Sunday, September 30, 2007

Promises of the Flesh

Something I've shied away from in this forum is the straight-up review. Reviews are a dime a dozen (probably cheaper than that in this age of blog-bling), and until the dawn of consensus critical sources like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, there was no way of telling whether a review was "right" or "wrong".

Which brings up the question of whether or not a review can be right or wrong for more than one individual at a time. If so, perhaps only in the cases where the review reader sought out the subject of a review and compared notes.. which we don't often do for things reviewed in a harsh negative light.

Viggo knows how to deliver a message.

A while back I came up with a gimmicky approach to the movie review that I thought might be fun. The idea is that one man's trash is another man's treasure, so why not write reviews from the pseudonymous personality of someone hardwired to love the movie in question. Every review would more or less be a rave, but regular readers of the column would get an insight into what they could expect from the movie by which personality was reviewing it and how it rated for the kind of reviewer who, in theory, is predisposed to loving it.

Isn't it unfair to the moviegoer to have the same guy reviewing MR. WOODCOCK and EASTERN PROMISES?

Ultimately it sounded like too much work for a lark, but maybe one day...

My aside aside, I just returned home from director David Cronenberg's latest film EASTERN PROMISES, which is hands down the best movie I've seen all year. Rather than write review-type stuff about it I wanted to jot down some comparisons of my experience today to the one I had watching Cronenberg's last film, also starring , A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE.

As great a time at the movies as I had today, I had the opposite watching HISTORY. I thought then that Cronenberg had officially lost his touch (SPIDER was thoroughly unwatchable) after a two-decade run as one of the most exciting directors in the business.

Twins... how many of us have them?

As sure-handed as PROMISES felt, HISTORY felt scatterbrained. As sharply-directed and "in the pocket" as the actors felt today, they felt attention-starved and mismatched in HISTORY. William Hurt was Oscar-nominated for his laughable, scenery-gorging, late-period Brandoesque supporting role in HISTORY: Mortensen will be nominated for his elite, coiled, hypnotic leading work in PROMISES.

As piecemeal and wildly uneven in tone as HISTORY felt, PROMISES felt like a seamless fabric of writer, director and cast working in unison.

I haven't felt that good watching a movie in the theater in a long, long time. How you feel about a movie doesn't necessarily say that much about the movie itself, even if you're a top flight film critic, but nonetheless what I felt as I was watching EASTERN PROMISES (including the relief of seeing a cinematic hero return to form) was so good I felt compelled to share it.

This still from Cronenberg's RABID has always freaked me out.

"You need language for thought. And you need language to anticipate death. There is no abstract thought without language. And no anticipation. I think the anticipation of death without language would be impossible."
- David Cronenberg

"My dentist said to me the other day: I've enough problems in my life, so why should I see your films?"
- David Cronenberg

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Down Peripatetiscope

Mrs. Word Player and I are on the move.


For reasons too tedious to include here, we are about to move into our sixth place together spanning our seven years of marriage. With yet another new home looming, I've been pondering just what "home" means anymore.

There's no place like home? Well, not 'til one falls on your sister's head.

Some personal statistics:

From age 0-17, I lived in six different homes, including three interstate moves. The math is pretty easy here, averaging about one home every three years.

From age 18-27, I lived in ten different homes, including three more interstate moves. That's an average of one new home every year for a decade.

From age 28-36, as mentioned above, Mrs. Word Player and I lived/will live in six different homes, including two more interstate moves. That works out to a new home every 1.5 years.

My grand totals fo' life are 22 different homes in 36 years, or one move every 1.63 years and one interstate move every 4.5 years.

Exhausting I tells ya!

Frankly I'm not ready to be on the road again... but whattaya gonna do?

It's gotten to the point that when someone asks me where I'm from, I have to stop and think about it for a second. Let's see what state takes home the title (rounding off to whole years):

Ohio: 10 years
North Carolina: 13 years
California: 9 years
New York: 4 years

ah, the Sunshine State!

I guess I'm from North Carolina!

In surfing around for this post, I learned that a fellow named John Howard Payne is the originator of the famous line "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home", taken from his song "Home Sweet Home". Payne, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, ironically died far from home in Tunis, Tunisia (where he was serving as U.S. ambassador!) in 1852, his lifelong crush on Frankenstein author Mary Shelley forever unrequited.

I wonder where on Earth I'll die... I hope it's not New Jersey.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It Blows By Any Other Name?

Who's ready to get unscientific?!? Good, me too.

