These Charming Men

tremors-posterI ate up a couple afternoons one weekend watching these two movies, both of which are completely worth it. Now, of the two, the better is Tremors. The more interesting (because it is a worse film) is The Scorpion King, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Tremors is a monster comedy full of interesting, well played characters and smart set pieces. (Pole jumping from rock to rock and the final scenes stand out.) It’s amazing how much this movie sets in motion and achieves in it’s short play time. There is complexity and depth within scenes (follow the grocer’s storyline, or Reba McIntyre’s), and it all wraps up with a return to the opening shot that closes things off and gives a big payoff. More recent narrative films have lost sight of the virtue of classical storytelling. The movie also uses puppets which are just as much better than digital effects as hand painted animation is than computer animation.

And if this weren’t praise enough, the film also stars Kevin Bacon! Who deserves all the accolades we can heap upon him. He has charisma to burn, genuine acting talent, and a lighthearted comedic sensibility that has no obvious match in movies today. (He is the antithesis of the mopey narcissists of the Twilight movies.) In this movie he portrays the stupid-smart frontiersman of American myth with a flair that with only slight adjustments would be right at home in a film like Red River.

Scorpion KingSwitching gears, I saw The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) bouncing nuts off his pecs in a trailer shown before Hugo. I immediately realized I needed to explore his cinematic oeuvre more thoroughly than I had so far. So, I decided to watch The Scorpion King despite disliking The Mummy films intensely.

Alas, fifteen minutes into it, I decided to stop watching: the whole thing was dreadfully corny and too “serious” to be tolerable. I kept thinking of Conan, because it too had been so obviously corny, and yet, it still managed to be one of those 80s movie that gets a lot done fast and does it all well. The Scorpion King suffered from the comparison. And The Rock is no Arnold.

Fortunately, the remote was out of arms’ reach (yes, it was one of those days), the cats were on my lap, I was comfy, and so, I let it play, figuring I’d zone out, daydream, maybe nap. Instead, I kept watching, and the thing got better and better as it went along. I mean, never great or even good, but  The Dwayne lightened up, began to wink, and by the time he had burst into the the harem, I was reaffirmed in my conviction that The Johnson is a diamond (of sorts) in the rough and needs a chance to play something for adults that doesn’t involve guns or swords. Ideally, it would be a comedy.

Final too-serious note: The Rock’s persona is all about being beaten up and thrown around in a way that matches WWF, but on the big screen this reads as vulnerable, masochistic and needy without ever being unmanly. It reminds me of….and I can’t believe I’m going to say this…..of a hyper-physical, extroverted, camp Montgomery Clift. In Red River.

The theme of this post is, therefore, clearly, that Kevin Bacon and The Rock should co-star in a buddy pic set in the west.

Clueless in Academe

Clueless in AcademePicked Graff’s book up as a companion to the textbook I selected for a couple of my classes. It was completely useful and completely dull. The contradiction drives home another paradox: the obviousness and impossibility of English instruction.

Wild Analysis

Wild AnalysisI read this book because it was about transference, a topic vital to teaching. I found myself remembering that Freud is so much more interesting than people give him credit for. And less too.

Typically, he’s dismissed as irrelevant, unscientific and wrong. The Beav and I wound up talking about this because he’d just read an article by someone dancing gleefully on the grave of what they saw as Freudian nonsense. My sense of things is that this criticism misses the mark on several counts. Freud recognizes the unscientific nature of his work, seeks to address it, and in those places where he cannot, acknowledges the limitations of what he’s doing. To criticize him for not doing something he admits he’s not doing is pointless.

But mostly this criticism misses because, despite his attention to the materialism of the body, Freud is not interested in the idiot shibboleth of modern psychology and psychiatry, the brain. He’s interested in the mind and our experience of it. The result is an intensely humane concern for the possibility of improving our lives by harnessing the power of the stories we tell about ourselves. No rude search for the “truths” of our being, analysis is the social work of creating ourselves in narrative. This idea is beautiful and strikes me as right.

That said, he’s given too much credit by those critics who take too much of what he says as just plain true. They inevitably mystify rather than clarify anything they touch.

