Friday, December 31, 2010

Another Crappy Day In Paradise

KONA COAST, HI--First of All is always down to hang out, so we are glad to be doing just that this week in Hawaii with our extended family. 
   Bright sun and big surf, good food and bad books, beach sleep and sweet heat--these suffice for most vacationers, us included. 
   But what's a Type-A person to do? Simple. Clique up with other Type As and make shit. To a plucky passel of strong men and true here, that means daily creating elaborate beachfront sand sculptures.
   Yesterday's effort? A Tiki Bar. With ferocious focus and a few makeshift tools the guys carved out a real-life drinks dispensary. The result? Free beverages and beer nuts for everyone!   
   (We note that the occasional tipple is many a person's diversionary pleasure and that for those with alcohol problems there is help. We do not condone underage drinking; there was none at the Tiki Bar. Anyway, it's the journey--construction--not the destination--drinkies--that matters, don't you agree?)

    The lads were at it again today, this time carving out a hammerhead shark with an enviro-friendly message. 

   And so we leave you, as the sun sets on another year and decade. Best wishes for the year/decade ahead. We'll see you on the other side of time. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Crime of the Century (Spokes Person Division)

HONOLULU, Hawaii--"A 20-year-old man who tried to rob a man at a Kalihi bus stop Saturday night was arrested riding a stolen bicycle, police said." 
   This mystifying lede appeared in the first item of the "Police Blotter" in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser yesterday. The story went on: 
   "A 21-year-old man refused to give up his property at the bus stop at 9:45pm, police said.
   "He was then assaulted by the 20-year-old man, said police.
   "The suspect fled but was stopped a short distance away, riding a bicycle that had been reported stolen from a 57-year-old woman at a nearby store, police said.
   "The man resisted arrest but was subdued by officers, police said."
   The "Police Blotter" is endemic to newspapers in small communities. It calls to mind the sort of place in which everyone knows everyone and, when not on the job, the police chief sells used cars and trucks. 
   "Police Blotter" items often are written by the most junior member of a paper's staff. This person is learning, on the job, how to write in journalese, a language which resembles English not hardly a'tall. 
   For this bicycle-related item, the green reporter evidently wasn't aware that after noting in the first graf that police were the source of information ("... riding a stolen bicycle, police said"), he or she no longer needed do so. It is understood that all following facts derive from the same source unless otherwise indicated. 
   Still, our earnest correspondent showed a bit of flair in the third sentence. After twice writing "police said," he/she stepped out on a limb to write "said police." But reason swiftly reasserted itself. The nascent Hunter S. Thompson-esque rule-smashing newcomer once more prudently used the more conventional "police said." 
   That being said, we have nothing but good wishes for our intrepid if inexperienced reporter, even if he/she only exists in the fevered First of All imagination. To enter upon a career in journalism at this juncture in the Fourth Estate's enduring fadeout is brave beyond compare. Soon all journalists will be writing short pieces using sticks on leaves which they'll float down the river to the next village. But it will be called "Tweeting." 
   Oh, wait. Never mind.
   If it turns out our "inexperienced" reporter is in truth a broken-down alcoholic writing "Police Blotter" items in the final days of a long and storied career, well, so much the better. Good on ya, old-timer. You were there when dinosaurs roamed the land. First of All, a proud dinosaur, salutes you. 
   One last thing: robbing a man while riding a stolen bicycle? Seriously? 
   The burglars of yore would be aghast. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crime of the Century (Can You Hear Me Now? Division)

