MY DARKEST HOUR

MY DARKEST HOUR

My tennis league started up again last night, and it was a little like the first day of school. Lots of old faces, some new ones, and a few announcements to kick it all off. The league administrator gathered us all by the corkboard with the schedule on it and told us about this season’s new rule. Unlike in the past, the courts would now close promptly at 10pm. There would be no warning; suddenly, the lights would just go out. If it happened in the middle of your match, then instead of playing a makeup, the win would be credited to whoever was ahead at that point. If the set was tied (regardless of the game score), the match would be called a draw. Sorry for the obvious exposition here, but I promise I’m not including the boring rules of my tennis league as some kind of public service/waste of your valuable time. This information will become important later in the tale.

The way my league works is that each week, you and your partner will play one team in doubles, then you’ll each play one of the people from that same team in singles. I met my new partner, who seemed like a pretty nice guy (every year I dread getting one of those abusive lunatics who’ll rip my head off every time I hit a shot an inch long). Then we met our opponents. One of them was a guy I played last season, the infamous Foot Faulter, who’s kind of a jerk and who can’t seem to serve without stepping at least two feet inside the baseline. His partner was a new guy, a girlish, high-energy giggle monkey who looked like a slightly more mop-haired, butt-faced version of Johnny Fairplay from Survivor. Seemed like a nice enough guy.

As we start our doubles match, Fairplay quickly falls into a very regular pattern. He hits two great shots, then the third one goes over the fence. Stay in the volley for five hits, and the point is yours. Not surprisingly then, the match is a blowout. My partner and I win 6-0. (Due to time constraints, we only play one set in our league.) So we do what we always do and shake hands and say, “Good game” and act like good winners and good sports, and that’s the end of that. Then comes the waiting. It turns out I’m at the end of the rotation, so that means a loooooooong wait for a court before I can play my singles match.

Finally, at 9:00, Fairplay and I discover an open court and decide to get our game started. It’s a bit of a relief. Nobody wants their match interrupted by the 10pm light shut-off, and this should give us plenty of time to play. As we get started, Fairplay seems to have benefited from his doubles warmup. Nothing gets past him anymore. No matter where I place the ball or how much I make him run, he gets everything back. The sloppiness mostly disappears from his game, and he hits one great shot after another. Our volleys go for ten, twenty hits or more. It’s exhausting and often frustrating, but it’s the thing all tennis players crave most: a good game. Four matches in, we’re at a dead heat: 2-2.

Fairplay has an annoying habit of being jokey all the time and pretending like he doesn’t care about the outcome of the game. At the changeover, I stop to take a drink, and he feigns annoyance. “Well, come on! I’m all ready to go!” Is he being passive-aggressive? Is he really a jerk? Probably not, I figure. He’s just a goofball. For the most part, I tune him out.

I notice that Fairplay is a big fan of the drop shot, which is annoying for a baseliner like me, but at this point, I decide to adjust my strategy and become more aggressive. I rush the net, I go for winners, and I rally to win the next three games. The score is 5-2, and I’m one game away from victory. Don’t get excited, because if you knew my tennis style, you’d know this is the point where I always choke.

Sure enough, Fairplay wins the next two games, narrowing my lead to 5-4. It’s brutally tiring, and I stop for another drink break on the changeover. Fairplay, who doesn’t seem half as tired as I do, stalks up to me on the bench. And this is the point where things take an ugly turn, my friends.

“Well, you’re a surprise!” he says.

“Huh?” I ask from behind my bottle of Gatorade.

“I just didn’t expect you’d be much of a challenge,” he says.

“Why would you say that?”

“Well, I mean, just from looking at you.” He looks me up and down and waves his hand as if to mock my stature. “And, you know, the way you played in doubles.”

You mean the doubles match where we kicked your asses?, I’m thinking. I mean, seriously, how could a person coming off a loss like that make such a cocky, obnoxious comment?

From that moment, it was on.

Unfortunately, my anger was upstaged by my tendency to choke at moments like these. Fairplay wins the next two games, putting him ahead 6-5. As I head for the bench, he approaches the net, as if to shake my hand. He stops short, confused. “Oh, do you have to win by two?” he says. There’s nothing I hate more than losing to a guy who doesn’t know — or pretends not to know — how the scoring works.

