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October 2002
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loser

"It felt, for some of us, as if we were watching an ongoing street accident. We felt helpless; he was determined to be doomed.... He exhausted even his own supporters. But, lord, he was clever and he was demonically intuitive, and he had such self-dramatizing brio. He liked the hopelessness of it all; the role he played was the loser."

No, it's not Robin Smith talking about her husband. It's Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah.


teevee

It must be time for a midseason teevee review.

We're not watching many new shows this season ... I watched a coupla episodes of Boomtown and it was OK, but I've forgotten to watch it since then, so I must not have liked it too much. The only new program we watch regularly is Cedric the Entertainer, and that's mostly because it comes after Bernie Mac and we've gotta do something while we wait for West Wing. Actually, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the only nights we watch anything (we watched Sopranos for a few weeks until Neal forgot to tape two episodes for us, so we're back to waiting for the DVD in that instance). Anyway, here's how Tues-Weds shapes up:

Tuesday at 8:00 Sara comes over and we watch Buffy. It's been a mostly excellent season so far, without any one standout episode to match some of the classics of the past. It has a real feel of Last Season to it. The Big Bad villain is properly mysterious at this point, but you get a sense that this is the Big Bad to end all Big Bads ... it hints at being bigger than everything, heroes and villains alike.

At 9:00 Sara goes home and Robin and I watch 24. It's pretty much the same as last season, maybe even a little better: the plot is ludicrous, the characters act in all sorts of inconsistent manners just to keep the adrenaline running, and it doesn't matter anyway, because the only release from the non-stop tension comes during the commercials. They have one main plot (nuke about to destroy L.A.), half a dozen sub-plots, every sub-plot has a couple of sub-plots of their own, and last season's uber-bad-girl is back starting next week. With all the plots, it's not hard for the show to feature nothing but nail-biting scenes, so the show remains deliciously unbearable to watch. I didn't bother getting the DVDs of Season One, because I can't imagine the show holding up beyond a first viewing, but it's a great first viewing!

Then at 10:00 I crank up the VCR, and sometime during the week, Robin and I watch our old standby, NYPD Blue. We've been watching this show together since it started so many years ago; in fact, it is our longest-lasting show we've watched together in our entire lives. You might call it the ultimate Robin and Steven show! It's my opinion that the current cast represents the best ensemble acting in the show's long history ... Charlotte Ross is the best actress they've ever had, Henry Simmons and Esai Morales are gorgeous hunks and good actors as well, Dennis Franz is Dennis Franz, Medavoy and Gay John are good old friends, and even the Saved By the Bell guy is good. Too bad the stories are mostly same old same old ... you aren't surprised by this show very often any more. And too bad they have never figured out what to do with women. Ross is absolutely brilliant; she plays tough cop with believable excellence, she's hot, and she works well with Franz in the work environment. So what do they do? Give her a romance with Andy, stick her with a baby, and basically do everything possible to domesticate her. (They did the same thing to Andrea Thompson, but it's even sadder here, because Ross is capable of so much more.)

Wednesdays are less eventful. Bernie Mac is often laugh-out-loud funny; Cedric the Entertainer often is not (although their parody of Spanish-language novelas is wonderful). West Wing isn't as good as it used to be, which wouldn't be such a big deal if it was a decade old, but it hasn't been around long enough to be fossilized yet.

Here's how I rank the shows (The Shield is missing because it hasn't started up yet):

Buffy
24
West Wing
Bernie Mac
NYPD Blue
Cedric


air conditioning

Well, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a guy named Willis Haviland Carrier "developed the formulae and equipment that made air conditioning possible." Other websites tell us that the term "air conditioning" was used for the first time in 1906, and that air conditioning was a recognized branch of engineering by 1911. So I don't suppose my grandfather was in on that.


george harrison

My sister Sue did some geneological digging, and found out some information about our grandfather on my mother's side, a man none of the Rubio siblings ever met, nor did we know much about him, which is why Sue's info was so interesting to us.

He died on June 4, 1941 after spending 24 days in the hospital for "acute yellow atrophy of the liver" (liver cancer). We had always heard he drank himself to death ... guess this fits that description. He was only 41 when he died. The death certificate listed our grandparents as married, but my grandmother lived on College Ave. while grandfather (don't know what to call him, we never really gave him a name" lived in the Hotel Durant.

His occupation is listed as engineer, and his employer was S. T. Johnson Co., a heating company. They're still around. I can remember a book my grandmother had that was co-authored by her husband ... the story was he helped invent air conditioning, but I don't know if that's true. Apparently their family did OK during the Depression, but then when the rest of the country was starting to improve, grandfather went into his final drunken decline, and the family's fortunes went into decline. (I've always thought it explained my mom in the last 25 or so years of her life, that twice she had gone from better off than most folks to the pits ... must have been scary.)

