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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Vacationing: July 2009 Edition

Submitted by on July 26, 2009 – 9:53 PM22 Comments

suspiciously strong swimmer and ex-wife

suspiciously strong swimmer and ex-wife

Typhus, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Flatbush, lesser Kennedys, seminal animé (say that five times fast), Argentine nutbars, and cod on the Cape — plus the N Cereal AA and the fall contest.These stories and more, after the jump.

Administrative whatnot. I've updated the brackets; the N Cereal AA final is Honey Nut Cheerios vs. Frosted Flakes.Not the outcome I'd envisioned, but not exactly a big shocker, either.My esteemed cereolleague is traveling, but we'll have the last match-up write-up for you on Monday, and Keckler tells me she's good to go for N Cookie AA in mid-September.I'll post an open thread in a few weeks for you to talk to us about cookie-gories.

cast5Also, please start thinking, in just a casual wool-gathering sort of way, about the fall contest.Reader Laura K. fired the first prizing shot across the bow a day or two ago, and while I don't want to ruin the surprise, it involves Party of Five.…No, it isn't one of the barn jackets one of the characters always seemed to have on, but more than that I will not reveal.Can you donate a prize?Think it over, see if you can use some credit-card points, mull over things you make really well and might like to give away, and prepare for an epic fundraiser.

And now, pop culture and food!Take it away, Napoleon…

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army. I think it has a name, a term — the average person's inability to comprehend a horror fully once a certain number of victims is achieved.It passes into a staggering abstraction, and while we understand that it is a horror, the sheer size doesn't allow us to feel it the way we might.I experienced it while visiting the Stones River battle site in Murfreesboro, TN — I understood intellectually that more than 23,000 men had died in three days over New Year's, 1863, but as I myself stood there on a foggy day in 2008, on a pathway through a quiet pasture populated by birdcalls, two Buntings, their pamphlets, and a guy from Massachusetts with a tripod, it felt like a fairytale.It had thousands of faces, but then it had no one face.

Stephen Talty writes well, and does his best to pinch the reader with specifics — letters home, journals, individual wretched lonely deaths in the snow — but in the end, his narrative is defeated by this counting problem.It is terrifying, this scourge, and frustrating, since the modern reader knows how easily it could have been stopped, but Talty can only restate that sad fact so many times; then he's thrown back on recounting battle specifics, which is not quite what the title promises and which, frankly, I generally have a difficult time following unless I tear out the page with the little map on it (I have so little spatial sense that descriptions of pincer actions on second lines might as well be in another language).

It's a good book from an idea that's destined to not quite work no matter how it's presented, in other words.Hundreds of thousands of men died on that campaign; hundreds of thousands.But…then what else can anyone say to that.

Living With The Kennedys: The Joan Kennedy Story. Oo-fah, poor Joan.The book is more than 20 years old, written by a former staffer of Joan's who got a front-row seat to the seven-course buffet of awkward known as "Ted Kennedy's 1980 presidential bid."Marcia Chellis has a few good insights as a result, but the early years of Joan and Ted's marriage is glossed over; it's unclear whether Joan cooperated with the writing of the book (she intended to initially, then changed her mind, and Chellis doesn't really answer the question of whether she changed it back); and Chellis's primary interest is in pointing up Joan's triumph over alcohol abuse, which…let's just say it's not so current, because, well, poor Joan to the infinite power.Even if Joan had a quarter century of uninterrupted sobriety at this point, evangelism on the subject of the recovery journey frequently makes for dull reading.I didn't finish this one.

06fWe Would Have Played For Nothing: Baseball Stars of the 1950s and 1960s Talk About the Game They Loved. I wanted to like it more than I did.The Baseball Oral History Project is a solid idea, and my understanding is that all of these interviews exist on video at Cooperstown; it's smart to get these guys on camera, talking about their experiences.

