How (Not) to Get Your Writing Published

March 5, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m currently reading submissions for a bi-annual literary journal, sifting the “stellar” from the “has potential” and the “just get it away from me.” Since I’m currently an unknown writer sending my poems out to various publications, whispering, “Like me, like me, like me” when I mail them, I know the vulnerability of putting your work into the hands of someone potentially willing to publish it.

I’ve been writing poetry since early childhood. My premier preschool-era poem still hangs on my grandma’s wall; it is entitled “Happy Birthday Grammo” — my spelling was not all that at age 4.  Despite my two decades of writing since then, however, I’m still an “emerging writer,” in that I’ve never published a book. Or published in a lot of journals. Or developed a following. Okay, “emerging” is a generous term; I’m still very much in the early stages of getting published beyond my grandmother’s living room. And since I’d like people to read more than a single poem written in magic marker, I really hope that people at various journals and publishing houses are going to give my work a chance.

Especially since at any other journal I’d be the submitter, when I’m reading submissions sent to the lit mag I work for, I truly try to give each one the benefit of the doubt, assuming each poem will be good until I’m proven otherwise.

But sometimes I’m proven way otherwise.

My friend J made this stamp as a gift for another friend, who is an editor for a literary journal and who also teaches poetry to undergrads. I don't care if it's a joke -- I'm starting to want one of these.

Over the last two months, we’ve been processing significantly more submissions than normal because we’ve been reading all the entries for our annual editors’ prize. I’ve read over 500 poems that have been submitted for the contest, and that “benefit of the doubt” period I try for is getting shorter and shorter. (Are you familiar with the concept of the nanosecond?)

There are a number of things submitters do that immediately set their poem on the slippery slope to the “no” pile. (Subsections of the “no” pile include the “hell no” pile and the “oh, please, please let me never think of this again” pile.)

To help you, the submitters, (but mostly to help me and other editors deal with this crap less in the future), I’ve compiled the following points to help you avoid ending up in one of the nine circles of rejection hell.

1. Read the gorram directions.

a. If the journal’s submission instructions say, “Please submit no more than [insert integer here] poems/stories at a time,” what should you do? That’s right! Your should submit twice as many as they ask for because anyone anywhere would be happy to read more of your poems!

No. My biggest piece of advice for submitting to journals is to go out of your way not to piss off the people who will be evaluating your work. If I open your submission file to discover that you’ve included eight poems even though we only allow six at a time, I’m immediately annoyed, and I think two things: 1) This person did not read the directions, and 2) This person thinks that he/she/ze is above the directions. Well, guess what? Since I work for the journal, those are my directions, and your ignoring them is like giving me the middle finger while I’m doing you the kindness of trying to consider your work seriously, even if the title is “One in a Million” (Note: actual title for a poem I recently read — try to avoid cliches, especially in the title: it’s your first impression).

You don’t want me thinking you’re lazy, negligent, or arrogant before I even read your poems.

b.  If the instructions say, “Oy! These are going to be blind submissions! Don’t put your name on the manuscript!” then my suggestion is: don’t put your name on the manuscript! If you’ve submitted to a contest or an editor’s prize or anything else that asks you to remove your name from the file holding the poems/stories, but you ignore this and put your name and contact information on the first/last/every/any page of your manuscript, the person reading your submission can and probably will just reject it without reading it, since you didn’t follow the rules.

Conversely, if the mag asks you to put your contact info on every page of the manuscript in order to make it easier for them to contact you later, do that. If you don’t follow the directions, everyone will know how poorly you did on the “listening” portion of the STAR tests as a child.

2. Submit all your pieces of writing in one file, unless the directions indicate differently. Why? Multiple files are a hassle for us.

Many publications now allow you to (or even prefer you to) submit online. Writers usually do so by uploading their work to a dropbox feature on the journal’s website or through a service such as ManuscriptHub, or Submishmash, or Submittable.

We use, and after writers electronically submit their work, our readers must then download each file in order to review it.

Each submitter has his/her/hir own folder, and you will have assuaged me if I open your folder to find only one file (.pdf or .doc/.docx or something please — if I have to figure out how to open up some bizarre file type I either 1) won’t, or 2) will be incredibly annoyed by the time I actually get to your writing). If, however, I open the folder for submitter #4559 and find four separate files, each of which holds a poem about one page long, I will be muttering obscenities to myself as I open them. (You only want this to happen after I read your poem, as in, “Fuck! This poem just tore my heart out and fed it to a vulture and then put the vulture through a wood chipper!” This is how I react to things I like; I’m weird.)

3. I am judging you based on your font. When I open your (one, please just one) file, the font is the first thing my eyes register. Before I can evaluate your title or even the poem’s visual form, really, I either notice your font or fail to notice your font.

a. If I fail to notice it, that means you used Times New Roman: good job. Times New Roman is totally innocuous — it’s easy to read and is the default font for Word documents.

b. If I notice it and it engenders a happy feeling in my chest, that means you used a font other than the old standby of TNR, and one that is aesthetically pleasing but conservative. Examples of this include Georgia, Palatino (my current favorite), Garamond, Cambria, and plain Times (somehow slightly more beautiful than TNR).

Poets care an inordinate amount about font and spacing; I’ve had multiple protracted discussions with other poets about which fonts we prefer and why, as well as the benefits of 1.15 spacing and the evils of double-spacing a poem. You might think we’re ridiculous, geeky control freaks to spend time alone in our rooms thinking about fonts, and we probably we are — but we’re the obstacle between you and publication, so we’re ridiculous, geeky control freaks with power.

c. If I notice your font and it engenders a tight, burning feeling in my chest that makes me look for the nearest chair or small child to kick, that means you used something absurd — a flowery script that I can barely read or some pseudo-handwriting that looks like a kindergartener scrawled your poem in crayon (unless you are a kindergartener writing a poem destined for your grandmother’s wall, this is unacceptable). I will not take your poems seriously anymore. I will read for evidence to support my new belief that you are a dilettante/moron/cat that stepped on the keyboard while Jane got up to make a cup of coffee.

4. I’m judging you based on your poem’s visual form. Never center-align your poems. Never. Just don’t. It shows that you’re an amateur.

The only acceptable center-aligning that I can think of occurs in Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony, in which she center-aligns a series of ceremonial poems/stories that interrupt the prose at various points, and these are center-aligned to emphasize that they are spoken, i.e. this is oral tradition: Native American myths spoken throughout the generations. And even in the midst of this brilliant, astonishing, acclaimed novel, I still cringed when I came upon poems placed in the middle of the page.

5. If you haven’t racked up any demerits during numbers 1 through 4, congratulations! I am now actually reading your writing without any negative feelings!

But now I’m judging you based on your title.

Coming up with a title can feel like lot of pressure. I mostly suck at it. The easiest thing is to use a very simple title and thus dodge the bullets of “cliched” and “overdramatic.” If you write a poem about a cornfield, call it “Field;” a poem about a lover, call it “For Thomas” (feel free to substitute the name of your own lover).

That “One in a Million” poem? My expectations immediately fell from this-person-could-be-the-next-Anne-Carson to writing-from-a-Katherine-Heigl-movie-level. Similarly, don’t call your poem “Tortured Hell that Is My Soul” — you don’t want me thinking this is a discarded Dashboard Confessional song from 2003. (Keyboard confessional: I secretly loved DC back in the day, and I’ll still rock out to “Vindicated” if given the chance.)

A title prepares readers for the poem, primes their expectations. A title can lead grammatically into the first line of the poem (I have a poem called “She Asks Me How You Are,” and the first lines are “And I tell her / you’re wonderful”), or a title can provide vital information (W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939,” which centers on the Nazi invasion of Poland on that date, which marked the beginning of World War II) or convey a tone (“In Vermont No One Can Hear You Scream” and “The Things I Do When I Am Not Doing You,” both by Gregory Sherl, who great and you should check these poems out right now — go on, click the link).

