|Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Bad guys, you’ve been warned.
Guns, guns, and more guns! Jimmy McNulty sports an even worse accent than his Baltimore one, but it’s all in good, violent fun. His brother “Loony Bins Jim” is just as hilariously bent. The Punisher actor reminds me of a handsomer and younger version of Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey, and the widower is a Kate Beckinsale knockoff. The movie is supposed to take place in NYC, but they do a pretty terrible job of faking it; it was actually shot in Toronto. Recommended.
|Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa (2013)
Spike won the Oscar
Yes, it’s stupid and crass and sophomoric to the nth degree, but I haven’t laughed this hard in years, possibly decades, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The boy who plays the grandson should get a movie of his own — he’s talented way beyond his years. Highly recommended.
|Killer Joe (2011)
After watching this
Thank goodness for Thomas Haden Church, who provides the much needed humor to lighten up this super nasty movie. I don’t quite get why this film was so lauded — it’s not really anything special. McConaughey is nutso, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen before (i.e., Gary Oldman in The Professional, Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs, etc.). Not recommended.
|Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Betty or Diane
I’ve been meaning to see this film for almost a decade, and wow, was it worth the wait. Lo and behold, the movie works completely within the framework of Lynch’s weirdness! The Straight Story is the movie most people mention when they talk about Lynch and accessibility, and it’s true, the title of that movie describes it in more ways than one. But the reason why Mulholland Dr. is such a career triumph is because all of the things that make Lynch’s movies Lynchian — weird-ass angles, the threat of terrifying wackiness at any moment, dwarves and identity-shifting and lounge singers and red lampshades — they’re here, and they actually contribute both thematically and narratively to the movie. Massive kudos to Naomi Watts — no wonder the studios took notice after this.
Still, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention that there are still some pretty far out-there scenes here. But also absolutely hilarious ones — the one that involves a large woman and a vacuum cleaner is maybe the funniest thing Lynch has ever done. I do hope he gets back to making feature films. Highly recommended, but with a caveat: I’m continuing to write this mini-review after spending a rather restless night of sleep. Lynch’s movies have a way of burrowing into your brain like nothing else, so do yourself a favor and watch this either on a Friday or a Saturday night, so you’ll have time to recover.
One last thing, and something probably so obvious that it doesn’t need a mention, but…a beautiful woman is so much more interesting to look at on screen than a handsome man, no? Maybe it’s just my hetero-male bias, but I don’t think so. I believe there are many studies that have suggested that women also would rather look at other women than men, and who can blame them? Women can glam up like no man can (minus Jared Leto?), and it’s such a visual advantage. One of the reasons why Mulholland Dr. makes such an impression is because you just can’t take your eyes off either of the leads. So when Lynch juxtaposes their great beauty against his unsettling ugliness, the effect on both sides is that much stronger.
One thing I can’t stand is seeing or hearing myself, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing so if you are so inclined. Thanks to Taylor Ervin and the Skokie Public Library for interviewing me and putting this together!
Through the window of my airplane seat, I watch the wintry Midwestern landscape float by, the white of the snow, the blue of the sky. All morning, American Airlines has warned us that our flight from Chicago to Newark is full, that we’ll need to be mindful of the limited storage space above us. But when the cabin door slams shut, who is sitting beside me? No one.
My trip has been blessed from the get-go, so I shouldn’t be surprised at this point that my charmed life continues. My wife and I have spent the last four nights in Skokie and Chicago, and a part of me believes it’s all been a glorious dream. Because where but in dreams does everything, and I mean every little thing, goes exactly as planned? Where but in dreams am I fed amazing food at every meal and celebrated like a beloved dignitary?
During Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township this week, I dined with the First Lady of Skokie and her husband, the Mayor. I read in front of a captive audience, not once, not twice, but three times! I got to talk about my life and my work at the public library, and at moments my interviewer and I delved so deeply that our discussion almost became a therapy session. Breaking bread (or more accurately, rice) with the Korean-American community leaders of Skokie brought me back to my own heritage, in ways that I haven’t felt since…to be truthful? Never. Never have I felt such pride as a Korean and an American than in Skokie, Illinois. And I felt something else, too, hope, because I witnessed the students of Niles Township at work. Educators in this country of ours need to look no further than Niles North and Niles West for the ideal template to create the very best high school. With their world-class facilities and their dedicated teachers, these kids at Niles are going to challenge our world. How lucky was I to have played a tiny part of their education.
And how lucky for the next author, whomever he or she may be, to be picked for Coming Together next year. It was heartening to meet with the volunteers who were integral to the previous Coming Togethers: Greek, Assyrian, Filipino, and Asian Indian. They were all in attendance for my events, which means Coming Together is accomplishing exactly what it aims to do: bring together the culturally diverse residents of Skokie so they can learn from one another. Is there anything more powerful than that?
Skokie, you opened up your arms and you took me in. If I may paraphrase Sally Field, you loved me, you really really loved me! So I love you right back. These were treasured, cherished days. Thank you!
p.s. Chicago, you’re awesome, too! You made me laugh (Second City), you filled my belly (char dog and pizza, Chicago style), and wrapped me up in your beauty (the impressionists collection at the Art Institute).
p.p.s. Thank you to my lovely wife for taking the bulk of the photographs below!
If you have never seen The Shield, which ran from 2002 to 2008 on FX, and you have plans to see it at some future point, then I’d highly recommend skipping the rest of this post and not waiting another day. Fire up your Amazon Prime or Netflix or just plain ol’ DVDs and plunk yourself into the world of the Strike Team, Byz Lats, and vending machine machinations.
“Good cop and bad cop left for the day; I’m a different kind of cop.” – Vic Mackey
And this is a different kind of a cop show. There are 90 episodes to The Shield, and without commercials, they each run about 45 minutes long. So that’s 67.5 hours of television. Seems like binging TV shows has become the new in-thing to do, but binging my wife and I did not do. I think we started in October last year and tried to see an episode or two a night. With the holidays and Oscar-nominated movies to watch, our steady Shield viewership took a vacation in December and January, but there was no stopping us this month. We blew through the final two seasons in February, and boy, were they ever worth it.
I think the most impressive thing about The Shield is how the shocking event in the very first episode reverberates throughout its entire run. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a show that did this. Usually episodic television runs in cycles of seasons — the two shows that The Shield is most compared to, The Sopranos and The Wire, both ran this way, especially The Wire (Avon/Stringer, stevedores, Avon/Stringer, kids, newspaper). In short, The Shield held its characters terribly accountable, and each paid for it.
The Shield is a highly entertaining series and I have no problems recommending it, but as a whole, I feel it is less than either of those aforementioned shows. I have two theories why. One: we know so little about the characters in The Shield outside of the present timeframe. Even Vic, with whom we see his home life and his extracurricular activities, there’s no real room in the plot-heavy story structure for him to reflect on anything. Vic is like a machine, bouncing from arrests to kills to betrayals. This is in stark contrast to Tony Soprano, whom we feel like we know intimately through his sessions with Dr. Melfi and those funky dream sequences. And two: The Shield only deals with the side of the law. With The Wire, we spent as much time with Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell as we did with Jimmy McNulty and Bunk (even if we actually didn’t, it certainly felt like it). So the world that David Simon and Ed Burns created feels more complete and richer.
Again, this is not really a knock against The Shield, because it never purported to be anything more than what it was. Just like what we recently witnessed in the Winter Olympics Women’s Figure Skating finale, there are skaters who attempt to gain more points by making more jumps (not a fan of this, but alas, that’s for another day and another post). The Sopranos and The Wire went for more points and landed them, while The Shield was content at expertly executing its more limited maneuvers.
One thing I’ll never understand is how Walton Goggins, who plays Shane, was never nominated for a Golden Globe or an Emmy for his work on this show. From season five and onward, he was the shining star of this tragic drama.
Incidentally, there’s a great essay that came out this past Sunday in the Times that talks about whether TV is the new novel. Worth a read.