He's apparently buried in El Cerrito ... I'm trying to find out where his grave is. Thanks, Sue!


medication

I preface this by noting that, according to my pharmacist, opinion has changed over the years regarding medicine dosage.

Having said that ... the New York Times has an article about the health of John F. Kennedy. The point of the article is that JFK was a lot sicker and in far more pain than we realized. One of the bits of evidence they offer: "At times the president took as many as eight medications a day, says the historian, Robert Dallek."

Well, that sounds like a helluva lot of meds. But me, I figure JFK was just getting started.

Just look at my medicine cabinet. I am currently on ten different prescriptions.

Maybe I could be president!


tambien

I miss my phone call!

A lot of what Chris says about Y Tu Mama Tambien is less a critique of the film than it is a rant against adolescent males. It's kinda like me and opera ... I just close myself off to it, assuming I'll hate it, and because I have no real knowledge of the subject, I assume all operas are the same ... they're just "operas" which I don't like. But in the back of my mind, I know that Wagner is different from Mozart, and that some operas are better than others. I don't really CARE, but I know it's true.

American Pie is probably the best film of its type. That doesn't mean Chris wants to see it, any more than I'm dying to see that opera about the Rings. But like me with opera, some folks can't even imagine that there IS such a thing as a good film about adolescent males, or that there are degrees of quality in the genre. It's like saying "I don't like Olivia Records because all their music is the same and I don't care about dykes with guitars." In each of these cases, we miss a lot of good art because of our biases, whether it be towards adolescent males, opera, folkie music, or whatever.

Chris notes that all the two boys care about is their dicks. This is not the case. I know the dregs of the adolescent male genre works in this fashion ... she didn't make up the stereotype out of thin air ... what I think she's missing in this film is 1) they DO care about more than their dicks, but they think their dicks are all they are supposed to care about, which is different, and 2) the MOVIE cares about more than their dicks, and allows the viewer to have a more aware, complex response to the boys' lives than they sometimes do themselves. I think Chris is mistaking honest representation of adolescent male sexuality for wholehearted approval of same. The boys in the film lead lives far more stunted than necessary, in part because all they care about is their dicks. To the extent their lives are richer than the stereotypical adolescent male, it's because they are trying to see beyond their dicks. The same could be said for the movie, which is richer than the usual movie about adolescent males because it sees beyond the stereotype.

Next she notes that they have really bad sex, and then questions the actual eroticism of those scenes. First, on occasion they have good sex, and those scenes are erotic ... that what looks to be their best sex comes when they are jerking off in tandem while thinking about Salma Hayek is evidence of where their problem lies, of course, but that's why such scenes are in the movie, so we can see the problem even as they enjoy themselves. The viewer can compare the boys' skill and enjoyment during the mutual masturbation scene to their mostly useless flailing about during sex with women, and learn something about them as characters. The movie isn't asking you to like them for this, it is asking you to know their characters a little better. The film is NOT a triumphant paean to adolescent dicks, although for some it would appear that the very presence of the dicks is all you need to know to condemn the film for a celebratory pose it never actually adopts. Certainly, no one watching this movie would think "man, those guys are cool, look how crappy they are at having sex with women!"

As is standard for the "adolescent male having sex" genre, a more mature woman comes along to guide them into adult sexuality. But again, in Y Tu Mama Tambien, the stock plot thread becomes something entirely different. In an ordinary film in the genre, young guys learn how hot real women are, and grow up to be adult men who like hot real women. (This is not the plot of American Pie, BTW, which is one reason among many it's better than the norm for the genre.) In this movie, though, the woman guides the two boys into the spot that she ascertains they have belonged all along: consummating their friendship and, yes, love, through sex. I haven't seen every adolescent male sex movie, so maybe I just missed the others, but as far as I know, this is one of the only movies in the genre that recognizes in an overt fashion what gets buried in the run of the mill pictures: these guys love each other, they need to fuck. With each other. And they do. And it's beautiful. And erotic. And good.