Your options for titles are myriad, but the safest is a one or two word title that is quiet and doesn’t distract from the poem. Of course, if you can come up with a title that does something more than be innocuous, kudos! Just so long as the thing it does isn’t “sound like a 13-year-old’s diary.”

I’m a big fan of the super specific, super long title. James Wright was a master of these. Great titles of his include “In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned” and “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” the latter being one of Wright’s most famous poems (and one of my absolute favorites). He also has a poem called “In Memory of the Horse David, Who Ate One of My Poems,” which consists entirely of the title: there is no poem; the horse ate it!

Of course, you can use a subtle title such that the poem’s ultimate tone or content comes as a surprise. When I first read Matthew Dickman’s “Grief,” I certainly wasn’t expecting the first line to be “When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla.”

There are so many options for titles, and you should feel free to experiment. I had high hopes for a poem I read entitled “If Proust Had a Facebook Account.” Just remember that the title is a reader’s first opportunity to get an impression of your writing; you don’t want that impression to be, “Did he copy this title from his great aunt’s needle-point pillow?”

7. Rhyme. If your poem sing-songs like a nursery rhyme and isn’t a re-imagined nursery rhyme that has the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe on welfare, there’s a problem. Use rhyme carefully (and, when in doubt, sparingly).

8. Be careful with controversial topics. I will cringe if you mention Jesus, or write a poem about 9-11. Writing political poems or other poems with an agenda is very hard. Read an anthology of anti-war poems: most of them will be heavy-handed. A poem (while in progress) needs the facility to change and grow and expand according to its own artistic needs; having a very definite message or moral that you want the poem to convey stifles the possibility for the poem to surprise you, its writer.

This is not to say that a poem dealing with a controversial event or issue cannot be successful — I write political poems sometimes — but if I’m distracted from the actual language and content of the poem thinking, “This is an Iraq War poem,” or “This poem really, really wants me to believe in Jesus,”  your poem will fail in terms of both art and message.

9. Be individual. This is the most difficult task I can give you; the pressure to be entirely unique as an artist (and a human being), to do something no one has ever done, to create a phrase no one has ever used, can feel immense. Don’t feel overwhelmed — simply develop habits that will help you make your voice distinct from the voices of others. Namely, read. A lot. Read all kinds of things — poetry, novels, nonfiction, humor, genre fiction, news — but pay special attention to others writing in your genre, be that genre poetry, the short-story, or what have you.

Pay attention to images and words that you see repeated amongst different writers so that you can avoid over-used images or words or phrasal constructions. People at our journal were joking recently about how many poems we get that compare hands to starfish, and low and behold, one of the submissions I was reading this week actually used that metaphor. I found myself laughing quietly while reading, as well as expecting this poem (the starfish/hand image came in the first few lines) to be rather uninventive and unsuccessful. I hope no one reading my poems is reacting to them that way.

10. All my submission advice up to this point can be summarized in one point: don’t alienate your reader. If you can avoid any red flags that shout “This writer is an amateur!” or “This writer didn’t read the directions/doesn’t really care about this!” or “This writer is either a child that doesn’t speak English or a goldfish!” then you are in business.

Finally: get your stuff out there. Don’t be intimidated by all my bitching and raving; be careful and be attentive, but put your writing into the world. Though the editors and other staff reading journal submissions can seem scarily critical, as if they are just waiting for a reason to hate your work (and I probably just added to that intimidation factor — sorry about that), all we really want is to love your work.

When I see a poem with a font like Renaissance-era calligraphy, I’m annoyed, yes, but mostly I’m sad. My annoyance comes from being disappointed: I was hoping that poem would be spectacular.

The people reading your submissions want you to succeed, so fly, little bird, fly! into the wide literary sky!

Avoid cheesy imagery and terrible rhymes like that last sentence and you’ll do wonderfully.

I Do Not Trust People Who…

February 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m a judgmental person. I like to think myself as “discerning” rather than “judgmental,”  but let’s just call it like it is.

I try, however, to keep my criticism to myself (and close friends) — with the blatant exception of this blog. I can certainly be a bitch, but ripping someone a new bodily orifice because she admits to liking Mumford and Sons is just unnecessary.

Plus, maybe it’s my intense love for media so bad it’s good, or so overblown it’s great, but I don’t want other people to feel as if I’m looking down on them for watching The Vampire Diaries. Perhaps the base impulse here is my desire not to have others look down on me for watching Pretty Little Liars. Or Gossip Girl. Or Beauty and the Geek (man, I wish that show still existed). I have so many guilty pleasures I’ve just started calling them pleasures.

But I have known quite a few people over the course of my life that are unapologetic elitists. Or “pricks,” to use the common parlance. This is one of my least favorite personality traits, so naturally, I keep trying to date guys who possess it.

But really, I hate people who are dickish about what other people like. If the woman who works two cubicles down from you loves Taylor Swift, unless she plays “Love Story” on repeat without headphones, shut your damn mouth.

All that said, while you are free to like and dislike whatever you want (you are quite probably wrong, but that’s your prerogative), I do think it is fair to judge you based on what you know about and do not know about. If you think Camus is a perfume, I will think less of you.

Thus, below you will find a list of knowledge gaps, behavioral tendencies, and character traits that mean I will not trust you.

I will not trust you if

1. …you cannot quote Mean Girls. I don’t expect everyone to have memorized all ten seasons of Friends like I have (except for my best friend K, I do expect this of her. Luckily, she doesn’t disappoint), but Mean Girls is one of the movies of my generation (I will give you a pass on this point if we have a significant age gap). If you don’t know what I mean when I say that “My father, the inventer of toaster strudel” would not approve of something, our senses of humor are not going to align.

Why is this line the best thing ever? I don't even know. Speaking of: this is the best valentine I've ever seen. Thanks, Feminist Ryan Gosling.

2. …you don’t know who Paul McCartney is. During this Sunday’s Grammys, featuring an appearance by the man himself, the twittersphere blew up with this mess:

via Buzzfeed -- to be read with a keen sense of disgust and a fear for the future of humanity

I can forgive the people who haven’t heard of Bon Iver — although that ignorance demonstrates that we probably can’t be close friends, and we can definitely never date — even if they (well, Justin Vernon, so “he”) won their “Best New Artist” Grammy in 2012 when their first album came out in 2008. But Paul McCartney?! Paul McCartney!! Please God, tell me you know who the Beatles are.

I hate when older people say that the younger generation is taking the world straight to hell, but come on, is this a generation that have not only never heard the Beatles, they’ve never heard of the Beatles. Hello, Hades, I hear you have good pomegranates here…

3. …you do not like Adele. It’s fine to be sick of her songs getting overplayed on the radio — especially “Someone Like You,” which is an incredibly emotional and touching song and which I don’t want to hear after some Bruno Mars shit while I’m shopping for groceries. If you genuinely think that Adele is not a good singer or a good songwriter, even if her style is not necessarily for you, you have the musical IQ of Paris Hilton (remember “The Stars Are Blind”?) and are the emotional equivalent of fossilized dinosaur dung.

I didn't watch the Grammys, but I am happy she won all of the things. She deserves all the recognition she can get, even if the Grammys are a pandering mess that often make the Oscars look like the paragon of artistic taste.

4. …you do not like/watch television. My perverse fascination with The Bachelor aside, I truly think that television is an unfairly maligned and undervalued art form. The structure of multiple episodes produced over a long period of time allows TV shows to develop characters in a manner that other more limited media, such as film and even (non-series) novels, simply cannot approximate. This is not to say that television is a superior art form to film, but it can achieve things film cannot, and vice versa.

There’s a reason I sobbed wildly during the season 5 finale of Bones when Booth and Brennan finally express their love for each other and then not only do not get together, but depart for different parts of the globe for the next year. I care deeply about these two as human beings, and while I know that they are fictional characters that do not “exist” in our traditional understanding of the term, I do think that fictional characters engage us emotionally in important and useful ways, and as someone who loves stories, all forms of stories, I love a medium that allows narratives of human lives to be explored and examined over such a protracted period of time.