I've been seeing ads lately for IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, the latest surefire post-MONSTER flop from Academy Award® Winner . I have no idea what the movie is about, but every time I see an ad for it I cringe at how awful the title is. With a title like that it HAS to be a flop, right?

Well, I think so.

The flag in the background counteracts the foreign-sounding word in the title

The first movie title that I can remember having this same effect on me was KRIPPENDORF'S TRIBE. I remember seeing the trailer for it and whispering to whoever it was next to me "Can you imagine ever speaking the words "'two for KRIPPENDORF'S TRIBE please'"? Unfortunately I can't immediately find the budget for KRIPPENDORF'S, but with a U.S. gross of $7.6 million for a Disney movie starring Richard Dreyfuss and Jenna Elfman, I can safely call it a flop.

I thought it would be fun to look back at the titles of the 3,296 films that have been/will be released from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007 and pick out the the titles that I hated strictly on their own merit. These are titles that made me cringe so viscerally that they actively made me NOT want to see the film they represented.

it just can't be a good idea to have "VERY LONG" in your movie's title

I came up with 20 films in all, and AFTER I selected them by title, I looked up their budgets and their box office performance in the U.S. Let's see how good a prognosticator I would have been if betting by title alone.


THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE: budget- $50 million, U.S. gross- $19.7 million
POOLHALL JUNKIES: b. $4 mil, USg. $.56 mil
OWNING MAHOWNY: b. $10 mil, USg. $1 mil


CHASING LIBERTY: b. $23 mil, USg. $12.2 mil
WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT: b. $26 mil, USg. $14.5 mil
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: b.$120 mil, USg. $57.7 mil
A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD: b. $6.5 mil, USg. $1 mil
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT: b.$55 mil, USg. $6.2 mil


BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE: b. $15 million, USg. $32.6
ELIZABETHTOWN: b.$54 million, USg. $26.9


LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN: b. $27 mil, USg. $22.5
LET’S GO TO PRISON: b. $4 mil, USg. $5.5 million


CODE NAME: THE CLEANER: b. $20 mil, USg. $8.1 mil
I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE: b. $14 mil, USg. $12.5
THE WENDELL BAKER STORY: b. $8 mil, USg. $.13 mil
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH: b. ??? USg. ???

Slevin? no really, Slevin??

So, without using LELAND and ELAH and MUSLIM in the equation (for lack of available figures) lets see what the numbers add up to for the other 17 films on Mr. Word Player's Terrible Title List™.

COMBINED BUDGET: $511.2 million
COMBINED GROSS: $260.1 million

COMBINED LOSS: $251.1 million

Now here's the question that I have no answer for-- with better titles, would these films have performed appreciably better? Or are titles such an integral part of a film that these were doomed to (collective) box-office failure, having been developed and rewritten for so long with weak titles at the eye of the storm?

I haven't seen any of the movies on the list (with the exception of the first 20 minutes of TRISTRAM), so I can't really comment on how their quality/perceived quality figured into the losses.

What do you think? What IS in a name when it comes to plunking down your hard earned entertainment dollar?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blue on Blue

Lately, for a variety of reasons, I've been using more profanity than usual. Just today a minor curse word escaped my lips in conversation with a woman I'd just met, and in a business scenario. She didn't blink at it and we moved on, but inside I was peeved.

Come on Mr. Word Player, you're better than that.

And as I'm sure you know, I'm not the only one. America is cursing up an unprecedented blue streak with no signs of a slowdown, let alone a return to more genteel public discourse.

All of this shit-talking got me wondering a while back how the word "blue" got associated with profanity and risqué business. Mrs. Word Player found an interesting post about it on, where they dispelled the urban myth that American "blue laws" were so-called because they were printed on blue paper.

Picasso's "Blue Period" was fucking awesome

Apparently our 17th century Puritan forefathers and -mothers enacted a series of "blue laws" that regulated people's "moral behavior", especially as concerning the Sabbath day. Variances of these sorts of laws evolved into the 19th and 20th century temperance movements and to some degree explain why you can't buy booze until such-and-such o'clock on Sundays in so many states.

You get an interesting dichotomy of meaning when you look up the word blue, as seen by these two side-by-side definitions found at Merriam Webster's site:


Huh. Blue means puritanical AND profane (not to mention "low in spirits").

Look it up at the Online Etymology Dictionary, and all you get is:

Blue (adj.) "lewd" is recorded from 1840; the sense connection is unclear, and is opposite to that in blue laws (q.v.)

Pornographic films used to be called "blue movies."

The most popular color for toothbrushes is blue (which is helpful for when you're washing your mouth out after using blue language.)