And then, because the movie is doing all that it can to be honest to the characters it has presented, it rejects the happy ending where the two boys climb out of the closet and live happily ever after as gay men. That there are many happy gay men in the world should go without saying ... that it is good to have movies which celebrate happy gay men is also obvious ... that every movie should therefore end happily with well-adjusted gay men because that's the kind of feel-good moment we need more of in our popular culture is not as obvious, at least not to me. The discomfort the two boys/men feel towards each other in the film's coda is painfully honest, and not the least bit anti-gay. The two are miserable ... they know what they had, what they could have had, what they can't have because they are too locked into the mentality of straightness. They are not miserable in a Well of Loneliness manner, miserable because they are gay. On the contrary, they are miserable because they can't find their way to be gay. They are miserable, you might say, because they are straight. And the film is ultimately sad, because the audience understands this, knows that the greatness of the relationship between these two characters must fail because those characters are locked into self-destructive patterns.

In all of this, Y Tu Mama Tambien travels far beyond the norms for the genre. It takes the characters and the audience to places they haven't been in the past; it treats adolescent boys with a startling honesty that is NOT celebratory but is nonetheless understanding (it doesn't praise them for having dicks, but neither does it hate them for their appendages); it turns the eternal male buddy subtext of homoeroticism into the foregrounded explicit text of male homosexuality; and without condemning homosexuality, it shows how standard social notions about male relationships betray the true feelings of men who in a freer world might be able to come together literally and figuratively. If anyone thinks this means Y Tu Mama Tambien is "just another movie about boys and their dicks," I can only guess they haven't seen many such movies.


phone call

Well, that "phone call" via the blog is coming sooner than I might have guessed.... we watched Y Tu Mama Tambien last night, and it's the first movie I can rate a tad above my most recent least favorite movie, Amelie. I should have never watched Y Tu Mama Tambien.... I read Steven's review, and there were several warning signs I would hate this movie. He wrote, "Some have called the film a Mexican American Pie..." (a movie you couldn't pay me to watch, BTW) and "it's about eroticism period, in particular the eroticism of adolescent males. Like the afore-mentioned American Pie, Y Tu Mama Tambien is understanding of those teenaged boys even as it makes fun of their hormones."

What made me think I would like a movie about "the eroticism of adolescent males" or any movie which resembled American Pie? IMO, all these two boys care about is their dicks, and we get to watch them have really bad sex (this is erotic?) and then brag about sex they will have or have had. We watched the movie in its entirety, but I could care less about either of them by the end. No "touching" homoerotic scene or self-reflection could save this one for me. I give it a 2 out of 10; for comparison, I gave Amelie a 1 and Lantana a 10.

(posted by Chris Rubio)


in the mood for love

And so ... In the Mood for Love ...

What a perfect title! The two main characters are most definitely in the mood; they also don't ever get beyond being in the mood, at least in my reading of the film. (This is one of those movies where a lot of stuff is left unexplained, so some people think the characters DO get beyond being in the mood ... I'm just not one of them. But pretty much everything I say here should be prefaced with "in my reading of the film.") Repressed emotions have rarely been so charged as they are in this movie ... probably the best comparison would be those British films where a couple of stiff-upper-lip types lust for each other in socially-acceptable silence. While on one level, "nothing really happens" in the film, Wong Kar-Wai does a great job of making us anticipate what is about to happen. Of course, our expectations are shattered repeatedly, or rather, they go unfulfilled ("shattered" is far too showy and emotional for what we see on the screen, which is quiet and, well, repressed). A Nat King Cole song that turns up late in the film (sung in Spanish!) says it all: "perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."

Maggie Cheung is as beautiful as any actress ever, and it's always nice to see her when she's not being wasted. Tony Leung isn't exactly chopped liver in the looks department either, and both of them give exquisitely moderated performances.

The DVD is terrific as well (Criterion strikes again). As I told my International Media class, students would probably be better served watching all the extras on the 2-disc DVD than listening to me lecture. Among the extras: a short story that influenced Wong in the making of the film; a making-of documentary; various interviews with the director and stars; informative essays on Hong Kong circa 1962, and on the use of music in the movie; and other stuff I'm forgetting. I give it a 9 on a scale of 10.


now now

No need for Chris to watch Buffy or Sports Night again ... she gave 'em a chance, didn't like 'em, that's how it goes. And her opinion's as good as mine!

Two points, though, one that relates to what she wrote, the other which isn't about Chris at all but about my continuing frustration with the NOW report. In regards to Sports Night, I didn't say Chris was wrong about the quality of the show, I said she was wrong to think it was a guy show (or had guy humor, or however you want to put it). The evidence I offer lies in the very program that not only has made Aaron Sorkin something of a household name, but also has given Chris a lot of enjoyment: The West Wing. West Wing and Sports Night are alike in countless ways. They are clearly the work of the same guy (Sorkin). They both feature the same kind of snappy-fast dialogue, roaming-the-halls camerawork, and entertaining look behind the scenes at a very public business operation. The primary difference between the two shows, as I've stated more than once, is that West Wing, which takes place in the White House rather than in a sports network studio, allows Sorkin the opportunity to get on a soapbox (or rather, to have his characters get on a soapbox, yes Toby, I mean you) about the important political issues of the day. Whether you agree with Sorkin's take on those issues is far less important than the problematic fact that every time West Wing climbs that soapbox, the program comes to a screeching halt. It's bad teevee when that happens. And it happens a lot in West Wing, and it rarely happened in Sports Night, and that's why, IMO, Sports Night is the better show.