Anyone who doesn't think these two should be together was tragically born without a heart. Or the brain region responsible for feelings of empathy, as Brennan might more accurately say.

Plus, no one who’s ever seen Battlestar Galactica can say that television is an inferior art form. That show is like a philosophical treatise. With bonus Tamoh Penikett.

BSG's confronting the notion of fear of the Other would make the show incredibly necessary and beautiful, even if its many other nuances were absent.

I have friends who would like to spend all of their time climbing trees and growing organic food, and who are genuinely not interested in TV, but these people similarly are not interested in/do not like/do not know anything about film. The other day I was talking to a friend about a poem I wrote that features Ryan Gosling’s dog, and she said, “Is that an actor?” She wasn’t putting me on — this is simply someone for whom electronic media, including television and film, are not even peripheral to her life.

However, 9 times out of 9.78, if you are the kind of person to say, “What is this ’30 Rock’ of which you speak? I don’t watch television,” you’re probably an elitist asshole.

Most redeeming thing James Franco has ever done.

Hackers Are the 21st Century’s Sexy Pirates

January 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

"Hero Time is Gone," by Lora Zombie

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, / […] who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes  — Alan Ginsberg, “Howl”

Twenty-first century America is sick for heroes. Wars no longer happen on our soil and thanks to television news, their romanticism has seriously waned. Our revolution was long ago, and our dissatisfaction with the nation becomes foggier without a clear outside opponent — what to do when we have seen the enemy and the enemy is us?

We’re so sick for greatness, we lap up any celebrity, modernity’s sad facsimile of the hero, and Tim Tebow’s been controlling our national emotional life.

While Arab protestors risk their lives fighting oppressive regimes, the biggest American protest movement in a generation is portrayed by the media as a bunch of dirty people camping in a park.

When corporations are legally people and money seems to mean a lot more than speech, it can seem impossible to make a dent in the monolith of corporate control. I write emails, I sign petitions, I go to protests, and it mostly seems like it’s doing jack shit.

Well, someone’s doing something…and it’s not exactly legal.

Some background, in case the rock you live under doesn’t have wifi: On Wednesday the internet mobilized to protest the (dangerously vague and logistically flawed) anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA (from the House and Senate, respectively), with a widespread blackout. The MPAA, which has been heavily lobbying in support of both bills, disdainfully tweeted its response, noting, “Internet blackout against U.S. law fails to enlist big sites“; little-known website Wikipedia reports that 162 million people viewed its blackout landing page, while an unpopular search engine called “Google” had 4.5 million people sign its online petition against the bills.

A reported 75,000 websites took part in the blackout — including Reddit, Mozilla, Craigslist, GOOD, and Boing Boing, among many others — which had politicians running for the hills. By the end of the day on Wednesday, 18 previously pro-PIPA senators had dropped their support, including seven co-sponsors of the bill, while SOPA co-sponsor Representative Ben Quayle of Arizona changed his stance, along with several other members of the House.

But Thursday saw the feds flexing their muscles, as the Justice Department shut down file-sharing giant Megaupload in what it called in a statement, “among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States”, seizing servers and assets (including the personal property of founder Kim Dotcom), and serving arrest warrants for Dotcom and six others associated with the site.

Then the internet got pissed off. Less than 24 hours after the electronic equivalent of a sit-in, things got aggressive. Via a series of direct denial of service attacks, cyber-collective Anonymous — which has been referred to as a group of hacker-activists, or “hacktivists” — brought down the websites for the U.S. Department of Justice, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Universal Music, U.S. Copyright Office, and the FBI.

In their words, “WE ARE THE 99% – WE AR#ANONYMOUS – YOU SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED US #Megaupload“.

Now that’s hot. 

"We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us." Anaphora is hot.

You may not agree with what they stand for, you may not agree with what they do, you may think they are a bunch of nerdy criminal punks — but still, that’s hot.

Twenty-first century, let me introduce you to your new hero: the hacker.

Hackers are the pirates for the internet generation.

Corporate America may seem to have a stranglehold on our political process, but the internet is democratic — not just in that it’s democratizing publishing and music, or that it’s making information more available, but in that it allows the actions of people without special financial, social, or political capital to have serious and palpable consequences.

Hackers are the new pirates. Figuratively and legally. A popular site was dubbed Pirate Bay, and some of what they do is legally called “pirating.” Unlike actual pirates, however, hackers can take regular showers, maintain dental hygiene, and won’t get scurvy.

Yes, Johnny Depp is sexy as hell in Pirates of the Caribbean, but think about it: do you really think he smells sexy as hell?

Mmm, fish and 30 days of body odor buildup!

Cyber pirates can comb their hair and eat something besides salted, dried meat and the crumbs they find in their beards. They can launch an attack against The Man, then sit down to watch Top Chef with you over takeout Chinese.

Of course, there are modern-day pirates more in the vein of “Arg, matey! Give up your cargo!” but they’re a bunch of unwashed Somali guys with automatic weapons and a lot of emotional baggage. I’ll pass.

I’ll take an online pirate over a maritime one any day. An average citizen fighting The Man and actually having some effect? I think a Facebook friend put it well yesterday when, commenting on the Anonymous takedown of government and corporate websites, she wrote, “illicit sure, but nerd-knights = sexiest.”

America, I’m here to tell you these are the kind of heroes women can get behind. Or on top of. You get my drift.

And when I say “women,” I don’t just mean the geeky teen with a 4chan account, or the accountant that was goth in high school.

The women who think hackers are sexy are not just classic geeks. They probably don’t code. They don’t play World of Warcraft online, don’t have Deviant Art pages or cats named Spot. Sure, maybe they can quote Buffy or have twitter handles like “YouHadMeAtHelo” or “WhoWatchestheWatchmen”, but they also play sports, and wear perfume, and go to parties. They read Glamour, they read The New Yorker, they read comic books, they read Nabokov, they read cereal boxes. They are many and variable, and they think internet activism is hot.

The hacker-hero is a new breed of coder, a bad boy without that annoying drug habit.

This is not the computer nerd from most 90s movies. I’m not talking about some overweight white guy in glasses whose ass has fused with his desk chair and who seems to live solely in the dark, like a mole rat. That guy does the protagonist’s bidding while taking sad sidelong glances at the impossibly hot female lead.

I’m talking about Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard, a hacker with a quick wit and a tongue to match, nerdy-sexy a la Adam Brody’s The O.C. character, Seth Cohen, whose explosive popularity suddenly made “geek chic” a thing in the mid ’00s.

You just said something witty, didn't you?

I’m talking about Lisbeth Salander, a hacker with chopped black hair and a nipple ring, not so much antisocial as asocial, silent but vicious.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's English-language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yeah, I'm equal opportunity Stieg Larsson.

I’m talking about a hacker that can cut you, but probably won’t because we’re baking pies tonight and we’ll need the knives later.

Also, this hacker isn’t necessarily male. She doesn’t have to be Sandra Bullock in The Net; I’m picturing a sexy young black woman with a short afro and a neck tattoo, or a pale white girl with dark, pixie-cut hair and an affinity for jewelry with animals on it. I’ll take a femme-y hacker, with a side of Guy Fawkes mask — to go.

Hackers: the new pirates, only cleaner, better educated, and less likely to kill you in the morning.

Good night, Westley. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning. (Well, okay, I'd like to break off a piece of this pirate...)

This isn’t the perpetual-friend-zone guy helping you take down that compromising picture your ex uploaded to the internet; this is the guy you’re taking the pictures for.

And as for me, I like to think of my imaginary hacker boyfriend looking like Matthew McNulty.

The Man with the Dragon Neck-Tattoo...Who's Mine So Don't Touch Him or I'll Cut You

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

January 10, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’m one of those people — you know the type, people who pick out grammar and spelling errors constantly. In ads, signs, published writing, other people’s speech. Mostly I keep these observations to myself, since I have enough other qualities to explain why I’m single, but every once in a while, an error comes up again and again until I find myself spontaneously shouting in an aisle of Safeway. Alone.

