Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Empty Blog

I think I’ve run out of gas. I’ve lost my passion; I’ve lost my joie de vivre, my drive. I’m feeling apathetic to almost everything. I’m bored with politics, I’m bored with idealism, I’m bored with art. I’m bored with friendships, with feelings, with all social interaction, with every form of recreation that I once used to idle away my time. I’m definitely bored with work, but I’m bored with not being at work. I’m tired of being me, but I’m even kind of bored with being somebody else. At our performance of Hamlet yesterday I could feel nothing for the first time when playing that role. There is nothing to look forward to now. I go to bed reluctantly, because there is no reason to welcome tomorrow, but there’s certainly no reason to stay awake. And what kind of life is left when all your desires and passions are gone, when your day is focused on what you don’t want instead of what you do, when your dislikes and disinterests are now somehow running everything, when your choices are to determine what course of action you would dislike least instead of love the most?

“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth. This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire – why it seems no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel… In apprehension, how like a God….”

I apologize to those who regularly check my blog hoping to find something funny. I’m bored with funny. I highly recommend that you read Chris Clark’s blog – the link is on the right of the page. He’s got plenty of funny to go around. As for me, I really have nothing more to say. Good night, sweet prince.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Movie Review #1: The Corpse Bride

People are always asking me my opinion about movies. Seriously, any time I watch a movie people ask me, “How was is it?” This has led me to believe that I am widely regarded as an artistic sage whose opinion is valued in all the right circles. Therefore, I have decided to write up reviews on my blog for whatever movie I happen to have seen recently. Besides, its not like its that hard. All you have to do is write your personal opinions, however biased or baseless, and then assign the film a letter grade. Plus, Eric Snyder makes it look like a lot of fun and so I thought I’d give it a try. Don’t expect me to be anywhere near as clever as that guy, though. It ain’t gonna happen. Anyway, here goes:

The Corpse Bride
Directed by Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Rated PG

A group of friends were going to this one, so they invited me. I readily accepted their invitation, not only because they are fun, interesting people, but because I was interested in seeing this movie. Tim Burton films are always a bit of a departure from the mainstream style, which is nice every now and then. He has also produced some really brilliant stuff. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas – so all and all I had really high hopes for Corpse Bride.

Let me just say first of all that I love the medium of stop-motion animation (or clay-mation or whatever you want to call it). Sure, its not as flashy or versatile as CGI, but its certainly come a long way just in my lifetime. Plus it has qualities the best computer graphics will never totally replicate: tangiblity, depth, three-dimensionality. It takes a long long time to do, so kudos to those with the patience and skill to pull off complicated shots such as those featured in this movie.

The style here is pure Burton, from the dour black and white and gray of the human world to the grotesque blues and violets and greens of the underground city of the dead. Many of the characters sported delightfully exaggerated features, huge hair, gigantic chins, etc. The result was a world that was visually quite engaging. The concept of the story is also interesting: a nervous young man forced into an arranged marriage with a girl he has never met practices his vows in the woods, unwittingly marrying himself to a dead woman buried beneath his feet. There’s certainly a lot of fun to be had with that idea, but honestly I felt it wasn’t developed as well as it could have been. Plot progression happened rapidly and almost disjointedly, leaving little room for basic character development which would have made me care about the characters a lot more than I ended up doing. The ending scenes of the movie were jarringly anti-climatic, and when the credits rolled, we looked each other and said, “Oh… I guess that was the end,” which is never a good sign.

I also felt that the movie fell into the same trap that has plagued a lot of the recent animated films. They created a funny character who they knew was funny, and then milked every ounce of humour they could from that character, sometimes in scenes that seemed added on just for laughs but are actually irrelevant. There were some geniunely funny bits in this movie, but then some of the more goofy characters (i.e., the maggot who lives in the corpse bride’s head) began to get more and more screen time just for gags. Its been happening a lot lately in this kind of movie, though I do feel that Pixar has for the most part avoided that temptation. And to its credit, Corpse Bride didn't do it as badly as it certainly could have.

