Movies: Punch-Drunk Love

When I first heard that P.T. Anderson was making a movie starring Adam Sandler, I thought I was faced with a dilemma of “unstoppable force hits immovable object” dimensions. What’s a guy to do when he’s vowed to see every movie a certain director makes, and then discovers that the director has casts an unwatchable actor in the lead role? Fortunately, P. T. Anderson also put Phillip Seymour Hoffman in there, which settled the matter: two “must sees” beats a single “can’t bear”.

So let’s cut to the chase: yes, Sander is fantastic in Punch-Drunk Love, the newest film by the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. But even so, Sandler-loathers need not worry: with the exception of this aberration, you can go right back to disliking him, because he’ll never again have a role so perfectly suited to his marbles-in-the-mouth, rageaholic, soft-in-the-head schtick.

Sandler plays Barry Egan, a mess of a man who is unlucky in love and nearly everything else. Barry seems nice enough, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s a few croutons short of a salad. For one thing, he was raised with seven sisters, and they have left him a nervous wreck. For another, he seems rather obsessive: he’s currently buying thousands of cups of pudding in an elaborate scheme to get a bunch of Frequent Flier Miles that he has no intention of using. (This aspect of the plot, by the way, is based on a true story). All this makes for a guy that you wouldn’t really want to hang out with, much less date. But then lovely, charming Lena shows up and somehow falls in love with him. It’s hard to tell what Lena sees in Barry; but it’s also hard to tell if she isn’t just as loopy as he. While Barry oscillates between introvertion and aggression, Lena emits a perpetual, low-key, vaguely insane vibe.

And there you go: two charismatic screwballs = one romantic comedy. There’s a whole lot of other stuff going on — miniature pianos and phone-sex chat lines and decorative toilet plungers are all featured prominently — but it’s essentially the Barry & Lena show. Furthermore, Anderson has a habit of tossing completely random and inexplicable stuff into his films, and this one is no exception. The first 20 minutes of Punch-Drunk, in fact, play out like an extended dream sequence. Now, I’m a complete sucker for nonlinear storylines, but I could understand why some might find Punch-Drunk Love pretentious. Hell, it is pretentious, make no mistake, but, like I said, I groove on non sequiturs. What’s interesting, though, is that The Queen, who has a much lower tolerance for pretension than I (she hated Mulholland Drive, I loved it) also quite enjoyed Punch-Drunk, and that’s saying something.

I spent the first nine months of 2002 bitching about how few good movies I’d seen; now, in the last month, it’s been bang bang bang: Das Experiment, How’s Your News and now Punch Drunk, the top three films I’ve seen all year. My only regret is that I can no longer use the name “Adam Sandler” as a synonym for “talentless hack”. Oh well, I still have Eminem. I’ll just have to make a point of not seeing 8 Mile.


Boy, something has been driving me crazy! It’s been nagging me for weeks, and although I have tried to get over it, I just can’t stop obsessing. I need to do something. I guess the best thing to do is to just get it off my chest by describing it in horrific detail, here on my weblog for the whole world to see.

Psyche! I’m just joshin’ ya. I got nothing worth saying today.

Here’s a photo of my new cat, Edgar.

Control-C-Ven King

Discussion over lunch:

Me: Is C. still on vacation?

R: Yeah, he’s gone all month. He’s home writing a book or something.

Me: Is he doing that Nanowrimo thing?

R: I don’t think so. What’s that?

Me: Nanowrimo is “National Novel Writing Month”. It’s this ridiculous thing where people try and write an entire book in 30 days.

R: No, he’s been working on his book for a while. That Nanowrimo thing sounds crazy!

Me: Yeah. I thought about doing it, but then I checked out their webpage, and it said you had to write, like, 2,000 words every day, and in the end you have a 175-page book. A crappy 175-page book. I figured, hell, if I wanted a crappy 175-book, I’d just go buy the newest Star Trek novelization or something. Or I’d just write one really good sentence and cut-n-paste it every day until I had 175-pages.

R: That’s what Jack Nicholson should have done in The Shining. When they remake it, they’ll show him highlighting that sentence, and then just cut-n-pasting a bunch.

