The Incredibles

I saw The Incredibles on Sunday (before going to a birthday party for a new friend and meeting some pretty cool new people in the city).

I’m kind of torn about the movie; I really, really wanted to love it, but I think I just liked it a lot. It’s a very well-done action movie, with some sequences that are spectacular. Technically, it’s flawless. The animation is perfect. The hair and cloth and water and lava and lighting effects are amazing. The set design is extremely imaginative — all inspired by 50’s and 60’s cool and James Bond movies. There’s so much to be impressed with; the movie really is the state of the art.

But overall, it just had this tone of bitterness and pettiness, smugness, a desperation to be cool. I kept being reminded of ShrekIncredibles is light years ahead of that movie in every respect, but what I found so repulsive about Shrek was that it had no soul. The Incredibles never seems to have any real love for its characters; it feels as if it’s more concerned with being cool and not being corny for long enough to care about anything that’s going on.

Disney movies have a reputation for being maudlin, treacly, and formulaic. But Pixar’s already found the antidote — movies like Finding Nemo and Toy Story that manage to be cool while still being sincere. They already broke from that formula, and it wasn’t just by dropping the songs and the wacky sidekicks, and it wasn’t by some fascination with being cool or letting characters die or any nonsense like that.

For that matter, The Iron Giant broke the formula, and it had a lot of heart and sincerity. I have to wonder what happened with this one. I’m probably going to see it again, and I’m all over the DVD, but I can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed.

A General Malaise

Huge dark clouds were looming over the bay for the longest time today, until they finally broke and pissed all over the residents of a city dealing with the beginnings of its post-traumatic stress disorder.

And I spent the day just coming up with over-dramatic lines like that. The weather put a damper on my plans to “see San Francisco,” so I spent the day wallowing in self-pity, staring at the inbox that didn’t fill and the phone that didn’t ring. Occasionally interrupted by a mournful, dramatic sigh.

But on the bright side, there’s only so much of that even I can take, so once that was over I was able to come up with a plan:

  1. Get my shit together.
  2. Do the stupid stuff that I always planned to do when I had more time, like working on the website and learning Japanese (I really think so!) and seeing more movies so I’m not such a cinema illterate and I’m not wasting all that Netflix money.
  3. Stop spending so much time online. It’s a huge time-suck, it’s generally unhealthy and depressing, and unless you make the effort to see people face-to-face, the relationships just end up being shallow with no real solid ground.
  4. Quit smoking.

I’ll get around to that last one.

But… I never learned to READ!

Seems I’ve been very distracted over the past few months, and over the course of that I’ve forgotten what I used to do in my free time. There are clues scattered all around my apartment; apparently, I used to watch movies on DVD’s or play these “games” on the television or computer device. Occasionally, it seems, I would read a book. Especially this week, I’m going to have to slow things down and figure out how to get back into my hobbies so I don’t freak out so much when I’m not working and not going out.

Did nothing, seriously, nothing today except vote. Voting in California is like taking the SAT’s or something; you’ve got to study and take a cheat sheet to the polling place. I think I voted correctly on all the various city and state propositions. I’d assumed that it would be as simple as finding out my governor’s position on each proposition and just voting the opposite, but it turns out politics is a shade more complicated than that.

I flip-flopped on a bunch of them, and can’t even remember which side I came down on for some, for instance the stem cell research bond. But I know that I did vote to keep Candlestick Park named Candlestick Park. Screw the tax revenue; having to call the thing “3COM Park” is just an embarrassment.

And speaking of symbolic propositions, there was a weird one to make the city’s official position against the war in Iraq and for a recall of all our troops. I voted in favor of it, because I’m against the war, but still think it’s a pretty boneheaded thing to do via a city proposition. I can’t imagine the kind of stuff they’re voting on in Berkeley.

And I’m still smoking.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Today’s the first day of a week off, my first since May but what feels like 15 years. The past couple of weeks at work have been very slow, waiting for the other shoe to drop and then just sitting there without much to do. it just seemed like a better idea to go ahead and take the time off than to keep spending all day at work doing nothing.

So I’m at home doing nothing. I made it a point not to make any real plans, but to just spend the whole time in San Francisco, finally getting to see the city. And it’s an astoundingly beautiful day outside. And so far I’ve just spent the morning reading e-mail and browsing the internets. I keep thinking I should go look at the bay, or take a walk along Golden Gate Bridge, or go to the park and finally see the buffaloes I keep hearing about.

But then again, there’s that couch there, with a TiVo full of stuff to watch. And some DVDs. And a couple of videogames. This is going to be tough.

And I was too bored to do it today, so I’ll quit smoking tomorrow. Probably. Maybe.

The Peeve

Went to see The Grudge with Drella today up in Marin. To quote Crow T Robot: “This movie’s really not very good!”

It wasn’t awful, I guess, and there were some genuinely creepy things going on. Especially at the climax. And I did like that they kept it set in Tokyo, and explained adquately why there’d be so many Americans involved in the story. But it just didn’t hold together at all and just seemed silly. A bunch of horror movie scenes strung together with a bare minimum of real plot or sense at all.