Still, there was a lot to like about Corpse Bride, if for nothing but its sheer zaniness. Several parts of the movie made me turn to my companions in delighted shock. One final negative note, though: I had hoped that the musical score would rival some of Danny Elfman’s previous work, but, in my opinion, though functional for the mood of the piece, it wasn’t nearly as strong as, say, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I guess that was really my problem when watching this movie. I kept comparing it to Nightmare and finding it lacking, instead of giving the movie a chance on its own terms. That may not just be my fault, though, as Tim Burton seemed to be going for the same style and feel in many respects. I’m sure I’m not the only one who made the connection.

In conclusion, delightful animation, wacky and fun design, with characters who didn’t get the development they deserved, all wrapped up in a plot that, while really interesting, left me unsatisfied.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Venting My Frustration

I really shouldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio. Its just bad for my health. Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that I feel like I’m going to burst a blood vessel. All I want to know is how I am anti-American because I have serious concerns over the motivations, the justifications, and the false allegations involved in the beginning of the war. I want to know how I denigrate the service of our troops by lamenting their deaths and wondering if they were really necessary. I want to know why those who think like me (by recent polls, the majority of Americans) are called, as one talk radio lady put it, “angry people without the love of God in their hearts who hate everything.” I want to know why it is assumed that because I criticize the war, I must hate our troops and want them to die. I want to know why logical, reasoned arguments against or in criticism of the war are so often countered and drowned out with intensely emotional, passionate appeals to patriotic sentiment and vague nationalistic slogans like “defending freedom.” Yes, that sounds good but what does that MEAN? And moreover, how does it render the concerns of the American people somehow irrelevant?

The current administration has repeatedly blundered and lost the trust of the people. Their national approval ratings are at an all-time low. But due to the strength and volume of the voices of right-wing loyalists shouting in our ears, at times you’d think this was the most-loved and effective government in the history of our nation, achieving near deity-like status. Well, that’s the liberal media for you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Confession

This is difficult for me, but there's something thats been weighing on me for the last few hours and I really need to get it off of my chest. Sometimes I am a compulsive liar. Lying comes as easy to me as eating and breathing, actually. I'm an actor. And sometimes I lie for no other reason but to lie, like I can't even help myself. Kind of like Natalie Portman in "Garden State," only I'm not as bad as her. But at least I have the decency to feel guilty for most of my lies, especially those that are so blatantly a lie and when I'm quite aware that everybody knows I'm lying. Then I feel like a jerk. So, lets have the truth:

Yes. It was me who farted in the van. I don't know why I didn't just confess, it would have been the proper and manly thing to do, but I just kept lying about it and I don't know why. I'm not particularly embarassed by the act itself - I think I may be lactose intolerant or something, and geez sometimes it just comes out and thats life. But for reasons beyond my comprehension I felt a near obsessive-compulsive urge to flatly deny it, even when everybody knew it was me. Please forgive me, my friends. I'm so ashamed... oh god, I need help.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Working Man, Part Two

Work sucks. Am I the only one who thinks so? It seems quite absurd to me that, with each second of life being finite, precious, rare moments that will never come again, most of us will spend the overwhelming majority of our lives at work. Many Americans now work for corporations and spend all day every day participating in one small part of bigger processes they have no interest or control in, counting the minutes until they can go home, where they have a bite to eat, relax a few hours, then go to bed and wake up the next day to do it again. And so it continues week after week for years until finally one reaches retirement when finally one can start doing what one wants to do, instead of what one must do. Does it seem silly to anybody else but me that we put off living that long? That we must sacrifice so much of our limited time in order to survive?

