September 2nd, 2008

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Pop culture roundup

Blogging? What blogging? I've gotten behind. I'll summarize some books and movies, and do separate posts on other events.

The Strand Annex was closing 8/31 and according to a mailing (but not mentioned online) were having a "fill a bag with books for $9.95" sale. These might have been specially designated books like the ones in the outside carts, but that still sounded good. In addition, former co-worker J reported he got hardcovers for $3 each. I had this on my calendar all month, but talked myself out of going since it was way downtown (might as well be Philadelphia), and my shelves are full and I have multiple boxes of books piled on the floor. But such a bargain! No, not this time.

Moving things along, I finished:

"Celebutantes" by daughters of Hollywood insiders Amanda Goldberg (as in producer Leonard) and Ruthanna Khalighi Hopper (as in Dennis) - This didn't move the unread book pile along since it was from the library and not on my wish list (though it would have been if I'd read about it). A wicked send-up of evil Hollywood, in all its superficiality and loopiness. Fun fun fun.

"A Widow's Walk: A Memoir of 9/11" by Marian Fontana, the young widow of a 9/11 firefighter. After the tragedy, Marian had a strong support system of family, friends, and even institutions and it was still difficult. Research shows she's found love again, and I wish her the best.

"Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim" by David Sedaris - my first experience with this author. These true vignettes weren't fall-on-the-floor hilarious, but still witty and engaging.

"If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor" by Bruce Campbell. I'd never seen anything with this actor, so I'm not sure why I had this book. It was either from the batch obtained through Freecycle or the laundry room shelf. In any case, this copiously illustrated memoir traced the author's beginnings with hometown Michigan pals including Sam Raimi, to current-day evil Hollywood.

"Unusually Stupid Celebrities: A Compendium of All-Star Stupidity" by Kathryn and Ross Petras. Since I read a lot of celebrity gossip, most of these examples of celebrity stupidity were not new to me, but were enjoyably presented with maximum snark (e.g., quoting "theologian/socialite/'singer' Paris Hilton" on her spiritual views). My kind of book.

"'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Lyrics" by Gavin Edwards. Did you think they sang "You and me and Leslie" in "Groovin'"? Join the club. This cute, illustrated compendium of wrong lyrics (mondegreens) went quickly. I hadn't heard of a lot of the songs.

"Queen of Babble in the Big City" by Meg Cabot (from the library). Turns out I own "Queen of Babble" which precedes this in a series, but who knows where it is. Lizzie is a wedding dress expert who interns for free in a New York shop while toiling as a law office receptionist to pay the bills and adjusting to her new live-in boyfriend. The ending indicates this story is not over, and indeed the next book is "Queen of Babble Gets Hitched."

MoMA had a Coen Brothers retrospective, and there were days my calendar had possible triple features. In the end, I only saw "The Hudsucker Proxy." The plot concerned corporate shenanigans in the '50s including the fictional invention of the hula hoop. It supposedly took place in NYC, but looked either fake or not like New York (it was shot in Chicago). Everything was highly stylized, including Jennifer Jason Leigh's annoyingly accented fast-talking career-dame reporter. Bruce Campbell had a small part, so now I've seen him.

Maybe I didn't miss much by not going to the other movies. I had previously seen "Raising Arizona" (didn't really like), "Barton Fink" (OK), and "Fargo" (better). It would have been nice to see "No Country For Old Men" and learn what the Oscar fuss was all about, but it did sound violent. I'll see "Burn After Reading" next week through one of my organizations.

I also managed to miss a MoMA Chris Smith ("The Pool") series.
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I.O.U.S.A.

"I.O.U.S.A." deserves its own post.

After getting sold out of the premiere, I caught the movie last Monday. Despite taking macroeconomics in college and micro in grad school, I have little understanding of economics. I got by on math manipulation, which is how I also got by in chemistry, physics, genetics, and actuarial courses. The subject does not interest me; I only saw this movie to support Patrick Creadon and the "Wordplay" team. The 5:20 showing at the 42nd St. Regal had at most 15 people.

I had seen "An Inconvenient Truth" late in its release 2 years ago at Moving Image to see what the fuss was about. It was a science lecture. An informative science lecture about an important topic, but still a science lecture. How it made $23 million I'll never know.

Similarly, "I.O.U.S.A." is at heart an economics lesson, albeit about a very important topic. As it points out using a funny "SNL" skit, regular people shouldn't buy stuff they can't afford, but countries get away with it and put themselves in a huge hole. Brian Oakes' excellent graphics delineate the different types of deficits, illustrating what could be a dire situation. Segments were even shot in China, which holds much of our debt and benefits from our trade.

I spent much of the movie comparing it to "Wordplay," recognizing the general rhythm, editing style (hi, Doug!), format (interviewees' identifying themselves with "I'm ___" followed by a screen graphic), snippets of Patrick's voice asking questions to apparently random clueless people, Peter Golub's music (some of the doom-and-gloom backing resembles the soundtrack for the final ACPT puzzle), appearances by Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, the credits (there's Merl, Will, Vic and Susan Fleming, baby Creadons, TJ - billed as Theodore James, John Sloss, Anne Stulz). So maybe my attention could have been more on the content.

Despite the generally downbeat data presented, the movie ended on a slightly hopeful note. Individuals and more importantly, governments, can take action to turn the tide. In this election season, candidates and voters need to be aware of the problem, and "I.O.U.S.A." is a nonpartisan presentation to heighten that awareness. In an interview, Patrick said, "Ultimately we made the film for five people: Barack Obama, John McCain and our three daughters." Young people need to see this movie. (Update: It was shown for delegates at both political conventions.)

The movie made me think about my own situation, where I've had less income and have not been saving (bad!). I'm not in debt to anyone except my future self, but as I move funds from savings to checking in order to cover living expenses, I can see how easy it is for larger institutions to get in over their heads. Right now it's savings, later it may be investments, and soon I'll be drawing from my retirement accounts and Social Security with the rest of the baby boomers. The graphs on the Social Security and Medicare liability were scary, and I'll be part of that problem.

So yes, it was an economics lesson: clear (I think I understood most of it despite my mental block against the material), amusing at times, timely (a segment was filmed after Sundance with an update on one of the main subjects), thought-provoking. Thrilling, moving, and enthralling like "Wordplay"? No.

The movie is in limited theatrical release. It's airing on PBS Independent Lens in January. I'm not sure when the DVD will be released.