GORJ COUNTY, Romania--Police arrested a man here recently for attempted burglary after his intended victims discovered his presence in their home when his cellular telephone rang, a Dec. 27 AFP piece reports.
   The story neglects to mention the name of the man, who is eighteen. For the purposes of this post, then, the well-traveled and sophisticated First of All shall give him a name we assume to be typically Romanian: John Smith.  
  A police source in Gorj told AFP that Mr. Smith's victims, two neighbors in their seventies, "were resting on their bed when [Mr. Smith's] phone rang." The couple deduced that someone else was in the room, a task made easier by the fact that, as the police source noted, "they have no phone." 
   This couple shows a perspicacity First of All likes to think is native to all Romanians. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, displays a spectacular level of criminal folly. One wonders at his ringtone; was it, perhaps, the theme from The Three Stooges?
   Gorj is a Romanian county with a population of a few hundred thousand. Its main industries produce mining equipment, glass, wood, mechanical components and textiles. (This according to Wikipedia, the source of all information of dubious provenance.) There is also a vibrant food and beverage industry, aka hotels and tourism, aka partying.
   That Mr. Smith evidently was unable--or unwilling--to find gainful employment in any of these fields, and instead turned to crime, un-silenced cellphone in hand, fair baffles the mind. 
   This is Mr. Smith's second arrest for attempted burglary. He faces seven years in prison. 
   Seven years in prison because he neglected to silence his phone? First of All is not convinced that this is sufficient penalty. It would be perfectly apt punishment for those who do not silence theirs in movie theaters. But for a young man embarking upon what he hopes is a lucrative career in criminal enterprises, yet who forgets to silence his phone, seven years is not enough. Better would be a life sentence of hard labor, by which we mean being forced to text friends until his thumbs fell off.  
   Mr. Smith's foolhardiness affirms the truism that they just don't make 'em like they used to. The burglars of yore would be aghast. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cinema Notes From All Over (Deceit of the Crime Division)

CELLULOIDLAND, The Universe - I Love You Philip Morris is not, alas, a film about a shrinking sect of smokers with a passionate fealty to a large tobacco conglomerate who rebelliously use machetes to hack off the hands of the antismoking fanatics who fan those hands in front of their own scrunched-up noses to signal their disdain for cigarettes, cigarette smoke, free will, responsible choice, and anything else that gets in the way of their desire to dictate to others how they should live.  
   Instead, it is a romantic comedy-drama (a "comma"?) about a pair of gay guys. Steven Russell, played by Jim Carrey, is an incorrigible con man. Phillip Morris, played by Ewan MacGregor, is a trusting Southern soul. The two meet and fall in love in prison, where each is serving time for something or other. (Who, in the end, cares why they're behind bars? Life is short; we're all going to die someday. Tracking details of this or that movie's plot is, you might agree, simply too exhausting.) 
   The film is sweet and mildly enjoyable, excepting a scene which for First of All sabotaged the whole thing. 
   In it, Mr. Russell appears to be dying of AIDS. In a wrenching phone call, Mr. Morris, though angry with Mr. Russell for other reasons, sobs wildly when he learns of his lover's illness. For those of us who lost friends to AIDS in the eighties and nineties, the scene is a knife to the heart. 
   Later, it is revealed that Mr. Russell's "illness" was faked. It is another con, one that allows Mr. Russell, posing as a lawyer, to try to spring Mr. Morris from prison. 
   (Oops. Did we spoil the film for you? So sorry.)
   For the AIDS scene to work, the audience must feel Mr. Morris' agony. So the film tricks us in the same way that Mr. Russell tricks Mr. Morris. When the con is exposed we feel Mr. Morris' rage--he slaps Mr. Russell's face--and his exasperation with Mr. Russell's iniquitous duplicity. 
   First of All understands this filmic conceit. You know what? First of All does not care. It is a terrible manipulation of the audience. We found ourselves weeping at Mr. Morris' pain; we recalled our own in the same kinds of situations. So for the illness to be exposed as fake--well, for hours after leaving the theater we boiled at the film's aggressive guile. 
   In fairness, we note that the film is based on true events. Perhaps Mr. Russell's AIDS con did, in fact, happen.