But as a book, I didn't love it, in part because New York players dominated, or seemed to, and on the one hand, that's fair — the three New York teams of that era did rule the game.But on the other hand, they still rule the narrative, always, inevitably, and I'm not uninterested in the Willie/Mickey/the Duke debate or the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff and so on, but I'm not uninformed about it, either.I'm over-informed, if anything; I don't feel like I need to know anything more about Ralph Branca or Pee Wee Reese or Whitey Ford that I don't already.Kiner, Musial, I'd like to learn more about them, their lesser-known teammates.All due respect to Brooks Robinson, but the Oriole machine of that time is another story I feel like I could tell as though it actually happened to me at this point; I can spin Earl Weaver anecdotes like I know the guy.It's probably the job of "official" baseball history, at this point, to focus on what Ken Burns didn't cover.I should not feel like I'm the only person under the age of 100 who still knows who Double X is.

Did Lizzie Borden Axe For It? I'm relatively familiar with the case, and I could barely follow along with Rehak's presentation; I don't think a newcomer to the material would have a chance.Things may improve after page 50, but once I hit the rendition of "lied under oath" as "purgered," I quit and donated the book to the cottage's library.

And of all the puns or plays on the famous schoolyard doggerel about Lizzie Borden, couldn't he have used one with any wit?This one doesn't even make sense.

The cod Reuben at Woody's Eastham Lobster Pool. Top-ten meal, lifetime. Amazing. Go get one.

Epitafios. HBO's Spanish-language series about the hunt for a serial killer has several elements that come off…I don't know exactly how to put it."Dated"?"Unstudied"?A serial killer who is that organized, who has that many contingency plans, who is basically completely sane and calm except that he's also rotten and evil, who is in drag a lot and listens to the opera…that kind of "the murderer is an angry art fag" take doesn't feel current.The production isn't all "ew, the gay" about things, I should make clear; it's just that conception of a serial murderer as more of a neatnik "degenerate" than out-and-out crazy, it seemed out of its time.

The acting bails it out, though; I didn't really notice that aspect of it until I had nearly finished the season.Cecilia Roth is saddled with a baroque Russian-roulette subplot that, while not uninteresting, could have felt deeply manipulative, but she makes it work, and the show has a good visual texture to it and doesn't treat its characters like idiots.It has a few really witty bits, visually (the scene with Renzo and Martín hemmed by the Rottweilers, for one), and the subtitling is more accurate than the occasional spelling error might suggest.I haaaaate it when I can tell that the subtitles aren't telling me everything, but I don't know what exactly has gotten left out; it's a non-issue here.

dead_070509115001419_wideweb__300x187Great, thoughtful work by Julio Chavez as Renzo; I watched Un Oso Rojo right after Epitafios, and I suspect he won his handful of awards for that role on the strength of a single exchange he has with his little daughter in a pizzeria.Chavez is a jolie-laide in the classic "please, enjoy my chest hair" style, and I'd like to see more of him, not least to find out if he's 1) driving a taxi 2) with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel in every part he plays.

Samurai Jack, S1. The sound design still amazes me.And I always forget how much I love the Scotsman."Pajama-wearing daisy" is my new favorite insult, although (or because) it so seldom is relevant.

Full Metal Jacket. …Remember when they used to play clips from this on morning drive-time radio in the NYC area?Like, as comedy?

The first time I watched FMJ, it seemed so profound, but now I don't see what I'm being told or given of any real insight, aside from a few technically impressive and attractive shot set-ups that lack blood.D'Onofrio is so over the top at the end of that segment, they had to send a cherry-picker up for him when he wrapped; I like D'Onofrio, but the big moments eat him whole at times, and he thinks his only way out alive is Manson lamps or working his spine like a bullwhip.I don't think subtlety is always the answer, but in the case of Pyle's last moments, it would have worked better, said something newer.