No, this time I’m not talking about the need to use possessives with gerunds, or who vs. whom (though I read an interview with Rachel McAdams in Glamour a week or so ago, and she continually used whom correctly and now I have incredible respect for her — I may put too much emphasis on people’s ability to speak properly as evidence of their character worth).

I’m talking about the word “ironic.” Nathan Fillion knows what I’m talking about.

Rick Castle: Thank you.

Kate Beckett: For what?

Rick Castle: For using “irony” correctly. Ever since that Alanis Morissette song, people use it when they actually mean “coincidence.” It drives me nuts!

People call things “ironic” all the time, usually when something unexpected or coincidental happens. Identifying irony sounds both smart and flip, and in our “I’m too cool to care” society, saying “That’s ironic” in a droll tone works just as well as heavy-lidded eyes or a cigarette for getting you cool points. Most of the things people claim as “ironic,” however, aren’t. Really aren’t. There are several kinds of irony, but the kind that’s driving Castle crazy is situational irony. Other types include verbal irony, which constitutes saying the opposite of what you mean (similar to sarcasm) and dramatic irony (also called tragic irony), in which the audience of a play/book/movie knows something the character doesn’t, as in, “Romeo! Don’t kill yourself! Juliet’s just pretending to be dead. Oh — he drank the poison. Whoops.”

Situational irony occurs when something that happens is the exact opposite of what you expect. This reversal, in which expectations are upset, is important. If Sally refuses to go in the ocean because she’s afraid of getting killed by a shark, then gets mauled by a seagull on the beach and dies from those injuries, that would be irony. A variation on this kind of irony occurs when an action has the opposite effect it is meant to have. Let’s say I decide that I’m going to improve my health by eating better and, to this end, eat an (antioxidant-rich!) pomegranate, only it turns out I’m allergic to pomegranate and I die. That would be ironic. (Also, if a story involves someone dying, apparently I’m more likely to find it ironic.)

Also ironic: the fact that in a post about the misuse of “irony” as a term, I will probably make some mistake as to explaining it and misuse the term myself. F#&$ing Muphry’s Law.  (That’s right, Muphry’s, not Murphy’s. Check it out.)

Sometimes irony is mean.

The world is full of ironic things — but it’s even more full of non-ironic things.

It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

We can mostly blame Alanis Morissette for Americans’ current complete misunderstanding of what irony means. Her 1995 single “Ironic” lists a series of situations while intermittently interjecting the refrain, “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t ya think?” For anyone who’s been listening to the lyrics, the answer is a resounding “No”.

Rain on your wedding day? Bad luck.

A free ride when you’ve already paid? Bad timing.

Good advice that you just didn’t take? Bad decision-making.

Calling a song “Ironic” and then filling the lyrics with things that aren’t ironic? Now that’s irony.

Still, in case you’re still having difficulty distinguishing between coincidence and the literary term used in conversation more than any other (don’t worry, denouement, I love you, even if other people think you sound like a sneeze), let’s look at an example of a situation that is not, I repeat not ironic. When I was a teenager, I did a lot of musical theater, which led to my having very colorful friends.

I wish.

One night, a bunch of us were hanging out at my house, just sitting around (or more accurately, sitting on each other — theater people aren’t known for their physical boundaries, and hormone-drenched teenagers even less so). There was talk about watching a movie. My friend D had some bootleg DVDs from China that his aunt, a flight attendant on international routes, had procured for him, including the first Pirates of the Caribbean and Finding Nemo. This was summer 2003 and both of these movies had only just come out in theaters and were definitely not available on legitimate DVD.

We elected to watch Pirates. The Pirates DVD, however, looked like an eight-year-old had videotaped the screen in a movie theater with his cell phone (well, this was 2003, so I guess it couldn’t have been a cell phone camera, but you catch my drift).

Every time I see this image at a theater, I think, "Why is David Boreanaz in a movie theater with a hand cam?"

Having determined not to watch what appeared to be a grainy postmodern art piece about the alienating effect of mainstream entertainment, we replaced the Pirates DVD with Finding Nemo and then proceeded to ignore the movie entirely.

In the midst of a pillow fight/loud argument/spontaneous a cappella Grease sing-along, our choreographer (who, in an instance of homophonic glory, was named Corey) showed up with her boyfriend, whom we hadn’t previously met. Corey was older than the rest of us, post-collegiate, probably 22 or 23, and her boyfriend was even older than her — i.e. a real adult with, we were about to learn, a job.

They walk in, look at us, then look at the TV. Corey says, “This is my boyfriend, ____. He works for Pixar.” We’re watching a bootleg Pixar movie and someone from Pixar shows up in my living room? Now I’m afraid I’m going to have a Truman Show moment when I realize that my life is a sitcom.

Was this situation unfortunate? Yes. Was it unexpected? You bet your ass. Was it ironic? No. What was ironic was the fact that Mr. Pixar didn’t give a shit about our pirated movie (not to be confused with our Pirates movie).

Cheeky bastard.

The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!

December 22, 2011 § 5 Comments

“[W]hen Christmas rolls around, so too do the requisite family gatherings, events which unfortunately involve your family.”

-Russ Nickel

Winter Solstice has passed, Christmas is just around the corner, and Hanukkah is already here. My friends over at Reasonably Ludicrous recently published a helpful post about how to survive the family holiday parties that your parents/spouse/guilt will force you to attend by identifying “The 8 Types of Annoying Relative (And Tips to Help You Avoid Them)”. Russ and Sam provide a list of defenses against your ego-tast-ical uncle who will blast your ears with loud announcements of the many accomplishments of himself/his law firm/his children/his Airedale, Howard, who understands commands in three languages and uses a human toilet; your political firebrand great aunt who thinks that Herman Cain had the right idea with that whole “electrified fence” thing, and that Sarah Palin is a great political mind of our time; and your advice-spouting grandfather, who simply wants to help you by pointing out that every decision you have made thus far in your life has been the wrong one.

I heartily agree with Reasonably Ludicrous’s inventive tips, but I think that there are a few awkward holiday scenarios that they failed to cover, as well as few they did that could use a female perspective, since I can’t usually deter my advice-giving relatives by wearing a suit. That would simply lead to a conversation about how gender roles are deteriorating in this country and how apocalyptically horrible said deterioration is, along with confusion if I don’t respond or shocked fury if I reply that I actually think the deterioration of gender roles is probably the best chance our society has for survival.

So, consider the following guide as an appendix to Russ and Sam’s tips. Or retroactively categorize theirs as an appen-dicks to my more gynocentric guide. (Yay! Puns! That one’s for you, Russ!)

Rather than identifying types of people you might encounter, I’m going to lay out some hypothetical scenarios that will have you gulping your wine whilst silently screaming, “Oh gods, get me the spork out of here!” — along with my advice for surviving the party without breaking off the bottom of your wine glass to use the stem as a shiv. Thus, I give you “The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!”

Note: I heavily advocate lying in the following scenarios. You may have a moral problem with this. My parents always tell me not to lie to my relatives (well, they tell me not to lie in general); they are more fans of selective omission and careful wording. However, they don’t want me to tell the full truth because that would cause a lot of grief for everyone. (I got into trouble a year or so ago when I told my grandmother what I was actually studying — queer theory — in one of my classes. “What is this LGBD thing?”) While you can certainly navigate the mine-field of holiday parties and family gatherings without lying, I have to say, I think a few creative fibs make the whole thing more entertaining.

Note: Your first line of defense against any of these attacks should always be alcohol. However, drunkenness should be avoided, as it will only give your relatives more ammunition for detailing all your personal failings at the next family gathering. A buzz is a fine thing to cultivate.

Special Note: The Snarkist is not legally or ethically responsible for your choice to employ any of the following advice, nor for any consequences thereof.

The Snarkist’s Guide to Surviving Holiday Gatherings Without Physically Harming Anyone (Including Yourself)!

Situation #1: One of your relatives/your significant other’s relatives/a family friend/a complete stranger asks you about your career/life goals.

