Saturday, February 12, 2011

Because the Rolling Stones are Awesome I

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--For no reason a'tall, we share with you the first in a hereinafter unending series of pix of the once-finest band in the land. 

Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, Sept. 1973

Mick Taylor, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, on the road in America, Summer 1972

Mick 'n' Keef, "Midnight Rambler," on the road in America, Summer 1972

Cinema Notes From All Over (Older and Wiser Division)

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--Red, released last year and now on DVD, is the kind of movie that makes one want to stand up and cheer, or it would if one weren't so comfortably ensconced on one's sofa, charmed to death by both the thought and the reality of an irony-laced thriller starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox. 
   Mr. Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA officer whose specialty was "wet work," which every filmgoer over the age of six knows means assassination. Here's our question: has the CIA developed new code terms for its labors now that the old ones have infiltrated thriller scripts bad, good and indifferent for the past twenty years? 
   Frank falls for Mary-Louise Parker--as who wouldn't?--even as his past comes back to haunt him in the form of lots of people trying to kill him.  
   The plot, as it should be, is a cheerful shambles: something about Guatemala in 1981 and the Vice President and an assassinated New York Times reporter and a list of people to be killed by the nefarious powers behind the powers that do the thing over in the place at the time of--well, you get the picture. The whole thing is an excuse for cast members to do their expert thing, tongue firmly planted in cheek. 
   And do it they do. In the hands of, oh, say, Jason Statham, Red (that stands for "Retired--Extremely Dangerous") would be naught but a grim march. Thank the film gods that this one fell into the hands of such experienced, clever actors.
   Mr. Willis, his face now hangdog-ish with age, is his usual wise-cracking and romantic self. The endlessly enchanting Mr. Freeman is a master at appearing to really listen to other actors/characters, a gift only outshined by his delightful smile. As an LSD-damaged ex-CIA conspiracy freak, John Malkovich offers the audience a broad wink: You and I know I'm always typecast as the crazy guy, so why don't we just relax and let me drift though this one, magnetism intact, acting chops subtly revved? Brian Cox, who will always be considered a character actor--and a gifted one, if there is a God--wears a Russian accent like he would a winter mink: with an amused flair and no little wit.
   Ms. Parker, sublime, couldn't have put a foot wrong if director Robert Schwentke had held a poisonous snake to her throat. And is there anything more heartwarming than the sight of Ms. Mirren wielding dangerous firearms while dressed in a flowing white evening gown and, well, combat boots?
    With the exception of Ms. Parker, Red cast members are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. The film is an offering to those of us who have been with them for the long haul. Will everyone be as charmed by the film? A younger filmgoer with whom we watched it certainly was, although, as he pointed out, "There's no sex scene!" Perhaps this is as it should be. Perhaps not. 
   In the end, it doesn't matter. Red has million-dollar talent on abundant display. And it's a whole lot of fun. 
  There's worse you could say about a movie. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cinema Notes From All Over (Heterosexual Marriage Division)

