Friday, December 20, 2013

Life Would Be a Goon, Sweetheart

A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Visit from the Goon Squad recalls the intricately interconnected sprawl of Cloud Atlas and Infinite Jest, but presented in miniature, as if those literary metropoles were reconfigured in order to be contained in a single city block. In fact, the Jules Jones interview/nervous breakdown chapter feels like a direct parody of or homage to David Foster Wallace's writing style, and the way characters and situations are nested recurrently throughout the distinctly different narratives and styles of each chapter owes a lot to Cloud Atlas.

Yet I don't mean to belabor the point regarding its influences - this is very much its own book and in its finest moments it achieves the sort of lyrical transcendence one associates with masterpieces. It's also a breeze to read, which I think belies its real complexities to a significant degree.

One could quibble with the neatness of the interconnections of Egan's characters, settings and stories. Many writers suggest that coincidences should only create problems in the narrative, not solve them, as solving by way of coincidence amounts to a kind of displeasing storytelling laziness akin to the dreaded deus ex machina. Egan could be accused of partially violating this principle. Her coincidences don't necessarily solve 'narrative problems' per se, but they do serve as a sort of textual suture that draws together the threads of her book into a novelistic whole.

But there's something magical about a well-executed circular narrative that excuses or even erases a lot of what would be considered flaws otherwise. The matryoshka storytelling of a Cloud Atlas, a Goon Squad, or a One Thousand and One Nights (their spiritual forebear), discards the facsimile of worldly logic and literal truth associated with traditional linear narratives, and in its place constructs a sort of dream logic and metaphorical truth that seems more like the real thing.

That real thing being life, the universe, and everything - of course!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Problems with The Lion King Presented in the Popular Listicle Format with Visual Aids for Illiterates (Who Make Up the Main Audience for The Lion King)

You know that song that goes in the jungle the mighty jungle the lions sleeps tonight well that's not even accurate the lion doesn't sleep in the jungle he doesn't even live in the jungle the jungle is for jaguars and leopards you idiots!

And that isn't even my main problem with Disney's 1994 animated musical, The Lion King. For starters, I don't think the so-called 'circle of life' necessarily has to involve your uncle killing your own father and stealing your birthright. So that's misleading.

2. Hakuna Matata does not mean "no worries for the rest of your days." It means "no worries" as in "no problem," or "no big deal." There's a world of difference that in all its irrevocable frivolity The Lion King glosses over entirely. It's like they didn't have Wikipedia in those days or something.

Swahili speakers all over the world find The Lion King insulting.
3. There's no such thing as a 'problem-free philosophy.' Read some Foucault, guys.
This may or may not be a photograph of Michel Foucault.
4. A wild boar would never in a million years end up as best friends with a meerkat. That's just unrealistic.
Wild boars eat fucking cheetahs for breakfast, they do not hang out with meerkats ever.
5. Jonathan Taylor Thomas sure feels an awful lot like stunt casting twenty years later, doesn't he?
Who could guess that this little motherfucker would grow up to be an ugly, forgotten loser? Not Disney, that's for sure.
6. I'm guessing astronomy was not Mufasa's strongest subject in school. So maybe he shouldn't spend so much time filling his son's head with a pack of lies about outer space.
Those aren't 'kings' you self-centered asshole, they're super-hot globular clusters of hydrogen and helium and you mean nothing at all to them.
7. Female hyenas experience massive erections that cause their clits to grow large and hard. Somehow this didn't make it into the movie, despite the performance of the foul-mouthed Whoopi Goldberg as one of the hyenas.
Whoop there's a clitoris
8. A total lack of Robin Williams. What were they thinking?
Nathan Lane may be many things, but he's no Robin Williams.
9. Naming the villain Scar is laying it on a little thick, guys.
Disney was proud of itself for not having Scar twirl his mustache because that counts as restraint with those hacks.
10. The whole thing is just a big rip off of Hamlet, with nearly all of the tragedy, madness, humor, and death cut out which is the stuff that makes Hamlet interesting to watch in the first place.
Shakespeare never had to steal his plots because he was a genius, unlike Jeffrey Katzenberg.
11. In short: Fuck The Lion King. The only thing it has going for it is that unlike The Emperor's New Groove, David Spade had nothing to do with it.
It could always be worse.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cocaine Decisions

1999. 188 minutes. USA. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Watchdate: 9/9/2012.
The problem with doing too much cocaine, as I understand it, is that it makes you think every idea you have is a good idea. Evidently, Magnolia amounts in large part to a parade of cocaine decisions. The opening sequence of the movie offers the tantalizing possibility of a masterful cinematic examination of the nature of coincidence, both hilarious and tragic in equal measure. With each moment that passes after this perfectly orchestrated opening, the movie grows ever more frantic, overwrought and slipshod, taking on the rhythm of Scorsese without his coherency, the scope of Kubrick or Altman without their poignancy, even the absurdity of Buñuel without his satiric edge. 

