Monday, January 31, 2005

Are We There Yet? Di Caprio Soars as "Aviator," But Prepare for a Looooong Flight

Note: My review of "In Good Company" is now up, under the entry for January 24. Check it out!


directed by ol' Marty
starring Leonardo di Caprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, John Reilly, etc.

Leo’s terrific,
Cate channels Kate.
Kate’s sexy but no Ava,
And oh, the hour’s late...

Seriously, folks, doggerel aside, I’m of two minds on this movie. For a prestige picture, it’s quite well done—looks great, and features some great acting, principally by di Caprio, whom I can almost forgive now for “Titanic.” Almost.

The problem is “The Aviator” is, in its own way, nearly as bloated as the benighted boat-epic that swelled Jim Cameron’s head to the size of Mars. (Let’s hope a win won’t do the same to dear old Scorsese, though I rather doubt it will.) Certainly it could have used a much more ruthless overhaul in the cutting room than it got—as it is, I can’t believe it’s up for a Best Editing Oscar. I may have the attention span of my generation—though I never watched MTV growing up, thank you very much—but I still don’t count it a good sign when I check my watch and realize, with some dismay, that there are over two hours to go. I’ve seen and loved many sprawling old-Hollywood movies, but this isn’t really one of them.

A deeper, though related, problem, is the “who cares” factor, which plagues this biopic much more than the others dominating this year’s Oscars field. It may be a generational problem again, in that Howard Hughes simply doesn’t hold the kind of lurid fascination for us that he did for, say, my parents. But a more tightly edited, sharply paced film might have crystallized why we of the 21st century are supposed to care about one man’s struggle with—well, with what, exactly? His mental disorder? His industrial rivals? His own ambitions? Broadly construed, I suppose “The Aviator” is more or less about the pull between Hughes’ lust for life and his gradual descent into madness. But it’s so loosely structured, it seems like pieces of several different films strung together as a Life by a few recurring motifs. (One could say the same for “Ray,” but “Ray” was held together by the music, which delivered a resounding and ever-present answer to the “who cares?” question.)

We learn, in dogged succession, that Hughes: had serious mommy-issues, which were almost certainly directly related to his lifelong obsessions with cleanliness, disease, and breasts full of milk (not much psychological insight otherwise into Hughes’ OCD); was fabulously wealthy; financed obscenely expensive movies; romanced famous actresses as well as nameless starlets and cigarette girls; and, oh yes, liked to fly. Against all odds, he broke flying records, broke his own body trying to break more; and broke Pan Am’s monopoly on transatlantic flights, despite vigorous and thoroughly underhanded opposition by Pan Am president Juan Tripp (well played by Alec Baldwin) and the U.S. Senator in his pocket (Alan Alda, good but not that good, Oscar voters!).

The showdown with the latter takes up the last third or so of the movie, which, not coincidentally, is the most riveting part—not so much on its own merits (we’ve all seen heroic grandstanding at Senate hearings before), but rather in the context of Hughes brief, self-willed rally against the mental meltdown that was rapidly engulfing him. Scorsese wisely ends the movie on the cusp between present triumph and future tragedy, and di Caprio really impresses as a figure teetering precariously between vision, hubris, and pathos.

It helps, of course, that he’s ably supported by Baldwin, Alda, Cate Blanchett, who's alternately brilliant and wackily over-the-top as pants-clad New England-royalty Katherine Hepburn, Kate Beckinsale as the sassy yet unexpectedly maternal Ava Gardner, and the quiet presence of the always-reliable John Reilly as Hughes’ money manager. (Also keep an eye out for blink-and-you’ll-miss appearances by Brent Spiner, one of my favorite typecast actors, and the marvelous craggy face of Willem Dafoe, as well as Ian Holm as Hughes’ wind-tossed, all-purposes scientific consultant.) But this is really di Caprio’s movie to carry on his still-boyish shoulders, and he passes with (ahem, sorry) flying colors. Like the enormous plane Hughes pilots at the end of the movie, he miraculously manages to make this ungainly, oversized vehicle soar.