Me: Hah hah! Yeah, and then the wife will be all like “My husband’s gone psycho!” And they cops will say “What? All he did was hit control-v a couple dozen times…?”

R: Now they can never remake that movie, thanks to technology.

Me: Oh I dunno, they could use it to their advantage. What if they showed him writing “All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy” on his Palm Pilot 68,000 times? Psycho!

How Does It Feel When You Got No 401(k)?

Hello Peter. Please sit down. You know Margaret, from Human Resources? No? Well, she’s the HR liaison for our group. I’ve asked her to sit in on this meeting.

Listen, I’ll get right to the point. You’re been with us for — what? — four years now, isn’t it? Seven years?! Well, then, really Peter, you should know how we do things around here better than anyone. You of all people should know that this company rules the nation with version.

And an employee of your tenure should be well acquainted with this, our Standard Operating Procedures manual. You have a copy of the SOP in your office, don’t you Peter? Okay, well, do you know the Work Practice Regulations concerning the passing of the dutchie? You’re nodding, but I’m not sure that you do, Peter. Look here on page 433. The dutchie, you’ll note, is to be passed on the left-hand side. Left-hand, Peter.

Now, I’ve received a number of reports from both employees and customers that you routinely pass the dutchie on the right-hand side, and sometimes will even pass it to the person sitting across from you. That is simply unacceptable. These Standard Operating Procedures are not, you know, are not negotiable, Peter. The dutchie is to be passed on the left-hand side, end of story.

This is your verbal warning; Margaret is here to note it in your record. And you are now on a 30-day performance plan. If your dutchie passing doesn’t improve by the end of the month, I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to explore other options, up to and possibly including termination. Obviously I’m not happy about this. This doesn’t make me jump and prance, Peter. But I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the dutchie.

Okay, well, that’s all I had to say. I’m sure you’ll be passing the dutchie with greater care from here on out. Now, if you could do me a favor, Peter: on your way back to your desk could you ask Carl to step in here? I understand he recently shot the sheriff and the deputy, so I’ll need to speak to him about that.

Basted in Blood

I look forward to Thanksgiving every year just so I have an excuse to listen to this song (MP3 link).

It was performed on Saturday Night Live by Sarah McLachlan and Anna Gasteyer (a.k.a. Cinder Calhoun). This was the set-up:

Cinder: Thanks Norm, um as Sarah knows, I’m still not really comfortable with the term “standup comic”, I really consider myself more of a weaver of satiric truths in the tradition of the great Appalachain humorists.

Norm: Sarah, how did you discover Cinder, here?

Sarah: Actually, it’s a pretty funny story.

Cinder: Yeah, we were hanging out one night backstage with Alanis Morisette at the Follow your Bliss Tibetan freedom concert and everyone was in a real, like giddy slaphappy mood cause I was on a roll telling some pretty righteously funny Guatamalan animal riddles that I heard from a Latina friend. And Alanis was like totally stumped by the one about the trickster owl and the hungry bird and she goes “I don’t get it” and I looked at Sarah and I just go “Alanis…you you you oughta know!”

Sarah: …And I laughed so hard the baba ganoush I was eating came out of my nose!

Cinder: It was unbelieveable, it was unreal.

Norm: So you guys going to do some of your comedy for us tonight?

Cinder: Actually, Norm, Sarah and I feel that we’d be really remissed if we didn’t use this platform to address an issue tonight. We were at a Maya Angelou poetry reading last night with Fiona Apple. She is so wise. Yeah.

Sarah: We were discussing the ritual torture and senseless slaughters of turkeys in the name of the gluttonous, nationalistic, patriarchal holiday that we call Thanksgiving.

Cinder: Right, and the sickest thing that Fiona told us is apparently that one company has a 1-800 number that gives out cooking tips and recipes encouraging the mutilation and consumption of these beautiful birds!

Sarah: (puts hand on Cinder’s arm) Are you gonna be okay?

Cinder: Yeah… So, um, we wrote a song about it for all the turkeys out there who celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s called “Basted In Blood”.

Stolen from here.

