Friday, April 15, 2005

One more thing...

Trolling for reviews of The Disappoinment Artist just now, I happened upon a review of recent Lethem works by John Leonard in the NY Review of Books. If this pompous ass is what the anti-fanboy should sound like, well, Make Mine Marvel. Please.

Short and sweet

* To whomever used this site to nuke Pigs & Buttercups: bud, you need help. Anger management has helped Milton Bradley, and it can help you. Funny gag, though.

* My New Republic post of the month: not tired of talk about fanboys yet? Elbert Ventura makes a good case for why Oldboy is not just a fanboy wankjob. Speaking of Ventura, TNR appears to be grooming him as a replacement for the venerable (read: 184-year-old) Stanley Kauffmann, a formerly esteemed critic who has now sadly faded into irrelevancy. The young, adventurous Ventura's a good choice to make TNR film coverage vital again. Not sure if these links work for nonsubsribers, but if you can, check out this ode to Wong Kar-wai and this nerdy attack on the National Society of Film Critics' parochialism for a sample of his work.

* I placed 15th at a 1,600 entry freeroll Party Poker tourney the other day, which netted me a cool $18.00. Freerolls are basically a big waste of time, but it was good experience for further adventures in big multi-table tourneys. (I had finished out of the money in the two other times I tried 500+ player tourneys.) One lesson learned: Even though I dig Daniel Negreanu's style, I'm gonna stick with the easiest way to play big tourneys, which is the T.J. Cloutier-tight style. Wait for a monster and build your stack against fish, which comprise of about 50% of these players (types who will re-raise all-in a big raise pre-flop with KQs or 66). Negreanu's approach requires consistently outplaying your opponents after the flop, which I'm not skilled enough to do just yet. Right now, my overlay at my stakes level comes from being able to make big folds and use selective aggression better than some others.

* One basic poker principle I have only recently picked up on. In late position, it is better to call with 76 suited with limpers in front than if you're holding QJo. You try to bust'em or fold with hands like this, not risk your stack by going for top pair marginal kicker.

* Speaking of Negreanu, I think this article is pretty right on. Asian poker players are getting dissed, though admittedly, most Asians who are poker fiends tend to fall on the FOBby or the quiet nerd side, making them far less marketable than your Daniel Negreanus and Chris Fergusons. Still, as in the case with demographically-unrealistic hospital dramas, it's pretty lame that Tilt, the ESPN poker drama, has no Asians. (Have the producers stepped into a cardroom lately?) A character like my brash young poker fiend cousin Eric would be nice, but they'll probably cast Devon Aoki as a silent-but-deadly type to fill the quota.

* Lastly, thanks to Josh Rothkopf for alerting me to the awesomeness of Jonathan Lethem's book of collected short essays, The Disappointment Artist, which limns the nexus between cultural obsession and autobiography. It's really about the pathology of being a geek, and few books have offered such satisfying (and mortifying) jolts of self-recognition. His description of what it's like to prematurely revere a film (in his case The Searchers) before he's ever even seen it, then having to endure all those who would mock the Western's dated Hollywood conventions, is perfect. And I loved how, in arbitrarily adopting 2001: A Space Odyssey as his new favorite movie, he tried to watch the Kubrick opus 22 times to overtake the number of times he watched Star Wars, only to finally realize that logging most viewings of a particular movie doesn't really mean that much, even in one's internal heirarchy. There's also some good stuff on Jack "King" Kirby. A fine read for cultural obsessives who've read all the Nick Hornbys twice over.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The so-called "Man Date"

File under the Let's-Make-Up-a-Trend-to-Attract-Buzz Dept.: The notorious Jennifer 8. Lee, the Gatsby of the journistacracy, files a blog-buzzfly explaining the alleged phenomenon of the "The Man Date". Not mandate, as in "Dubya assuredly has no mandate", but the supposedly common and apparently panic-inducing situation (if this article's to be believed) of a date arranged between two heterosexual male friends, whether to catch up or just to hang out.

If I sound just a tad skeptical about this article, forgive me. But why can't I shake the feeling this is something Ms. Lucky 8 made up when she rolled out of bed one day, a musing which is supported only by that well-known thinkpiece crutch of selective interviewing? Maybe it's the toxic amount of homosexual panic that's evinced by the case studies, a level native only to the predictably corporate types (who just happen to make up the interviewees) that's setting off alarms. Or the fact that these so-called "Man Dates" are so common in my experience that an attempt at making it a specific sociological phenomenon comes off as useful as a thinkpiece on dishwashing rituals. The piece actually has a germ of an interesting idea in it -- the peculiarities of "male bonding" -- but this topic is best teased out through Howard Hawks movies, casual joking at lunch, or standup routines, not psuedo-intellectual gibberish. Still, this is hypocrisy week, so I'll offer my own gibberish:

Let's start with some very basic premises in discussing heterosexual male relationships.

