Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cinema Notes From All Over (Double-Wide Division)

CELLULOID-LAND, The Universe--We just watched a ten-year-old comedy called Sordid Lives and can't think of one reason you shouldn't too.
   Shot for next to nothing, based on a play of the same name, and billed as "A Black Comey About White Trash," it stars the extraordinary Bonnie Bedelia and, in an expanded cameo, Olivia Newton-John. 
   Packed with vivid performances, the film tells the story of the death of a matriarch of a poor but spunky Texas family. Her passing sparks all manner of family and small-town drama both madcap and solemn. 
   The film's main theme is the way it takes courage to to live one's own life, propriety be damned. The matriarch's grandson struggles to be honest about being gay; her son comes to grips with being a Tammy Wynette-obsessed cross-dresser. One of her daughters and a friend go on a Thelma-and-Louise-inspired tear, confronting the men who have in some way denied them agency. 
   Sordid Lives also limns the importance of family, no matter how non-functioning the brood might be; the claustrophobic nature of life among the lovably eccentric characters in a small town; and the odd ways that, in the end, love, truth, and a solid sense of spirituality trump life's complexities. 
   If this sounds a little earnest, that's our fault. Sordid Lives is a fun little comedy, camp beyond compare. Do yourself a favor and see it. And invite friends over. It's no fun to laugh alone. 
   (A side note: the movie contains gay themes and momentary full-frontal male nudity. If this is a problem for you, then why on earth are you reading First of All?)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Fading Power of the Fourth Estate (Lindbergh's Baby Division)

JOURNALISM-LAND, The Universe--We had a disturbing thought the other day as we ruminated upon the crumbling newsprint industry. (We often spend, which is to say waste, our increasingly foreshortened time on earth ruminating about such things. Better that, however, than ruminating about, say, the paralyzing horror of an incipient Sarah Palin presidential run, don't you think?)
   There are plenty of reasons to despair about the imminent disappearance of newspapers and magazines. Most all of them have been written about in The Columbia Journalism Review
   Except one. 
   What, we wonder, will kidnappers and bank robbers do? How will they construct ransom or robbery notes without newsprint letters to snip from magazines and paste onto paper? 
   Is it possible that, along with the print one, the entire kidnapping and bank robbery industries will disintegrate too? In this sense, is it a societal blessing that, say, USA Today will one day no longer exist? 
   We do not know, but we suspect it can't be long before the Columbia Journalism Review tackles the issue. We can't wait. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gratuitous Photos of Gorgeous Guys the World Over (Swimmer Division)

PALO ALTO, Ca.--First of All likes to recall our outrage when, decades ago, we learned that a British tabloid--was it the Sun? We believe so--ran a photo, on page three, of a different topless woman each day. The women became known by a quite sensible shorthand: the Page Three Girls.
   At the time we thought the feature sexist, demeaning to women, vulgar, and a whole bunch of other stuff that we can't remember but that we probably wrote somewhere in our journals.
   Ah, the outrages of youth. Ah, the wisdom (and fading muscle tone) of age. Upon reflection, gratuitous photographs of a comely person are not, ipso facto, horrible things. Beauty enlivens even the darkest day. 
   And so, taking a, er, page from the Sun's page-three shenanigans, we herewith establish a new feature: "Gratuitous Photos of Gorgeous Guys the World Over." We hope that viewing these photos will enliven your day as much as taking them did ours. 
   Today's efforts were snapped at yesterday's Stanford vs. University of the Pacific swim meet, at the Avery Aquatics Center on the Stanford campus. The No. 3-ranked Cardinal squashed UOP 159-92.
   We do not know how points are scored and we do not care. We just think swimming is a beautiful sport whether it's practiced within the pool or without, the swimmers thrashing through the water or simply standing around in little red Speedos. We are hard-pressed to believe that you would not agree. 

   We took these two at a Stanford meet last Nov. 10. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Crime of the Century (Uncharitable Acts Division)

HONOLULU, HI--At this moment in the new year, Christmas is but a fading memory, New Year's Eve but a cipher of a dimly remembered past. 
   For this reason, stories of holiday heartlessness can seem so, you know, last year. But wickedness knows no time; it is eternal in the human heart. Herewith, then, the story of a pair of holiday criminals who seem, in their reckless nefariousness, shockingly insensitive. 
   Plus, they are total dumbasses.
   "Honolulu police arrested a 24-year-old Makiki man and a 43-year-old Makiki woman for allegedly breaking into a van belonging to a charitable organization on Christmas Eve." 
   So reports the Dec. 27, 2010 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The story, which does not name the charity, says witnesses spotted the pair "in a van... at about 4 p.m. Friday" and confronted them. The pair fled but "were arrested at Makiki District Park."  
   This story, like others to which First of All recently has alluded, arises from the Star-Advertiser's "Police Blotter." These just-the-facts accounts detailing the city's police and fire-related incidents are short on color, so one is left to fill in the blanks. 
   The man is twenty-four, the woman forty-three. Mother and son? Young man and so-called "cougar"? (This appellation recently has come to signify an older woman who enjoys the company, in and out of bed, of young men. At one time it referred to Puma concolor, a mammal of the family Felidae that is native to the Americas. It also referred to super-badass car.) 
   Or were the man and woman drug-addicted confreres for whom, when it comes to stealing stuff to pay for shit, age simply was not an issue? 
   Did they understand that the van belonged to a charity and that charities, as a rule, do good things for people in need? Did they realize that the holiday season is predicated on exactly that concept? Were they so desperate for money that they simply didn't care that they were acting not just illegally but immorally? 
   Or, on the other hand, did they so frantically need a ride--say, to an ailing family member's distant home for one last Christmas get-together--that they were willing to hotwire any vehicle at all, including one belonging to a do-gooding organization? 
   For the purposes of First of All, if not of the judge, lawyers and jury members in front of whom the pair may one day appear, these and many other questions will go unanswered. This thought generates within the heart a certain amount of gloom. 
   Our spirits brighten, however, when we repeat, like a mantra, the word "Makiki." Hawaiian words and names are charmingly long on vowels and repeated alliterative syllables, so they can't help but bring cheer to even the most despondent soul. 
   One occasionally fantasizes about moving to Hawaii. There, one idly imagines, life would be chockablock with sun, sand and surf. It would be defined by the kind of indolence considered alluring by terminally lazy writers whose very best artistic efforts result in reinterpreting odd news stories for the amusement of four or five nonexistent readers. 
   Sun, sand, surf, indolence--these may not, in themselves, be enough to sway the mainlander teetering on the brink of a life-altering decision. But add a bit of "Makiki" and one is convinced that Hawaii is, indeed, a paradise. It is the kind of place in which unscrupulous robbers always come to justice. In at least one case they have done so in a no-doubt well-sculpted recreational area the name of which includes an enchanting and entirely compelling mantra: "Makiki."
   (Makiki. Makiki. Makiki. Makiki. Makiki. Etc.)