It will not come as a surprise, actually, that I’m writing this at work. I’m doing so in order to look busy. Its nearly 2:00, and I only have a little over an hour left before I can go home. I’ve finished everything I have to do today. I’m not particularly interested in making up some kind of project to start so late in the day, and nobody is particularly interested in thinking up things for me to do. I cannot, of course, look like I’m not working, and so I sit and type and pretend to be intensely busy while the people around me do the same. The whole situation reeks of absurdity. You may call me a bad employee, but that’d be unfair and my feelings would really be hurt, and then you’d have to buy me flowers to make it up to me. So save yourself the money and don’t call me a bad employee. Actually, you should see how hard I work most of the day. It’s just that when my work runs out (none of which is vital in the slightest, but which I resolutely take seriously anyway) I think its absolutely ridiculous to have to find something to do. Yes, the last hour of the day is my lazy hour.

I blogged a month ago about how lucky I was to find this job. And I was; it’s been really great for my odd schedule, allowing me to be in both evening plays and still perform Tuesdays with my Hamlet touring group. (Which, by the way, performs at BYU next weekend. Everybody go see!!) It also pays pretty well and, when I get hired on as an official Nestle employee (which should happen any day now) I’ll even get something of a raise. So its absolutely perfect, except for one thing. I really just hate it. Now, not quite enough to make it worth quitting and go through the ordeal of looking for another one, and yet not quite so little that I can just grow numb to it over time. Most of the time I’m pretty good, but every couple of weeks or so all the pent up irritation floods out and I feel that if I spend another minute in this place I’ll literally die. Spontaneously. Poof. I had one of those yesterday, and it was not pretty. I once went through a period of my life where I was forced to be someplace doing something that I did not want to do for a very long period of time, and the parallels between having to work all day and that experience which shall remain nameless were causing me to panic. All the traumatic memories came back, you see. Of course I was just being completely dramatic, and today has been much better but there is still this problem of work. Frankly, I’d rather be doing something else.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t have to contribute to society, or do an honest day’s work to make a living. But so many people hate their jobs. And since people’s lives are largely dominated by work, some of those people hate their lives. There are plenty of people who love their work, and I think that’s very important. When you like what you do, it becomes part of who you are. The time you spend during the day at work isn’t a obstacle to your goals and desires, its part of them. On one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, “The West Wing,” the characters spend literally every moment of the day on job. But they like what they do, it consumes them, its what they want to do with their time. Its not just for the money, which is good because working for the White House isn’t the way to go if that’s your only motivation. If I had a job that I loved like that, I guess I wouldn’t complain so much about work. But the question is, what job is there that I would actually like doing? I mean, obviously being actor would fit the bill, that goes without saying. But besides that, so I can have some back-up plans, would you all please suggest a career that you think I would be good at and enjoy? There will be a prize for the best suggestion!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Coming of Age in an Age of Simulacrum

When I was a kid, I loved movies. Well, that sentence is somewhat misleading: its not like I didn't love anything but movies, or that I no longer love movies today. But since I'm going to talk about movies and my childhood and, specifically, how they are related, I thought I'd start of with a topical introduction in the form of a statement of facts relevant to the subject. There was no need to mention anything else and so I didn't - so get off my back, ok? Anyway…

When I was a kid, I loved movies. I have very strong childhood memories attached to various films of the 80s and 90s. The great thing about watching movies as a kid is that you are largely oblivious to how awful most of them are. For example, at various points in my youth, I actually believed that "Masters of the Universe," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "Independence Day" were good movies. Children have no idea what good acting is like, or how to recognize a plot that's made of pointless drivel thinly disguised by high budget special effects. Ok, so most adults have no idea about those things either, but that's beside the point. Kids see everything with a child-like wonder and imagination that allows them to be sucked into the world of the movie and really experience the story. They never say, "Yeah, right, like we're supposed to believe the car wouldn't have blown up by now." They just say, "Whoa.... Awesome!!!" The only mistake a movie can make is to be boring; other than that, its all believable. Nobody can suspend their disbelief like children.

