Monthly Archives: December 2008

Ten unorganized, unqualified thoughts on ‘The Wrestler’

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1. Is it OK to dislike a movie for having too-humble ambitions?

2, The other day I saw 'The Wrestler', the new movie by Darren Aronofsky, the dude who did 'Pi', 'Requiem for a Dream' and 'The Fountain'. I won't say I unreservedly loved all three of those movies, but at least I felt like I wanted to talk about them afterward. Aronofsky seemed like he was getting more ambitious, interesting and … cinematic, I guess, with each movie.

3. Which is what makes 'The Wrestler' so disappoiinting. The only way I can describe it is that it's precisely what you would expect a movie about a washed-up wrestler to consist of.

4. Seriously, you could have diagrammed the whole thing on a napking during the previews. Dude has health problems. Dude doesn't perform as well as he used to. Dude reached his peak decades ago (telling that story would have had much more potential for Big Drama, making it unsuitable for Indie Storytelling). It gets even more standard as it goes along. Dude has an estranged daughter. Dude falls in love with a stripper.

5. Literally the only detail of the movie that was unpredictable was that his daughter is a lesbian. Eyebrows raise, lower. That was the only exercise I got.

6. It sounds like I'm bashing the movie, but I don't really mean to. All the performances are great, it never panders to you and it hits Roger Ebert's 'three great scenes, no bad scenes' rule of Great Movies. 
 
7. So it's not painful. It's just that it hits its verisimilitude marks a little too hard. The camera is shaky, the dialogue is succinct, exposition is kept to a minimum and each character's arc is shallowed down to real-life scale.

8. But that's sort of the problem. So-called 'indie' movies have become as formulaic as blockbusters. From the hop-right-in beginning to the unresolved ending, I've seen all this before. And I don't even watch that many movies anymore.

9. I went out of my way to see this movie because I thought Aronofsky would do something interesting with a genre that needs a facelift more than Mickey Rourke ever did. All I could really say after seeing 'The Wrestler' was 'It is what it is.' That's what I said after I saw fucking 'Get Smart'.

10.
I'm getting to the point where I'd rather see an ambitious failure than a day-labourer like 'The Wrestler'. Again, it's not that it's bad. It's just that, considering the talent-density of the opening credits, it's like having dinner at Julia Child's house and being served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

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You was doin’ 55 in a 54

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I got busted by the cops for running a red light yesterday. I run lights regularly, and on the Scale of Inevitableness, me getting ticketed is somewhere on the level of Sunrise, or Mortality.

I was hatted, scarfed and gloved, pedaling through the frozen suburbs. This being dinnertime Denmark, no one was on the streets, so I was blasting through reds like a joystick-wheelchair, paying exclusive attention to the cross streets. I didn't see the oncoming cop til I was already halfway through a red-lighted intersection, and I pulled over to the side before he even turned around to beckon me to the curb.

I had my speech all prepared: 'I ran that light, officer, and I deserve a ticket. I'm not going to argue this, so just write it out before my pinkies freeze, and I'll pay it tomorrow.'

I was in no position to argue, and my head was already doing the math.

Red-light-running ticket: 500 kroner.
Number of times I run red lights per day: At least 10
Days per week: 7
Weeks per year: 52
Number of years I've been in Denmark: 3

Per-Unit Cost of Running Red Lights: <.04 kroner (or 1/10th of a cent)

Fair.

When the cop pulled up beside me, I saw that someone else had run the same light after me, and the cop was pulling us both over. Before I could give my little speech, the cop started his: 'You guys know, right, that when a light is red, you're supposed to stop? You guys know that?'

I remembered the principal's office era, and decided to stay silent until I knew where he was going with this.

'We can all agree on that? Yeah? Good … Have a good night, gentlemen.'

And he vroomed off. That was it. Warning, yes!

I looked at the other dude who'd been pulled over, and he had the same 'I defeated the universe' look on his face that I did. I wanted to high-five or something, but my hands were cold. We both got back on our scanda-Schwinns and set off, feeling lucky and repentant.

Until three abandoned intersections later, when we both resumed reducing our per-unit cost. As we enacted the 'see red, slow down, look both ways, speed up' routine halfway back to civilization, he looked at me, flexed a glove and said 'Fuck, it's cold!' There's no way to translate my favored response to that, so I just said it in English: 'I know, right?!'  

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Well I got the money in my bank account back. How do you like them apples?

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MOSCOW — Roman Malinovsky had been salting away his salary at his local bank to pay for graduate school in Germany. Yelena Samoilova, a supervisor at a publishing house, was saving at the same branch to buy a Ford Focus. Olga Sudakova, who was a little embarrassed to be living with her parents at age 33, almost had enough money in her account there for a down payment on an apartment.

They were part of the new middle class in Moscow, confident that with Russia's economic revival and with the government’s guarantees they could rely on the banking system, no matter its troubled history. But when they went to the small bank on Kalanchyovskaya Street to retrieve their money over the past two months, they got a shock that made them question whether life here had truly changed.

“They said, ‘There’s no money,’” said Mr. Malinovsky, 26, who had about $3,500 at the bank, Capital Credit. “‘There is no cash.’ That is how they explained it.”

This sort of thing rather reliably breaks my heart: People who work hard, in good faith, day after night, and the system fails them. I can read stories of grandma's heroic battle with cancer, see pan-and-scans of hurricane-flattened homes, listen to son-loving, mother-hugging ballads all day long, my cheeks dry as a Mormon wedding.

Break this what-did-we-do-wrong shit out on a Sunday morning, though, and my eyebrows go all pagoda-shaped, crow's feet a fucking delta of sympathy-juice. I was born in the wrong decade, man. I feel like there's gonna be a lot more where these came from in the next few years.