Fairplay strolls right past me on my Gatorade break. “You can’t possibly need to drink that much!” he “jokes”. By now, I know time is running short. It’s been a very long set, and we must be approaching 10 o’clock. By now, everyone else in the league has finished playing, and the people who’ve stuck around are all congregating by our court, watching the match. “Only two minutes left!” one of them shouts.

I get right back on my feet and take the court, still determined to beat this punk. If the lights go off now, I lose. So I not only have to win, I have to win fast. As if that’s not enough pressure, there are now about twenty spectators following our game. They clap every time one of us hits a winner and chatter softly about how each of us is playing. At one point, I hear them applauding one of my errors, which seems strange. Then I turn around and notice that Fairplay is curtseying and bowing to the crowd, soliciting their cheers. You don’t bow when the other guy makes a mistake, moron. Come to think of it, you don’t bow ever. Could I possibly hate him more at this moment?

On a particularly long volley, I hit a shot right to the corner. Fairplay chases it down but doesn’t reach it in time. Then, he stops and stares at the line for a moment. “Was that in or out?” he asks me.

“It’s your call!” I grumble. “If you’re not sure, you have to call it in my favor.” That’s not only common courtesy and something I do regularly on calls I’m not sure about, but it’s a rule of our league.

“Hmmm, I really didn’t see it,” he says, ignoring me.

“I’m not going to call my own ball out,” I say. Yeah, especially not when the match is this close.

“Well, I’ll give it to you!” he says, turning toward the crowd and flashing a phony boyish smile. “I’m just a really nice guy, I guess.”

“Yeah, congratulations!” I yell.

Two points later, I won the game.

6-6. Now we have to play a tiebreaker. The clock is ticking down. I breathe a little easier, knowing that at least I’ve been spared the indignity of notching a loss on an incomplete game. But now I have to play knowing that at any moment, the lights could go off and leave me with a tie. Fairplay wins one point. I win the next five. Just two points away from victory…

It’s time for the changeover. We start leisurely switching sides, when from the tense crowd, someone yells out, “Hurry!” I jog quickly into position and serve the next point. Another long volley that ends with one of Fairplay’s swing-for-the-fence shots that’s about a hundred miles out of bounds. My point.

It’s 6-1. My heart is racing. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am, to get back into the lead, to teach this weasel a lesson. I fear the cruel punishment of dramatic irony. It must be several minutes past our deadline already. Just as I’m about to cement my victory, I just know the lights will be shut off and I’ll be stuck with a draw.

I toss the ball high in the air, raise my racket and try for an ace.

Fault! It’s out by a mile. Get it together, Jerry. You’re wasting time.

I barely take a pause before launching into serve #2. Gotta finish. Can’t let him win. Can’t go out like this. My serve sails over the net, perfectly placed at the edge of the serving box. Fairplay gets into position, pulls back his racket, swings…

And hits it right into the net.

Final tiebreaker score: 7-1. Righteous victor: me.

Whew.

I jog to the net and shake Fairplay’s hand. “Good game,” I say.

Then, no more than ten seconds later, as I pull my Gatorade out of my bag for a final swig, the lights switch off.

It’s darker than I expected. The darkness is blinding in a literal sense. The distant streetlights do little to illuminate our path out of the tennis complex, leaving us to find our way off the court from memory. It’s almost pitch black.

The timing couldn’t have been better. As we feel our way toward the garage, wiped out from our marathon game, Fairplay is spared the sight of the enormous, smug grin on my gratified, victorious face.

COMING SOON

COMING SOON

Thanks to Gawker, I think I can predict what the next big spec script sale will be. It’s “Imaginary Girlfriend”! (Or, if sold to the producers of “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!”, it’ll be called “I Bought My Girlfriend on Ebay!”)

It’s the story of a young woman (Brittany Murphy) so hard up for cash that she auctions herself off on eBay as a pretend girlfriend to a guy (Josh Hartnett) who wants to get his nagging family and friends off his case. They just won’t believe him when he says he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend right now — and no, Mom, he’s not gay!