O, Canada

The Queen and I went to Canada for Veteran’s Day weekend. I love Canada. What? Because you can’t legal wed a sovereign nation, that’s why. Besides, I love Canada as, you know, a friend. Remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? Duckie was the nice, responsible, smart guy, who was madly in love with his best friend, Andie? And Andie only had eyes for Blaine — the big, dumb, sexy guy — even though he infuriated her? Well, Canada, you see, is Duckie. And the US is Blaine. And the rest of the world is Andie. And Quebec is crazy, crazy Allison Reynolds. No wait: Allison Reynolds was in The Breakfast Club. Well, whatever. That was kind of a dumb metaphor anyhow.

Fun Facts That Are Simultaneously Fun And Facts!

  • Canada is the world’s fourth largest country!
  • Canadian Prime Minister Jerry Glark won a bronze metal for the javalin in the 1972 Goodwill games!
  • Canada has more Maxim subscribers than any other nation!
  • Canadians have over 60 words for ‘snow’ and another 18 for ‘camel’!
  • I am just making these Fun Facts up!

Crossing the US / Canada is always a chore, because Canada is terrified of guns and the US is terrified of drugs. You could take a .22 south over the border, rob a junkie at gunpoint, and return to B.C. with his heroin, but not vice versa. (Tip: if you are a passenger in a car that gets stopped and searched at the Canadian border, do not shout “shotgun!” when they allow you to reenter the vehicle.) For some bizarre reason it was relatively calm this weekend, though. When the Canadian customs lady asked me “purpose of trip” I managed to not say “Republican take-over of Congress,” and so we got through with minimal fuss.

After that it was two days of relaxation. Even the drive to our destination was pleasant, what with all the polite drivers and such. It’s nice knowing that, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you don’t have to go through the bother of tailgating them and running them off the road and pulling them from their vehicle and beating them senseless with a tireiron, because even if you do nothing you’ll soon receive get a lovely, handwritten note in the mail apologizing for the infraction.

Also, the metric system rules. It’s too bad Americans are too egocentric to even consider adopting it. Maybe if we gave all the units pro-US names we could sneak it in. We’d call a meter a “patriot” and a gram a “eagle” and a liter a “constitution,” and then people would be all psyched to use them, and would routinely boast about jogging in the 10 kilopatriot “These Colors Run!” roadrace.

Update: Many of you, like myself, have been wondering why I suddenly had the urge to visit Canada. Now I know. A “Krackel” wrapper has been sitting on my desk since Halloween. Yesterday I picked it up, tilted it just so, and discovered a Canadian conspiracy of X-fileian proportions.

Now, if I could only stop liking hockey …

This Will Only Hurt a Moment

Paul and I were in my car, stopped behind a red light, and I was reading the political signs that adorned nearby yards. “Check that out,” I said, pointing to one that read ‘Retain Rick Drumheller As City Attorney’. “What a weird word to use, ‘retain’. I guess that’s what you do with lawyers, retain them, but they make him sound like a kidney stone.”

“Maybe that’s intentional,” Paul speculated. “I mean, I’d rather retain him than pass him.”

Movies: How’s Your News?

How’s Your News is the best movie you’ll probably never see.

I’d been wanting to see it for months (ever since reading this MetaFilter thread), but never expected to do so. The film had received critical acclaim at the few festivals that showed it (and won the audience award at the Comedia festival in Montreal), but there were no plans for widespread (or even limited) release. Luckily, I happened to skim a local weekly’s movie listings just in time to discover that it was playing in Seattle’s aptly-named Little Theater for four days only. I had the great fortune to catch the premier last night, and am pleased to report that my eager anticipation was entirely justified.

The documentary follows five adults with mental and physical disabilities as they travel across America in a RV and interview everyday folks for a show called How’s Your News? Ronnie Simonsen and Susan Harrington are the two most active reporters, conversing with everyone from homeless men to women at grocery stores. Both conduct their interviews in idiosyncatic ways: Ronnie steers almost every conversation to the celebrities he is obsessed with; Susan is prone to bursting into song and ends every segment with a well-rehearsed sign-off. Sean Costello, who has downs syndrome, also speaks to a variety of people.

The other two members of the How’s Your News cast are unable to speak intelligibly, but conduct interviews all the same. A speech impediment renders everything Robert Bird says as gibberish, but he can communicate quite effectively through written notes and by accompanying his “words” with gesticulation. Larry Perry has severe spastic cerebral palsy and can neither walk nor speak, but is able to hold a microphone and interview subjects by allowing them to talk freeform.