Solution: You are employed in a respected industry or vocation. You tell the truth. You wait for him/her to be impressed or express his/her support.

Alternate Scenario: You are employed in a vocation of which this person will not approve. My best friend K has chosen a career in social work, and her relatives never get tired of telling her how the residents of the girls’ home K works at are worthless delinquents that are ruining our society. She just loves seeing her extended family.

Solution: Tell the truth. Immediately launch into a story that will induce shock and horror, such as the crack dens you routinely spend time in so that you can get to know the girls’ parents. Mention your friend Da’shawn, who is a dealer that was arrested twice on counts of assault, but Big Jon totally jumped him first, and he had to make use of the weapon at hand to defend himself, and if that weapon happened to be a hatchet, so be it…

Alternate Solution: Tell the truth. Immediately launch into an explanation so filled with jargon and elevated-sounding terminology that you will sound as if you’re speaking Martian. Wait until the other person’s eyes glaze over, then excuse yourself to get more wine/help your father with the dog/use the restroom/get the fuck out of here.

Alternate Solution: Reply that you’ve taken a job with Amway and begin to make a sales pitch.

Situation #2: Your cousin/boyfriend’s sister/girlfriend’s actually-older-than-her niece has recently had a baby and the experience has TRANSFORMED HER ENTIRE LIFE THIS IS WHAT HER BODY WAS MADE FOR HER ENTIRE EXISTENCE HAS BEEN CREATED FOR THIS MOMENT. She expects you to regard her sticky offspring with the same near-religious ecstasy she does, and oh yeah, she also wants you to hold the thing.

Solution: Feign illness. Cough, wheeze, feign the urge to vomit, make any physical or verbal indication that you could transfer germs (!) to Her Precious Child, young and thus without a developed immune system. Try to include a story about recently being in a foreign country — not Italy or Switzerland, more like Guatemala or Thailand, somewhere she thinks of as third-world and imagines has children running around without shoes, licking the floor for scraps — and eating something suspect/touching strangers/visiting a village prey to an outbreak of Mysterious Fatal-sounding Illness. She will immediately pull Her Precious (Her preciousssss) away from your diseased fingers and run off because “I think I hear someone calling my name.”

Alternate Solution: If the new mother is not squeamish, or is well-traveled, or is a bad parent, she will not care about your purported illness and simply want to push her child into your arms so that she can run off to have her first 15 minutes of sleep in five months. In this case, you will need to hear someone calling your name. I suggest your mother, who, if she is anything like my mother, will have spent the last two days preparing a Christmas feast that could feed an entire battalion. Mention to your cousin/friend/significant other’s relative you just met that her strong, primal bond with her infant has touched you, and that you suddenly feel that you must find your own mother in order to give her a hug, thank her for all she has done raising you, and whisk her into a chair with a glass of wine so that she can relax while you finish the cooking.

Alternate Scenario: The person shoving the child at you is the child’s father, and he will be less impressed by your sudden need to go relieve your own father from his task of sitting on the couch drinking wine (even if he is having to talk to  your conspiracy theorist grandfather) than the child’s mother was by your tearful desire to assist your own mother.

Alternate Solution: You have something in your eye. Reach toward the child making a cooing noise, then recoil with a shout of pain, placing your hands over your eye. Blast! An eyelash/particle of dust/2×4 has become lodged in your eye, and while you would love to hold the Precious Child right now, you simply must rush to the restroom to discover the cause of this pain, as it is simply too much to bear.

Potential Complication: You are a female, and thus even if you escape holding the child, you will, at this time or another, be asked about your own child-bearing plans. That biological clock is tick-tick-ticking away, you know!

Alternate Solution: If the child’s mother/father is a sensitive and politically liberal person, pause, then begin to say something about a miscarriage/abortion, then become choked up and break off your explanation. Excuse yourself to regain your composure.

Alternate Solution: If the child’s mother/father is not politically or religiously liberal, and you don’t care about scandalizing or horrifying her/him, perform the same routine as above, then run, and be prepared to avoid this person like the plague for the rest of the gathering. (Potential Complication: this person might try to talk to one of your parents about your unfortunate reproductive issues. If this would be a problem, do not use this solution. If your parents are reasonable, simply warn them either beforehand or as soon as possible that this emergency lie had to be used.)

Alternate Solution: If you are at the dinner table with many, many people and don’t wish to break out your Kate-Winslet-in-Revolutionary-Road-style acting regarding an unwanted pregnancy, begin to give an explanation about your admirable future child-bearing plans, then suddenly get something in your eye! Rush to the bathroom to examine it and rid yourself of this excruciating pain! Wait a few minutes, and by the time your get back to the table, the conversation will hopefully have moved on.

Situation #3: Your grandmother/uncle/happily-married-cousin/snotty nine-year-old nephew asks about your romantic life and/or marriage plans.

Solution: You are in a happy relationship with someone your relatives would approve of, but he/she could not be present for this gathering. Happily tell the truth about this person. (Congratulations, bitch.)

Alternate Scenario: You are in a relationship with the boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife that you have brought with you. If your relative has forgotten/does not know/thinks that person is some third-cousin-twice-removed whose name is unknown, kindly introduce your significant other. If your relative does not approve because “Forget about Orthodox, she’s not even a Jew! What?! Are you trying to kill me?! If your grandmother were alive to see this, etc. etc.” Both you and your significant other should quietly eat/drink/sneak away while this person becomes too wrapped up in his/her own ranting to notice.

Alternate Scenario: You are in a happy (or unhappy) relationship with someone your relatives would not approve of, or you’re in an unhappy relationship with someone they would approve of and you don’t wish to talk about this person. Or you are single and are just f-ing tired of being looked at with pity and told that eventually you will find someone, or that you are an independent person who doesn’t need a boy/girlfriend, or that you will never be able to stay married because no one will ever love you (Wait, only my grandmother says that to me on Christmas? Oh…)

Solution: Make up a significant other that your family would approve of, but say that you have just started dating and don’t know how everything will progress. Be careful not to make this person sound too good, otherwise when you are forced to reveal at the next family holiday gathering that you’ve broken up with your fictional girl/boyfriend (you can’t keep the lie up too long, or your family will want to meet Henry/Racquel), you will continue hear about this failed relationship for years. “Why aren’t you still dating that engineer from Harvard? He sounded so lovely. I bet he has a nice girlfriend, now. Someone who appreciates him. Yep, you snooze you lose, don’t you?”

Alternate solution: You like to fuck with people, especially your relatives, so you say that you’ve been seeing a performance artist named Sven who is best known in the art world for building a nest made of his own hair and then sleeping in it for a month in the field beside a gas station. Say you are thinking of moving in together (into his nest?). Ask your brother to pass the potatoes, and then refuse to discuss your relationship further.

Alternate Solution: Announce that you’re gay. Ask your brother to pass the potatoes, and then refuse to discuss it further.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay, and your family approves. Employ any of the above scenarios without their heteronormative trappings.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay and your family does not approve. Tell them you’ve decided to move to Beirut with your lesbian girlfriend Shauna, a fire-eater in the circus, or to take up a nomadic lifestyle with your Hell’s Angels boyfriend, Rick. He’s forty-nine. You are not. Enjoy dessert while your relatives scream and moan about how you are ruining your life.

Alternate Scenario: You are gay and your family does not approve and you want to get through this goddamn meal in peace, for once, for the love of God! Tell them you’re in a heterosexual relationship with a nice boy/girl named Thomas/Laura, with whom you like to walk to the local lake and feed ducks.

Alternate Scenario: You are bisexual or pansexual and don’t want to have to explain to your family what that is. Announce that you have recently started a heterosexual relationship with one of your professors, or your boss if you are no longer in school. If your boss is of your same sex, announce you are dating your boss’s wife/husband.

Alternate Scenario: You are bisexual or pansexual and don’t want to have to explain to your family what that is, but you don’t want to scandalize and horrify them and deal with the resulting years of radioactive fallout. Announce you plan to enter a nunnery/monastery and take a vow of celibacy.