RATING: ** 1/2

Friday, January 28, 2005

Half of an O.C. Report

Cause I saw only the second half. Hence this will be an extremely brief entry.

Liked Seth's comic sketches of the gang as superheroes. He and Summer had a very sweet final moment together. Clearly not over each other, but what else is new. Seth seems unusually subdued these days. Maybe he's growing up.

For the rest - eh.

Line of the week: "Nice house." -Alex, to Caleb

Found "ER" more interesting tonight, actually. Hot-button topic of the week: Bad FDA approving drugs prematurely, causes much misery and grief (and kidney failure) to angelic teenage girl and her long-suffering parents.

It's a good subject, but treated way too heavy-handedly by the writers. They stacked the deck against the drug companies, despite half-hearted efforts to present both sides of the question...which amounted to showing Carter get on his anti-pharmaceutical-lobby high horse and the powers that be weakly protesting the folly of biting the hand that feeds them (in the form of research grants, medical education and clinic funding, etc.). That approach just makes it look like the pharm companies are bribing the medical community to keep mum about questionable drugs - which may not be far from the truth, but it's a lopsided version of the story.

I liked the whole teacher-student authority-subordinate sexual tension theme that was also running through the episode. It was handled much more gracefully than the main storyline. Loved Abby's last scene. That student of hers is a cutie, though - reminds me of a younger Mark Ruffalo.

All right, I'm out. Peace be with you - and also with Iraq.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Calvin & Hobbes, Conspiracy Theory, and All that Frazz...

So first off, I admit with little or no embarrassment that one reason I subscribe to newspapers that aren't the N.Y. Times is to read the daily comics. I've been reading the "funnies" ever since I could first read at all, and have as much affection for certain strips as I do for my favorite books.

Among these, the standout among standouts is - or was - Bill Watterson's "Calvin & Hobbes." The saga of a spiky-haired six-year-old boy possessed of a wild imagination and a faithful stuffed tiger, it's hands-down the best comic strip ever written, though it was with us for far too short a time (mid '80s to '90s, I think). (Runners-up, for very different reasons: "Tintin"; "Peanuts"; and Lynn Johnston's "For Better or For Worse," a strip I also grew up with.) For every funny thought, experience, desire, or fear - real or imaginary, but esp. imaginary - anyone ever had as a kid, there is a C&H strip that captures its essence perfectly. It's the "Seinfeld" of childhood, only better and truer. I have four collections of C&H and still read them about once a year.

Then, upon moving to L.A. last year, I began subscribing to the L.A. Times. And soon noticed a comic strip called "Frazz," about a school janitor who's also a bibliophile and (apparently) a successful songwriter. Frazz keeps his day job because he likes having contact with kids. (Ok, that came out wrong, but I'm not going to revise my phrasing for all you fellow sickos.)

The strip itself I found unremarkable, except for one startling feature: Frazz is a DEAD RINGER for Calvin all-grown-up. And the illustration style generally is eerily similar to Watterson's, though not exactly the same.

My first, stunned thought (the thought of a lawyer, alas) was: this is a TOTAL knockoff - how is the cartoonist's ass not getting sued by Watterson et al?

Nevertheless, over time, I grew rather fond of "Frazz." It's not as good as C&H, but it's still pretty good. Its humor is gentler, but of a kindred spirit to Watterson's.

Then, in today's "Frazz," there was a direct reference to C&H:

(Sorry, still can't do links. Also, I just realized the cartoon will turn over tomorrow for the new one, but I'm sure there's a way to access the previous day's.)

That was surely a wink-wink-nudge-nudge too broad to be ignored, I thought. So I began googling "Frazz Calvin & Hobbes" and discovered that there's a long-running conspiracy theory that the cartoonist behind "Frazz" is really Watterson under a pseudonym. Watterson apparently became something of a recluse after he quit the C&H drawing boards. And "Frazz" is of relatively recent origin.

The best summary of the Frazz/C&H conspiracy theory is here (again, sorry you're going to have to cut & paste):

I don't quite buy it. But it's intriguing food for thought. And why else isn't Jef Mallett getting sued?