Sports Night. GOD I can't stand Dana Whitaker on this show.Can't STAND her.What's worse, it's really Sorkin I can't stand — the way he can never resist cutting an impressive woman down to size with some repetitively stated, cutesily "random" phobia; some insecurity; some reason for rejecting the Sorkin stand-in that always has to do with having gotten hurt before; or some non-credible modus assholi that doesn't play for anyone over the age of 12.Ladies and gentlemen: the stupid fucking Dating Plan.

aaron-sorkinIs it Sorkin's belief that a real woman, a voting adult, would come up with a ridonko idea like this?Is it his understanding that the voting adults in the audience would either buy it, or find it endearing?Daffy, hilarious, whatever Sorkin thinks it is?Because it's idiotic.It turns Dana — already tough to take with the ill-disguised neuroses and the childish reverse-sexist bonding with Natalie, but still competent, tough, and loyal — into a silly, smug twat."I want you to date other women; I don't want you to like it"?Either she's nuts, or she's a jerk, and it's out of character.Dana up to that point is annoying, yes, but she's not dickish about it. She's…just annoying.

On another topic, can I ask what's going on with Teri Polo's hair in the first season?From the front, totally cute bob.From the back, wiglike Hamill-y weirdness.I kept wanting to pause the show, climb into my screen, sit her in a chair, and bevel the back properly.

Chris & Don: A Love Story. Could have gotten precious, but is touching instead thanks to a straightforward, controlled telling of a story that needs little embellishment.

Akira. I don't understand what Akira actually is; I don't know if that's the intent, or if I missed a key sequence (I watched with subtitles instead of English dubbing, so it's entirely possible).The film is, I think, considered a pioneer of the form, but twenty-odd years later, that fact isn't going to overcome your muddled third act.(I went with the two-hour version, not the full-length version, but I can't see how the extra footage would have helped, since the umpteen false endings got left in.)

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  • Rinaldo says:

    "Purgered"? I'd be out as of that page too.

  • Selene says:

    It is my understanding that 'Akira' is some kind of mystical, godlike force that happened to take the form of a little kid. And blew up Tokyo. I think.

    But really, most of what I remember from that movie is the motorcycle and the "TETSUOOOOOO!" "KANEDAAAAAAA!!!"

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I know, right? "Waaaaaaaaaaaalt!" Oy vey.

  • DensityDuck says:

    Assuming you really want "Akira" explained:

    The idea driving "Akira" is that old saw about "the converse of authority is responsibility". The story is trying to say that extreme power without extreme control is wholly destructive, not useful or helpful or even safe to have around. The government creates this psychic-powers research project, but all they do is give people power–they don't think of how to _control_ this power, how to create the psychological framework necessary to keep it from just being unleashed every time you thought about it.

    Imagine if every time you got even mildly irked at someone, they exploded. On the one hand, what fun! But imagine what a visit to the DMV would be like.

    Note that this is based on repeated viewings and external reading. The movie barely explains any of it–there's maybe one scene where they lay this out, and that's the end of the matter.

    PS it is a crime against humanity that the original Streamline Pictures dub is not on the DVD. "Men! WE'RE GOING TO THE OLYMPICS!"

    PPS the manga of "Akira" isn't any better. Some guy gets shot in the balls by a bazooka, and then the US Navy shows up and bombs the shit out of Tokyo for no apparent reason.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I didn't really need the movie explained so much as the concept within the movie (the out-of-control bit is, sadly, well-trodden ground 10 minutes after he gets his powers). It's when the little kids are "explaining" what Akira is that the movie lost me.

  • attica says:

    I bet somebody's reading this post and muttering about muu-muu-wearing parliament smokers. Hee!

    Sorkin's problems with writing women is eternal, isn't it? Despite his protestations that he had good role models for strong women and that the actresses loved playing the broader stuff, Dana's dating plan sucked, sucked hard, and sucked in color. Felicity Huffman did what she could with it, but: destined to fail.

  • tulip says:

    "sandwiches to haunt the dreams"
    hee. I think this is the only website where I check the tags for funny just as much as the writing itself.

    I do love these kitchen sink posts since they always get me to read or watch something I otherwise wouldn't have known about. I'd love it if you did a series of "what's in the pile on my nightstand" or "what's in the pile next to my dvd player". That assumes of course that you, like me, have stacks of books/dvds next to the bed/television.

