask).

Four websites you visit daily: Well too many, but here are four that don’t get the attention they deserve: Quiddity, Foghorn, Grumpy Old Bookman, and the BART RSS feed (which is more amusing than you might think).

Four of your favorite foods: The burrito (particularly chicken verde with a spinach tortilla), chicken vindaloo (served with naan and rice), all manner of temaki, and I cannot resist fresh prawns mixed with either string beans or veggies.

Four places you’d rather be: Poring through the tomes at the Library of Congress, on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas with a margarita and a novel, the Great Pyramids of Giza, attempting to climb Mt. Everest.


Syriana‘s thematic content has been broken down well by Bud Parr. I have nothing further to add to his hosannas, except to note that I greatly enjoyed Syriana, ranking the film higher than Traffic. Where the visceral impact of Stephen Gaghan’s Traffic script was bogged down by Soderbergh’s trashy stylistics (at the expense of, oh say, offering us a visceral on-ramp so that we could actually give a damn about all of the characters), Gaghan as writer-director (working with Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematographer, Robert Elswitt) allows the camera to accentuate a world where the connections are there but just outside our grasp of understanding.

Consider the moment in which George Clooney is talking with his son in a restaurant and the camera lingers for about a minute on the workers who are preparing their food as the dialogue continues over the visual. Or the moment in which Clooney and William Hurt are talking about spheres of influence and the camera, in a wide shot, allows a blue boxy IKEA to fill the entirety of the frame.

What makes Syriana a fantastic film, one I definitely plan to see again, is that, without really beating us over the head with didacticism too much (save, now that Bud has mentioned it, the Gecko-descended speech from Tim Blake Nelson), the film demands that we shift out of our traditional perspective and begin considering some of the global and economic connections that are kept under the radar. It does so in a way that strikes me not so much as political, but one which is more observational, concerned primarily with avarice run amuck. The film is not afraid to have its characters offer their perspectives (such as a moment late in the film when Alexander Siddig explains to Matt Damon precisely why he cannot reform his oil operation), but because I was so immersed in the story, trying to keep track of the five subplots, this dialogue didn’t really come across as partisan. Perhaps what Gaghan has accomplished here is a film that offers an uber-plot on steroids, proving in the process that the preachiness we might disapprove of in a less complex film isn’t really so unbelievable when it’s placed within a mammoth framework.

The War on Lists

Chances are that if you start reading any quasi-postmodern title, you’ll eventually find yourself at what I call “the list moment.” No, I’m not referring to that inevitable moment in which the book shifts sideways in your hand as the subway descends into the underworld. What I’m talking about here is a grandiose stream of names or locales, often explicitly invented, that enters midway through the text and stands out like a knee-shifting greenhorn at a cotillion. The finest example of this in the literary vein might be the semicolonic semis rolling through the mighty intertext highways of Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew. And let us not forget that it was, after all, the lists in High Fidelity which jump-started Nick Hornby’s career, leading him from a novelist adeptly chronicling a particular type of cultural geek to the dull and unoffensive writer he is today.

Lists were one of the charges leveled against Don DeLillo in B.R. Myers’ “A Reader’s Manifesto” (The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2001, later expanded into a Melville House book and available in its original form to subscribers and microfiche enthusiasts only!). Myers specifically singled out the opening passage of White Noise, an array of nouns and pre-modifiers that spells out the manifest of items during the moving process. He called it “the sort of writing, full of brand names and wardrobe inventories, that critics like to praise as an ‘edgy’ take on the insanity of modern American life.” Of course, Myers, much like that other generalization-happy, literary attack dog Dale Peck, doesn’t cite a single example of how book critics have parsed DeLillo’s list here as “edgy writing.” Myers is correct to note that DeLillo’s list is hardly “edgy” as all. It is, rather, a faithful grouping of items which reminds us of the seemingly limitless crap accumulated by human beings. There is nothing “left-leaning,” as Myers suggests, in observing this. Indeed, DeLillo has left the political ramifications up to the individual reader. His list is an observational response to a society which hordes a colossal percentage of the world’s resources and often fails to consider the state of contemporary landfills. Perhaps because this list has been perused by a reactionary critic, Myers has interpreted this as a political act, in that the details, entirely devoid of politics and with the aftermath of where these items end up unreported, have troubled his conscience.