Warhol's "Blue Period" was less awesome...

And then there's the term "working blue" and/or "blue comedy", which would appear to come from the same (blue?) vein. Mrs. Word Player and I joke with one another about how we love it when the other is working blue (the comment that usually follows an unexpected or particularly filthy outburst of obscenity.

My good friends at Wikipedia had this interesting info about blue comedy:

Blue comedy is comedy that is off-color, risqué, indecent, profane, or obscene[1]. It often contains cursing and/or sexual imagery that shocks and offends many audiences.

The term comes from the music hall comedian Max Miller who kept all his adult jokes in a blue coloured notebook. 'Working blue' refers to the act of performing this type of material.

one can only imagine Mary's X-rated activities

Wow. Can it really be true that "blue comedy" would have been called "orange comedy" if Max Miller had bought a different style of notebook?

I have a faint memory of the first time I heard a reference to blue comedy, naturally attached to the colorful Redd Foxx. I imagine we'll all be cursing a blue streak when the ill-advised feature film adaptation SANFORD AND SON comes to a theater near us.

Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.
–Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cellular Phronesis

Someone or other once said that "a clear conscience is often a sign of a bad memory." I wonder what that means for the consciences of the near future that will no longer be able to forget a thing with every step of every day recorded in one form or another for later playback or review.

Memory, of course, is a very tricky thing, and I for one am pleased with the way technology allows us to remember things that were prime candidates for slipping through cracks. It has taken me some effort to memorize three phone numbers that I can recite without cheating, yet I can vividly remember the first time I heard Heart's "Magic Man" on the way to Montessori school about 32 years ago and being scared and excited by the lyrics coming out of Mother Word Player's dashboard FM.


I got to thinking of the shortcomings and successes of memory on Sunday reading Jenny Lyn Bader's article "Britney? That's All She Rote" from the Week In Review section of the New York Times. Bader touched on something I've felt for a long time now, that collectively our memories are getting to be just as short as out attention spans. "We are in a culture that devalues our sense of memory" says author and Harvard rhetoric professor James Engell.

I've hoped that the less we have to rely on our memories for day-to-day details (thanks to advances in personal technology) that the more brainpower we would have at our disposal for creative and esoteric thinking. Frankly, it's hard to compare one's memory epochs, especially when you can't remember what the older ones were like anymore.

people often forget about The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory

The article contained two words I was unfamiliar with that I wanted to write up here, but in the 48+ hours since I first read it something else from it has lodged in my noggin. In talking about the physiology of memory, she notes:

Other body parts may be involved, too, as suggested by stories of transplant patients who acquire memories not their own. Mr. Engall said, "Memory has a kind of bodily presence."

And I thought that notion was strictly the invention of horror screenwriters!

Anyway, here are the two words that are either new to me, or seemed so because I had forgotten learning about them the first time:

1. phronesis: Aristotle distinguishes between two intellectual virtues: sophia and phronesis. Sophia (usually translated "wisdom") is the ability to think well about the nature of the world, and is used in our attempts to discover why the world is the way it is (this is sometimes equated with science); sophia involves deliberation concerning universal truths. Phronesis is the ability to think about how and why we should act in order to change things, and especially to change our lives for the better. Aristotle says that phronesis isn't simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end (this is, however, denied by some commentators, who argue that Aristotle considers the desired end (eudaimonia) to be given, so that phronesis is simply the ability to achieve that end).

perhaps Aristotle taught Alexander a tad too well?

Gaining phronesis requires time, as one must gain both the habit and understanding of correct deliberation.
definition taken from wikipedia)

2. neurobics: a unique new system of brain exercises based on the latest scientific research from leading neurobiology labs around the world - including Dr. Katz' lab at the Dept of Neurobiology in the Dook University Medical Center in Durham, NC. The deceptively simple exercise program is the first and only program scientifically based on the brain's ability to produce natural growth factors called neurotrophins that help fight off the effects of mental aging. Neurobic exercises use your five physical senses and your emotional sense in unexpected ways and encourage you to shake up your everyday routines.
(explanation taken from

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Search Of: Optimism

Six years ago today, a phone call woke me up for the second time that morning. The first time was when Mrs. Word Player got up to go to work, after which I promptly fell back asleep. The phone call was from a close friend who worked at CNN Headline News in Atlanta. She told me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, that it was apparently no accident, and was asking if we were OK.