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Spreading my boringness around the internet

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Christmas-besity

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Yesterday was the first time I’ve seen the sun in Copenhagen since September

So I pedaled around in the frost, teaching my pupils how to dilate again.

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Copenhagen's like a mean grandma putting on makeup. It gets brighter and brighter, but it never gets warmer.

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A small point on the Rick Warren thing

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I'm tired of people defending the choice of Rick Warren by saying that Obama wanted to include Evangelicals in his inauguration, and make them feel represented. That goal, by itself, is fine. But did it have to be Rick Warren, the purpose-driven twatmonster? Is there seriously no one who represents American Evangelicals who doesn't compare homosexuality to incest, and try to pulpit-bully women back to the 1950s?

Defending Warren on these grounds is like saying 'I invited O.J. Simpson to give the keynote address because I wanted to include African-Americans.' Or 'To ensure representation of British people, the National Anthem will be sung by Noel Gallagher.'

Surely there's a way to not-snub the Christian vote without slightly shitting on the gays. There have to be Evangelical preachers who aren't anti-everything-fun, right? One? Somewhere?

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Ten unorganized, unqualified thoughts on the financial crisis

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1. Lately me and Republican Friend have been engaged in a mobius strip of an argument about who is to blame for the financial crisis. He says people spent more than they were making for longer than the economy could sustain it. They deserve, in short, the unemployment and repo manning we're all going to live with the next three years.

2. He's not wrong, really. We did spend too much for too long. People like me, with incomes that aren't below the poverty line but can see it from their house, shouldn't have iPods and flatscreens and new winter wardrobes and cars that smell like new cars without that tree dangling from the rear view mirror.

3. But it's more complicated than that. Americans spending beyond our means wasn't just something that happened because the Greed Index spiked one summer in 1992. Getting people to spend more than they have has been a deliberate business strategy for much of American industry for the last two decades.

4. Credit card companies, for example, targeted subprime borrowers (i.e. poor people) who were likely to pay their monthly minimums but not their full balance. This kept 41 percent interest strapped for years to the backs of people struggling to spare $50 a month.

5. And look at this parenthetical aside in a great article about the car industry bailout:

(In the 1980s, by contrast, Spinella says the average car loan lasted only three years and required a 20 percent down payment, which limited the kind of negative equity problem seen today.)

For the last 10 years, car loans have regularly topped seven years, with cupholder-sized down payments. The article shows how rolling trade-ins and seven-year payment had some people paying $40,000 for a Ford Focus.

6. Subprime house loans, subprime car loans, subprime Visa. The economy was bobbing on a vast wading pool of interest.

7. But look, Republican Friend says in my head, these people should have known better. This other great article mentions a California fruit-picker earning $14,000 per year who was able to get a mortage for a $750,000 home. Why should my tax dollars help out this idiot?

8. The problem with this 'they were greedy! Let them rot!' ethos is twofold:

  • First, choosing to do something, stupid or smart, never takes place in a vacuum. You don't think the mortgage agent had a duty to deny that loan to the fruit picker with two-car-garage dreams? In the case of car loans, were we relying on car salesmen to convey the moral hazard of rolling debt to their customers? The entire economy, from Wall Street to Best Buy to GM to Starbucks, had an incentive to encourage you to spend money you didn't have.

  • Second, blaming consumers isn't all that useful. Yeah yeah, we suck for having three credit cards for every letter in our GED, but now what? The job market is going to suck for the next few bubble-less years. If it turns out that the best thing for the country is to help people pay off their mortages, or forgive a shitload of debt, or extend unemployment benefits, so be it. We shouldn't be debating how to punish jobless people who have flatscreens.    

9. So the closest thing to an opinion or a conclusion about all this I can come to is: Everybody failed.

  • You failed because you bought a bunch of shit you didn't need.
  • The mortgage agents and car dealerships and credit card companies failed because they exploited their expertise in an area that most consumers don't understand, and told you it was acceptable to take out a loan to buy a latte.
  • The government failed for letting them do this to us, and (still) failing to punish the people who exploited their influence and expertise. If doctors started advising patients en masse to undergo risky procedures just so the hospital could pay its shareholders enough and on time, we certainly wouldn't be debating how much to blame the armless.

10. I don't really know what any of this means for the bailouts. I couldn't work up too outrage about them because they were so obviously inevitable, just like the 2012 New York Times headline, 'Report: Bailout Funds Mostly Benefited Already-Rich'. All we can do is wait the crisis out until the economy appoints a new demographic group to replace the middle class as the nation's pooper scoop. In the meantime, enjoy your iPod.

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The stupidest way to begin a sentence

From Jonah Lehrer, talking about a woman who lost her life savings to this Madoff pyramid scheme dude:

It's an awful story, and I can't imagine how terrible Penney must feel. And yet, I read her entire tale without feeling any genuine sympathy. Sure, she lost all of her money, but so what? It's her own fault for investing with Madoff in the first place. If she hadn't been so greedy then none of this would have happened. That was my callous first reaction. (And, if my friends are a representative sample, I'm not the only one who felt such heartless feelings.) I blamed the victim.

Of the seven words in that phrase, Lehrer appears to misunderstand four of them. It's like he's saying 'if my ice cubes are warm and liquid…'

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I denied my mom’s friend request

Dear Mom,

I know I still hold a series of deficits for the head-first labor, the bed-wetting, the braces, the moody angst, college tuition and that time I made you take me to see 'Problem Child 2'.

But can I make it up to you without adding you on Facebook? I'm not ready for you to see the genital references on my wall, the filthy verbing in my applications or my pictures tagged 'TUESDAY-DRUNK AGAIN'. My heart breaks a little bit every time I click 'ignore'.

… but I'm not going to stop clicking it.

Love,

Your ungrateful Mike

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