I have a problem with Myers’ suggestion that DeLillo’s list is “just dull” or that DeLillo here is “just trying to be funny” or that his list should be immediately dismissed simply because Myers himself doesn’t enjoy it. In fact, I think that the list here is pretty effective precisely because it has provoked Myers’ irrational ire. Taken on its own terms, a Dum-Dum pop or a rucksack is pretty innocuous. But together, along with countless other items, they have been interpreted by Myers as a threat to contemporary literature! And this clearly demonstrates what makes a list so valuable and advantageous in fiction. Where a narrative guided by your garden variety subject-verb might merely advance the plot, a list, constructed largely of noun phrases, becomes something which doesn’t induce nearly as consistent a response among its readership. One reader, objecting to Dum-Dum pops on principle, might find the list objectionable in toto because the Dum-Dum pop has unearthed a scarring memory. Another reader might be offended by any list which dares to chronicle more than fifteen items. The context’s the thing. In a strange way, lists may in fact be more subjectively interpreted by readers. Because people often take lists so personally (witness the extreme reactions over the many top ten lists unleashed in the past few weeks, despite the fact that the lists in question are only the reflection of an individual or a small group), and because there seems to be a strange obsession with lists in American culture (whether Nixon’s enemies list, McCarthy’s list, inter alia), it is quite likely that the list’s very subjective quality is what causes it to be misperceived as political. (An out-there rhetorical question: Is it possible that the list is objected to because contemporary society, and thus reactionary critics of the literature which reflects it, doesn’t value this kind of free association?)

I suspect what contemporary literature needs is more lists. Shopping lists gone horribly awry. Lists that are entirely gratuitous. Lists that go on for sixty pages. Lists that in simply existing might cause us to examine why some people find them so offensive and irritating.

Return of the Reluctant — Top 10 Albums of 2005

There are drafts here that you won’t see. I wrote a very long-winded post in response to recent concerns about the Silly Weekly Rag Edited by Tanenhaus Currently Masquerading as Significant Thought. But why beat a dead horse when Brother MAO has responded so well? I also composed a number of top ten lists which are utterly ridiculous and riddled with mock enmity. But you won’t see that either.

What you will see, however, is the following top ten list of music. Mr. Ewins pushed me over the edge. If anything, what motivates this list is the chance to knock Elbow’s Leaders of the Free World from its overrated perch. So in the end, there’s some fury, albeit of minor import, in place that drives the culture-craving beast.

In alphabetical order:

Kate Bush, Aerial — She came back to us, all spiffily produced with deep drum machines and vaguely Enya-like with her passive-aggressive wailing. But I enjoyed this album, in a way that suggests that I am mellowing faster than the wrinkles form on my face. Let’s face it. “Somewhere in Heaven” is applicable to Sunday morning bedroom situations involving two people and drowsy randiness just before doing the New York Times crossword, existing as a compromise point between total capitulation to Lilith Fair nausea and something that at least grooves convincingly. Kate Bush has become this decade’s answer to Sade. But I would contend that this is not as bad as it sounds.

Clap Your Hand Say Yeah Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Yeah — The Arcade Fire of 2005. I suspect that between Clap and Arcade, we will see the end of disco-thump indie rock before the end of 2006. At the present time, however, we can enjoy “The Skin of My Country Teeth”‘s unapologetically adenoidal bounce, the Cure-inspired “Over and Over Again,” “Details of the War,” which really shouldn’t be as moving as it ends up (but strikes one of the strangest moments of poignancy seen in pop music this year at about the 2:12 mark).