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--Just Go With It, in theaters today and starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, is the kind of light Hollywood comedy that keeps the world safe for white heterosexuals by affirming family values and subtly marginalizing all others. 
   Oh, wait, do we sound "politically correct"? Is that opening paragraph enough to put you off already?
  If so, perhaps we should review the concept of "political correctness" before we decode the movie.  
   It is a cultural truism that s/he who names the group wields the influence; in language there is power. 
   When a dominant societal group names a marginalized one, the language often is oppressive and purposefully divisive: blacks are "niggers" and "coons," Hispanics "wetbacks" and "beaners," Asians "slants" and "gooks," women "girls," homosexuals "faggots" and "fairies," etc. 
   The counter-cultural shifts in nineteen-sixties and -seventies America emboldened marginalized groups to assert themselves. Many signaled this move to power by re-naming themselves.
   Blacks became "African-Americans," Hispanics "Latinos," Asians "Asian/Pacific Islanders," women, well, "women" rather than the reductive "girls," homosexuals "lesbians and gays." (Later, the ultra-inclusive gay communities expanded the nomenclature to "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender," occasionally adding "queer"--a reclamation of a slur--and the somewhat baffling "questioning.") 
   The dominant power structure at the time largely was composed of conservative white males. No dominant power structure passively brooks--not for long anyway--any claim to power by the theretofore powerless. So conservative think tanks did what they often do: flipped language on its head and sent the new linguistic virus into the mainstream cultural conversation. 
   Thus was born the idea of "political correctness," a notion that re-marginalized the groups trying to claim a place at the cultural and legislative table. Conservatives shifted the conversation away from a rational consideration of what it might mean for disenfranchised people to be equal to their fellows and steered it to the “reality” that these very groups were telling others how to speak and think.
   This was, of course, an absurd claim, given that those very groups had essentially been told how to think and speak for decades, sometimes centuries, by the very same power structure then averring they were doing it to others. 
   The clearest example of this kind of linguistic jujitsu arrived, in the eighties and early nineties, in the form of conservative radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh's bloviating. Women at the time were agitating for pay equal to men's, an end to gender discrimination and the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
   Limbaugh dubbed them "feminazis." He thus equated American citizens campaigning for equal rights to psychopathic killers who had decimated roughly six million marginalized people in a country halfway around the globe four decades prior.  
   George Herbert Walker Bush, an American president who served from 1988-1992, did the same thing. Members from the protest group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) demonstrated outside the Bush summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, in the late eighties. They hoped to bring national attention to the Food and Drug Administration's foot-dragging on testing and approving potentially life-saving AIDS medications.   
   Mr. Bush said the protesters were using "Nazi tactics," an odd assertion to make about a group of Americans exercising their Constitutional right to free speech and peaceable assembly. 
   But this marginalized group--AIDS protesters agitating for sick and dying friends--was attempting to assert power. Mr. Bush, a representative of the conservative power structure, therefore equated them with--do you see a theme here?--psychopathic killers who had decimated roughly six million marginalized people in a country halfway around the globe four decades prior. (Victims included gays and lesbians, who were forced to wear identifying pink triangles in the concentration camps.)
   Now, then. Were some of the re-naming efforts by marginalized groups silly and fruitless? Sure. (Hello, “differently abled” and “height challenged” people.) And were some liberals humorless and insufferably self-righteous in the process of asserting power? Absolutely.
   But that only made it easier for conservatives to mock them as “politically correct.” This undermined the groups' legitimate claims to equality by ridiculing the groups as scolds, thus trivializing their drive to enjoy equal rights by likening them to junior high school assistant principles. 
    The vacuum of the "political correctness" argument is meant to leave no breathing room for actual conversation about the way people and groups appear and function in society. So for the moment why don't we suspend that intellectually lazy notion and see if we can't realistically dissect Just Go With It, which bears all kinds of culturally stereotyped characters. 
   We’ll first note this: in one format or another, First of All has been tracking and commenting upon these sorts of character-based media misrepresentations for twenty-five years. We are as tired of doing it as you may be of hearing it. Once-disenfranchised groups have made too many advancements for this sort of thing to much stir us. 
   That said, there is an inexplicable level of white, heterosexual hegemony in Just Go With It. This is odd when, for example, in California, ethnic minorities, taken together, comprise the state's majority. Or maybe it’s not so odd: the ethnic makeup of America is shifting rapidly--indeed, we have an African-American president--and a film such as this one soothes frayed Caucasian nerves by creating a white-dominant fantasy world.
   The only black character is an effeminate and sassy hairstylist. (That's a two-fer.) The other “gay” character is an effeminate hotel staffer. Then there are the videogame addicted Latina nanny and an overweight Hawaiian babysitter who passes out after eating too much food. (You know those female people of color: great for menial work but terrible at anything requiring maternal focus.)
  Even the lead character’s  ethnicity seems to be treated questionably. Mr. Sandler plays a Jewish plastic surgeon. As a young man he has a huge and ugly nose and is considered a schlump by his wife-to-be. In voiceover he notes that he later "got rid of the schnozz" with plastic surgery; we see him as a successful surgeon who is a sexual hit with young women (to whom he lies about being married in order to get laid, the concept that sets up the comedic engine of the film). 
   Doesn’t this imply that the way for the ugly duckling Jewish kid to become the hot adult swan is to surgically alter ethnically endemic features that also happen to the one root of the stereotype about his group? 
   As to the movie itself: it’s marginally cute. It has the sitcom-requisite smart, snotty and scheming kids. Mr. Sandler's character is charming. Ms. Aniston, whose movies we normally avoid, is completely likable. Nicole Kidman, in a role not credited on the movie's posters, shines as a domineering one-time sorority sister to Ms. Aniston's character. 
   Incidentally, with her surgically altered/destroyed face, Ms. Kidman now looks like an ancillary "Ren and Stimpy" character. There is a subtextual joke about this in the movie, and one wonders if Ms. Kidman was in on it. 
   Ms. Kidman the actress has denied having any cosmetic surgery save Botox injections. In one of the film’s scenes, her character asks Mr. Sandler's--the plastic surgeon--what, if anything, he'd do to cosmetically enhance her. He says "nothing," adding that she's perfect. 
   In fact, her face looks like a late-period Picasso. That a plastic surgeon should state that he'd do "nothing" to enhance her looks implies that enough has been done already. But this is never said. Instead, Mr. Sandler's character, getting in a dig to win Ms. Aniston's character's approval, zings Ms. Kidman's character by suggesting that "they"--a reference to her plastic surgeon/s-- took too much fat out of her arms. Her face, however, save that it is "perfect," goes uncommented upon, even as it appears as expressive as a Noh mask.
   Just Go With It is a purposefully frivolous film in which man gets—and marries—woman in the end as the fantasy world’s marginalized people look on and cheer. (The black and presumably gay hairstylist makes Ms. Aniston’s character look fabulous so that she can perpetuate a ruse that unintentionally winds up with her marrying Mr. Sandler’s character. The hairstylist no doubt does it with the stark and dispiriting knowledge that in most American states he cannot legally marry his boyfriend.)
   The movie is a cultural warm bath for the dominant power structure and its aspirational admirers that passes itself off as a comedy. 
   Is it funny? 
   We laughed once.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frightening the Women and the Horses