I believed the movies. The earliest movies in my life were probably "Star Wars" and "Superman II" which I watched over and over on VHS until I thought that, if I just tried hard enough, I could switch off the light switch with the Force or fly like a bird and/or plane. I watched "Mary Poppins" and really believed that imagination could take me to a cartoon wonderland. Other movies had lessons for me as well. "Beauty and the Beast" taught me never to judge a book by its cover because good-looking people are often evil. "The Princess Bride" showed me that love conquers all and revenge is OK as long as its on a bad guy. And "Jurassic Park" taught me not to trust dirty capitalists using genetic cloning to create a theme park of dinosaurs for their own financial gain (and boy has that lesson come in handy a few times).

The problem is, so many of the messages you get from these movies turn out to be total crap in the real world. I mean, I was just talking about movies before, but if you look at all the morals kids are picking up about life through other media like TV programs, storybooks and fairy tales, etc. etc., you'll see that they are dramatically unpreprared to face reality. Most of those things teach kids that people live happily ever after, or that if you are nice to others they will be nice to you, or that you can grow up to be whatever you want. I'm not sure why we continually present children with a sort of idealized version of life. I have a few ideas, but I'm probably wrong so I won't share them. Regardless, we do lie to children, if somewhat subtly, and I should know. I'm an idealist, and that started a long long time ago when the movies first starting preaching to me their simple, seductive brand of idealism. You can imagine how difficult it has been for me to discover that no, not everybody lives happily ever after, that bad guys don't always get what they deserve, the hero doesn't always get the girl, and, confusingly, good and evil are often very hard to tell apart. There aren't any black hats/white hats in real life. But I can handle those disappointments, I guess. Just a little bit of maturity and you can begin to see through those ideas.

For you literary theory fans, what we're talking about here in many ways is simulacra, that symbol which does not represent anything, that copy for which there is no original. It is a representation of a "reality" that does not in fact exist. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, your homework is to read Jean Baudrillard's essay "Simulacra and Simulations," or indeed pretty much any treatise on post-modern critical theory. And yes, there will be a quiz. So anyway, its all been one big disappointment. It feels a bit like the friends of my childhood have betrayed me, have been lying all this time, but by and large I'm coping with it all.

Except for one movie, whose betrayal struck me deepest of all. One movie, whose message sounds so wonderful, so encouraging, so close to how the world, if it made any sense, should be that it took me a long, long time to realize it was a big fat lie. It's a movie that I now regard with a mixture of affection and some bitterness, like an ex-girlfriend. I'm talking, of course, about "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," the great 1971 musical with Gene Wilder. Yes, I have seen the recent version with Johnny Depp, and no, I'm not going to talk about it. Because its irrelevant, thats why! Refer to my first paragraph...

Anyway, the message of that movie seems to be, "if you want something badly enough, you'll get it." Well, isn't it? Charlie hasn't a hope in the world of getting a golden ticket - he only gets one chocolate bar a year, doesn't he? But Grandpa Joe insists he has more chance than anybody else because he wants it more. And then Charlie, by some miracle, gets one and ends up getting the whole factory and everything he's ever wanted for himself and his family. The movie ends with Willy Wonka saying, "Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted.... he lived happily ever after." And I ate this up! I BELIEVED this! If I truly wanted something enough, I would get it. If I didn't, I probably didn't want it badly enough. I should have had my first hint something was wrong when I was seven and wanted to be a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Show so badly my whole body ached, or when I wanted a Nintendo, or to play a big part in the 10-minute play we did in 4th grade. I got NONE of those things. But still I believed that Charlie and Willy Wonka and Grandpa Joe couldn't be lying.

Well guess what, kids. I hate to break it to you, but take it from somebody who knows firsthand. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want something, you won't get it. That's life. It doesn't matter if its a part in a play, a successful career in acting, world peace, a capable President, an excellent singing voice, good looks, wealth, the item you purchased on E-bay that still hasn't arrived, popularity, a blog successful as Chris Clark's, the ability to live up to your parents' expectations, having a normal life, or even just having somebody who could never possibly love you love you - it just doesn't work. Is it any wonder then that half the time I hear the song "I've Got a Golden Ticket" I grow bitter and cynical and want to say, "Well, how nice for YOU, Charlie Stupid-head!" or something mature like that?