Doves, Some Cities — The tunes are unapologetically percussive (“Black and White Town,” the reverberating clang of “Almost Forgot Myself”) and this time around, the lads are feeling a mite experimental (the broken sample in “The Storm,” the lonely piano rag “Shadows of Salford”), perhaps trying to maintain a little leverage over Grandaddy. In fact, if anything, Doves goes more over-the-top with the reverb (“Ambition”) than any of their previous work. But it’s a risk that works.

The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday — It was Tito who clued me into these guys. If you haven’t figured out already, I have a soft spot for eccentric vocalists. Craig Finn, no mere ruffian, is a revelation. It takes a strange sort of commitment to come across as a philosophical drunk and even greater abilities to pull off this archetype so convincingly. My favorite track is probably “Cattle and the Creeping Things,” which spells out the Hold Steady’s secret. Let Finn do his thing, however discordant it might sound, and keep the rhythm section pitch-perfect. The rest will follow.

I Am Kloot, Gods and Monsters — Vocalist/guitarist John Bramwell has a thick Manchester dialect and a vocal range that is about as flexible as a martinet-eyed bureaucrat examining an application form. The tunes are sparse and sound as if they were produced with about five mikes to spread around three people. Yet there is an undeniable earnestness to I Am Kloot, who with this album seem to want to move beyond singing about bars and sitting around, into more ambitious territory. The problem (and the great fun of listening to this album) is that they don’t seem to know where to go. But they are sure doing their damnedest to do more with what they have. Witness the jazzy “Strange Without You” and the effort at a straightforward ballad, “I Believe,” a genre that Bramwell is sadly ill-equipped to tackle.

LCD Soundsystem, LCD Soundsystem — When I first listened to Gorillaz’ Demon Days, thoroughly grooving to the droll “Kids with Guns” and the standout track “Dare,” I thought to myself that Damon Albarn had at long last atoned for the lackluster final Blur album and produced the dance album of the year. Then I dumped the two-disc LCD Soundsystem album onto the machine and realize that, unfortunately, Albarn & Company weren’t t even close. Like last year’s fantastic offering from The Go! Team (and The Avalanches from a few years ago), this is an album that tries its hand in multiple electronica genres and pulls them all off. “Tribulations” takes you back, both lyrically and stylistically, to awkward high school dances with Depeche Mode playing in the back. The fuzz of “Thrills” is strangely irresistable. As it turns out, vocalist James Murphy is both a self-deprecatory music freak (“Disco Infiltrator”‘s Fifth Dimension-style falsettos) and a cultural satirist (“Losing My Edge”). He offers not one, but two versions of a tune called “Yeah,” in which the lyrics are (loosely paraphrased) “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah hey hey hey yeah.” This is the kind of album both aware of its influences and willing to expand on its sound — the very antithesis of Madonna’s unexpectedly silly Confessions on a Dance Floor.

The Magic Numbers, The Magic Numbers: Don’t be deceived by the sunny indie pop that opens the album “Mornings Eleven.” The Magic Numbers don’t take themselves entirely seriously (“Long Legs”) and their optimism soon shifts into jangly snark (“Love Me Like You”). “I See You, You See Me” suggests a Paul Heaton-led band that hasn’t yet stooped to put out a desperate album of cover tunes to resuscitate a flagging career. “Don’t Give Up the Fight” would be a tune I’d probably hate if it were anyone else, but it demonstrates that singer Romeo is a strange centrifugal force for this band. Granted, there’s nothing more than cheery pop tunes here. But I suspect that the band will pull the rug out from under us with the next one.