When they meet, these two couldn’t be more different! Stewart’s an uptight businessman in desperate need of a makeover. Darla’s an eccentric free spirit – you know, the kind of girl who’d sell her services as an imaginary girlfriend on eBay. Against the odds, she falls for him hard, and her wacky antics turn his personal life upside-down! But is Stewart just using her, or is he capable of reciprocating her feelings? Is it even possible for him to respect her, given the way they met? It’s Pretty Woman for the internet age! Sold!

Keep checking here, and I’ll bet something like this turns up in the next few weeks.

Trust me on this. After the first Lord of the Rings did so well, I correctly predicted there’d be at least one more.

COLBY FOR PRESIDENT

COLBY FOR PRESIDENT

I have to admit I haven’t been paying much attention to the Democratic primaries. And for weeks now, I haven’t been able to figure out why. Politics used to be my sports. I used to obsess over the stats and trivia of candidates and elections the way more guy-like guys would talk about who got traded where or how the first-round draft picks looked or – look, I can’t even pretend like I know what I’m talking about here, so just insert your own sports topic, please.

It sucks that I’ve always lived in late-primary states, so that by the time the vote comes to me, my pick is completely meaningless, pointing out the futility of the entire democratic process. Why is it that we give such weight to Iowa and New Hampshire, essentially putting the choice of the party’s nominee in the hands of about 10,000 farmers in two of the least important states in the country? I’m getting off track here. This isn’t about why we should have a single-day nationwide primary election. No, this is about a much more interesting topic: how reality TV has supplanted politics as my sports.

Politics has always been so full of drama, pettiness, scandal and oddball ugly people completely lacking in common sense. Now I get all that from Survivor, Amazing Race, American Idol, the Mole, the Apprentice and Big Brother, plus they eat gross shit, too. It’s not that I don’t think the outcome of the 2004 election is incredibly important, but in the last six months, I haven’t spent one full minute analyzing how each of the Dems would fare against Bush in the general election, or fantasizing about who each of them would or should pick as their Veep and how each ticket would fare in each state of the electoral college and what Bush will say in his concession speech. I’ve spent a lot more time wondering whether there’ll be sexual tension between Ethan and Jenna L. on All-Stars. (My guess: yes.) I’m through dreaming up scenarios in which a northerner could carry the south. I want to know if it’s possible for Richard Hatch to avoid being the first one booted off Mogo Mogo. (My guess: yes. It’ll be Jenna M.)

I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me or with the democratic process. Okay, it’s probably me. But this is what happens when they take my favorite show off the air for four years at a time. Politics, you just ain’t what you used to be.

And let this be a lesson to you, CBS. It’s time to stop sitting on the next season of Amazing Race and get it on the air already.

MYSTIFIED

MYSTIFIED

In the fall of 1982, almost a year before “Return of the Jedi” was released, I was talking to my best friend Johnny Boyle, who was the biggest “Star Wars” fan I knew. I was only a minor “Star Wars” fan, but I definitely planned on seeing the next movie when it came out.

“I can’t wait to find out if Darth Vader is really Luke’s father,” I said.

Johnny’s face lit up. “He is! And Leia’s his sister!”

From that day on, I’ve hated spoilers. Until I saw “Return of the Jedi”, at which point Johnny Boyle and I were no longer friends, I didn’t totally believe the Leia thing – I mean, didn’t they kiss in one of the other movies? Sure enough, though, Johnny Boyle was right. I still don’t know how he got his information or why he took so much joy in ruining the movie for me (not to mention himself), but these days, I’ll bet he’s somehow connected with Harry Knowles.

It’s for this reason that until now, I’ve avoided spoiling the ending of Mystic River. But now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided the movie is Best Picture material, I feel it’s time to explain why I’m so mad at Clint Eastwood. Bad Clint Eastwood, bad!

SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen “Mystic River” yet, you’ve been warned…

First of all, let me say that I really enjoyed the film most of the way through. If it had delivered on what it set up, it would’ve been in my Top 10 for sure. If the payoff had been really amazing, it might even have been my #1. Instead, the final twenty minutes were not only inexcusable, they ruined everything that came before. I didn’t know it for the first two hours, but all along, I had been set up for a lie.

The setup itself was great. Tim Robbins gets molested as a kid and grows up into a messed-up adult. Late one night, he stumbles in the front door of his home, shaken up and bloody, with no explanation of his whereabouts. That same night, his childhood friend’s teenage daughter is murdered. Clearly, the messed-up molestation victim did something messed-up to the young girl. Or did he?

