Fierce Anticipation: July 24-26


a blogumn by Ryan Dixon


In the Loop

in-the-loop-movie-posterIn the graveyard of movie genres, the traditional, door-slamming farce (celluloid and digital descendants of French playwright Georges Feydeau’s oeuvre) must be one of the first tombstones. Movies that fit this form (A Fish Called Wanda or Victor Victoria, for example) arrive in cinemas with the same regularity of a professional athlete remaining faithful to his wife. Thus, we self-professed farceurs should be ecstatic over today’s release of In the Loop, a political farce that spins a comic web out of the U.S.- British build up to the Iraq war.

In an age when most cinematic comedies are erector sets built to hold together a series of second cousin comic set pieces and pop culture references, it’s a very rare treat indeed to see a film whose humor comes from the machinations of the actual plot. Of course, during the gold age of cinematic farce, the majority of writers were arriving to Hollywood by way of Broadway, where the genre was (and is) far more prevalent and, truth be told, impressive to watch (actors hitting all cylinders in an onstage farce is an achievement in concentration and comedic calisthenics that can never really be matched onscreen). More likely than not, the opening sentences to the biographies of those names under the “written by” credit of today’s comedies usually begins with the initials SNL, a basic training course where the main goal is to stretch a comedic idea out for five minutes, not 90.

And, unlike most other contemporary cinematic farces (Blame it On the Bellboy, The Pope Must Die(t), Oscar), In the Loop is actually supposed to be funny, which, in of itself, is cause for a good old-fashioned door slamming celebration.

Now in Theaters


Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America by Kurt Anderson

resetkurtandersonOf all the various public intellectuals/entertainers roaming about the digital signals of cable television and on the pages of newspapers and magazines, Kurt Anderson, the host of NPR’s Studio 360 and author of the acclaimed novels Turn of the Century and Heyday, stands apart as an underappreciated American bard of the public sphere.

And Reset, Anderson’s new book-length essay based upon his recently acclaimed Time Magazine cover story, promises to show us “why the current economic crisis is actually a moment of great opportunity to get ourselves and our nation back on track.”

While the previous paragraph’s book description (from the publisher) is about as entertaining as a 24-hour marathon of CNBC, knowing Anderson’s work, there’s no doubt that he will present the calamities and potential cures for our current economic crisis in a smart and very funny fashion. And, most importantly, like the polite Nebraskan he is, Anderson has also been careful not to waste our time. Reset comes in at a svelte 96 pages. It’s always a joy to find a book short enough to be read in its entirety whether traveling from Canal St. to Ditmars on the N train or  while sitting on the toilet the morning after a four course Mexican meal.

In bookstores Tuesday





Photo Credit: cobalt123

Much like the farce, the live-action rodent tentpole franchise movie is a genre that has, strangely, not been all that popular in recent years. Yes, we’ve had Willard, Ben and Stuart Little, but it seems that there is very little appeal in seeing–in live action– anthropomorphic variations of creatures that we humans rarely think twice about poisoning, trapping or injecting with scurvy for medical testing.

Can there then be no better cure for this moribund genre than an injection of some Bruckheimer? That, at least, is the hope of Disney with today’s 3-D release of the Jerry-Bruckheimer-produced G-Force. Unfortunately, no matter how much box office gold is heaped upon this film, I am sitting this one out. Quite simply, there is no other animal that fills me with more Lovecraftian dread than the guinea pig.

To understand my aversion to these creatures, one must step back in time to July of 1995. About to be a sophomore in high school, I was a constant guest at the home of my friend Larry. His mother, Mary, was an avid collector of America’s favorite rodent and the inside of their small tract house was littered with dozens of pens holding at least thirty guinea pigs.

No matter the time of day you arrived, Mary would open the door and greet you with a guinea pig stuffed snugly into one of her giant bosoms, while her dog Blacky was held tightly upon the other. Behind Mary, Larry’s grandmother Sophie and his shy, awkward Wicca-worshipping, 13 year-old younger sister Tina would stand, each cradling up to three guineas at once.

On one particular weekend however, Mary, Tina and Sophie were gone for the weekend and Larry and I, having just seen Species, were headed back to his house. Suffice it to say,  the scares in that film could in no way compare with the horror that awaited us.

At this point in the story it should be noted that in this area of rural Western Pennsylvania, people routinely leave their front doors unlocked. As to the cause of the events that follow, I can only surmise that while Larry and I were at the movies an individual who — since he didn’t actually steal anything– was only a jolly local prankster (his identity was never discovered) decided to take advantage our area’s “open door” policy and indulge in the prank that Larry and I were about to be confronted with.

After pulling into the shale covered driveway, Larry and I got out of the car, walked through the yard and up the one step to his door and opened it. Instead of the usual sound of Blacky barking, we were suddenly inundated with a wave of high-pitched wheeks, chutts and shrieks.

The guinea pig pens were lying topsy-turvy all over the floor and the white shag carpet that had padded the feet of Larry’s family for over twenty years was filled with the freed guineas.

A quick look around the living room revealed that several of them had gotten into Tina’s Disney video collection and were gnawing on the clamshell cases of Cinderella and Peter Pan. Others were burrowing into the arm of the lazy-boy recliner while a few of the more corpulent members were beached upon the couch. And, as anyone who has owned guinea pigs can attest, these creatures will mark any new piece of territory by urinating upon it, which they had obviously done en masse as Larry’s house had the fetid redolence of a clogged arena urinal trough during a UFC fight.

Then, I glanced toward the far corner of the living room and saw the real horror. In between the puddles of guinea urine crystallizing on the ends of the shag carpet were several large splotches of blood and fur.

After the prankster tossed them to the floor, several of the pens in that area had remained nearly upright at such a high angle that those guinea pigs residing in them could not escape; an seemingly innocuous quirk of fate that was, as I quickly discovered, a fatal inconvenience.

Blacky the dog was standing over those pens. In his mouth, a shrieking brown and white baby guinea was being shaken back and forth like a cheap chew toy. Lying under the dog’s feet were the corpses of two disfigured, half-eaten guineas, one of which whose gnarled, slimy head had been regurgitated and was now resting comfortably, two feet from its body.

Still trapped in the pens were at least five other guineas who, after being forced to watch their beloved companions be eaten alive by a black Cocker Spaniel, could only sit and await their own terrible fate.

Of course, these observations were made only over a period of seconds and, when the surviving guineas saw that Larry and I were in too much of a state of shock to close the front door, they zoomed off under our feet and — looking like a pack of obese rats escaping a sinking ship– bolted out the door.

In the ensuing hours, Larry and I tried to collect as many fugitive rodents as we could, but as the mid-summer sun began to set, we returned to the house with only five guineas. The rest of the tribe, I can only surmise, decided to take their chances avoiding the various dangers in the wild rather than ever having to face the bloodthirsty snout of Blacky again.

Whenever I see the trailer for G-Force, I think not of a fun family film, but of that summer day long ago, filled with blood, rot and urine. A day when I saw firsthand the savage cruelty not only of humanity, but of all creatures, great and small.

Now in Theaters