Alternate Solution: Say that relationships seem so futile in the world today, considering global warming, the economy, high divorce rates, etc. Stare sadly into you peas as you speak for a minute or two about the depressing state of the planet, then excuse yourself to use the restroom. Terrified the evening will become a downer, the host/ess will have changed the topic of conversation by the time you get back.

Alternate Solution: Excuse yourself to use the restroom/remove the eyelash from your eye; while in the bathroom, swig from the flask you have under your skirt/in your jacket pocket, or from the bottle you stashed under the sink.

Alternate Solution: Excuse yourself to use the restroom/remove the eyelash from your eye, then walk out the front door, enter your car, and drive away.

A Book is Just a Movie Waiting to Happen

December 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am inextricably invested in an outdated form of written art called “the book.” These “books” are made up of many pieces of paper glued or sewn together on one side such that they can be read in a fixed order. (“Paper,” for those members of the digital generations who would never have seen a book outside of a museum, is a thin, flat material made from wood pulp, i.e. ground up trees, that is designed to be written on with “ink,” a dark pigmented liquid that leaves a permanent mark.)

Ancient artifact called a "book."

I recognize that “book” has become a fairly abstract term used to describe various digital, written documents, but I can assure you that historically, books were physical objects used to house the written words of novels, poems, non-fiction, etc. etc., which is why  “novel,” a specific type of written fiction, has become nearly synonymous with “book.”

The written word existed in non-digital form centuries before the invention of the computer, or even the invention of film!

It turns out, therefore, that books and movies are different art forms with their own means of expression and experimentation! I thought books were just proposals for movies! A novel is more than a movie waiting to happen? Hollywood certainly doesn’t think so.

Many (if not most) films take their source material from books (usually novels but also nonfiction or collections of short stories — poems not so much, although heeey For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf! But even that was a play basically made up of poems…).

Everything from Drive to Die Hard was based on a book.

I understand that filmmakers need to take stories from novels so that they aren’t continually making Dukes of Hazard, Part 15 and its ilk, but there’s a difference between a book focusing primarily on plot and a book using myriad literary devices to make artistic statements beyond what literally happens.

Some filmmakers understand the differences between these art forms and use cinematic techniques to make interesting aesthetic and thematic points that are inspired by a book but not an attempt to filmically transcribe it. For Little Children, Tom Perotta altered his own novel for the screen, dramatically changing his original ending, exchanging it for one that plays out better cinematically. (Or maybe he made a political choice and decided that the protagonists’ casually enjoying a cigarette with a child molester in the final scene was simply too much for audiences to handle after all the other disturbing things in the movie.)

Usually, however, when Hollywood filmmakers attempt to turn a literary book — a book in which narrative perspective, visual/textual format, choices of syntax and diction, etc. are highly important — into a film, they approach the plot as the entire content of the book and think they can accurately translate a novel to film by simply having the same things happen to the same characters.

This winter, a movie version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close hits theaters. It stars a cute, precocious child alongside Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. When I heard that Hanks and Bullock were attached to this project, I thought, “There are no main roles for people their age. The main characters are a child and three elderly people. How is Hollywood going to fit these big stars into a story that only has space for them on the sidelines?” I was immediately afraid that attaching star talent would distort the focus of the narrative, but my worry about such possible distortion is really a tiny issue within a larger cornucopia of NO — this book should not be made into a movie, and for many, many reasons.

This just makes me want to cry. Thanks, Hollywood; let's destroy beauty any time we have the chance.

How will a film represent important perspectival shifts in the narrative that are effected by the three separate narrators? How will the film represent Foer’s visually experimental use of text and image? His mixture of poetry and prose? Could a mainstream Hollywood movie even begin to do this literary masterpiece justice?

I, of course, have not seen the film, but I cannot believe that the answer is anything other than “Hell to the f#%$ no!!”

In the spirit of my outrage, here is a list of seven other upcoming films based on literary texts that seem like exploding car-wrecks of Oh gods, don’t do it! Spoiler: not all of them are terrible ideas! Another spoiler: most of them are.

1. The Beat work of the year is On the Road because they already did Howl. With James F’ing Franco. The 2012 take on Jack Kerouac’s twentieth-century classic will undoubtedly be of high quality, since it features the A-list cast of the guy with the sad goatee from the Country Strong trailer (and presumably also the movie, but I definitely did not see that and do not intend to — also, the new TRON apparently?),

This would be the saddest goatee I'd ever seen if it weren't for an awkward Asian guy I knew in high school.

someone I have never heard of from movies I have never heard of, and the cardboard cutout that stars in Twilight.

Calling her "cardboard" gives cardboard a bad name.

2. Since remaking Shakespeare with $#@%@&$ garden gnomes wasn’t enough, we’re facing another Romeo and Juliet, starring the talented Hailee Steinfeld from last year’s (very good) remake of True Grit, opposite a young British actor/model named Douglas Booth, who apparently acted in Pillars of the Earth and modeled for Burberry alongside Emma Watson.

He's pretty in a very Chace Crawford kind of way. So, not attractive to me at all, actually. But seriously, are we sure this isn't a picture of Chace Crawford from Gossip Girl?

Of course, in this one he looks like Justin Bieber. Double "no" on that one, then. Ew ew ew.

But speaking of Gossip Girl, Ed Westwick has been cast as Tybalt, which could turn out to be genius, since he is deliciously evil as Chuck Bass.

"I am going to devour your soul with my eyes and then drink a delicious Scotch."

But really, even if this film is pretty good, it’s just unnecessary. We’ve already got the classic Zefirelli film, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s modernday gang saga Romeo + Juliet, and if that’s not enough for you, there’s bound to be a production of the play happening at a local theater company and/or the local high school at any given time.

3. A film version of Paradise Lost is slated to come out in 2012, starring Bradley Cooper as Satan. I heard “film version of Paradise Lost” and began to bang my head against the nearest available surface, so it took me a while to learn that Bradley Cooper is going to play Lucifer. Paradise Lost is Milton’s great legacy for many reasons, one of which is the character of Satan, who is not only the poem’s (btdubs, this is a poem, y’all) most compelling character, but who is often identified as the hero. The idea of Cooper as Satan actually excites me — he has the perfect smooth-talking sex appeal combined with a dark glint in his eye. To reuse my earlier phrase, I think he could be deliciously evil in this role. However, I don’t think this role should exist.

This is the sole teaser image that Legendary Pictures has released so far. So the Devil's not going to be rakishly handsome?

Paradise Lost could be an incredible stage play — and at some point in history, I’m sure it has been — but I just don’t see it working as a film, unless perhaps it is shot in a strange, experimental, independent aesthetic. Since the director‘s best-known movies to date are I, Robot and the 2009 Nic Cage vehicle Knowing, I seriously doubt that will happen.

Others attached to this project include I-think-she-used-to-date-a-Jonas-brother-or-something Camilla Bell, I-used-to-be-in-Oceans’ 11-but-now-I’m-just-in-a-parody-of-Oceans’ 11 Casey Affleck, Spencer’s working-class (horrors!) boyfriend from Pretty Little Liars, and Rufus Sewell??

Rufus Sewell is not taking the news of his involvement well.

I adore Rufus Sewell and think that he is a really top notch actor, from A Knight’s Tale to The Holiday to more artistic and serious movies like The Illusionist, so I wonder about his involvement with this project. Maybe it will be more legitimate than I anticipate? A seventeenth-century epic poem doesn’t exactly seem like a blockbuster waiting to happen, so maybe the director is taking it seriously. Oh wait, the film’s going to be in 3-D. Never mind.

4. Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby could be truly incredible, and I’m hoping it will be. Like Tim Burton, Luhrmann is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of director, with a very apparent and consistent aesthetic, but I’m definitely on the “love him” side of things. His Romeo + Juliet is phenomenal, even though Leonardo DiCaprio may chew the scenery a bit (the scene after Mercutio’s death when he’s driving the car? Really??), and I think Moulin Rouge is a goddamn masterpiece, so haters can shut it.