For Robbins to have committed the murder seems too obvious. But what other explanation could there be? Well, that’s why we stay tuned for the rest of the film. And what do we get at the end? The mute kid did it. Apparently, he was jealous or something. Oh yeah, and the reason Tim Robbins seemed like he had committed a murder when he stumbled home that night was that he had committed a murder, just not the murder we’ve been caring about for the last two hours. It just so happens that by coincidence, this was the night Tim Robbins discovered a child molester on the prowl and decided to kill him to put his long-festering demons to rest. So he is a murderer, but he’s still a good-hearted soul who didn’t deserve to die at Sean Penn’s hand. Look, there’s my cake. Yum, wasn’t it delicious?

As for that murder we were so invested in all this time? It was committed by an underdeveloped character who we’re supposed to believe was capable of murder because, well, because he’s mute. Mute people are creepy, right? They’re such enigmas. Who knows why they’re not talking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to confess all the murders they’re committing.

It was more than just offensive; it was a major cheat. When you reveal your killer, it can’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It has to be someone the audience knows. In a movie that lasts over two hours and has tons of characters to keep track of, you don’t want to overdevelop a minor character, or it’ll be too big a clue that he’s your killer. Making the killer a mute kid solves this problem. You don’t have to give him a lot of scenes to make him stick in our memory – who’s going to forget a mute kid? And making him mute is a perfect excuse for not developing his character more. When he’s unmasked as the murderer, we won’t be wondering, “Why haven’t we heard more from this character?” He’s a freaking mute. What was he going to say anyway? And honestly, among the movie’s many characters, could there have been a more obvious suspect than the mute kid? I haven’t seen a murder mystery in ages where the butler did it. These days, it’s always some creepy mute kid.

And then, just when I’m wishing I had bought an extra-large root beer so that I could throw it at the screen, Laura Linney suddenly transforms into Lady MacBeth. Memo to the filmmakers: working class people don’t instantly become eloquent and poetic just because their husbands have committed murder. Moments like that are not the time to impress us with your vocabulary, Brian Helgeland. It’s much harder to write a speech that stays true to a character’s voice and still has emotional impact than a “profound” Shakespearean monologue that comes out of nowhere and ultimately, says nothing other than, “I’m not mad at you for killing that guy”.

If you haven’t seen “Mystic River” yet, I hope you’re not still reading this. Even though it was a lousy movie, I’d hate to ruin it for anyone. Okay, I used my blog to print spoilers for a movie that’s still in release. Bad, Jerry, bad! I promise not to do it again. And if I did blow the ending for you, then I apologize wholeheartedly.

Unless this is Johnny Boyle. It serves you right, asshole.

YOU’RE SO PRETTY WHEN YOU’RE FAITHFUL TO ME

YOU’RE SO PRETTY WHEN YOU’RE FAITHFUL TO ME

I had a few problems with my computer at work, and I made the mistake of reporting them to our tech support woman. She did a little clean-up on my hard drive and it looks like all of my personal documents got deleted in the process. Oops.

Most of it consisted of rough drafts of old blog entries — no big loss there, as they’re all backed up online — but I’m still trying to figure out what else I saved in there. Pieces of my abandoned novel maybe? Pictures of loved ones? My unsent fan letter to Maxine Waters? I was smart enough to take anything I really wanted home with me (usually by emailing it to myself)… or was I??? I’m not totally kicking myself now, but I’m afraid someday soon I might be. Right now, it’s the not knowing that’s killing me.

In happier news, Mike has a blog now! It’s still a baby blog, but let’s all encourage him and hope he keeps writing.

And coincidentally, my favorite blog about Mike seems to be updating again.

Guess who else is back? The Pixies! And Tears for Fears! (You can download their new single on iTunes — sorry, can’t get the link to work right now.)

Finally, congrats to two of my blogroll buddies: Francis, for his Bloggy nomination and Ken for being a finalist in not one but two screenplay competitions. To think, I linked them way back when…

GRANDMA

GRANDMA

This morning, I found out that my grandmother died. It happened two days ago, and it took that long for the information to reach me. That says a lot about my relationship with her.