   A side note: Mr. Morris and Mr. Russell's relationship does not last. In this sense theirs is no different from many nongay couplings. Love, sad to say, does not conquer all. Gays and lesbians eager to marry, in prison our out, need take note.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Fading Power of the Fourth Estate (Shoo-bee-doo-bee-doo Division)

SACRAMENTO, Ca.--It is not exactly, well, news that falling revenues and flagging readership continue to send the newspaper industry yet deeper into its current merciless tailspin.
   The decline has propelled newspaper executives to experiment with wide-ranging strategies to retain readers, including... well, lots of things, all of which we are simply too lazy to look up. 
   One paper evidently has decided to take an aggressively avant-garde approach: at the Sacramento Bee, reporters now write in Esperanto. 
   At least that's the conclusion to be drawn from reading the lede of a Dec. 24 Bee story reporting heavy snowfall in the Lake Tahoe area: 
   "Bing Crosby should come to Lake Tahoe. With a fresh heap of snow blanketing the landscape, the classic 'White Christmas' crooner couldn't have dreamed it any better. Nor could the area's tourist industry." 
   It would be cruel to unmask the miscreant who wrote this. It is the holiday season; we are determined to look kindly upon our brethren and sistern. For the sake of conversation let us call the Bee reporter by a randomly chosen name, one unassuming in the extreme, a name like, oh, we don't know, maybe something such as, let's say, Ed Fletcher (
   Mr. Fletcher may go unmasked; his lede shall not. It should be placed, like a severed head, atop a tall stick and paraded from town to village to burgh and back as a perfect example of exactly what not to do should you one day find yourself in the unenviable position of having to top a snow-related story with a catchy opening paragraph. 
   First off: Bing Crosby? Really? That rustling you hear is the sound of tens of thousands of Americans, ages sixteen to fortyish, scratching their heads as they murmur, "Bing who?" (Answer: the third most popular movie actor of all time, by box office numbers. Nevertheless...)
   But of course Mr. Fletcher name-checked Mr. Crosby. Recent studies have shown that the average age of newspaper readers is a hundred and sixty-five; the average age of reporters is roughly double that. 
   In recognition of these alarming facts, newspaper bigwigs have employed all kinds of tactics in the past decade to get those laptoppatizin', Tweetereezin', Facebookatatin', text-sendin' young folks to visit the ink-stained horse 'n buggy barn. Just last month, with an eye to creating an staff-wide understanding of the "youth demographic," New York Times editor Andrew Rosenthal ordered employees to be dosed with psilocybin and forced to wave glow sticks, suck on pacifiers and dance without respite for sixteen hours to drum 'n bass hits of the nineties. 
   But try as these media leaders might to hip things up, the Ed Fletchers of the world continue to fire bullets into their desperately dancing feet. When dreaming of a captivating snow-story lede, the best Ed Fletcher can do is to conjure Bing ("Who?") Crosby, a performer popular two and one-half centuries ago and best known for his mellifluous voice and his penchant--no offense to Crosby friends, family and fans across the globe--for beating his children.
   For an Ed Fletcher lede, however, a Bing Crosby reference is a mere warmup. What follows seems, on the face of it, a rather pleasant suggestion: that Mr. Crosby "should come to Lake Tahoe." Mr. Crosby used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area; no doubt he enjoyed many Tahoe trips. It is not difficult to believe that he would be game for another were it not for the fact that he is, in truth, entirely dead. 
   Crosbyesque Tahoe trips are therefore out of the question even were Mr. Crosby willing to strap skis to the maggot-chewed bones of his feet. 
   Mr. Fletcher, alas, soldiers on. Why should Mr. Crosby, dead or alive, come to Lake Tahoe? "With a fresh heap of snow blanketing the landscape, the classic 'White Christmas' crooner couldn't have dreamed it any better." 
   The way that sentence is constructed, if that sentence can be said to have been "constructed" (it cannot), suggests that Mr. Crosby himself has a fresh heap of snow blanketing some... landscape. The word "landscape" occasionally is used euphemistically to refer to, for example, parts of the body that would best be left unmentioned in polite society were there still such a thing as polite society. It immediately strikes First of All that there are most definitely "landscapes" of Mr. Crosby's badly decomposed body that we simply do not wish to picture (e.g., the anus). 
   Ahem, ahem. All right, children, gather round. Uncle First of All is now going to decode, phrase by phrase, the rest of that sentence for you:

   *"...the classic..." In addition to being a famous movie star, Mr. Crosby was an extremely popular singer. But when Mr. Fletcher writes that Mr. Crosby was a "classic" singer, he is not, kids, referring to what you think of as classic; that is to say classic rock, the music of the sixties that all but killed the careers of the Mr. Crosbys of the land. No, Mr. Fletcher means "classic" in a way that would make sense only to your average newspaper reader, age one hundred and sixty-five.
   *"...'White Christmas'..." A reference to a song, written by Irving Berlin in 1942, the lyrics of which set a nostalgic, elegiac tone: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know." Mr. Crosby sang the song in the movie musical Holiday Inn. (Executives at Paramount Pictures nixed his plan to perform it in blackface. They felt that audiences would simply be baffled by the sight of an African-American Bing Crosby singing, "And may all your Christmases be white.") The World War II-era song became a hit with soldiers overseas and their families at home. Mr. Crosby's version was so popular that a movie of the same name was made in 1954. It starred Mr. Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and a dancing gorilla. No, wait: that gorilla part is wrong. It was a dancing dwarf. 
   *"...crooner..." The nineteen forties and fifties singing style known as "crooning" was practiced by velvet-voiced male singers (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, et cetera) whose job was to: a.) seduce chicks; x.) cut a compelling, if compellingly bland, fashion figure; and 12.) create music that was the aural equivalent of Valium--just the ticket for a generation rattled by World War II and by the thunder in the distance that would come to be known as rock 'n' roll. 
   *"...couldn't have dreamed it any better." See "White Christmas" lyrics, above. 

   Well. We have now spent roughly eleven hundred words dissecting--flaying?--poor Mr. Fletcher's no doubt rush-written lede. We can hardly be said to be carrying the Christmas spirit, white or otherwise. So we will leave well enough--and bad enough--alone, and wish you all a happy holiday season. May your  snow always arrive in fresh heaps and your landscapes always be, uh... well-showered?


PS: We are painfully aware that our little blackface joke was in poor taste. We apologize. 
   Thank God Mr. Crosby habitually displayed more discernment than we do. He would never have stooped so low even as to joke about blackface, much less appear in it, because... 
   Wait a minute. 
   In the 1943 film Dixie, Mr. Crosby played a young Kentucky songwriter who tries to bust into the big time first in New Orleans and then in New York. At some point during this cinematic tale, Mr. Crosby appeared thus (ha-ha, ho-ho, we win): 


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cinema Notes From All Over (A Film's Death in Venice Division)