The interactions between the How’s Your News team and the general public are always interesting, sometime awkward and frequently hilarious. The reactions to Bird’s gibberish-talk are especially varied and telling: some vainly ask him to repeat himself in an effort to understand, others respond with generic uh-huhs and okays, and some “play along” by guessing at the questions he might be asking and gamely providing complete replies (“I’m doing great. How are you?”).

It’s hard to read about this movie and not think the whole thing smacks of exploitation. The director, Arthur Bradford, addresses this concern right on the film’s home page:

All of the people associated with How’s Your News?, including the reporters and their families, are extremely proud of the work which has been put into this movie. The How’s Your News? reporters may not look, act, or speak like traditional news reporters, and the news which they gather may not be traditional news, but we stand by it all the same. In fact, we feel that to deny these reporters the chance to express themselves freely, travel the country, and communicate with the people they meet would be a real shame.

What’s even more shameful, in my opinion, is that there are a plethora of well-promoted fictional movies about developmentally disabled people (Forrest Gump, i am sam, The Other Sister, etc.), but a movie showing actual developmentally disabled people winds up with no distribution whatsoever.

Furthermore, I have long felt that Hollywood’s practice of lionizing the developmentally disabled does more harm than good. While some films (notably Rain Man and Who’s Eating Gilbert Grape) portray those with disabilities as everyday people with everyday lives, many others reflexively elevate their protagonists to the status of “hero” for having been born with a handicap. The problem with such aggrandizement is that it prevents us from relating to the characters as fellow human beings; we are instead urged to look upon them as role models and metaphors. Worse still, we are admonished for laughing at (or even with) anything they do, because to do so would be “insensitive”. In short, filmmakers try to have it both ways: they want to present the disabled as human (or, in some cases, the very essence of humanity), but they also insist that we not treat them as such.

But humans are funny creatures. The right to laugh, and the risk of being laughed at, comes with the territory regardless of who you are. To disallow this very fundamental interaction is tantamount to dividing us into camps. How’s Your News does an excellent job of avoiding this “us” and “them” demarcation, and you feel like you’re watching a home movie made by friends.

It’s exhilarating to see how much fun the cast is having throughtout the film. Perhaps it’s all the shows and movies that insist on depicting life as a disabled person as a deadly serious enterprise, or perhaps reality television has conditioned us to expect people on camera to be humiliated and degraded, but How’s Your News?, just by showing folks enjoying themselves, comes across as remarkably upbeat and refreshing. At one point during an interview, Sean Costello tells his subject “This [trip] is my dream. What’s your dream?” and everyone — the interviewee and the audience — finds themselves stumped by the question and envious of the asker.

Halfway through the travelogue the crew is seen playing Scrabble in the RV. The tiles have been placed onto the board any-old-way — upside down and sideways — and it’s unclear if they are even making real words. But who cares? They’re determined to have a good time, and they don’t seem to mind if they have to break the rules to do so.

If you live in Seattle, you still have three days to see “How’s Your News” at the Little Theater; if you live anywhere else, keep checking their webpage — maybe you’ll luck out. There are a few video clips from the movie available over yonder (scroll to the bottom of the page), but you will need Quicktime to view them. The “How’s Your News” crew was also featured on “This American Life” earlier this year; you can hear that segment here

I.H.O.P. Passes Resolution On Belgium

After months of negotiations, the International House of Pancakes has passed a resolution demanding that Belgium reveal and destroy its stockpiles of waffles or face the possibility of invasion. Although the nation was stripped of its waffle-making capacity in the 1989 Bisquik Offensive, experts believe that Belgium has managed to smuggle in sufficient flour, eggs, and milk to virtually rebuild its supply, and now lacks only the baking soda necessary to active these so-called 'alternate breakfast entrees' (ABEs). "This resolution sends a strong message to Brussels," announced I.H.O.P. Secretary-General Mabel Buttersworth following the vote. "The International pancake community will not stand idly by while rogue nations continue to produce ABEs." The resolution was passed 214-1, with only France dissenting. Paris has expressed concern that, if the action in Belgium succeeds, their reserves of French Toast may come under scrutiny.