It's a great big mess of a movie and sometimes those work out really well, but a lot of other times they become exhausting to watch. For every excellent performance, from Julianne Moore's shrill drug addict to Tom Cruise's self-parodying machismo, there is a muddled spray of Paul Thomas Anderson's creepy daddy issues. And as a lover of the bizarre and outré in nearly every kind of narrative I can imagine, I am particularly outraged by the use of random singing and a rain of frogs to cover up for a lack of good ideas to draw the movie to a close. The random singing sequence in this movie is and will always be stupid as hell. The rain of frogs may have worked had the entire three hour running time not been made to rest on the event's shoulders, turning a potentially amusing idea into a shallow gimmick.

Cocaine may make every idea in your head seem great, but the thing about drugs is eventually you come down from the high and have to sort out the rare insight from the rest of the nonsense. This is a movie made by a cokehead, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Devil and the Tomcat (& Pontius Pilate & Yeshua Ha-Nozri)

The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Bulgakov swings gracefully between the theatrical, the vulgar, the cartoonish, the caustically satiric, and even at times the profound and the sublime. I don't know how much of the satire I missed due to my relative unfamiliarity with the Soviet Union in the 1920s, though his attacks on the groveling and conforming literary establishment of the time are quite clear and wonderfully handled. I especially loved his satires of hustling for real estate. Behemoth the Tomcat is an indelible character - even if his supporting role in the book is smaller than you might imagine given his prominence on the covers of many editions of this book.

But the most thought provoking element of the book may be the novel-within-the-novel about Pontius Pilate. It functions simultaneously as a deep rupture from the main narrative, yet Bulgakov also successfully integrates it in myriad ways. Techniques associated with postmodernism stretch as far back as Cervantes, but this novel fascinates in how it feels both of its time and startlingly contemporary.

But most important of all, it's damn funny.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

13th Amendment Loophole

When I watched Lincoln the other week, I noticed something about the 13th Amendment I had not been aware of before. The movie's narrative follows the political struggle to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress. At the end, the text of the 13th Amendment is read out loud:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
I highlighted the above section because it's a big fat loophole in the U.S. Constitution just waiting for some brutal geniuses to think up the prison industrial complex. 150 years later, we have mass incarceration and states of the Old Confederacy have considered using prison labor to do the work that slaves would have done prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Forgot About Steubenville

And I forgot about Steubenville
Just like everyone else did
Each one a pig
Indifferent and agnostic and execrable
And what's wrong with being an attractive young woman?
Nothing, we say

But I prefer self-control
You prefer birth control
He doesn't like politics
He believes in football
But what's wrong with being an attractive young woman?
Please drink responsibly

You shouldn't go out alone at this hour
Demons of the night and all
Demons that look like me
The dead body on video
What's wrong with being an attractive young woman?
The woman part, that's all

We can outpig Steubenville
Even though men aren't out to get women anymore
She must exercise restraint
Watch how you dress
"Nothing wrong with being an attractive young woman"
Or there shouldn't be, anyhow

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Family and Community

Corner Store
2010.  70 minutes. USA. Directed by Katherine Bruens. Watchdate: 5/24/2011.
You should really check out  Corner Store, now available to watch for free on Hulu. I think this documentary is great but I am biased because the director is my older sister. The documentary follows the owner of a corner store located in San Francisco who emigrated a decade ago as an economic refugee due to the Second Intifada in Palestine. The documentary  his reunification with the family he had long been separated from, and the decisions associated with whether he should move back to the West Bank or bring his family over to the U.S. I have seen at least three different cuts of the movie by now and each time I get caught up in it emotionally. I actually get choked up at the end. So this movie is in good company with You Can't Take It With You, Up, and The Shawshank Redemption - all movies that make me cry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heather's Diorama

In second grade, a precocious young girl named Heather constructed a diorama representing the court of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I. Somehow, Heather had interpreted a creative assignment about the ecology of rainforest biomes to be one dealing with the English Renaissance. Her teacher could hardly complain about the resulting project, as it was far more intricate and sophisticated than the projects that the rest of the snot noses had concocted even if it was lacking in the sort of flora and fauna native to places such as the Amazon. Heather received 4s in nearly every category that trimester except “Following Instructions,” in which she received a 2.

Later, in middle school, incessant teasing sent Heather to the brink of an eating disorder though she pulled herself back in time for a relatively healthy, happy high school life in which she performed roles both comic, romantic and tragic in Shakespeare plays while secretly falling in love with his sonnets. She had to keep this a secret because she enjoyed getting wildly drunk nearly every weekend with too many friends for her to keep track of and even though most of them would probably view an inordinate interest in the England of half a millennium ago as irrelevant at worst and a lovable quirk at best, Heather still felt subconsciously insecure about that superior diorama she had made years before.

