Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This is only a test dream.

Don't drink a Diet Dr Pepper and eat some chocolate at 10:30 on a Sunday night thinking you'll be up for the next few hours doing some work only to decide an hour and a half later that you want to go to bed because then you'll find that it's hard to get to sleep right away and you'll have dreams about a "71% chance of severe flooding" and this nagging fear that while you're out of town for the weekend your basement apartment will fill up with water.

(Breathe.)

I woke up Monday morning and remembered that I live on the fifth floor of my building, not in a basement apartment. I see you've gotten the better of me once again, Mr. Subconscious. Well played.

But here's something interesting in terms of my anxiety dreams—recently I had one in which it was opening night of a play and I didn't know my lines yet. How could I? I had been cast earlier that day. I have this kind of anxiety dream pretty often, probably because I perform at least once a week in Chicago doing improv and sketch comedy; in every dream I buy the circumstances hook, line, and sinker. Never do I catch myself during the dream and say to myself, "Robert, there's no way anyone would cast you in a play the afternoon before the show opens." Besides, Mr. Subconscious would probably reply, "Exotic dancers get 'cast' the day of their first show all the time, stupid." He's right, you know. I've seen Showgirls. I know the drill.

The plays I do in my dreams are always community theater productions, which is an important point, because just like recurring high school "test dreams," why should any of our various anxiety dreams ever advance past adolescence? I know nothing about psychology beyond the Psychology 101 class I took at UGA in the fall of '95, but scientifically speaking, is adolescence the time of greatest continual anxiety in a person's life? Everything else is certainly heightened during those years.

I'm drifting away from what I wanted to say, but I am talking about dreams, so drifting seems appropriate. Here's the interesting thing about this recent anxiety dream of mine where I didn't know my lines—I wasn't anxious. For some reason I decided in the dream that since I hadn't had any time to learn the lines and since there was nothing I could do about it, I might as well just improvise and see what happens. Listen and react, which is what acting's all about anyway. And don't worry about what you can't control.

So that's what I did in the dream, and although the other actors knew I was screwing up and the audience could tell something wasn't quite right, I got through it. (Come to think of it, all of the actors were in the audience. And the audience was tiny. Wait, were the actors the entire audience? Wow, just like at the improv shows I do every Sunday night!) The dream didn't end with me panicking before I woke up.

Was the dream a sign that I've finally gained some real confidence onstage and that I should now be totally fearless when improvising (no, there are no lines to memorize beforehand when you do improv shows, but you can still end up speechless and afraid onstage in front of a room of strangers, and that doesn't feel any better than forgetting your lines), or was it a confirmation of the confidence already achieved? Is there a difference? And was the dream really about performing, or was it about gaining confidence in every aspect of life? And are all these questions turning this post into a test dream? Please don't be anxious. You didn't have time to study, so there's no need to worry about what you can't control. Especially not something as uncontrollable as a dream.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Escape from Cleveland"

That was the subject heading of a spam e-mail I received at work. "U.S. embassy bomb attack 'foiled'" was another one. Both were decoys—inside each e-mail was an ad for Cialis, the anti-impotency pill. However, it would be nice to think that in some far-off land an embassy attack really was foiled because a lonely security guard, valiantly fighting loneliness with a local prostitute, just happened to glance over at a security monitor and notice a suspicious package by the front gate—without Cialis, he would've been dozing off at his desk once again.

So thank you, erection pill. You're a true patriot.

I didn't know until I looked at one of those trick-but-no-treat e-mails (
try explaining to your suspicious, snickering coworkers that you were merely trying to stay abreast of the news) that Cialis offers a chewable brand of its pill called Cialis Soft. Isn't that name counterintuitive? If you want to be hard, you need to swallow a hard pill. No exceptions.

Alright, enough foreplay.

Recently I saw John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) for the first time. When the sequel, Escape from L.A., came out in 1996, I saw it in the theater because I was reviewing movies that summer for the University of Georgia's radio station, WUOG. I saw a lot of movies in the theater that summer, but I realized at that point that I could never become a professional movie critic, because I liked almost everything I saw.

Of course, that crisis of conscience hasn't prevented certain critics from earning a living and getting their names on plenty of print ads under quotes like "Fred Claus takes its place among the all-time holiday classics!" But those critics are essentially PR flacks/hacks whose expenses at press junkets are paid by the studios in the hopes that the hacks will thank the studios by writing nice things about their bad movies.

But I digress.
The reason I liked almost every movie I saw in the summer of '96 had to do with the fact that I wasn't paying to see the ones I was reviewing. Ignorant people who'll never learn how to behave in public could talk all they wanted, because for once they weren't doing it on my dime!