Maximo Park, A Certain Trigger — An interesting mix of psuedo-emo and British pop, with undeniable energy and nice mid-song shifts (“Postcards of a Painting” is a standout track), all anchored by Paul Smith’s distinctive vocals. “I Want You to Stay” starts off sounding like a Bloc Party knockoff, but the minute that the synths come in at the second verse, you know you’re in an almost unplaceable territory. (In fact, who knew that “Limassol”‘s obnoxious opening synths yielded a rocking tune, let alone the punky refrain?)

My Morning Jacket, Z — Everyone and his mother has ranked this album at the top. And, hell, I’ll do likewise. Because every tune got stuck in my head at some point. Comparisons to Radiohead have been made. And, yes, Jim James isn’t Neil Young. Really. Before hearing this album, I had genuinely thought My Morning Jacket were a bunch of wusses. But what works here so well is the tone. The crazed obsession with the snare on “It Beats 4 U” to suggest not only the palpitations of James’ heart, but the uncertainty of his convictions. In fact (and you can call bullshit on me if you want), it might almost serve as a metaphor for expressing pure emotion in contemporary art. Think about it. We’ve been riddled with irony and rage and My Bloody Valentine-style noise which must serve as some kind of distinction. But beauty in and of itself is often declared war on. “What a Wonderful Man” is certainly an ironic tale about blindly following a leader, but here’s the kicker: it is utterly sincere in its convictions. “Into the Woods,” with its dreamy timbre and its baby in the blender, represents a kind of savage purity that represents the firm commitment of the subconscious. Oh fuck the deconstructionism here. It’s a good album, this. Give it a whirl.

Sufjan Stevens, Illinois — That Stevens. He writes some longass songs with longass titles and hits various moments of lunacy and poignance. But then you knew that. What you didn’t know is that every music geek worth his salt will put this album on their best of the year list, because Apollo told him to. There is no other explanation, except “You came to take us /All things go all things go / To recreate us / All things go all things go / We had our mindset / All things go all things go / You had to find it / All things go all things go.”

Honorable Mention: M.I.A., Arular; Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird; Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy; Gorillaz, Demon Days; The Decemberists, Picaresque; Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary; Architecture in Helsinki, In Case We Die; The National, Alligator; Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine; Buck 65, This Right Here is Buck 65; Beck, Guero; Of Montreal, Sunlandic Twins.

Sorry, But I Just Don’t See What the Fuss is About: The Editors, The Back Room; Elbow, Leaders of the Free World; Isolee, Wearemonster; Andrew Bird, The Magnificent Production of Eggs; Eels, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations; The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema; Neil Diamond, 12 Songs; Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better.

Oedipus the Chat King

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of archeologists have unearthed an unfinished work from Sophocles entitled Oedipus the Chat King. What is particularly amazing about this excerpt is that it seems to closely match recent, but by no means confirmed, events. Return of the Reluctant has obtained an exclusive translation of Sophocles’ one act play. Please bear in mind that this is very rough and by no means a complete portrayal of Sophocles’ text. But we offer the rough translation in an effort to promote the humanities and give scholars a first look at this astonishing discovery.]


Here too my dialup has often lagged, for twice
At Creon’s instance have I called tech support
When losing a flirtatious email


My liege, beware! The prophecy! The prophecy!


These warnings I disregard, for she is sensuous
Well prepared to wear a hot pink tank top
To match the noble lips, two sets I’ll kiss upon the beach.
Her name: the beautiful Jocasta, jumpy and jocose
Willing to hole up in a Ramada Inn with room service
A fan of reenacting scenes from pornographic pay-per-view
With the nimblest fingers and a malleable mouth
How can I, Oedipus the Great Chat King, lose in the deal?
I know not her age, but she says she’s older
Experience, let us not forget, is a virtue.


Methinks he walks into the Venus Flytrap of anonymity
Whom thou art be careful with, given trannies
Sad sacks, stalkers, DSM-IV exemplars and liars
But this, O Noble Chat King, is not worth your while
Do not be blinded by a titilating faceless JPEG
Thou hath not seen her visage nor engaged in real-world chitchat
Beware, your highness! You’ll never live this down!