My first memory of her is from when I was 5 years old. My family had gone to Florida to visit Grandma and Pop Pop, as we called him. I remember swimming in the pool, I remember being told that the salamanders wouldn’t hurt me, and I remember taking a trip to the mall. Grandma needed to pick up a few things, so we stopped in some discount store. As we were leaving the store, I noticed that my grandmother had left her TV Guide behind at the cash register, so I grabbed it and ran down the hallway after her. “Grandma, you forgot this!”

It turned out the TV Guide was for the woman in line behind us, and Grandma hadn’t paid for it. But rather than accept it as an honest mistake, Grandma called me a “thief”, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back to the store to return the thing and apologize. I blubbered uncontrollably as I confessed my “crime” and forced out an apology.

Grandma and Pop Pop liked to make their own Christmas ornaments. Every year, along with our presents, we’d get a few of them – usually clamshells lined with felt and decorated with sparkles and stick-on stars, with a string looped through a hole in the top and a label indicating the year and the location where the ornament was made. “Sanibel Island, 1977.” “Ft. Myers, 1979.” She’d wrap them in tissue paper and, instead of a bow or a ribbon on top of the package, she’d attach a scouring pad. My sister and I would whip the pads back and forth at each other like whiffleballs, and my mom would use them to clean the dishes.

The tension between my mother and grandmother was always a mystery to me. There would be visits where we’d leave abruptly and times when months would go by that they wouldn’t talk at all. I don’t remember them fighting, but I was definitely aware of a coldness in their relationship, like they stayed in touch because that’s what mothers and daughters were supposed to do but they really didn’t know each other at all. I think my mother tried to hide what was going on from my sister and me because she felt we were too young to understand it, and she didn’t want to turn us against our grandmother. Of course, that just made me feel left out and frustrated. I was being denied access to my grandparents, and I had no idea why.

Rather than a complete disowning or estrangement or something that might’ve earned them a spot on Oprah, my mom and grandmother continued this way for years. There would be a period of silence, and then a sign of hope. When my grandparents decided to move back north from Florida to be closer to their family, they didn’t choose upstate New York or Long Island, where my uncles lived. Instead, they moved to New Jersey, about fifteen minutes away from us. We still rarely saw them or heard from them, but we got the message that for some unknown reason, they wanted to be close by.

My sister and I hated being kept apart from our grandparents. My father’s parents had both died when we were very young, so Grandma and Pop Pop were the only grandparents we had left. My parents undoubtedly felt guilty that our grandparents were becoming strangers to my sister and me. One time, at our urging, my mom tried to reconcile with Grandma. She set up a lunch date and drove us all to Friendly’s to meet up with her. When my grandmother’s car pulled up, my mother told us that she wanted to talk to her privately for a few minutes. So my mom went over and got in Grandma’s car, and my sister and I watched them talk through the window of our car, several spaces away. “A few minutes” stretched on for half an hour or more, and at one point, my sister and I realized there would be no lunch with Grandma that day. Mom came back more upset than ever, and we watched Grandma’s car pull out of the lot and back onto the highway.

That year, Christmas came and went without any acknowledgment from Grandma and Pop Pop. After that, we knew that whatever was happening between my parents and my grandparents now extended another generation. Another year went by, and except for a card here and there or an occasional anecdote passed along by our cousins, they were out of our lives. Another Christmas went by, and again, we heard nothing.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I found out Grandma was an alcoholic. My sister told me, very matter-of-factly, as if she had known for years. I didn’t believe it at first. I had seen Afterschool Specials on alcoholism, and Grandma just didn’t fit the profile. Alcoholics were angry people who threw fits and said cruel, hurtful things, and they stumbled around and broke expensive vases, and they disappeared for hours on end, only to be discovered later lying in pools of their own vomit and blood at the foot of the stairs. I had never heard of a functioning alcoholic, but once I accepted the notion, suddenly, everything made sense. Now I knew why there was so much tension. Now I knew what all those whispered conversations between my mother and my uncles were about. Now I knew what that constant smell on Grandma’s breath was.