A friend suggested two years ago that I dedicate this blog to reviewing audiences at movies rather than the movies themselves, because she enjoyed hearing my rants about the Lowest Common Denominator showing up an hour into a screening and acting like they'd just walked into their living room. But the only thing that kind of blog would do is expand the hole in my soul; it wouldn't be the best way to process my ultimately fruitless rage. My movie-audience rants are meant to be funny, but the underlying anger doesn't have as much resonance as, say, a rant about poverty. Then again, who cares about poverty? Not me. Movies cost too much for poor people to see them, so they're not on my radar.

Besides, one of the reasons I get mad at people talking during movies is because I paid to get in just like they did, and when they're talking, they're wasting my money. I know they don't care that they're wasting their own money. And I know I'll never be able to convince them to stay home and flush $20 down the toilet while they flap their gums on the phone, though they'd probably find it to be an equally satisfying experience. But if I didn't have to pay to see movies, I bet I'd be able to block out the surrounding noise a lot better and be much happier in the long run. A happy movie critic isn't necessarily a good critic, however.

I watched Escape from New York on DVD. In my living room. It's possible that the lack of surrounding noise from the aforementioned LCDs helped me notice a giant continuity error in the film, but I bet I would've noticed it even in a noisy theater.

See, near the beginning of the film, the antihero protagonist, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, sounding silly doing a Clint Eastwood impression, but it's hard not to like Russell, so I let it pass), is given 23 hours to find the president of the United States, who's played by Donald Pleasence. The British actor sounds just as British as ever, but Escape is set in a futuristic 1997, where Manhattan has been turned into an island prison, and Americans can presumably elect a foreigner as their commander-in-chief just as long as he's notably creepy the way Pleasence is in most of his roles.

There's also the nice irony of America being so overburdened by crime by 1988, as the film's prologue states, that the federal government would turn Manhattan into a huge prison—reminiscent of my home state's roots as a prison colony for English debtors—and then hand over control of the country to an Englishman 200 years after the American Revolution.


But I digress again. Air Force One has been hijacked and flown into a skyscraper in Manhattan—no, not the World Trade Center, 9/11 conspiracy theorists—but the president was ejected in an escape pod before the plane crashed. Now he's been kidnapped by prisoners, and Plissken, a decorated military officer turned bank robber who's about to be sent to New York for life, is given a chance to win his freedom by rescuing the president. The catch is that if he doesn't get the president to safety in 23 hours, he'll be killed by some sort of microscopic, timer-activated explosive that's been injected into his bloodstream. Hell, with that kind of motivation I'd never miss a deadline, either.

So, when Plissken is told he has 23 hours to find the president, we see the timer on his government-issued watch counting down from 22:57:37. We next see him getting in his government-issued jet glider, presumably a few minutes after we last saw him. But now he's being told that he has 21 hours left to find the president.

Wait ... what happened to the last two hours?

Was a really long scene deleted? Did Plissken take a nap? Lord knows I love to procrastinate, so I'm not trying to pass judgment on you, sir, but this is no time to take a nap!

Then we see the clock in the Ellis Island command center, which is counting down from 20:17:43. That's closer to 20 hours than 21. What the hell was Snake doing for the last two and a half hours?!

If you're going to introduce a ticking clock in a story, you have to stick with it. For the sake of suspense you can delay the inevitable here and there as the clock gets closer to zero, but why shave off two hours right at the beginning without any explanation? Otherwise the first two episodes of every season of 24 should feature Jack Bauer checking his e-mail and drinking coffee at CTU headquarters.

You'd think this sort of continuity mistake could've been fixed in postproduction by rerecording a line or two of dialogue and inserting a new shot of the countdown clock, but it wasn't. Has anyone out there heard John Carpenter explain the reason for this error, possibly on an older DVD or laserdisc that contains a commentary track?

Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978), and The Fog (1980) have all been remade in this decade, and a remake of Escape from New York is currently in development. (After Escape, Carpenter and Russell made 1982's The Thing, a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World.) The remake obviously won't be set in 1997, but since it will presumably have a higher budget than the original, somebody should take the time to make sure the script makes better use of its time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stephen Thomas Erlewine sums up the Goo Goo Dolls in 348 words.

I really like Stephen Thomas Erlewine's album reviews at allmusic.com, even if he praises so many new albums that I sometimes end up with the feeling that he's secretly in cahoots with the major labels. Then again, there's nothing wrong with being positive and looking on the bright side of things as much as you can, and if I wanted to stick with my conspiracy theory I'd be forced to concede that Erlewine's just as much in cahoots with indie labels as he is with the majors.