And there were some scenes that were just laughable. In particular the one where Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character does a web search for stories with the name “Tohio” occuring in the year 2001, and instantly comes up with not just one but both of the stories that are relevant to what she needs. The bit where a woman’s in the elevator and sees the ghosts of Tohio and his mother on every single floor was pretty silly too — I kept expecting them to go, “Um, lady, could we just… okay and the… could you stop the elevat… okay, but…”

When we were out in the mall waiting for Drella’s ride to come, a young Asian boy came crawling past us on the floor. (We’d been standing next to the kids’ play area). He stopped, turned and looked directly at both of us. We both got kind of a panicked look on our faces and backed away slowly; hope we didn’t traumatize the poor kid.

Free at Last?

This is the first weekend I’ve had that I can remember where I wasn’t either at work or feeling like I was supposed to be at work. It seems that this entire year has been one long crunch mode. Over and over again I’ve turned down offers to go out and do stuff, because I just didn’t have the time. My Tivo is hemmoraging perfectly fine programming that I just don’t have time to watch. I’ve got a stack of videogames that I said I’d check out when I got time, a stack of DVDs I’ve bought and haven’t yet unwrapped, and (most daunting) a stack of books that I’m determined to read to make myself more literate.

And this weekend I did nothing. Yes, I spent a lot of it just sitting and staring. Everything seems like too much effort; even watching a movie. I just wanted to be. I’ve been in that weird state of hyper-boredom — plenty of stuff to do, but not wanting a part of any of it, and still desperate for something to happen.

I did finally go see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and I thought that it was just amazing. Except for Gwyneth Paltrow, but she gave it her best shot. There was just so much that the movie got dead-on right, that it seemed like it came directly out of my subconscious — that is exactly what a ray-gun is supposed to look and sound like!

Other than that, though, nothing. And it’s been driving me nuts. Maybe I’m still just decompressing. I hope it’s over with soon.

Signs from the cab seat

Last night, in celebration of the game’s finally going into CQC (something quality control, meaning that the game’s almost done), I went out to a bar with Alex and Bailey.

As the night wore on and we drank more, the conversation turned to a religious “debate.” I can’t say that it was all that deep, considering we were in a bar and had been taking full advantage of it. But it was fairly impassioned and belligerent, anyway. Alex is a “devout” atheist, Bailey’s agnostic, and I consider myself a Christian. It was the usual kind of discussion I’ve had with atheists in the past — I don’t believe that I’m “fooling myself” by believing in God, and I don’t think that the foolish and evil things said and done by people in the name of religion invalidates the entire notion of faith and spirituality. I’ve tried to conceive of a universe where God doesn’t exist, and it just makes absolutely no sense to me. There’s just too much beauty and too many people doing good things without realizing that’s what they’re doing.

We eventually got kicked out of the bar (because it closed, not because we were arguing) and started to make our way home. The last thing I said, as far as I can remember, was, “I can’t explain why I believe the things I do, I just do.”

Bailey and I shared a cab, and as I got in he handed something to me. “I just sat on this; the people in the cab before us must’ve left it. Do you want it? Ironic, huh?” It was a small crucifix, like you wear on a necklace. I should try to find a way to return it to its owner, but I can’t even remember what cab company it was. Instead, I’m thinking I’m going to find a chain for it and wear it myself.

No hay venda

Another night, another long-winded movie review. I watched Mulholland Drive last night, even though it was way way too late. I kept thinking I should cut it off, but it was so compelling I had to keep watching.

I’ve been hearing about the movie for years, but all I’d heard was that it was “long, obtuse, and nonsensical, but it had two chicks totally making out with each other.” I wish I hadn’t dismissed it so quickly, and I’d seen it sooner. Granted, I’m not the target audience, but the sex scenes weren’t all that spectacular, and definitely not the most memorable thing about the movie. And maybe it was just the sleeping pills talking, but it all made perfect sense to me.

This has turned into something of an unintentional movie festival, since the last few movies I’ve watched have all had similar themes: passion, obsession, desire vs. reality. The story, such as it is, has already been told hundreds of times before, but where Lynch’s genius comes in is making it relevant to anyone, instead of just another True Hollywood Story. Not everyone has had a dream of going to Hollywood and becoming a Big Star in the movies, but everyone knows what it feels like to have a dream deferred. It’s never a slow, inevitable decline into disappointment — you wake up and suddenly realize that you’ve been crushed. You’ve lost everything, to the point where you’re not even the same person you once were. And Lynch tells the whole story like a dream, “distilled movie,” where you’re not bogged down in a predictable story but having images implanted directly into your brain.