IIIII will love this movieeeee, until my dyyyyiiiiiing daaaaaay!

Anyway, this latest film take on Fitzgerald’s classic novel will reunite Luhrmann and DiCaprio, with the latter playing the titular hero, and will feature Toby Maguire as Nick (the novel’s narrator — that could work, I suppose), Joel Edgerton as Tom (Edgerton has the perfect rough edge to play the suave but violent Mr. Buchanan), and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, the girl who motivates Gatsby’s every choice from the moment he meets her.

And she glowed with the light of a thousand angels...

I completely adore Carey Mulligan and cannot communicate strongly enough how glorious I think this casting is. Beautiful in a unique and interesting way, Mulligan will be able to portray Daisy’s enigmatic and elusive attractiveness much better than someone more conventionally pretty, like talking mannequin Blake Lively. And more importantly, Mulligan has the hard-core acting chops to make Daisy both inescapably enticing and repulsive as a human being.

Admit it, you want to hug her, too. Also, is it just me, or is Leonardo DiCaprio getting younger?

The above is an actual still from the film that has been released to Entertainment Weekly, so click on over to EW’s website to see a larger version of it, as well another photo that shows Nick and Gatsby alongside the woman (Mulligan) who makes their worlds go ’round.

Baz Lurhmann’s trademark colorful, visually-packed, explosive aesthetic is the perfect one to take on the rich (both aesthetically and economically) world of Gatsby and the Buchanans, so I look forward to this film as one that potentially does the book justice while approaching it on the terms of an entirely different artistic genre. I defer to you, Mr. Luhrmann.

5. The Bell Jar starring Julia Stiles. You must be joking.

I love 10 Things I Hate About You, of course, like anyone who grew up in the 90s; as a literary nerd, I appreciate its erudite jokes and copious Shakespeare references. I even thought that Miss Stiles was good on Dexter and that role made me think of her as a real actress rather than someone who used to be weirdly popular but stopped making movies after about 2004 — a bit like the male version of Freddie Prinze Jr, though I never thought she was that bad.

But her hair WAS that bad...

Yes, Julia, I don’t have anything against you, per se, but I will if you do this movie!! Sylvia Plath’s mournful, psychological novel telling the story of a mental illness so similar to her own is devastating and beautiful. You were in The Prince and Me. It had a tractor race. Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven; she went through enough in her life without this monstrosity degrading her legacy.

Save the Last Shreds of Dignity?

6. James “Mega-Douche” Franco has decided that he’s a director now.

The "mega-douche" is also known as a "gross douche" -- 144 times more douchey than a regular douche.

Franco has announced he is in talks to direct film versions of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Understandably, this announcement prompts the urge to kill myself,

Hello, sweet death...

but I will stave off these instincts, for you, my dear readers. So: though a number of McCarthy’s books have been made into successful films — including All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and, to a lesser extent, The Road — his violent and devastating 1985 novel presents a serious challenge to the filmmaker willing to take it on. Blood Meridian features a truly horrifying villain, and casting an actor up to the role is a tall order, though Javier Bardem was reportedly fantastic (I never got around to seeing it! I’m sorry!) in his portrayal of another murderous McCarthy character in No Country for Old Men, so it can be done — I just wouldn’t leave it to James Franco to get it done.

James Franco: perfectly equipped to be incredibly pretentious, grow a gross mustache, not much else.

7. Then there’s As I Lay Dying. Full disclosure: I wrote my undergraduate literary critical thesis on  As I Lay Dying, so I feel intense affection for it, along with a special ownership. My thesis focused on character consciousness and narrative voice — important to a novel that has 59 chapters and 15 separate narrators — things that I don’t think film could adequately represent. Franco is already on record as saying he’s going to “be loyal to the book” by essentially destroying the importance narratorial perspective plays in the novel. Neat-o. So As I Lay Dying as a film = NO

And since one thing is never enough for multitasking addict Franco, in addition to directing, he’s also planning to write the screenplay for his movie based on Faulkner’s 1930 masterpiece. Hell, he’ll probably want to play Darl, too  — and that makes me want to cut a bitch.

Specifically this bitch.

So…I Watched the A-Team Movie

December 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

No, that’s not a reference to Battlestar Galactica.

And no, we're not talking about the 1970s.

It is, in fact, a verse from Ecclesiastes. It simply means that thousands of years ago, God knew that by the twenty-first century, humans would be plum out of ideas and would start remaking existing things up the wazoo.

It has already been brought-en. In four movie sequels.

Remaking something bad into something awesome (a la Battlestar) makes sense; remaking Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with someone other than Gene Wilder should get you sent to pop culture jail. Yes, even you, Johnny Depp. And maybe if you’re incarcerated for a while you’ll stop making Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.

The new A-Team movie is based on a TV show from so long ago, it doesn’t even exist according to Hollywood. I mean, they’re already rebooting Spider-man, and while I support the production of any movie with Emma Stone, Spider-man 3 came out less than 5 years ago. Granted, it was a flaming train-wreck of awful, but I vividly remember going to see it. Hollywood, on the other hand, now has the memory of a goldfish, which (according to my Snapple top) is only three seconds long.

But I digress: this new A-Team movie exists, and I watched it. Alone. On purpose. This was not like the time I was sick and accidentally watched all of 27 Dresses despite the following: 1) I dislike “chick-flicks” more often than not and won’t watch just any rom-com. I’ll admit to actually liking The Notebook (probably due to Ryan Gosling’s magic power of never being in a bad movie. Seriously, watch any of his movies, even the ones from when he was like 19: not one of them sucks. Come on, man, be human for a moment) but other than that I’ve been hoping that Nicholas Sparks will be murdered in a creative way and then someone can make a movie about that that’ll be far better than any based on his god-awful books. 2) I severely dislike James Marsden. Not to be confused with James Marsters, who is a compact, bleached-blonde pillar of pure awesome. 3) I hate Katherine Heigl with the fiery passion of 100 gay suns. But apparently I was tired/ill/not-giving-a-crap enough to watch the entire thing.

What, you ask, would prompt me to watch The A-Team? For a while now, my best friend S has been telling me I should watch it. He and I like all of the same movies, television, and music, so I trust his recommendations, and his description of this film in particular really piqued my interest.

“Have you watched the A-Team?” he asked me.

“No. I heard it was bad.”

“It’s bizarre. It’s like two movies stitched together. One of them is this ultra generic, terribly written action movie and the other is a tongue-in-cheek action film with all these smart comedic moments — and there are too many of them for it to be accidental. Someone wrote these jokes on purpose.”

He also mentioned that The A-Team breaks one of the cardinal rules of film directing, or at least mainstream film directing: the characters talk all over each other. Multiple characters speak at once, saying different things, and the crisp break marking the transition from one person’s line to the other is absent. In real life, of course, people interrupt each other and overlap their speaking all the time, but in mainstream film and television, that aspect of realism is usually reigned in so that the audience can make out what the frak is being said.

S’s description left me intrigued, and considering that The A-Team stars Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper, along with Sharlto Copley, I was pretty willing to watch it anyway. While the South African actor hasn’t been in too many films, I really liked Sharlto Copley in District 9, and he happens to remind me of Jackie Earle Haley — something about how they both play mentally unsteady really well? — whom I adore (Little Children is one of my favorite films, and in it Haley gives a complex, heartbreaking performance as a sex offender returning to live with his mother after being released from prison. Also, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson get naked if that appeals to you more than pedophiliac sex offenders).

I’ve mentioned my love for Bradley Cooper before, and I’ve actually liked him since he was in this WB show from the early 2000s called Jack and Bobby, which was about two brothers named (in a shocking twist) Jack and Bobby, one of whom grows up to become President, but somehow these brothers are not the Kennedys. It did not make a lot of sense as a show, but at the time I was willing to try out pretty much anything on the WB. I was still watching Smallville on purpose.