Below is his not-so-positive review of the Goo Goo Dolls' Greatest Hits, Volume One: The Singles. I like a few of the Goo Goo Dolls' songs, especially "Name," but Erlewine hits the nail right on the head in his review.

The Goo Goo Dolls, Greatest Hits,
Volume One: The Singles
(Warner Bros.)


Hard to believe it, but at one point all the Goo Goo Dolls ever wanted to be was the
Replacements—nothing more than a ragged band playing kickass rock & roll along with the occasional heartbroken ballad. Of course, they were never as chaotic as the 'Mats; they were good guys where Paul Westerberg and company were ornery, unpredictable artists, prone to self-sabotage, legendarily throwing away their potential breakthrough gig on Saturday Night Live.

That wasn't the Goo Goo Dolls. They never met an opportunity they didn't turn down, slowly morphing from baby Replacements to the cheerful corporate rockers showcased on this 2007 compilation, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: The Singles. This 14-track collection ignores the entire first act of the band's history, picking up the tale with 1995's A Boy Named Goo, which not so coincidentally is where the band abandoned its 'Mats aspiration and started being the alt-rock band that played by the rules (even then, Boy's breakthrough hit, "Name," is re-recorded here, the better to make it fit with the placid pop of their later years). Where all their peers shunned power ballads, the Goo Goo Dolls embraced them, slowly turning into a group that specialized in soaring ballads and anthems with no discernible roots: this was merely modern rock that existed in the moment, usually moments that occurred in offices, malls, waiting rooms, and Michael Bay's Transformers.

Surely there was an audience for this, as the group ruled the adult Top 40 charts throughout the 2000s without ever having a single that truly made waves in the pop charts, the way "Name," "Iris," and "Slide" did in the late '90s. It wasn't for lack of trying, though: the Dolls kept refining and smoothing that blueprint out, so each progressive year turned more anonymous. But they were reliable, and they satisfied fans, many of whom would probably never have even known the name Westerberg, not even as the name of the high school in Heathers. For those fans, this Greatest Hits will satisfy, as it has all those hits that sound the same, and nothing else. Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Friday, November 9, 2007

Railroad Rod!

Recently we received some PR at work about a popular singer and his favorite hobby.

Rod Stewart and model trains
The famed singer raises the curtain on his 23- x 124-foot model railroad layout for Model Railroader magazine.

WAUKESHA, WI
Hall of fame rock-n-roller Rod Stewart unwinds after a concert by kitbashing and scratchbuilding. These terms may sound like code words that explain the mysterious antics of a world-famous celebrity, but instead they describe techniques for one of the world's most popular hobbies: model railroading.

The acclaimed songwriter of hits like "Reason to Believe" and "Maggie May" contacted Model Railroader magazine to talk about his other achievement, "Grand Street & Three Rivers Railroad."

Stewart offered Model Railroader magazine exclusive access to his 1,500-square-foot model-train layout that takes up the third floor of his Beverly Hills home. The visit to his home and interview with Stewart resulted in a cover story, "Rod Stewart
's Three Rivers City," for the December 2007 issue of Model Railroader, the world's best-selling magazine dedicated to the hobby. The December 2007 issue hits newsstands November 6.

"I'm proud to be a railway modeler," Stewart said. "It means more to me to be on the cover of Model Railroader than to be on the cover of a music magazine."


I also liked this little portion of the Model Railroader PR:

More famous model railroaders
What do Rod Stewart, Rev. Lovejoy, Joe DiMaggio, and Frank Sinatra have in common? They're all toy train enthusiasts. Find out other members of the top 10 celebrity model railroaders as compiled by the editors of Model Railroader.


Ohhhhh, so they're all toy train enthusiasts. See, I knew that DiMaggio and Sinatra are both dead, so that's one thing those guys have in common. And I knew that Rod Stewart can be animated when he's performing, but that doesn't make him an animated character like The Simpsons' Rev. Lovejoy. And just as the First Church of Springfield's pastor isn't real, neither is that rumor from the '70s about Stewart's stomach being pumped and semen being part of the inventory. But you're telling me that all of these celebrities, whether living, dead, or enitrely fictional, are toy train enthusiasts, Model Railroader?
I never would've guessed!

It turns out that Terje Fjelde, my friend from the Norwegian part of the blogosphere, has also been allowed exclusive access to Rod Stewart's toy train set, and he's not even a professional journalist—he's just Norwegian. Way to go, Terje! And thanks for sending along the photo below. It looks like Rod didn't like it when you touched his miniatures. Did you tell him it was merely a love touch?