By the time I got dressed and ran up to the roof to see, a second plane had struck the towers. Words cannot describe the feeling of shock, how time seemed to slow down, and how scared I was. Mrs. Word Player called from work, and soon would return to our tiny West Village apartment with several of her workmates in tow. We numbly watched the news coverage, drank scotch, and made and fielded phone calls checking on friends and loved ones.

taken from our rooftop at 14 Horatio St. on my 30th birthday, 8/24/01

The acrid smell of smoke and scorched metal would waft up to us later that morning and linger for weeks.

taken from the same rooftop 18 days later

And of course, all of our memories of that morning will linger for the rest our lives. I'm a big fan of milestones and statistics, eras and epochs, and as I've been thinking about today's sixth anniversary of 9/11/01 I've thought about how it demarcated my own life.

From 8/24/71 to 1/28/86 I was an optimist. Until my gym class that day, freshman year of high school, when we were called back to our class and informed that the Space Shuttle Challenger had disintegrated shortly after liftoff, I had no question that the future would be even brighter than I could imagine (and to paraphrase Han Solo, I had imagined quite a bit). I was a sci-fi kid, and I was certain that in my lifetime I'd be visiting Space Stations and Moon Bases. SPACE: 1999 and The Martian Chronicles had been huge favorites of mine, and they weren't set so far into the future that I couldn't believe.

Anyway, from 1/28/86 to 9/11/01 I was a realist, with cynical tendencies. After 9/11, I began skewing more and more pessimist. No need to go into detail, but suffice it to say that I no longer saw a bright future for the people of Earth.

But wait, there's more?

NYC-based artist and graphic designer Reed Seifer (pronounced like "cipher") created his Project Optimism long before 9/11/01, but for me it has taken on a special personal meaning in the months and years since then. He has incorporated the word and the spirit of "optimism" into a variety of media and format, but the one that I thankfully can't seem to stop thinking about is his series of brightly colored buttons with the single word "optimism" emblazoned on them.


Life can appear cripplingly complicated to me at times, and the fact that a simple button with one word on it can be so powerfully affecting comes as a great relief.

The Optimism of childhood was a gift, but I've come to realize that the Optimism of adulthood is a choice. It's not whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, it's how hard you work to add just enough to the glass that it's no longer a judgment call.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cruising World

In the U.S., English is the native tongue spoken by approximately 82% of the population, and over 140 languages are taught in high schools across the nation in a vain attempt to make Americans bilingual.

Why is it then, I wonder, that it seems like everybody took either Spanish or French in high school?

I'll never forget this poster of Gerard Depardieu that hung above the blackboard

I took French for three years and Latin my senior year (in which I earned my first "F", thankfully after I'd already been admitted to UNC-CH). With some scattered French in middle school and an additional year in college, I learned enough French to order food on a train and ask directions.

But most importantly, to me anyway, I learned enough to speak English with an exaggerated French accent for laughs and to pepper my snappy comebacks with just enough French snippets to sound arrogant at the proper time.

I've come across a couple of unfamiliar French words in articles over the past few days, which made me think of some of my favorite phrases from Madame Rothe's French class in high school that survived my teens and live on to this day:

"passez une bon weekend"= have a good weekend

"qu'est-ce que si passe?" = what's going on? what's happening"

"porquoi? PARCE-QUE!" = why? BECAUSE!

I can safely say this now, nearly 20 years later, without fear of getting Madame Rothe in trouble: she invited some of her favorite students over to her house and GAVE US ALL A GLASS OF WINE as we hung out and talked about France.

Can you IMAGINE such an egregious violation of teacher-student conduct? And at a CATHOLIC school no less!

"French for Robots" is the hot new elective for Fall '07

Madame Rothe was a great teacher- one of the very few from my K-12 years that I ever think about anymore.

Anyway (before I bust out cryin') here are the two Frenchyisms I had to look up earlier this week:

maudit: Definition: (informal adj) - darned, blasted, hateful

sont ces maudites clés ? - Where are those darned keys?

Après ce cours, je ne veux plus voir ce maudit livre - After this class, I don't want to see this hateful book any more

(literary adj) - accursed

Related: maudire - to curse; un/e maudit/e - damned soul; le Maudit - the Devil
(thank you

Al apparently prefers Cruis'n Exotica

The word was used in an Indiewire article about the DVD release of the much maligned Al Pacino gay serial killer thriller CRUISING, as follows:

"Paramount's imminent deluxe edition of William Friedkin's 1980 film maudit, CRUISING."

The second was folie à deux, which means "shared madness" or "craziness for two", a mental disorder which occurs simultaneously in two people with a close relationship or association.

This one I read in Newsweek's article about the back-to-back suicides of former "it"couple Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake.

Moments tristes...