Montaigne on Blogging

This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one. I have had no thought of serving either you or my own glory. My powers are inadequate for such a purpose. I have dedicated it to the private convenience of my relatives and friends, so that when they have lost me (as soon they must), they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive.

If I had written to seek the world’s favor, I should have bedecked myself better, and should present myself in a studied posture. I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray. My defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form, as far as respect for the public has allowed. Had I been placed among those nations which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature’s first laws, I assure you I should very gladly have portrayed myself here entire and wholly naked.

Thus reader, I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.

So farewell.

–Michel de Montaigne

Weekend Double Bill


Carnage by Roman Polanski is based on a play whose popularity I do not understand. Everything is well acted and beautiful to look at. Perfect actually. But the entire set up and development is empty and false. The script provides overwritten blankness. It invites and nourishes interpretation but to no discernable purpose. As the Beav pointed out, “Why go watch people fighting for no reason?”



Hugo by Martin Scorsese is a Mary Poppins movie. It wraps a healthy dose of history education in a sugary package of sentimentality. The child actor is an Elijah Wood look alike: the same enormous, creepy blue eyes that convey only varieties of fear. The story is sentimental as hell, self-consciously Dickensian and without the history lesson, I would find the whole thing too syrupy to sit through. My problem is that I can’t hate it because I think what it does is really admirable and great. The people around me in the theatre liked this film and when the lights came up they were talking about Meliès, the invention of narrative film and the silent film era in general. In other words, they left the theatre knowing something important about movie culture and that matters to me. So, through gritted teeth, the teacher in me mumbles, “Go see this movie. It’s good for you.”

ps–I continue to loath 3D more and more with each 3D movie I see.


The last week of winter break I watched the first season of Justified. It was on Netflix, so the price was right and the renting was easy. And after a bit of googling helped me figure out what order to watch the mislabelled episodes in, I got sucked into this big time.

Two things grabbed me. First, Timothy Olyphant. I watched him in Deadwood and thought he was extraordinary. From there I’d wandered briefly into the movies. On the one hand, there was The Girl Next Door. This movie is funny. It also introduced me to Emile Hirsch, definitely a plus. But also, it’s not really my thing. On the other hand there is Hitman a movie I shut off after the first hour. What a big stinking turd. So, my thought was: here’s an actor I like and with potential but with nothing to see him in worth watching. Enter Justified. Olyphant is a character actor and this series is tailored to show him at his best. It’s good enough even that, after listening in from in front of his computer for a few days, the Beav sat down on the couch and actually watched a couple episodes directly.

The second thing that grabbed me was the landscape. This is a police procedural that doesn’t happen in police departments or in crime scenes. Instead, it’s very much an on-location visit-and-chat show à la Murder She Wrote or Castle. But with grit. The thing is that the landscapes they move through are the familiar southern woods of my childhood. I simply loved watching the scenery in this show.

The Lord of the Rings, Book I

 The Lord of the RingsI decided to reread this book during the last week of winter break. I saw no need to rush though, so I’m going to read it book-by-book.

The first book breaks in half with Bree as the center point. The earlier bit is the dangers at home and is less interesting. As in the end of The Hobbit, I have the sense of Tolkien writing himself into bigger material. (But if it’s a working toward material why keep it in? My experience of it reading is that it allows me to move toward the larger, more complicated material as well. A useful strategy.)

After Bree, the book hits the tone that I remember defining the novel the last time I read it: lonely men telling stories to each other about a lost world they are trying to remember.

Two thoughts:

1. this is not a coming of age story. it is a coming to middle-age story. These are old men (50, 80, older even), who are confronted with a world that is less than they dreamed it might be and having to choose lives that are different from what they’d hoped for. However glorious when seen from the end, when seen from the moment of choosing, this life seems a lesser and more unpleasant destiny. In other words, this is not primarily a book about learning and discovering the world. It is a book about accepting the world and living through the mismatch of an inescapable reality and equally inescapable dreams.

2. The reader inhabits the same relation to the book as these characters inhabit vis-à-vis their world. Both the reader and the characters mourn the loss of a world that was more magical, more wonderful, more full of life and love than the one they live in. What they have are stories, and what they do in sharing them is to build relationships with people and try to figure out what is left for them to do. What is coming–but they don’t (and can’t) know–is glory.

To be continued…