Inevitably, we ran into Grandma and Grandpa at a family function. My sister and I were about 14 and 15 at the time, and they were really excited to see us. They wanted to hear all about how school was going and whatever else people talk to kids about. They told us that they had a bunch of Christmas presents for us from the last two years. It seemed sad that they would buy presents in the hopes of delivering them and then just stow them in the garage. And it was even sadder that, with one set of presents still undelivered, they went and bought some more the next year in hopes of being able to deliver those. But that’s what this whole standoff was like for me. It just didn’t make sense. Grandma mostly avoided my parents the entire night, but my sister and I took it as a positive step that at least they could be friendly to us.

So my sister and I took the ball and ran with it. We went out and got them some gifts and planned a sort of Catch-up Christmas. Since we were still too young to drive and go to their house, my sister called Grandma and set up a time for them to come by our house, and my mother arranged not to be there when they arrived. The night before they were coming, my sister went to the supermarket and bought cheese and crackers, and she had my mother show her how to make coffee and tea.

I was still finishing my wrapping when I heard their car pull up. I didn’t leave my room, because I knew my sister, who was excited to be hosting her first social gathering, would answer the door. She had already set up the crackers and made sandwiches for lunch and had been nervously awaiting their arrival all morning. I heard the front door open, then a minute later, I heard it close again. I waited to hear my grandparents’ voices booming through the house, yelling for me to come say hello. But instead, there was silence.

By the time I went out to check on my sister, Catch-Up Christmas was over, and she was in tears. She had a bagful of presents at her side, but no grandparents. My sister had walked out and met them in the driveway, and they apparently handed her the gifts and said they couldn’t stick around for lunch. My sister asked them to wait while she ran back inside to get the gifts we had bought for them, but all my grandmother said was, “We don’t want them.” And then they sped off.

If we were looking for an excuse to write them off, we had it. Who were these people so afraid of running into their own daughter (they clearly didn’t know she wasn’t home) that they’d be willing to hurt their grandchildren like that? We really didn’t have much interest in their gifts at that point. I don’t think we even looked at them for a few days. And of course, when we did open them, we found the usual shells and scouring pads wrapped in tissue paper. “Sandy Hook, 1985″.

We saw our grandparents sporadically over the years after that. It was always at some function where we couldn’t avoid them. We’d be friendly and chat with them, but it was hard not to notice how much better their rapport was with our cousins, whom they saw more regularly. As I grew up, it never stopped being sad, but gradually, I got over the feeling that I was missing something.

Pop Pop died when I was in college, and I decided to skip the funeral rather than make the one-hour train ride back to New Jersey. I think I had an exam or something. Maybe not. Grandma’s health failed, and she gradually went blind and moved into an old age home on Long Island, near my aunt and uncle.

I’ve known for years that she wouldn’t be around much longer – she was 91 when she passed away – and occasionally I’d think about her and wonder if I should reach out. It’s hard to hold a grudge against someone who’s bedridden and blind, and I knew how happy she’d be to get a letter. But then again, what would I say? I hardly even know her.

I can’t say I feel guilty or remorseful, but I do feel sad. Clearly, I did miss out on something. I just don’t think Grandma was capable of giving it.

HOORAY! ANOTHER LIST!

HOORAY! ANOTHER LIST!

Well, it’s mid-January, so you know what that means…

It’s time for my Top 10 Movies of 2003 list! This year’s list is full of comedy, full of documentaries, and features one movie about a guy who’s full of shit.

I still haven’t seen a few movies I should probably see (like Monster, In America and Pirates of the Caribbean), and I’ve only watched enough of Seabiscuit to know it wouldn’t make my Top 10, but before “better late” turned into “never”, I figured it was time to satisfy my obsessive side with another list. Ahhhh… I feel much better now…

10. Shattered Glass – I hate when a movie title is a pun on the main character’s name. Well, the filmmakers sure hit paydirt with this kid. I keep imagining them going through all the alternatives: “Stained Glass”, “Glass Eye”, “Heart of Glass”, “Stephen’s Adventures Through the Lying Glass”, “Glass of Water, Table Two”. What if his name had been Stephen Rabinowitz? Would this movie even have been made? Dopey title aside, I was always fascinated by this stinky little weasel and the scandal he caused. The movie doesn’t do much to explain why he did what he did – who the heck knows – but it’s great at showing the ramifications for those around him, especially Peter Sarsgaard Who’s Getting Pushed For an Oscar Nomination and Chloe Sevigny Who Should Be. I hope the real Glass didn’t see “Big Fish”, or he’s probably thinking that 20 years from now we’ll look back on his bullshit as whimsical flights of fancy that enriched all our lives.