(Yes, I am very, very busy. That doesn't stop me from finding silly ways to procrastinate!)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Nominations are In...

More commentary to follow in the next several weeks, but for now, my initial thoughts. Predictions subject to change, of course.

1. "Aviator" and "Million Dollar Baby" will split Picture/Director. Not yet sure which way the split will go.

2. Jamie Foxx will bring home Best Actor (unless Academy gives him Supporting Actor and gives Clint Actor in order to give Marty Director?)...Haven't seen either "Being Julia" or "Million Dollar Baby," but at this point I'm betting on Annette Bening edging out Hilary Swank. Best Supporting Actor and Actress are wide open.

3. Poor Paul Giamatti. Guess that's what you get for playing a loser.

4. "Before Sunset" is adapted from what? (Love the movie, btw. Totally deserved some kind of writing nomination, not to mention an acting nod for the fabulous Julie Delpy, which of course she did not get.)

5. So how about that dark horse nominee, "Vera Drake"! which I haven't seen, but know enough about to say that'll have the pro-lifers who are paying attention uh, seeing red...Then again, those are the same people who hate Hollywood anyway. Though if it comes to that, I have pro-life sympathies myself - but that's a subject for another day...Anyway, I guess we need at least some politically controversial subject matter to fill in for the virtual shutout of "Fahrenheit 911," "The Passion of Christ," and "Kinsey." (Though there is one other movie among the big contenders that has a pretty hot-button issue tucked inside it, which I shouldn't know about or give away to anyone who hasn't seen the film.)

And that's it for now...more later.

Quaid, Grace Make "Good Company"


directed by Paul Weitz
starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlet Johansson, Marg Helgenberger

Father knows best, but Junior still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

That’s the gist of “In Good Company,” an inter-generational film that pits Boomer against Gen-Xer (or maybe it’s Gen. Y) and comes down pretty squarely in favor of the former. Even though its two protagonists are given equal screen time, the dominant narrative is that of Quaid’s pater familias, a sports-magazine advertising executive (aptly named Dan Foreman) who manages his employees the same way he manages his household—through experience, human savvy, and wry humor. Unfortunately, Dan’s on the verge of losing his well-worn authority, as both his professional and personal worlds are turned on their heads with dizzying speed: his beloved magazine, Sports America, is bought out by a soulless corporate conglomerate (is there any other kind?), while his family is shaken up by his wife’s unexpected pregnancy and his daughters’ budding sexual and professional aspirations.

Then there’s the other narrative—that of Topher Grace’s callow hotshot Carter Duryea, whose rise and fall criss-crosses with Quaid’s mirror-image trajectory. Fresh off his newly-minted success marketing cell phones to toddlers, the 26-year-old wunderkund is dispatched by aforesaid soulless conglomerate to head advertising at Sports America, thereby supplanting (and demoting) Dan. Carter has no ad experience whatsoever, and for bright new ideas can only parrot his company’s buzzword, “synergy,” which seems to be confined in practice to cross-promotion with some kind of crunchy cereal. To add insult to injury, the little punk, still licking his wounds from a recent divorce from a frosty brunet (played with trademark sulkiness by Selma Blair), begins schtupping Dan’s nubile daughter Alex (a peach-ripe Scarlet Johansson).

Without giving away anything specific, plot-wise, suffice to say that by the end of the movie, the paternal hierarchy is restored, God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world. That should come as no surprise for anyone who’s seen the trailers. The surprise is how smoothly the accounting is accomplished, aided by a feather-light, unforced, and refreshingly dry-eyed wit. Like Paul Weitz’s last film, “About a Boy,” this is a movie about a boy learning to be a man that keeps its focus as much on the man as on the boy, thereby steering clear of unnecessary schmaltz. “About a Boy” was better by far, though, if only because the man in question was as much of a boy himself, and therefore had as much to learn, as the boy. Here, Foreman, no less than Carter, may have his little vanities punctured along the way—but in the end, he doesn’t learn so much as impart.