CELLULOIDLAND, The Universe -- First of All has just seen The Tourist, and we can say without hesitation that it is the worst film ever made. 
   We are delighted to report that at the moment it is in theaters everywhere, so you can see it too. You may wish, however, to wait for the DVD release; you'll certainly save money and emotional pain. You'll also be able to rewind scenes multiple times to deconstruct this splendidly execrable misfire so that you never inadvertently make one of your own. 
   The Tourist was directed by a man with the stirring name of Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck. Mr.FMGCGHvD also wrote the screenplay. He was joined in the effort by three others who evidently bore a ferocious grudge against him. They certainly did every writerly thing possible to sabotage his film. 
   That the movie, supposedly a thriller, is chockablock with A-list stars is indisputable; so is the fact that their utter miscasting is so full-blown that it hovers near being brilliant. 
   Johnny Depp is a math teacher from Wisconsin who falls in love with an attractive financial-crimes agent from Britain, the birthplace of the Beatles and rain. (The Beatles even wrote a song about rain. Aptly, it is titled "Rain.") Beautiful and mysterious though the agent is meant to be, as played by Angelina Jolie she resembles nothing so much as an anorexic drag queen automaton. 
   The Tourist means to be a caper film happily enjoyed over a tub of popcorn, the kind in which the two leads dash about an enchanting foreign locale--in this case Venice, the city of lovers and sinking buildings. But the film quickly deteriorates more thoroughly than have any of Venice's vaunted edifices. 
   If this is the fault of the rousingly named Mr.FMGCGHvD, it is equally the fault of the stars. 
   There was a time when First of All would have sold our firstborn, if we'd had one, in return for a lifelong romantic partnership, not to say the occasional romp in the hay, with Mr. Depp. That time extended from the moment we watched the first episode of 21 Jump Street, in nineteen eighty-seven, until the moment, a few hours ago, we watched The Tourist
   Mr. Depp now appears oddly bloated and shockingly aged. His shoulder-length hair is a nonsense tangle and his makeup is only slightly less bizarre than Ms. Jolie's. Note to Mr. Depp: heavy eyeliner? Awesome for that Keith Richards/Captain Jack Sparrow look; not so awesome when you're playing a math teacher from Wisconsin. With his blocky body and ragged goatee, Mr. Depp resembles a female-to-male transsexual; this is not a terrible look for anyone except perhaps a math teacher from Wisconsin. 
   Ms. Jolie, on the other hand, appears to be drugged. She has acknowledged past heroin use; has the habit made a comeback? Well, no; she seems less a junkie than someone enjoying a lifetime prescription for Xanax. She floats serenely through every scene, head high, body taut, chin jutted, makeup caked; she is an affectless queen in her own private parade. 
   Ms. Jolie's character is a stick figure--figuratively and literally. Late in the movie she dons a shoulder-baring black gown. She is dreadfully thin, so much so that First of All, while reviling those who talk noisily in theaters, was hard pressed not to scream, "Angelina! Three words--burger and fries!"    
   The Depp-Jolie pairing is awesomely amiss. Can chemistry between actors actually exist in negative space? The Tourist boldly answers in the affirmative. Mr. Depp and Ms. Jolie make implausible lovers. The problem is not just the bloat and the heroin (Xanax?); it is the vast emotional chasm that yawns between them.   Johnny Depp looks like he just arrived from smoking opium with Aleister Crowley under a bridge. Angelina Jolie looks like she just arrived from having her electrical wiring switched on in some shady East European laboratory. The Tourist could have been made with no lead actors a'tall and it would have had more sparkle and star power than it does now.
   Then there is the plot, which involves--well, who knows? Indeed, who cares? In these sorts of movies, the joys of being diverted by a sensible--or even insensible-- plot run a distant second to the joys of watching famous people be themselves in glamorous places. The Tourist is meant to provide pure escapism in the tradition of mid-twentieth-century Hollywood thrillers. But Mr.FMGCGHvD, the director, manages to make Venice look bland. And his misdirection of his stars is so total that it verges on the inspiring. 
   The Tourist falls through all the cracks. It is neither a feather-light caper nor a so-bad-it's-good camp gem. Instead, it is a turd for the ages. One watches it in the same way that animals inspect their bowel movements: to be sure that, yes, this is indeed feces, and then to bolt in order to escape the stench. 
- - - - - - - - - - -
UPDATE (Dec. 23, 2010): We are extremely pleased to report that in televised interviews promoting the appalling The Tourist, Johnny Depp appears to have returned to his usual state of unbelievable hotness. First of All hereby throws its hat back in the ring viz. having a stable, longterm and physically raucous relationship with Mr. Depp, notwithstanding his really peculiar accent--part Brit-English, part Jack Sparrow, part Pepe Le Pew, part... well, who knows? It's Johnny Depp, for Chrissakes. That alone is enough. To be sure, it is all there needs to be, as one can see below.