9. 28 Days Later – This movie’s goal: To scare the bejeezus outta me. Me, after seeing it: “Hey, where’s my bejeezus?” But yeah, it went south after they got to the army compound or whatever.

8. Camp – The sensitive parts were nice, and the musical numbers were great, but the funny parts were what got this on the list. The little kid who didn’t want to play sports. The performance art in the dumpster. The All About Eve subplot with the bitchy girl and her fed-up sycophant. It’s nice to see someone make an extremely personal film that isn’t self-indulgent or self-serious, and that’s actually, you know, fun.

7. Spellbound – My two favorite types of kids: #2. Nerdy kids. #1. Kids talking in foreign languages. This movie was the next best thing to “Au Revoir Les Enfants”.

6. School of Rock – The movie Jack Black was born to make. Maybe he’ll die now.

5. Bad Santa – There’s a point at which something is so cynical that you can’t take its cynicism seriously anymore. I’ve spent most of my life in search of that point, and this movie stayed there effortlessly and hilariously for an hour and a half. Now, I just wish people would focus less on Billy Bob’s performance and more on that little kid’s. I want to thank him for being so funny, for never playing on the audience’s sympathy and for breaking the Culkin family stranglehold on preadolescent roles. Remember the scene in “Gremlins” where Phoebe Cates talks about how when she was a little girl, her dad dressed up in a Santa suit then tried to slide down the chimney but broke his neck, and the family didn’t realize it had happened until they started a fire and smelled his cooking flesh? Well, this movie was almost as funny as that. Seriously, Phoebe, just how big was your chimney?

4. Elf – You have to agree on one point: If this movie had starred Adam Sandler, as it very well could’ve, it would’ve been thoroughly awful. Sure, I like Adam Sandler as much as the next guy, but you just know he would’ve mugged and overacted all the charm out of the main character, had his ex-roommate from college rewrite it and take out all the subtlety, cast Steve Buscemi as Santa and added about 1,000 more gratuitous crotch blows. But the last 15 minutes would’ve been exactly the same.

3. Capturing the Friedmans – I’m such a horribly nosy person, I could probably be fascinated by anyone’s home movies. But when you add a crumbling marriage, accusations of child molestation, a New York City party clown, a possibly false conviction, goofy accents, a frigid, awkward mother-son reunion and alleged games of anal leapfrog, there’s no way I won’t be riveted. I wouldn’t say this movie is non-biased (after all, the director is now helping Jesse appeal his conviction), but it’s definitely inconclusive, and that lack of certainty about what actually happened in the Friedmans’ computer classes, even more than all the eerie voyeurism of the late-80’s home video footage, is what’s going to stick with me for a long time.

2. American Splendor – Boiled down to its elements, it sounds like the most generic TV movie ever. A semi-lovable crackpot achieves minor celebrity, falls in love, gets cancer, beats cancer and finally, grows into a man after adopting an adorable seven-year-old girl. Twenty years ago, it would’ve starred Mickey Rooney and been a Sunday night CBS movie-of-the-week ratings smash. But thankfully, instead of some network hacks, this story fell into the hands of a group of truly original talents, who saw something more in the story and the real-life people involved. All the performances are great, from Paul Giamatti, who I always love, to Hope Davis, who I usually dislike, to Judah Friedlander, whom I’d never heard of before. The filmmakers find a really innovative way of telling their story that never lets you forget it’s a movie, for better or worse, and they know which tangents are worth the trip, like the “Revenge of the Nerds” scene. It added nothing to the story, but the movie wouldn’t have been the same without it.

1. Down With Love – Have you ever had the experience of being in a crowded movie theater and being the only one laughing? What about selecting a #1 movie of the year that you know will only bring you ridicule, condescension and blank stares? Well, this year was the year I learned that I’m brave enough to endure both. Maybe this movie was ahead of its time. Maybe America’s not ready to laugh right now. Maybe it was one of those movies that seems to have been made for me and me alone. I’ll never understand why America ignored this movie and went all puppy-dog swoony over Lost In Translation, the excruciating Triplets of Belleville and Mystic River, with its awful, awful cheat of an ending. Bad Clint Eastwood, bad! After seeing Down With Love, I declared my love for the movie’s writers and vowed to see everything they ever get made. Then I saw the other movie they wrote this year, Legally Blonde 2. Down with love, indeed.