The other half of the time? That's when I sing along at the top of my voice, weeping with childish joy and thinking hopefully of my future years; because for that brief moment, if I can dream it and want it then it will be mine - and everything will be happy ever after after all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My Blog and Other Disasters

I was recently informed that the name of my blog is somewhat misleading. While I certainly do ramble, a certain critic who shall remain nameless felt that these ramblings were not deranged. He is correct, I do show a staggering amount of logic and reason in each post considering my self-proclaimed intention of writing "Deranged Ramblings." In our post-modern world of media marketing, however, such a disparity is hardly uncommon, and so I think that my faithful readers (all three of you) will not have any problems if I continue in failing to deliver anything truly deranged. You will indulge me, I hope, in a little false advertising. That being said, if anybody, including the aforementioned critic, has a suggestion for a more apt and interesting title for the blog, I'm all ears.

In other news, the recent hurricane and its damage to the Gulf Coast has dominated the national media. I mention this for historical interest. One day I'll be able to look back at my blog and see what was going on in the world at the time I wrote this. The abundant footage on TV of Katrina's devastation have reminded me, and probably many of you, of the awesome power of the elements compared to the relatively limited abilities of man. Do you ever catch yourself feeling, as I sometimes do, that in this modern day and age its crazy that we should still be limited by the weather? After all, we can build microscopic robots and clone sheep, so why can't we keep it from raining on our proverbial parade? The problem is we get so impressed with our own technological developments and ingeniuity that we begin to get this idea that we are untouchable by outside forces. And yet here one natural disaster has nearly emptied a major American city. Stuff like this happens a lot in other places, like with the tsunami and all, but I think Americans don't really consider anything totally real unless it happens here. Were you worried about terrorism before 9/11? I wasn't, even though acts of terrorist violence have been around for a long time. But I digress.

My own personal experiences with the destructive power of mother nature are somewhat limited. But that doesn't mean you don't get to hear about them. When I was really young, my family lived in California and were in an earthquake. Thats hardly breaking news: earthquakes are part of the Californian lifestlye as much as trendy clothes, surfing, and multi-culturism. Its not even considered a big deal unless its like a 8 on the Richter scale. But for a little kid, its a pretty scary experience. My brother and I were playing in our room, pretending we were in a rock band. I think he was playing the drums, and I was singing. The building began to shake, as if suddenly our house was made of Jell-o, and we did what any sane little kid would do. We ran to mom. We were scared, but I think my mom got the worst shock of all of us. She was in the shower at the time, and had the unpleasant experience of realizing that if she were to die she would be found naked. Nobody wants to go like that.

Thats the worst I've ever been through, and it wasn't even a very bad earthquake. I lived in Nebraska for a few years and lived through some tornado alerts, but none ever actually happened. I've always been dramatic, with a penchant for playing the martyr, so every tornado warning seemed to me to be the beginning of the end. I remember watching the news as they covered the developing storm and thinking for sure that it was all over, I was going to die. I was all ready to hole up down in the basement with the washing machine and a flashlight as I listened to the building collapse above us, until the walls finally caved in and put us out of our misery. I held my brother close one time and told him in a scared whisper that we were going to die, but he was unimpressed. He seemed more interested in playing with the flashlight I had ready, and I couldn't get him to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Of course, the tornado never actually formed, leaving me looking silly. Typical. But now I watch the scenes of chaos on the news and can't help thinking what we all think but are a bit embarrassed to admit: "Thank God.... Thank God its not me...." Of course we wish all those affected the best, and do what we can to help, but we can't help but feel glad that we are safe and sound.... until you realize that you live right next to a fault line and wonder with some dread when its going to be your turn...