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February 2010

February 13, 2010

Baltimore

Well it’s a freezing Saturday night in Baltimore. Michael Showalter and I are doing a show at the Otto Bar, a rock venue we’ve played several times before. As you may have heard, the Baltimore/DC area has received many feet of snow over the last week. The snow is piled up in huge treacherous mountains along every street, making driving slow and walking almost impossible. Did that stop me from taking my daily run? It did. Do I ever take a daily run? I do not.

Baltimore is one of those cities that looks perfectly reasonable if you stay within certain small radii. In our case, that means about three blocks in every direction from our hotel. Within that three blocks one can buy all manner of fudge, ice cream, and coffee concoctions. Just past it is a big store called “Scratch and Dent,” which sells anything the proprietors can find that has either been scratched or dented. I wonder if they sometimes buy new merchandise and then beat the shit out of it before putting it out on their shelves. After the “Scratch and Dent” block things seem to go steadily downhill. But I turned around and walked back to the hotel because it was cold and because I was scared.

Having driven through Baltimore before, I know there are areas of the city that are like post-Katrina New Orleans, only without having been through a flood: block after block or ruined, abandoned and derelict buildings. At least New Orleans has an excuse. I don’t know what happened here. Something awful. The most likely explanation is a recent zombie invasion but I feel like I would have heard about that.

Last night we were in Philadelphia, which is a much better town than Baltimore but still no Shangri-La (unless you count the cheese steaks which are actually better than the kind you find in Shangri-La, which tend to be made out of healthy but bland rainbows). I like Philadelphia. It’s quaint and historic, which is usually a good combination. I hope to be quaint and historic myself one day, like Ben Franklin, himself a Philadelphia resident before he went off to Paris to diddle French ladies.

How is it that other world cities manage to age gracefully while American cities get wrinkly, saggy boobs pretty much as soon as they hit puberty?  Rome, Paris, London, Tokyo. All old cities who have problems but still seem to retain their charm. They are Sophia Laurens compared to our Lindsay Lohans. Maybe our cities are just going through an awkward stage and will re-emerge after they have a little work done.

In the meantime, I’m not giving up on you, Baltimore. We can turn this thing around. Maybe not this century, but soon. But while we’re waiting could you please turn up the heat?

February 03, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts About “Avatar” Written Ten Minutes Before Bed

So my wife and I finally went to see “Avatar” this morning. Yes, I saw it in 3D, and no I don’t feel like my experience was greatly enhanced by the technology. Actually for the first half hour of what seemed like many many half hours, the 3D kind of gave me a headache. Too much depth perception gives me the spins. One thing I don’t need at any movie theater: the spins

I have to admit that my expectations for this film were low for the simple reason that James Cameron makes shitty movies. His only great film is “Terminator.” Everything after that has been mildly okay to outright shitty – I’m looking at you, “Titanic.” It seems to me he’s a guy who has never heard a single thing that’s ever come out of anybody’s mouth. If he had, he wouldn’t write such crappy dialogue.

Of course a James Cameron movie isn’t about dialogue or storytelling. It’s about technology. His films are basically Sony concept stores splashed across thousands of movie screens. And while I appreciate that he spent twelve years developing the technology that would allow him to make ultra-realistic blue tree people, he might have been better served working on the story, which to my jaundiced eye was just a New Agey cowboys and Indians shoot-em-up.

And for all the hullabaloo about the visuals, I couldn’t get that excited about them. The problem may be James Cameron himself. Ever since Robert Patrick turned into liquid metal in “T2,” my attitude about moviemaking has been “Ok, now we can do anything, so tell me a good story.” Visual effects should serve a story, not be the story. Plus, the Blue People, or Blue Ewoks or whatever they were, didn’t look that great. I never believed they existed: their movements were too herky-jerky and I always felt distracted whenever they cut back to the real people, who looked like, well, real people.

The whole thing was like “True Lies” meets “The Lion King.” All in all, it sucked. Not as bad as “Titanic,” which might be the most successful worst movie ever made, but it’s not that far behind. Life need not be a technological wonderland. It’s far more interesting and entertaining when it’s just life. The film may be rated PG-13, but that shouldn’t mean that it operates on the intellectual level of a thirteen year old. Nature is good. People are bad. The military is bad. Scientists are good. Technology is a tool best wielded by those who understand its awesome power for good. People like movie directors.

 

February 01, 2010

The Making of My New Children's Book "The Purple Kangaroo."