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--A couple canoodled--by which we mean aggressively swapped spit--on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train today, prompting onlookers to note: We don't care what the heterosexuals do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, but really, do they have to flaunt their mainstream lifestyle in public, forcing it upon good citizens the world over? 

Can You Hear Me Now?

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--We have been feeling a certain dispiritedness of late over the state of cell phone reception. 
   Inasmuch as we use an iPhone, we are, for the moment only, stuck with a massive carrier the name of which rhymes with Ayy Tee and Tee. Their transmitter technology, in a word, blows. Calls consantly drop like standards at closing time. 
   Another company, the name of which rhymes with Ver-I-Zon, has won the right to work with the iPhone. This may be good news. We do not yet know. (For more, see "UPDATE," below.)
   We do know this. We grew up using land lines. The transmission was so clear and the sound so perfect that the party with whom you were speaking seemed close enough for you to reach out and touch inappropriately. Well, or, you know. In addition, calls never dropped. 
   With cell phones, what we've gained in portability we've lost in the consistent intimacy of conversation. We don't know about you, but countless times we've been in the midst of a deep, personal discussion only to have the fucking  phone go dead. We can't think of anything more frustrating, except perhaps the fact that a certain Northern political entertainer, whose name rhymes with Kara Talin, is in any way considered a bright and shining light of, well, anything. 
   It is easy, God knows, to be curmudgeonly and lament the so-called good old days. But to do so is as intellectually lazy as is Kara Talin's every utterance. That said, it's odd, not to say occasionally infuriating, that our primary communication device, wonderfully transportable though it is, has returned us to the days of two tin cans and a string. 
   Honestly, they sent a man to the moon; you're telling us it's impossible to make it so that a friggin' cell phone convo can be enjoyed without it turning to ash and blowing away in the wind of Kara Talin's hot air? 

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reports today: "Verizon Wireless said the number of iPhones it sold in the first two hours of availability Thursday exceeded the one-day total for any other device's debut in the carrier's history." 
   The newspaper, reporting on its website, neglected to say how many Verizon-compatible iPhone 4s were sold between 3a.m. and 5a.m. EST Thursday, a fact that does not boost confidence in the information-gathering skills of the Fourth Estate. 
   Nonetheless, Feb. 10 is the phone's official launch day. Stay tuned. 


The World at Your Fingertips (and Palm)

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca.--Perhaps you noticed the iPad-touting bus-shelter poster campaign still in evidence a month or so ago. 
   There is an obvious overt message to the graphics: just as you once relaxed with a book or magazine, so can you do the same with this easy and efficient new gadget. 
   But is it us, or is there a subliminal message to the imagery as well? 
   Hint #1: What's one of the top three uses of the internet? 
   Hint #2: The New Yorker can, in many ways, be considered intellectual porn. 

Gratuitous Photos of Gorgeous Guys the World Over (Speedos in the Heat Division)

BERKELEY, Ca.--Last night and today the University of California at Berkeley men's swim team, ranked No. 1 in the PAC-10, trounced, respectively, the University of Southern California and Cal State University Bakersfield at the Spieker Pool on the UC Berkeley campus. 
   Should you be in the neighborhood, Cal is hosting No. 2-ranked Stanford mens team Feb. 19 at 1p.m. It is safe to say First of All will be there with bells, if not Speedos, on. 
   Interested in results of last night's and today's meets? Check the Cal mens swimming website: (We apologize for the old-school cut-and-paste offer. Hyperlinks disappear from this blog within a day or so, alas.) 
   Here at First of All you'll find no stats, merely an appreciation of the aesthetics of the sport--and the sportsmen. (Click on the pix to supersize the goodness.)