This movie made me realize that for all the artifice and obscurity, David Lynch is surprisingly sentimental and traditionalist. He does innocent characters better than anyone. Never mocking them, never reducing them to caricature, but genuinely following along with excitement as they start out on a new adventure and get wrapped up in the intrigue. They’re completely earnest. They’re naive, but not stupid. And when they lose that innocence, it’s always sad, never an inevitable part of growing up (although Audrey Horne from “Twin Peaks” might be a case of that). His stories have a clear delineation between good and evil — his villains are compelling but never sympathetic; they’re cold and inscrutable, or petty and venal. They are the ones who are caricatures.

When Betty and Rita are listening to the singer perform “Crying” at the theater, they’re genuinely moved. Their emotions are completely real. Even though they’ve just been told by the MC that none of this is real, it’s all artifice, it’s all a recording. It’s all real to them. And when the singer collapses but the song continues, it’s genuinely tragic. It’s not a case of “well, we warned you not to get too wrapped up in it.” It’s an incredibly powerful scene and an amazing message: don’t limit yourself, don’t hold back, don’t be afraid to really feel something.

With all the shallow, faux-cynical, and self-consciously ironic movies we’re drowning in, it’s refreshing to realize that the most sincere-yet-not-maudlin filmmaker we have nowadays, is the one who has scenes of violent masturbation, fatal auto accidents, severed ears, and dancing midgets.

Now I’m going to have to buy the soundtrack, just for “Llorando.” And Naomi Watts was absolutely amazing. It’s so cool to see an actress who just “gets” it. She had to be all over the place in the movie, from wide-eyed innocent to spent and embittered, and she played every scene perfectly. My friend Alex tells me that in real life she’s as dumb as a bag of hammers, but I have a hard time believing that. I suspect he’s just jealous because she can do a better American accent than he can.

What was that all about?

Well, I’m blaming last night’s little panic attack episode on a combination of job stress, lack of sleep, and reading my friend’s very dark and cynical short stories right before I tried to go to bed. And, of course, the typical self-indulgent whining. But hey, this is a blog, after all.

Job situation is almost somewhat looking up: a ton of bugs got magically whisked away from me today, and the end is (supposedly) in sight. I’m already planning what I’m going to do with my time off. It involves sleeping, seeing more of the city, going out with friends, and the sweet, sweet healing power of booze.

Plus, Rachael got me tickets to the Pixies concert in Berkeley later this month! How much does that rock? Well, it rocks a good bit. And it rocks hard. This time I’m going to stop concentrating on how old I am and just focus on how old they are now. A while ago my friend Chris pointed out that Frank Black is looking more and more like Divine every time he sees him. Ha ha! Take that, so-called rock “legends!”

Plan for tonight: watch Mulholland Drive while waiting for the Tylenol PM to kick in. Seeing a David Lynch movie while under sedation. What could possibly go wrong?

Desperately Optimistic

Well, if this is a journal, and the whole point is for me to become a better writer, then I guess I have to write down the bad stuff as well as the good.

I’m always hearing from people that I’m grouchy, or surly, or cynical, or hard to read, when I think anyone who really knows me knows that I’m completely the opposite. Several years ago I got into a nasty fight with someone whose opinion I had previously respected, and he told me “you’re just so hard to read.” I stewed on that for a while, and eventually told my friend Bret, and he replied, “No you’re not! You’re like a wire! A tightly-pulled wire. The slightest disturbance just vibrates throughout the whole of your being.” Finally, someone who gets it! I wish he and I talked more.

Usually, I think Candide was a cynic. This isn’t just the best of all possible worlds, this world is pretty freaking awesome on its own, no qualification necessary. There’s just so much beauty and wonder in the world, and so many people who do good things so easily, without giving it a second thought. I’m desperately optimistic; clinging to the idea that everything is going to be okay despite all evidence to the contrary.

Except when I can’t. Because now I’m thinking that everything I’ve assumed or taken on faith is wrong. And I was a sap for believing it. The people who I always assumed had it all figured out, are just as miserable as everyone else. Not only was I naive to believe I could have all the things I wanted; I’ve been wanting the wrong things. Nobody has that perfect life. Nobody accomplishes anything. Nobody is truly happy, or even content, because there’s always someone else to pick away at it, or that desire that’s always just out of reach. Each of us is completely alone, doomed never to have true insight into anyone else, only passing time with each other to kill time until we’re dead. And as proof of that, everything here can be dismissed as self-indulgent, whining, crap instead of genuine emotion, or even a genuine panic attack.

I’m not sure what brought this on, whether it was job stress, or lack of sleep, or too much sleep, or staring at myself too long in the mirror tonight, or something I read before trying to go to sleep, or realizing that this year has passed without my paying attention to it, or going outside and seeing the fog roll in just over the roofs of the buildings as if it were pressing down on everything, or worrying about the election, or wondering whether next year would be the same as this one.

All I know is that I’m looking at a picture of myself from 15 years ago. And I’m back in Georgia at a friend’s house, and I’m holding my puppy, and we’re both smiling, and I vividly remember that day, and how I hadn’t started smoking, and how I had so many dreams of what I was going to accomplish, and whom I was going to love, and how I was going to raise my kids, and the kind of man I was going to be, and I wish to God I was back there right now.