But regardless of your taste preference (obviously West Wing is more popular than Sports Night ever dreamed of being), one thing is certain: the characters, the approach to the characters, the writing, the emphasis placed upon the characters, is no more guy-ish in Sports Night than it is in West Wing. In fact, you could make a strong case that Sports Night is far more women-centered than West Wing. While West Wing has to over-inflate the importance of the press secretary in order to give one woman character something approaching equality with Sam and Toby and Leo and Josh (to say nothing of Mr. President), Felicity Huffman's character on Sports Night is one of the three most important characters in the show. What I'm trying to say in my longwinded way is while I can understand not liking Sports Night, I don't get the idea of not liking Sports Night for its guy-centric posture but liking West Wing when the latter show seems much worse in that regard.

Meanwhile, my complaint about NOW's poor evaluation of Buffy is somewhat similar to the above. It's not that I don't understand that many people don't like the show; that's not the point. The point is that NOW has some pretty weird ideas about what constitutes feminist entertainment, if they give a C- to a show which for six and a half years has centered around a powerful woman who has saved the world a lot. There are only a handful of female characters in teevee history as powerful in their respective fictional worlds as Buffy is in her show. To say nothing of Willow, the most important of the secondary characters on the program, or the other regular and semi-regular women who have made Buffy what it is, like Tara and Dawn and Cordelia and Faith. I don't even like all of those characters, but again, we're not judging the show on its merit, we're weighing its feminist value. And it's really quite simple: anyone who gives Buffy a "feminist" grade of C- is utterly clueless, asking us to disregard their opinion, which is a bad thing for any organization that wants to make a difference.


stupidest show ever

Ok, I'll bite. First, a little history about a tiny piece of my relationship with my brother Steven, someone I love and look up to (he is, after all, my big brother! Ok, all my brothers are my "big" brothers, but that's beside the point!).

Over the years, because I value Steven's opinions, I've watched a number of different TV shows and movies, have listened to some new artists, and have read some pieces I might not have otherwise read... all because Steven recommended them. Naturally, given that we are two different people, I've liked some more than others. I absolutely loved My So Called Life and was disappointed it lasted only one season. I also wouldn't miss NYPD Blue for a number of years (though I finally gave it up after too many actors departed), and I have become a big West Wing fan -- all TV shows I turned on for the first time because Steven either recommended them or I learned in conversation with him that they were shows he regularly watched (and liked).

Two shows I only gave one chance: Buffy and Sports Night. I probably owe Buffy one more try, but neither Steven nor I will probably ever forget my phone call to him after I watched Buffy that one time: "That was the stupidest show I ever saw!" I'm sure I was over-reacting, and Steven said it wasn't a great episode but not totally bad; nonetheless, that was all I ever saw of Buffy. Steven wrote earlier today that my comment about Sports Night was it was all about guys. I seem to remember saying something closer to "it was a bunch of guy humor," but I can imagine saying it was all about guys. I tried to watch Seinfeld once and could barely last the half hour because "it was a bunch of guy humor." I recognize there were women on that show, too, and undoubtedly women's issues examined, but the episode I watched contained too much "guy humor" for me to tune in again. I didn't care about the characters in Seinfeld, and I don't remember caring much for the characters in Sports Night.

What does all this mean? Well, it means I will continue to listen to my brother's recommendations, because he's hit the jackpot on several occasions. (His review of the movie Lantana, for instance, made me put that movie at the top of my Netflix list, and after watching it and loving it, I now recommend that movie first when people turn to me for movie recommendations. Also, the movie at the top of my list right now? Y Tu Mama Tambien, the result of another recommendation by Steven). I know sometimes his recommendations will turn into my recommendations to others, and I also know he'll probably get another phone call from me someday with me saying, "You liked this show for what reason?" or something not nearly as pleasant!

NOW is on their own to defend their ratings with my brother... meanwhile, I'll continue to read this blog and have lengthy conversations with my brother, listening to what he has to say. And who knows? Maybe after Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, I'll sit through an episode of Sports Night and Buffy.... after all, my big brother has the DVDs!

(posted by Chris Rubio)