Still, the dynamic works. Quaid parlays his crinkly-eyed charm into an appealingly solid figure who’s bemused to find himself acting as a reluctant surrogate father to his own boss even as he bumbles about trying to find the right paternal footing with his college-age daughter. Grace, for his part, plays the upstart with an endearingly bubbly, almost puppy-like enthusiasm tempered by flashes of lynx-eyed corporate calculating that become increasingly difficult for Carter to sustain. After all, he’s just a kid, and one who (of course) never had a proper father to guide him.

The real villains of the piece are Carter’s superiors at the synergy-seeking corporation—the false fathers, played to the hilt by Clark Gregg and the diabolical-as-always Malcolm McDowell as the mogul “Teddy K.” Alas, the caricatures feel twice as cardboard next to the prickly three-dimensionality of the protagonists. As a consequence, the face-off with these forces of evil feels at once pallid and overdetermined, and the final vindication of Foreman’s lone voice of human decency rings only partly true. As an anti-corporate tract, it’s utterly unconvincing. Where it resonates more deeply is, interestingly enough, its anti-outsider subtext: i.e., don’t you fancy folks come in here with your trendy bullshit ideas and tell me how to run my business! For all its veneer of squishy humanism, “In Good Company” bears a deeply conservative core. The overt message—love your work, love your wife, love your life—is loud and clear. But what lies just underneath that message is a celebration of networking of the old-school kind, business done by the firm handshake, and the dominance of red-blooded masculinity. The man’s man, briefly in danger of being emasculated, ultimately puts the metrosexual sushi-eating whippersnapper in his place—kindly and firmly, of course.

Nonetheless, the movie succeeds in large part because it ultimately defies easy characterization. Carter in the end eludes both the framework embodied (and idealized) in Dan Foreman and that represented by Teddy K. And Johansson’s Alex, despite a slenderly written role, displays a mind of her own, and proves to be at once more aggressive and more skeptical than one might expect from the general patriarchal tenor of the movie. Synergy may be outmoded as a business idea, but “In Good Company” is a perfect product of our times: neither fully “red state” nor fully “blue state” in its sensibilities, it’s ingratiating enough to play to both sides of the aisle.

RATING: ** 3/4

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The O.C. Report

Missed the first half of last week's episode, so opted not to do a report. I must, however, note with appreciation Sandy's serenading Kirsten to make up for forgetting their wedding anniversary. Oh, how I love that man...

An above-average episode this week, even though nothing much actually happens. Well, unless you count the revelation that Alex is bisexual, but that we already gathered from the previews, so...yawn.

Much more interesting: the fact that Ryan may possibly have talked more than Seth in this episode—and even more incredible, what he had to say reduced Seth to virtual silence. Have the stars stood still in their courses?

And what he had to say! Harsh ain’t no word for it. I personally think he was being unfair to Marissa. I mean, what kind of idiot guy leaves his drunk girlfriend alone on the beach when she’s been gabbling about going swimming? Besides, as Seth delicately points out, her drunkenness was more than partly Ryan’s own fault. He was the one who was pushing Lindsay to be friends with Marissa when they’re both clearly not ready for that yet, if ever. The awkwardness between the two girls was so well conveyed, I hardly blamed Marissa for busting out the flask. (Though the flourish with which she offered it was priceless, as was Lindsay’s effort at a tactful response.) And kudos to Alex for standing up for her when Ryan delivered his final, lowest blow.

I thought Mischa Barton was exceptionally good in this episode. Her acting’s still uneven, but definitely improving. She’s got a most unusual voice—much deeper and throatier than you’d expect from someone her age—and she’s still learning how to use it. Same goes for her beauty, both body and face. Marissa's flip-outs may be entertaining, but it was her mute reaction to Ryan’s invective that really anchored the moment. Her expression said it all. And I liked her restraint when Ryan came to apologize and she told him she genuinely liked Lindsay, but that she still cared about him. It was all the more convincing for being underplayed: my heart ached for her. Then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for Marissa. It’ll be mildly, though not very, interesting to see where this impending hookup with Alex goes. I liked that the episode didn’t end with them kissing or even touching, but just with an exchange of glances: Marissa’s furtive, half-appraising, Alex’s more opaque, reserving judgment. Again, understatement works—even on “The O.C.”