The chorus, despite my many bribes, is stentorian
Have they no respect for royalty?
It took me five years and many X-rays
To become the Great Chat King
This woman then, who hopes to shift in the sands
Is the most flawless type I have come across
But no more! Hark! She comes near now


Yoohoo! Chat King? Come closer so we might liplock
And take our sandy tangos to a hotel suite


The girl of my dreams! See her white shorts
Her trim legs. I cannot wait to sink my teeth
Into her bosom. Come nearer, Jocasta!
Let me taste your saliva and stroke your thighs


O Chat King! Your talk pumps the blood
In my varicose veins. I want you, Chat King.
I want to smell you and feel you close to my —
Dear lord!


But what is this astonishment, my love?
My — oh fuck! I wanted pizzazz, but —
Mom, could it be you? Ewwwwwwwwwww.


Let us speak nothing of this, son. It never happened.
It can never be uttered by —


The lights! The black and whites on the beach!
We’re done for!


Now, son, before you were born, I did many things
To talk my way out of a ticket. Indeed, talking was
The least of my worries.


Mother! Stop! They’re leading us away!
This terrible tale, foretold by the soothsayers,
Will be spread across the Internet!
I’ll never date again!


Hush hush, dear son. One-time Prince of Pleasure.
You trusted my poetry. Now trust my gift of gab.

[Here, the text ends. We leave our audience to judge what any of this means.]

Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson is out of control. The Jackson who gave us the Freudian overtimes in Dead Alive, the intricate psychology of Heavenly Creatures and a sweet love story in the highly disturbing Muppets satire Meet the Feebles, in short the Jackson who once took chances, is no longer around. The filmmaker who once dared to instill subtext and nuance into disrespectful genres, has been replaced by an overgrown adolescent who has run amuck, a fortysomething toddler whose storytelling abilities have been occluded by a need to fling random computer-generated bodies around and spend countless dollars on special effects.

This is not to suggest that King Kong is without its merits. It is enjoyable in a ridiculous over-the-top way at times. It can be viewed, after its insufferable opening 75 minutes (written with dialogue so hackneyed and didactic it could have been lifted from an old ABC afterschool special and an aw-shucks savant named Jimmy reading Heart of Darkness and an Asian servant stereotype to boot), as an exercise in seeing just how far Jackson will push his Barnum-style showmanship (for this is, after all, an expensive and sensationalist circus). For my money, the fun started at the dinosaur run, which operates as a methed up Jurassic Park, although without that sense of wonder that greeted Spielberg’s film. But when one is watching a movie just to see what a filmmaker will throw in next, that’s hardly a suitable motivation for experiencing film, even when it wears its exhibitionism on its sleeve.

Jack Black is woefully miscast. Robert Armstrong’s Denham wasn’t an eyebrow-raising scenery chewer, but a man fully committed to his hucksterism. The great Naomi Watts is wasted, reduced to a doe-eyed cartoon offering us the most cliched idealism in the first hour and a sense of Kong-centric solicitude in the last two hours that isn’t particularly convincing. She’s also not much of a screamer. Adrien Brody is better, but he is given nothing other than a Clifford Odets/Barton Fink-style stereotype.

It’s worth pointing out that any film which has its heroine wearing high heels while climbing up a ladder to the top of the Empire State Building is highly suspect. If one considers this homage, then I suppose it works in the way that Jackson’s cameras flying over skylines represent an improvement in technology that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack didn’t have. But I was never really convinced of this Skull Island or New York the way I was the 1933 original. I never cared for the characters or had a reference point for where the story was heading. I’m curious what gives Jackson a fair pass and Lucas, who is similarly inept, a fail. Are the film geeks so caught up with experiencing anything Jackson does or his frequent courting of folks like Harry Knowles that criticism of his overwrought tendencies is no longer welcomed?