Apparently B-Coop was a minor character, since he's not in this cast photo. Also, IS THAT JOHN SLATTERY?! ROGER STERLING, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THIS MESS?

In Jack and Bobby, B-Coop played a graduate student who has a (romantic/sexual) relationship with his older professor and who was an adorable relief from the complete confusion that was the show’s larger story arc. Then, a few years later, he was hilarious in Failure to Launch alongside Zooey Deschanel and Justin Bartha (whom I adore in the National Treasure movies — “This car smells weird” — which I don’t particularly like in themselves). Failure to Launch is actually an enjoyable movie, provided you skip all the scenes with Matthew McConnaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker. So, the entire main plot. And then there’s The Hangover, which I will proudly say is one of my favorite movies of all time, which leads others to have conversations about me like the following:

Best friend K: Yeah, she’s obsessed with The Hangover.

K’s Friend: I thought she went to Stanford.

Sooo yeah. As for Liam Neeson, I’ve never not loved him, though I did find it distracting that he voices Aslan in the new Narnia movies. I’ve only seen the first one, but the entire time I kept thinking, “Liam Neeson is Jesus!”


About 1/3 of The A-Team is a great movie, but that 1/3 is scattered throughout the entire film, so it’s not like you can watch the first 30 minutes and then turn it off, like most Ricky Gervais movies (I want back the two hours I spent watching The Invention of Lying with my dad. That movie was so dull, a piece of my soul disintegrated like a Cheeto that Ricky Gervais sat on — before the weight-loss).

The good lines in The A-Team are not doled out equally, however. Many of the things that come out of Bradley Cooper’s mouth are gold. Nothing that comes out of Liam Neeson’s mouth is. Sorry, Liam. As the boss, the writers apparently needed him to explain in very overwrought language everything that the movie should simply have been implying. One thing audiences always love is being talked down to. Then again, Jack and Jill made $25 million its opening weekend, so clearly stupid is the new black. (Well, it probably has been for a while…)

The movie’s opening sequence of 15 or so minutes takes place 8 years before the rest of the story and exists as exposition establishing what to expect from each character and how such wildly varied personalities coexist. We learn:

Liam Neeson is a badass with a heart (he doesn’t shoot the dogs that are attacking him, which I appreciate). Also, a cigar.

Bradley Cooper will sleep with your wife and then say a lot of snarky things (assuming “you” are a Mexican drug lord).

The New Mr. T really likes his tricked-out van, and he doesn’t like flying. At all.

Sharlto Copley is a brilliant pilot but also certifiably insane. The team goes to pick him up from the psychiatric wing, from which he has escaped, allowing him to pretend to be a doctor and extract the bullet from New Mr. T’s arm, then sew up the wound with a bunch of stitches in the shape of a lightning bolt. Clearly Sharlto and New Mr. T will have some relationship tension to come.

Fast forward eight years. Near the beginning of the main section of the film, Hannibal (Neeson) and his crew have a school-yard name-calling match with their equivalent bad-guy crew, introducing the audience to villain Head Douchebag. The tussle ends with Head Douchebag spitting, “Yeah, well I make more money than you!” and Hannibal basically saying that money can’t buy cool.

Do you have a cigar? I didn't think so.

Oh, and by the way, by “school yard,” I mean “Army encampment in Iraq.” Patrick Wilson is also there, as a mysterious CIA agent whose most pressing mystery seems to be what he is doing there, as Wilson stands around awkwardly flicking his eyes around for most of the scenes in Iraq. At times he also puts on and takes off his sunglasses. He’s been watching a lot of CSI: Miami.

Oh yeah, and Jessica Biel shows up as an Army captain whose actual job is incredibly vague but seems to consist of bitching out Face (Bradley Cooper) because they used to date and I guess it ended badly. I found myself saying, during their first interaction and then about every fifteen minutes until the movie’s close, why is Jessica Biel in this movie? The romantic subplot only receives lip-service

though it does allow the writers to give Bradley Cooper all the bad lines poor Liam spends so much time trying to make work, so Face may get some of the best lines in the film, but he also gets the most pathetic (and pathetically written) laying-my-heart-out-for-you scene. In a photobooth. Yeah.

In terms of plot, it’s basically this: the Team gets framed for a crime they didn’t commit (theft, murder, and insubordination, the last probably being the worst in Army think, if the murder wasn’t of their commanding officer) and are consequently stripped of their ranks and incarcerated in separate prisons (and one mental hospital).

Mysterious CIA Agent Patrick Wilson shows up again, acting more focused and less like a rabbit during Rabbit Season, perhaps because he gets to wear a suit instead of body-armor. He helps break Liam Neeson out of jail, and Liam/Hannibal frees the other Team members in amusing ways. Face, for example, has obtained an (upright? Is that a thing?) tanning booth in prison, and Hannibal wheels him out inside the tanning booth, while he’s pounding on it and yelling, which obviously no guards would notice. Baracus (New Mr. T) gets sprung from a moving prison transport van, and Murdock (Sharlto Copley) rejoins the team after they drive a van through the wall of his hospital, perfectly timed with a 3-D movie the patients are watching of a van driving at them.

The Team then set about trying to clear their names by catching the real killer/thief/traitor to the Armed Forces, which leads to their abandoning a burning airplane, inside a tank, which they then fly by taking advantage of the backward momentum provided by firing the tank’s guns.

Because this movie is this movie, the Team survives to fight another day. For the rest of the film, Jessica Biel shows up intermittently (why is she in this movie?) and Patrick Wilson is revealed to be the real bad guy, with Head Douchebag just a lower-level bad guy, if extremely violent and probably unhinged. As it becomes more and more clear that the Mysterious CIA Agent is the true villain, his character’s lines get better and better.

When he springs Head Douchebag from Jessica Biel’s custody, she yells about how the CIA doesn’t have any rules. Patrick Wilson responds, “The CIA has rules. Our rules are just cooler than yours.”

In order to demonstrate that Mysterious CIA Agent is a desk-jockey without experience in the field, the screenwriters give him a bunch of (pure gold) lines comparing real live violence to video games.

“Wow, that looks just like Call of Duty!

The screenwriters, probably inadvertently, turn him into a hilarious commentator on the effects of our society’s violence-suffused entertainment culture (video games, action movies…) and of technological advancements in warfare that allow soldiers to be detached from the real people that they’re killing.

Twists are revealed, snark is snarked, Bradley Cooper’s naked torso is gloried in, things are blown up, and the movie progresses exactly as you expect it would, only with much smarter lines from Patrick Wilson than I could have dreamed considering his first five scenes in the movie. When it ended, I felt that I had been (intermittently) very entertained, but I mostly felt confused about the fusion of wit with terribly overwrought and clichéd language.

S, who first recommended this movie to me, voiced his desire to watch films written by the three screenwriters responsible for The A-Team and figure out which one was secretly brilliant and which simply sucked. It turns out that 1/3 of the team responsible for writing the Team is actually the actor playing Head Douchebag, and has never written a film before. The second 1/3 is the director for The A-Team, who has previously written Smokin’ Aces  and Smokin’ Aces 2, among other things I’ve never heard of — though he’s apparently writing Liam Neeson’s upcoming action-thriller The Grey, which I like to think of as Liam Neeson vs. Wolves. Since he directed this hot mess, I just don’t see him being responsible for it’s small percentage of good parts, since he could have theoretically made it all good parts. The final screenwriter previously wrote Thursday (which I’ve never heard of), Swordfish (which is maybe theoretically good? All I have ever heard about the movie is that Halle Berry is topless in it), Hitman, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is the in midst of writing Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard  and two other movies.

I’m guessing, then, that the actor playing Head Douchebag (Brian Bloom) is the writer who is secretly hilarious — he does act pretty well and is sufficiently creepy and douchebaggy in the movie. So Brian, I look forward to more from you as a writer; hopefully the blog post required from your next film will be unequivocal praise, rather than the written equivalent of shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Eh?” while pointing to a picture of Liam Neeson and/or Bradley Cooper.

We are just way too cool for this.

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