On a lighter note: How adorable is Zach? And how cute are he and Summer? That last shot of them sharing a milkshake was so corny, but...aww...

One thing this episode, as many others, and many other “teen” shows, made me wonder: Do these characters have no other friends? Or is it just that we only see Marissa and Summer hanging out, and Ryan, Seth, and occasionally Zach hanging out? I mean, isn’t Marissa supposed to be social chair (or something) of her high school?

But, as I've noted before, realism isn’t exactly the name of the game here. Or rather—I think for a show like this to work, it can take a lot of liberties with plot-realism, but it has to achieve a certain measure of *emotional* realism. “The O.C.” is pretty good in this respect. (“One Tree Hill” on the WB, incidentally, is better—or was, first season.) Believing in the characters makes it much easier to believe the totally improbable things that happen to them.

Lines of the week:
“Honey, I don’t want to alarm you, but there is a giant Julie Cooper on our table.” -Sandy
“Tonight, Newport is our bitch!” -Seth

Saturday, January 08, 2005

"Kinsey": Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Pun Fully Intended)


directed by Bill Condon
starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Saarsgard, Oliver Platt, a buncha other familiar players

About two-thirds of the way into “Kinsey,” someone tells the titular character, “You know, you’re more square than I thought you’d be.” The comment, minus the sneer, is an apt summation of the movie as a whole.

The speaker is a man who claims to have had sexual relations with over nine thousand adults, children, relatives, and animals: emphasis on children. As he describes, with a knowing leer, what it’s like to bang preadolescents, Kinsey’s attending assistant (played by Chris O’Donnell) leaves the room, unable to contain his disgust. Kinsey (Liam Neeson) pauses for a beat, then resumes the interview with a gravely opaque expression. It’s a fine bit of restrained acting on Neeson’s part. It’s also a glimpse of the abyss where this “Kinsey” dare not go, albeit for sound reasons—and as such, epitomizes both the movie’s key strengths and its shortfall.

“Kinsey” gives us, in reasonably compact form, the life of Alfred Kinsey, mid-twentieth century pioneer of the scientific study of human sexuality. For better or for worse, he is credited with having ripped away the veil of ignorance and secrecy that shrouded Americans' sexual habits and practices. Ironically, though perhaps appropriately, this is not a sexy movie, or even a remotely iconoclastic one. Instead, it’s a classic example of what I call the “well-made movie,” or more specifically, the well-made Great Man Movie. In other words, total Oscar bait.

All of the elements of the formula are there. The seeds planted in childhood, including the all-important struggle with the Tyrannical Father (John Lithgow). The slaying (figurative; castration – we won’t go there) of the Tyrannical Father. The early disappointments. The adoring, forbearing, and long-suffering Wife of Great Man who sets aside her own career to support him. (Goodbye, Jennifer Connelly; helloo, Laura Linney.) The moment of epiphany. The thrill of discovery, constructed around a consistent motif (here, diversity within the species). The struggle against forces from without (including, as always, McCarthyism). The struggle against forces from within (aka Doubt). The reconciliation with the Tyrannical Father, who turns out to have been a victim of his own demons. And the final affirmation from one whose life the Great Man has touched without even knowing it: “You saved my life, sir.”

Those last two scenes are genuinely moving, and I don’t mean to sound overly snarky about the Great Man formula. It's executed here with intelligence and sensitivity, although a few sub-threads are somewhat desultorily treated and ultimately left as loose ends—for example, Kinsey’s relationship with his only son, which (of course) echoes his own relationship with his own father; Kinsey’s quest to publish his most controversial work, a study of sex offenders; strife among Kinsey’s assistants when their spouse-swapping, conducted for purely research purposes, goes too far. The latter episode, in particular, seems to function solely as one of several judiciously spaced moral checks on Kinsey’s eager charge ahead in the name of freedom and discovery—but then, what more can you expect from a movie called “Kinsey”? Notwithstanding these setbacks, there’s no mistaking the movie’s ultimately positive take on its subject. Not so much on what he did or what he was as a man (his nickname was “Prog,” but there are times when you may want to call him Prick—pun fully intended), but on what he was trying to do for humanity—even if it was sometimes, paradoxically, at the expense of what makes humanity human.

