Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hate On His Left Hand, Love On His Right

1. Makers of Hollywood crime films who insist upon one-dimensional female characters. I’m not out for any political agenda. I just want to see well-developed, complex characters in the movies I watch. Most action movies, everybody’s one-dimensional. But the crime genre since the 1970s has had a kind of “literary” air—the characters are supposed to be tortured, torn, morally ambivalent. But it’s almost always the male characters. My one complaint about Scorsese’s masterpiece The Departed? The only important female character is a bore. She’s furniture. I’m on this rant because I just watched We Own The Night, saw the same phenomenon. Eva Mendez “plays” Amanda Juarez, which means she sits in Joaquin Phoenix’s lap and kisses him loudly on the mouth. Often. Oh, and she goes to visit her mother when she’s supposed to be on police protection. Big twist!
It just irks me that writers with the talent to create the most emotionally gut-wrenching male characters in crime films just fall apart when they’re asked to project, even a little bit, into a female character. Are we males that clueless? I understand crime movies are traditionally about men because men traditionally perpetrate and investigate crimes, but it’s 2008 and women can be just as morally elusive. Maybe it’s the old crime archetypes that hold women back: they’re either the Femme Fatale or the Girl Friday. But we’ve got to break out of those molds.
Even Gone Baby Gone, an otherwise excellent movie, gives Michelle Monaghan (as Angie Gennaro) almost nothing to do. She broods, and then she broods. She does two important things in the movie, but neither one of those things is particularly motivated, based on the little we know about her character. She’s a step in the right direction, sure, and the sad part is that nearly all the scenes left on the cutting room floor (or the DVD archives) are scenes that develop her character. So the depth was there in the first place—it’s just that Affleck decided to cut it out. Still, Affleck deserves much credit for what he and Amy Ryan did with the character Helene McCready. That’s a complicated woman worthy of an Oscar-nominated performance.
2. Greeters. Every damn time I walk into the store I get a fake-enthusiastic “hello there!” from an employee who obviously couldn’t give a crap about me. It happens in Blockbuster all the time, and I feel required to say hello back so I don’t look like an asshole. But I don’t want to say hello, and I don’t want to be greeted. If I wanted to be greeted, I’d come over and say hello myself, which I will not, because I do not want to talk to you. I want to rent a movie.
Who’s idea is this? Obviously company big-wigs make these decisions and pass them down to managers who pass them down to the rank-and-file employees. “You gotta say hi to everybody who walks through that door.” Do customers honest-to-God like this kind of shit? I mean, maybe I’m just a misanthrope, but I’ve never wanted all retail and food service to become like Disney World. You got to Disney World, you pay extra, to feel like you’re in a fantasy land where everybody is happy and friendly. Are we so fucking deluded to think that there’s even a scrap of authenticity in a minimum-wage-teenage-employee’s enthusiastic greeting? Please.
It seems to be getting worse. I go to Moe’s (a chain Mexican fast food store here in Atlanta) because I like their fish tacos. I don’t go there because I like what happens when I walk in the door, which is that everyone stops what he’s doing and yells “Welcome to Moe’s!” like a football coach telling you to go run laps. It’s so contrived, I almost lose my appetite. Is there one person, just one person on this entire planet except the dumbass who came up with the idea, who likes to be party to this kind of behavior? Or worse: I went to Joe’s Crab Shack last weekend and witnessed an entire squadron of waitresses forced to gather together and dance to that stupid disco song about a carwash. They did the Electric Slide (or some-such dance) right there in the restaurant, whooping along at the appropriate parts. Are these waitresses or performing monkeys? I was not amused. I could tell the waitresses were not particularly amused. I was deeply, deeply embarrassed for them, and I just wanted to eat my crab legs in peace. Only a total asswipe would be amused by that.
1. Trent Reznor, even after all these years. I’ve been a Nine Inch Nails fan since Pretty Hate Machine, even over those long years of silence between albums. Yes, I’ll admit that some of Trent’s charm has faded now that I’m in my thirties and his teenage angst lyrics don’t quite hit me in the way they used to. And, yes, I’ll admit he’s stagnated a little bit since The Fragile and his best work is probably behind him. But even after all these years the guy’s got the verve to kick the music industry where it hurts the most.
Three days ago Nine Inch Nails released their new album. Even the most hardcore fans—and there are millions around the world, mind you—had absolutely no idea a new Nine Inch Nails album was on its way until the moment it dropped. There were little clues like the cryptic “two weeks” posted two weeks ago on the official website, but no media, no leaks, nothing. Just Sunday morning Trent says, here you go: Ghosts I-IV. It’s 36 new songs. Thirty-six. Almost two hours of new music. Not remixes, new music. The man is beautifully insane. Yes, it’s all instrumentals and some of it is very ambient and minimalist (some may read this as “boring”), but it’s still a major NIN release with absolutely no buzz about its release.
What’s better, the music is only available online right now, and it costs five bucks. For thirty-six songs. Since Trent is now totally unconnected to a record company, he can still make some nice dough releasing his own stuff for five bucks, cutting out the middleman who takes most of the proceeds anyhow.
Because of its experimental peculiarities, Ghosts I-IV isn’t for everybody, even some longtime NIN fans. Even I have to admit some patches of it are underdeveloped and should probably have been left out, but I’m just glad I have a bunch of good instrumental pieces I can listen to while I write. I can’t listen to music with English lyrics while I write, so I’ve been looking for instrumental or foreign-language stuff that fits my writing mood. This’ll do it. The Sigur Ros albums were getting kind of worn, anyhow.
2. Timothy Hallinan, author of A Nail Through the Heart, for letting Pyres grow on him.
The blog “Stuff White People Like.” An ongoing list of, well, you get the idea. I am profoundly amused by the writer’s uncanny ability to convince me that I am indeed a white person, through and through. On the other hand, I am horrified to learn that I am essentially a parody of myself. Look back over my blog entries and you will find that when I am being my most earnest, I am a joke, because I am exactly like all other white people (well, “progressive” young white people). I am a stereotype. Thanks, man. ‘Preciate it.


Tim said...

Derek --

Thanks so much for putting me in Column A, but I'm humiliated that you read my first reaction to your book. As I said when I apologized for it, I had no business reacting to anything t all that month, much less a book as good as "Pyres."

Also, this is the first time I've seen your site, and it's beautiful -- one of the best I've ever seen for a writer. Wordpress sometimes arbitrarily decides to inform me of an incoming link, which it did when you put up this post. Your designers are terrific.

Maybe one of these days we'll meet up.


Amy said...

Hey Derek,
Great blog! Glad I found it (by reading Chad's blog). This entry cracks me up, esp. the part about "greeters." Cheers, Amy

Derek Nikitas said...

Thanks for the positives on my website, Tim (though all credit goes to the designer, Sara Corsi)--and, hey, don't worry a thing about last month's review! I respect your opinions immensely--both the original and the reconsidered one, though I have to admit I'm partial to the reconsidered one!

Derek Nikitas said...

Hey, Amy, good to hear from you--and nice to see you for a couple minutes at AWP. $47 drinks at the hotel bar. Yeesh. Sure can't beat the French House for cost-effective imbibing.

Anonymous said...

I've read the blog about the stuff white people like. I'm not white but have an affinity or predilection for most things on that list. Maybe I'm the anomaly.