At the University of British Columbia, Heather studied Physics. While browsing in the University Library, she discovered a slim volume entitled The Dioramic Dynamic by P.C. Bentley Blair. After a brief scan of the book’s introduction, she borrowed the book and brought it to a nearby café. Within the book’s pages, Blair describes how a little known phenomenon known as alloidial mutation causes successful acts of creative invention to metastasize in a seemingly endless proliferation. According to Blair, alloidial mutation has a particularly curious effect on dioramas. A successful diorama contains a glimpse of another world. Blair claims that such a diorama will mutate to contain within its walls a much smaller diorama that represents the intricacies of that same world in an earlier stage of development. On page 24, Heather read the following:
The Three Laws of Elementary Dioramics
1. The size of the diorama is inversely proportional to how long it takes for the diorama to mutate.
2. The Law of Preservation states
Heather stopped reading. She felt like she had been drinking a warm broth of pseudoscience. None of this gelled with her highly educated understanding of the world. She checked the bibliography and found titles like The Invisible Library by Hoover Framingham and numerous articles from something called the American Journal of Telescoping Development. Her attempts to cross-reference the bibliography failed completely because none of it could be found anywhere in the University’s library system. She could not find a trace of it on WorldCat or even in a more general trawling of search engines. She concluded that the bibliography was fictitious. The likeliest explanation seemed to be that P.C. Bentley Blair had a very lively imagination.

When Heather returned home for Thanksgiving, she decided to dig up her old Queen Elizabeth diorama. As silly as The Dioramic Dynamic was, it had inspired her to wade into a lake of nerdy memories. Up in the attic of her family’s home, she opened musty boxes and moved aside forgotten furniture. It took hours, but she eventually found her diorama. It was surprisingly pristine but after a moment spent regarding it with nostalgia, Heather picked it up and walked swiftly downstairs. She asked to borrow the car, and then drove to the old-fashioned but surprisingly reliable general store in town. She bought a jeweler’s loupe and then drove home.

That night, alone in her room, Heather used the loupe to examine closely what had made her heart leap when she had first looked at the diorama in the attic. Inside the diorama, resting on an ornately designed paper table Heather had placed in the court of Queen Elizabeth, Heather saw another diorama. This smaller diorama contained a scene of Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers resting around a campfire in the savannah, just like Heather had pictured it when she learned about such people in the sixth grade.

Heather could make out an even smaller diorama being held in the hands of a young Cro-Magnon girl. It was exceedingly difficult for her to make out, but within that diorama she could just barely glimpse an anomalocaris. Heather had forgotten she had learned that it had been the first great predator of the Cambrian explosion. Because of the limits of her loupe, Heather could not see the diorama of the single-celled forms of life that colonized hydrothermal vents three and half billion years ago or the beautiful diorama depicting the violent yet rhapsodic formation of solar systems or the white hot spherule at the center of the smallest diorama of them all. But she could blissfully imagine their quantum splendor.

Originally published in the Cal Literature & Arts Magazine.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2012

Rather than strain anyone's patience with some high-minded Resolutions of the annual variety, I will engage in New Years Navel Gazing by taking a look back at the most popular posts I produced during this past year. I intended to post something new every day and succeeded just over one third of the time. And popularity is, of course, a very relative term considering that it's rather rather rare for me to get pageviews that number in the triple digits, and as you'll see, those pageviews don't always indicate anyone is actually reading the post that's been accessed.

Though it barely made the cut, I am proud of this one since my brief little review was cited by its subject. I assume a fair number of its pageviews came through that link, alongside the links provided to more legitimate reviews by SFGate and the Daily Cal. Ah, the democracy of opinions that is the Internet.

This post was just me hoping to get some of that José Martí magic to rub off on my site. Seriously, lots of people are searching for pictures of José Martí on Google Image and some of them found one A Gilded Planet. I'm happy to be of service.

I wrote about the bust and plaque dedicated to Robert Oppenheimer that is conspicuously missing information regarding his invention of the atomic bomb.

My travel writing is relatively popular simply because slightly more people want to know what I did in foreign countries than what I think of that dumb Kristen Stewart Snow White movie.

Word clouds are cool, and they take very little work to produce! Note to self: post more word clouds in 2013.

5. Catachresis of the Meme: An Ironical Phenomenon of Self-Annihilation
I wrote a half-serious analysis about the memetic evolution of the term 'internet meme.' Some people read it. Or at least looked at it. Readership, viewership, same difference right?

More travel writing. 

I argued that the only thing worthwhile in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was the cross dressing gay romance at its center, but the post's popularity was probably due almost entirely to people looking for pictures of Robert Downey Jr. dressed as a woman on Google Image.

Very few words in this post and that tends to be popular. Also, funny beards!

In a completely expected twist, my musings about the popularity of monster truck pictures, along with examples of said pictures, turned out to be my most popular post in 2012 by a long shot. As in the only 2012 post to receive more than a thousand pageviews. Go figure. People really love pictures of monster trucks.