Neeson’s performance, initially brittle and mannered, grows on you. (Or at least it did on me.) There’s something slightly, off-puttingly Brand-like about his portrayal of Kinsey’s messianic obsession, but unlike Ibsen’s doomed visionary, he is pulled back from the brink of inhumanity—in large part by his wife, Clara Macmillan, aka “Mac.” Linney, one of the best actresses around, is terrific as always in a role that’s more difficult than it looks. She gets one of the Moral Check moments, in which she reminds her blinkered husband that social taboos might be there for a reason, that you can’t compartmentalize sex and love—and delivers it beautifully. Peter Sarsgaard, otherwise perfectly competent as Kinsey’s prize student, assistant, best boy, and sometime lover, gets the other one, but he doesn’t do it nearly as well. Timothy Hutton, as one of the other assistants, and Oliver Platt, as the sympathetic Indiana University dean who backs Kinsey’s enterprise, stand out in smaller roles.

As I’ve said before, biopics by definition face an uphill battle. “Kinsey” for the most part captures the life of its subject with a sharper focus and more coherent sense of narrative than, say, “Ray,” and shows flashes of gently off-color wit that prevent its restraint from stultifying (unlike the sweetly soporific “Finding Neverland”). Conservative critics are unfortunately unlikely to get past the sheer perversity of celebrating the man who in their view triggered America's slide into sexual degeneracy, while detractors from the left are likely to label the movie as a typically soft-pedaled appeal to bourgeois middle-of-the-road liberalism. I, for one, was struck by how smoothly Condon applies mainstream aesthetic and moral sensibilities to the film's potentially incendiary subject matter. He accomplishes this feat partly by cutting away from the more graphic sexual scenes (or reducing them to grainy B&W), partly by adopting Kinsey's perspective of clinical detachment—though in the case of the sex offender, the film underscores the limits and limitations of this detachment, and of Kinsey's proto-Darwinian fascination with sexual variety among humans. At the opposite end of the spectrum, homosexuality is presented with warmth, clarity, and decided lack of fuss that call to mind Condon's previous film, "Gods and Monsters."

That said, “Kinsey” ultimately ended up being something of an anomaly in my book: the quintessentially square, solid, well-balanced film that I could not, in good faith, expect my parents to enjoy. Condon has made a very decent movie, in every sense of the word. Still, “decent” is a curiously ironic adjective to append to a man who, in his time, blew open the entire concept of decency. One can’t help thinking Dr. Kinsey either deserved much more—or much less.


A Little Bit of Beethoven in my Life, a Little Bit of Chopin by My Side...

Forewarning: This will only be of interest to those of you who like classical music, especially for the piano.

I love KUSC (FM 91.5, for those of you in the L.A. area). I really do. It's a great classical station, plays a great mix of what I call the "classical top 40" and a more interesting, slightly less played repertory. Nevertheless, today when I was driving home and heard the commentator remark, "Here's a Liszt concert etude that sounds like Chopin," I found myself muttering (yes, I do talk to the radio in the car), "Only to the extent that ALL Liszt sounds like Chopin - which he does and he doesn't." And, as the etude (which I once played, back in the day) unfurled, I found myself thinking, "It sounds more like Schubert, actually. Oh wait, that part sounds a bit like Chopin. Well, but Chopin does sound like Schubert sometimes, only better."

There are four composers from the Romantic period I tend to think of in conjunction with each other, having written some of the greatest piano music since - well, Beethoven: Schubert. Schumann. Chopin. Liszt. And they are flanked by two composers on either side of the 19th century who were also masters of the piano: on one side, Beethoven, of course, granddaddy of them all; on the other, Debussy, their strange and beautiful child. Before today, I'd mentally drawn "lines of influence" that look something like this:

--> Schubert ---> Chopin ---> Liszt
--> Schumann ---> Liszt ---> Debussy

Not to say there isn't a lot of cross-over, as today's experience proved. Still, I stick to my general rules of thumb, below, when I'm listening to something on the radio that sounds mid-19th century Romantic, in the Germanic tradition. (The Slavs have a quite different sound - and they're all late 19th century, anyway. Yes, I know Chopin was Polish, but he doesn't sound like those guys.)