ALSO PRETTY GOOD: Intolerable Cruelty, Cold Mountain, 21 Grams, The Italian Job, Finding Nemo, The Runaway Jury, Kill Bill: Volume 1

EVERYTHING I SAW THIS YEAR: Lost in La Mancha, Old School, Bringing Down the House, Willard, Phone Booth, Better Luck Tomorrow, Anger Management, A Mighty Wind, The Real Cancun, Identity, Spellbound, Down with Love, The Matrix Reloaded, The Italian Job, Finding Nemo, Capturing the Friedmans, 28 Days Later, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Camp, Freaky Friday, American Splendor, The Battle of Shaker Heights, Lost in Translation, The Station Agent, The School of Rock, Mystic River, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Intolerable Cruelty, The Runaway Jury, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shattered Glass, Elf, Love Actually, 21 Grams, Bad Santa, The Cooler, The Triplets of Belleville, Big Fish, Something’s Gotta Give, Cold Mountain

PUBLIC SERVICE

PUBLIC SERVICE

Anyone who’s still coming here looking for info on Chingy’s video with Keshia Knight Pulliam (and yes, there are LOTS of you), today’s your lucky day. You can now watch the video here.

But as long as you’re here, why not stick around and read some of my other blog entries. They may not be about Keshia or Chingy, but –

You’re already gone, aren’t you?

OH, GADS!

OH, GADS!

My favorite magazine as a kid was Dynamite Magazine. I think everyone I admired before the age of 10 was on the cover at one point or another. My favorite section of Dynamite was Bummers, a regular feature that tried to teach the concept of irony to children (Alanis Morrissette was clearly not a Dynamite subscriber) through reader-submitted examples and colorful cartoons. If they picked your Bummer and printed it, they sent you the cool sum of $5.00.

I submitted countless Bummers over the years, but none of mine were ever deemed fit for publication. And I had so many plans for those five bucks…

Today, I thought of a new bummer. Don’t you hate buying a CD on import and then, just a few days after it arrives, finding out it’s being released in the US in two weeks with special Bonus tracks?

BELLE! BELLE! BELLE!

BELLE! BELLE! BELLE!

If you look on my imaginary list of Things I’ll Never Ever Do, somewhere down about #45,327,846, you’ll find this: “See a Disney on Ice show”. Look at #45,327,847 and you’ll see, “Enjoy it”.

Well, I can cross two things off that list now, thanks to Drew’s Christmas gift for his adorable four-year-old goddaughter Chloe.

Some highlights:

  • Sitting in the front row right next to the platform where the performers made their entrances and exits. Every time a princess would step onto the ice, Chloe would call out to them and try to show them what they looked like in the program. Sadly, repeated cries of “Belle! Belle! Belle!” went ignored.

  • Drew politely asking the couple behind us if he was blocking their child’s view, then immediately realizing they had no kids with them. Apparently, some people have much different Things I’ll Never Ever Do lists than I do.
  • Chloe wearing her Princess Jasmine underwear and hoping Jasmine would somehow notice.
  • “Under the Sea”. Trust me: You haven’t seen it till you’ve seen it on skates.
  • The souvenir salesman giving Chloe a rose.
  • Chloe leaving the rose on the staging platform in hopes that Belle would pick it up. Me, ever the grade school weenie, terrified the rose would interfere with the performance and cause one of the skaters to break their neck or, worse, get us, y’know, in trouble. Wanting to take it back but afraid Chloe would get upset if I did. Then, watching Cinderella’s evil stepsister discovering the rose and proceeding to work it into her act, clutching it to her chest and smiling romantically, then dancing around with it for the rest of the number. (This simple act singlehandedly restored my faith in humanity and made this woman my all-time favorite ice-dancer, for whatever that’s worth.)
  • Knowing that Disney on Ice will now be an annual tradition, until the day, years from now, when a teenage Chloe rolls her eyes and goes, “Aw, like, no way, man! That is, like, so lame!”. And that will be the day my heart finally breaks.