Perhaps Jackson’s Kong is best represented by its titular character, who really isn’t much of a character this time around because not only does Jackson edit his Kong sequences with a paucity of master shots, but, despite the who knows how many dollars that have gone into making Kong’s fur bristle convincingly in the wind or to tranpose Andy Serkis’s facial expressions onto Kong’s face, this Kong does not have a soul. His movement is slightly off during all FX moments, even during the telltale beatings of the chest (which should be Kong’s ultimate personal signature). And I suspect it is because the film has been rushed for its holiday release or the visual effects team didn’t bother to base their modeling on real gorilla movement. This is a Kong that has been thrown together with buttons and expensive machines. One can clearly see with this Kong that not a single human hand touched it. And this is problematic, given that the whole arc of the picture focuses on Kong.

But more troubling than this is (to my eye) poor attention to detail with some of the visual effects. The blue-screen effects have been rendered without an attempt to match depth of field. Meaning that when one sees an actor in front of such obvious projetion, the disparity between what the camera has set focus at and what the CG people have set focus at seems notably off by large degrees at nearly every moment. Even Kubrick understood how important this was with 2001. Kubrick’s opening ape scenes, for example, were shot on a soundstage with rear projection. But you’d never know it from looking at it because Kubrick was anal about lighting schemes and focus for all corresponding images. No such luck with Jackson, who is clearly too happy to let his anarchy loose without justification.

If we judge this film on the script, we see that it fails. The best dialogue in this picture is extremely self-evident irony or elementary satire. We have Denham explaining, after a fellow crew member has been masticated upon, that he’s making the film and that “all proceeds will go to the family.” (Again, the Barnum tone here, too easily parsed and spelled out for the audience, is suspect.) We have a character mentioning that every B-movie needs a monster. The like. Hardy har. Yes, we’re clued in, Jackson. No need to hit us over the head with the irony mallet. And the gratuitous slow-motion strobe effects don’t help either.

I enjoyed this film in spots, but I had absolutely no stake in the characters. I could not care about this Kong. It is the most soulless movie that Jackson has ever made. It doesn’t strike me as innovative. It doesn’t strike me as particularly trusting. And as much as I bemoan Spielberg’s blatant manipulative devices, I think that Jackson (with Kong, at least) might have outfoxed Spielberg in the shameless manner he’s worked off the roller-coaster ride impulse.

Kong is a film which takes no chances. With a $200 million budget, it seems too expensive for a movie with a barebones plot. (The 90 minutes of the 1933 original, which doesn’t appear to have been dramatically altered outside of the gushing ape pathos given to Watts, has been stretched out to 3 hours and 7 minutes.) And I suspect that Jackson’s megalomania here is what led to the eleventh hour replacement of composer Howard Shore with James Newton Howard.

Turns out that the real out-of-control ape here is Jackson.

[UPDATE: Gwenda went crazy over it. Ron Silliman digs it. Matthew Cheney didn’t care for it.]

Stranger Than Fiction

Bus ride home. An ordinary route going through fairly safe neighborhoods. The 7. Kids sitting in the front seats laughing. Me reading book as usual.

Long-haired man with smoky colored hair, flannel shirt. Suddenly, there’s a pungent smell. Man has crack pipe, smoking it. Smiles at adjacent kids and offers pipe. “Hey, you kids wants some?” Mothers horrified. Fantastic shouting. Demands for crackhead to get off bus. “Driver, this man is doing drugs!” Bus packed, tired people at end of workweek provoked with fury. Lacking tar and feather, they let man loose. Not even a third of the way through ride.

Me, back to book. Interrupted by strange moisture against my left hand. Look to left. Solar plexus tightens. One of those dogs popping its head out of the bag. I meet its gaze and it starts barking loudly. A little thing full of piss and vinegar. Owner placates it with hand. The dog likes to be scratched behind the ears. I get the sense that it’s spoiled to death at home, even when it pisses on the carpet in a moment of weakness.