01. Most straight men have at least a couple of male "buddies."
02. Ordinary "dates" between men revolve around an activity of some kind, a football game, a movie, going "drinking".
03. 3 or 4 men for "manly activities" are optimal, but having 2 men together is fine.
04. Straight men, however many get together, aren't too likely to get into the nitty-gritty of relationship talk, the way a group of women invariably will.
05. Male friends don't "chat" on the phone without any purpose, and "chatting" is actively discouraged.
06. Male friends typically don't have "misunderstandings" with one another that spiral into crisis.
07. Male friends typically don't sit around talking whining about what their other male friends did to them. (They might talk shit about how the friend's a loafer, complain about his hygiene, dis him as an imbecile or a wacky wingnut, speculate about his sexuality, mock his sex life, laugh at his ideas, or pity his job, but the conversation is rarely, "can you believe Matt didn't say "hi" to my girlfriend when I bumped into him at the mall? Man, what a jerk!")

Anybody with a social radar recognizes that straight males relate very differently to one another compared to relationships between straight females. I always say there are costs and benefits to both models. Nearly all women I know have a same-sex best friend with whom they have an intense, emotionally rewarding relationship -- they are the wind beneath their wings, etc. But women also fight, have fits of envy, have "misunderstandings" that boil over into full-blown falling outs or at least generate uncomfortable tension -- in short, intimate female relationships are filled with drama.

Guys -- we'll pick our buddy up from the airport, talk a little shop or sports or politics or what have you, maybe get into where we are in our relationships if we're the sensitive type, and that's that. And contra this article, guys do get together one-on-one, grab a meal, shoot the shit, catch up if they haven't talked for awhile, and go to a bar/club/concert/movie together. Okay, so it was weird when I watched Bad Education with two other dudes at the Sunset 5; but besides such obviously homoerotic-themed situations (and even then, so some strangers might view us as three gay guys enjoying our Gael Garcial Bernal peeks -- so what?), the might-be-confused-for-gay idea almost never crosses my mind when I'm out with one other dude. These relationships are simple, with no fuss or complications attached. They key is trust and mutual respect: You know these guys will get your back, and that's enough.

Anyway, some women have confused this kind of activities-based bonding for a kind of queasy emotional immaturity -- an inability of men to form mature emotional relationships with one another, due to homosexual panic or whatever. That's clearly the subtext of Lee's NY Times article. It's about male emotional immaturity. Actually, what's happening that she's filtering the opposing gender's model of friendship through the female, just as men do with female relationships.

Back in college, one of my best friends used to call me about once every two weeks, and we'd talk about fantasy baseball for an hour, talk about a few other random things for 10 more minutes and then hang up. My girlfriend at the time would listen to snippets of the conversation and mock it. "Kirby Puckett, dude!", she'd intone in a low Kolawskian mumble, parodying my stubbornly pointless buddy talk. Ten years later, I still trust my guy pal with my life, and while we actually do have intimate, "deep" conversations from time to time, the random talk about sports, movies, music, and mutual activities dominate. And that's the way I like it. In fact, I insist on it.

Personally, I simply have no desire to have a buddy relationship with a guy analogous to the female-female best friend. (Maybe that's because I have bizarrely intimate relationships with female friends, but that's a topic for another time.) I log a high volume of phone time, on average about 1,800 minutes a month. About 90% of that 1,800 minutes will be spent talking to a few close female friends, including my significant other. I won't take a guess at how much of that 90% is spent listening to gripes about a female friend, but that time is considerable. Sure, at lunch I'll listen to guys bitch and moan about co-workers, and on e-mail some movie nerd might go off on some other movie nerd, but by and large, complaints from a guy about a close guy friend are fairly rare, unless that friend truly is a dickwad. If the dude didn't steal my girlfriend or make me miss the game, it's all good. And if a consequence of not having to spend energy managing friendship crises or snuff out petty disputes is the "shallowness" of the guy buddy friendship, so be it.

I would guess that, for females, this kind of no-harm-no-foul-no-heart-to-heart buddy relationship is emotionally unrewarding. But that's why we're from different planets. Or something. But in short, guys hang out one-on-one with no anxiety. The end.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Reviewing the Audience

Is there anything in criticism more obnoxious than a critic reviewing the audience? Well, yes... there's Rex Reed's racist screed masquerading as an Oldboy review (since deleted by the Observer). But reviewing the audience is a very close second.