So here are the rules. See how they work for you. (Assuming you don't know a lot more about these composers than I do, which, if you're actually reading this, you probably do.)

1. Sounds like Beethoven: You'll know when it is. Ok, so some early Beethoven sounds like Mozart, and some late Mozart sounds like Beethoven. But generally, Beethoven is Beethoven is Beethoven, a god among angels. (No blasphemy intended.)

2. Sounds like Beethoven, but duller and heavier: Probably Brahms. (Sorry, just not a big Brahms fan.)

3. Sounds like a cross between Beethoven & Chopin: Schubert.

4. Sounds light and sweet and un-tortured: Mendelssohn. He was supposed to have had a happy life, and it shows.

5. Sounds like Chopin: Probably is Chopin. Even more than Beethoven, he has a style you could almost trademark.

6. Sounds like Chopin, only more glittery, with shades of Debussy: Liszt.

7. Sounds, at different moments, like any and all of the above composers (and occasionally even like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, though maybe it's just my imagination): Probably Schumann. (Want an idea of his stylistic range? Listen to his Cello Concerto and his Fantasy for piano back to back: gorgeous pieces both, but unless you're a trained professional you wouldn't necessarily guess they were by the same composer.) Schumann is amazing: my latest obsession in the classical music department. (My last, not surprisingly, was Liszt.)

That's it. No doubt I have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. But hey, I can verify my rules have a pretty good track record, at least for me. I'm dopey enough to actually drive around the block - twice - or park & sit waiting for a classical piece to end on the radio, so I can hear who the composer is.

Ahem. Yes, I do have a life. Better go find it. Still, you could do far worse with your life than listen to these guys, to put it mildly.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The O.C. Report

Happy new year! Here’s hoping 2005 is more peaceful and prosperous than its predecessor. That’s not saying much—though it may be hoping too much. But we can only wait and see...and meanwhile balance the gloomy news with doses of healthy frivolity—such as “The O.C.”

A pleasing, if none too subtle symmetry rounds out tonight’s episode, tuned to the age-old theme: “Who’s yo’ sister?”

Only “The O.C.” could flirt with incest in order to telegraph the message “Ryan and Marissa have finally, REALLY moved on!”—and make it seem almost wholesome. It’s becoming a kind of specialty of the writers: As much incest as you like, but no blood incest. That way you get all of the juice, and none of the ick. Brilliant, when it works. Not sure it’s entirely working for poor ol’ Ryan and Lindsay, though they seem on a decidedly non-fraternal course. As for Ryan and Marissa, oh, never you fear. When the soap-op plot wheel comes around again for those two, they’ll sleep together, surrogate family or no.

Marissa in the meanwhile continues her descent into her own personal maelstrom. I was hoping she’d push Julie into the pool, and complete the whole Electra complex she’s got going there. If she keeps on hitting the bottle, though, she’s more likely to walk into the pool herself one day and never come out. (I know people who wouldn’t mind, but I for one would miss her. )

Binge drinking sits less comfortably with Seth, whose efforts to find his inner “bad boy” were truly hilarious. (Although I had to avert my eyes from the sight of him in a wife-beater. Noo, Cohen!) The corn-shucking kitchen scene was classic. The betrayal of “the code,” less so, partly because the whole Zach storyline was going nowhere fast. Acknowledging its datedness doesn’t make it any less stale.

I rather liked the last scene with Marissa and Jimmy. I like that he still decided to go even after her meltdown at his party. If he’s going to Maui, maybe he can guest-star on “North Shore” and make the dramatic revelation: Tessa, the reformed con artist extraordinaire, is really Haley! (Or vice versa.) After all, she is.

Lines of the week, both (of course) from Seth:
“Punch someone for old times’ sake, Ryan.”
“Shuck it yourself, old man.”
Not a line, but Sandy's reaction to the latter was also priceless.