Me, book now fully out of the question. Now hypervigilant. Waiting for bus to explode. What Fellini film am I in?

Man gets on dressed in bright clown bowtie, denim jacket, white pants with stains, in short a fashion statement, standing up without holding onto the rail, actually arching his back back as the bus moves uphill. Does he know the Alexander technique? How the hell does he manage this while the bus is in motion?

Dog looks at me as if nothing happened, stretching head out of bag, tongue dangling to lick my hand again, which is no longer there seeing as how I’m no longer holding a book. In fact, my arms are crossed. Dog cants his head and, to me, it looks likely that he might have a second head.

Couple get on board. There’s three stops to go. Man is early twenties, dressed in what looks like a cheap Brook Brothers suit, hasn’t yet learned how to tie a necktie properly. Woman is considerably older, perhaps forty-seven, makeup caked over her face. They start making out like teenagers. Woman actually reaches for man’s crotch and starts petting his cock beneath his trousers. The kids, thankfully, are gone.

Arrive home. Lock the door. Push chair against it just to be sure. Maybe it’s a night in for me after all.

Saturday — Overhyped or Misunderstood?

As my colleague Scott Esposito (who, for the past day or so, has seen his thoughts after December 11 undisplayed, along with several other noble Typepad bloggers, thanks to the supreme incompetence of Six Apart[1]) has pointed out, Slate’s top 10 list is a rather pedestrian list, with the only notable contributions from deputy editor David Plotz and editorial assistant Blake Wilson. Could it be that the young ‘uns over at Slate are the only ones over there reading outside of the box (Phillip Roth, Ian McEwan, et al.)? The continued praise for Saturday[2] continues to perplex me. And I’m a hard-core McEwan fan. Is it a generational thing? Or am I just missing something beyond an overwritten Mrs. Dalloway homage with a few good confrontation scenes? I’m always willing to shift my arguments. But for the love of literature, If there are any Saturday fans in the crowd, please help a clueless white boy out.

[1] An issue with the primary disk system? Running diagonistics on the device? That sounds to me like an incompetent tech support team without a backup system, not unlike Microsoft releasing a security patch to Internet Explorer after the hole has existed for years. The moral of the story: If you value the half-life of your posts, back up your shit up, yo.

[2] If you’re interested, my review is here.

Translating The Real 400 Pound Gorilla

It looks like King Kong is a box-office turkey, having ratcheted up a mere $9.8 million on opening day. To offer serve the public, I have translated Universal’s spinspeak into regular vernacular:

UNIVERSAL SPINSPEAK: “It’s a great start.” (Nikki Rocco)
REGULAR VERNACULAR: “This is the worst beginning we ever exepcted.”

UNIVERSAL SPINSPEAK: “We’re very pleased with the word-of-mouth that’s feeding back to us and the film’s playability and reviews are great, so we’re looking forward to the weekend.” (Nikki Rocco)
REGULAR VERNACULAR: “Our test scores we’re through the roof. What happened? An example must be sent. I’ll have Bob get the guillotine out and roll a few heads through the publicity department. But it’ll have to wait until this film really tanks over the weekend.”

UNIVERSAL SPINSPEAK: “We knew we weren’t launching a sequel and it’s at a busy time during the holiday season, so I was thrilled to see the numbers were close to $10m.” (Nikki Rocco)
REGULAR VERNACULAR: “Remakes of film classics have marketability, my ass! We’re sticking with remakes of television series. Hell, we’ll be lucky if this thing clears $40m by Sunday.”

New Orleans — The Abandoned Stepchild

New York Times: “We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum. We said this wouldn’t happen. President Bush said it wouldn’t happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, ‘There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans.’ But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.” (via Ghost in the Machine)

[RELATED LINK: It looks like the New Orleans Public Library is also in serious trouble, with a whole slew of city history threatened. (Thank you, Dan Wickett.)]