Before we go further any further, let me be clear on what reviewing an audience means. For preliminary examples, I direct you to any review by Armond White. Another place where this practice abounds is this universally derided Slate movie club, where the participants find "hipsters" who like Dogville and Before Sunset as dangerous as al Qaida. Or better yet, this Matthew Wilder dis on Rohmer fans, perhaps the nadir of this tactic. Used exclusively in negative reviews, the elements of a "review the audience" ploy are (1) defining the intended audience for any given film in the most ungenerous light; (2) implicitly congratulating the reader as someone superior to this intended audience; and (3) once you've lathered up your readers sufficiently, leaping to the conclusion: "you should not watch this movie because this is made for those losers, not for you, champ." Typically, the targets are aging bobos, the Landmark Theaters/NPR crowd, to whom lefty hipsters can condescend guilt-free, but homely geeks, Red Staters, and other unfashionable types are also common objects of scorn. Of course, for it all to work every word must be decreed in a haughty, dismissive voice, like the pronouncements from the prom queen in high school. "You are not cool/sophisticated/edgy/mature if you like this movie," these reviews tell you, without actually saying anything useful about the movies themselves.

We've all come across these reviews before, and most of us have probably felt the impulse to validate our dislike by judging the intended audience of the art that we scorn. You find this impulse most commonly attached to music, but movies are not immune from snobbery. Indeed, I'd say snob psychology is at the heart of connoisseurship -- folks are just too polite to actually blurt out the nasty thoughts lurking in our inner Jack Black about lame "I Just Called to Say I Love You" fans. It's human to not want to join a club comprised of people you despise. These reviews simply pander to that impulse.

Two recent films have provoked a gaggle of "review the audience" type reviews. Manohla Dargis's pan of Oldboy isn't so much an evisceration of the Korean shocker as it is a snarky putdown of genre cultists and the cult aesthetic. It's a strange diatribe coming from a critic who has the anime Ghost in the Shell 2 on her top 10 list, but I'm not her therapist. In any case, it's a provocative if irritating polemic that has stirred much debate in geek circles. But hot on Oldboy's heels comes Sin City, which has prompted all kinds of putdowns of that comic book adaptation's intended audience. I plead guilty to do doing the same.

Am I a hypocrite for fuming against the "reviewing the audience" tactic yet turning around and employing the same? Perhaps. But I find no way of explaining my disdain for Sin City honestly without coming to the heart of the matter: that this movie embodies a certain kind of sensibility best described by way of reference to fifteen-year-old Punisher fans. Watching Sin City, I had the inescapable feeling that the movie is made specifically and only for the edification of "fanboys" (as exuberant teen geeks (and their likeminded adult manifestations) are contemptuously or affectionately called, depending on whether you consider yourself part of the fanboy bretheren). Every "cool" moment by a "cool" character -- tortured tough guy, ninja chick, or whore with a machine gun -- feels calculated to elicit sighs of joy from boys just beginning to sprout pubes, whose idea of "cool" involves a very mean dude in a trench coat with a big gun, preferably with a cigarette dangling from the lips and a quick quip for every occasion. If you don't think trenchcoat chic is actually cool -- Robert Rodriguez's very similar exercise in studied coolness, the Desperado/Once Upon in a Time in Mexico series of macho posturing, struck me as laughably uncool -- all your left with are some arresting visuals in service of peurile crap. I found Sin City uncomfortable to watch, not because of the violence or nihilism, but because I was embarrassed by the shameless fanboy ethos at work. The perfume commercial dialogue and the cliched tough guys, the ninja chicks and whores with machine guns, the trite corruption storyline -- I thought the Spider-Man movies put an end to this kind of nonsense.

It's possible that much of this disdain stems from my own addled psychopathology, something to do with being a self-loathing geek, as someone has suggested. I'll admit that I'm instinctively suspicious of nearly anything I liked when I was fifteen. I'm more embarrassed than excited by references to Debbie Gibson, The X-Men, or Get Smart. But fanboys are characterized by their unalloyed enthusiasm for the object of their devotion -- they are, after all, partisans -- while my approach to art can be described as cautiously optimistic. Nor am I particularly attached to the tropes of "extreme" cult cinema.

So I don't think it's hating my inner fanboy that makes me review the audience. Rather, certain films, like Sin City or Finding Neverland on the other end, function so well within its niche that, in the end, what's offensive about them is that they close themselves off to anyone who doesn't get giddy when they get a whiff of their scent. These movies are "well-made" and arrive exactly as the creators intended, I'm sure. But by wallowing in "cool chic" fanboyism or middlebrow Miramaxism and rubbing the audience's nose in it, these movies face a backlash from those who find that underlying sensibility repugnant. Of course, my own blowback will come when the similarly hermetically-sealed, sensibility-sensitive movies by Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas are flamed. Yeah, it's true: misguided creatures who hate talky French Dandy Cinema are out there, if you can believe it. And they will pay me back.

Kings and Queen, April 20, 2005 @ Aero. I will be there. As will Arnaud. You will have your chance for dandy scalp thereafter.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Landlady

This woman rules.