    If you want to totally piss off an anime lover, rent Fist of the Northstar (the CARTOON one) and then laugh and laugh at the insane ridiculous dialogue. Especially potent when in a theater full of anime lovers who wonder why that guy brought his girlfriend to see this when CLEARLY she "doesn't understand" anime. Not that I have any experience with that or anything. *eyeroll If you are looking for good anime movies Blood the Last Vampire is one I really liked. You also might like the Cowboy BeBop series.

    I love the Scotsman!! He was my absolute favorite villain in the series! I need to pull that one out and watch it again. Such a great show!

  • Brian says:

    The first several times I saw Akira, I caught it on TV, always in the middle. I assumed that if I ever saw the whole thing, I'd actually understand it. So I rented it and watched it all the way through. Didn't help. There's a circuit in my brain that flicks on when confronted with Japanese drama, humor, or music, and inserts the thought, "If you were Japanese, this would make perfect sense" into my frontal lobe. I think Akira put that switch there, but 20 years after the fact, I think maybe you just have to be high.

    Samurai Jack: Love it, love it, love it. Can't get enough of the Scotsman.

  • attica says:

    Oh, I just noticed the beloved 'suspiciously strong swimmer.' Kudos for that; it never stops being awesome.

  • Alan Swann says:

    Do you know how freakin' long I worked to wipe the atrocious DDP from my memory banks? I'd almost managed to convince myself that Sports Night only had one, brilliant season. So much for that. Thanks, Sars.

  • Momthecoach says:

    I've also experienced that feeling when visiting Fort Donelson in Tennessee. I remember standing there on a cold January morning with snowflakes falling. So cold and wet, and thinking that someone my age or younger even died right here feeling that cold and that wet and just scared. No help, no one to commiserate with because everyone else is dead too. Very eerie feeling.

  • Deanna says:

    I know about Double X and I'm only 40. So you are not alone.

  • Tracey says:

    N Cookie AA! Yay!

  • Jaybird says:

    The only time I've ever gotten shorted-out by that sort of tragedy was at the Nanjing Memorial Museum, to the 300K Chinese killed by the Japanese during late 1937-early 1938. After awhile some switch flipped in my head and I ceased to believe the photos of horrendously-violated corpses were real, not out of cynicism, but because I couldn't handle being in a place where they WERE real.

    Oh, the loathing I feel for "Akira". And the loathing is quite distinct from any degree of understanding. Knowing what it "means" doesn't make it any more entertaining or bearable to sit through 2 hours of "TATSUOOOOOO!" "KAAAAANNNEEEEDAAAAAAA!", or the exploding body parts and tentacles, feh. This was the first bit of anime I ever watched, and it was some time before I bothered watching any more of it.

  • Jen S says:

    God, my Darling Husband made me watch Akira (on VIDEOTAPE, that's how old his copy is) and I pretty much gave up on the whole thing during the first five minutes or whatever when the little girl gets her shirt pulled off for no reason except perhaps titillating anime kiddie porn. Hooray! I just kept thinking "Is there really a whole country who thinks this is some supreme work of art or is it a humongous joke on the rest of the world?"

    But I second Cowboy Bebop–any cartoon with a corgi is a freind of mine! Ein! Ein! Ein!

  • Duana says:

    Party of Five prize? IN.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    There's a documentary comes on the Discover/History/One of Them channel fairly often about the discovery of a batch of bodies – a BIIIG batch of bodies – discovered just outside Vilnius. Turns out it's 2-3,000 of Napoleon's soldiers, retreating from Moscow, and almost making it to safety. The documentary talks about the typhus, among other things, that plagued the troops. I watch it most of the times when it's on; apparently I'm a Plague Documentary junkie.

  • jive turkey says:

    Lots of great stuff in this post, but I just have to point out the brilliant and hilarious Party of Five "barn jackets" reference, because it just totally made my morning.

  • Lon says:

    I'm not a raving anime fan, but I do like the genre. For various reasons that are somewhat embarrassing to remember, I've seen Akira in both English and Japanese a bunch of times, and even read the manga. I think Akira is supposed to be the film that establishes anime as able to be deep and arty and *serious*. Yeah yeah yeah, whatever, I don't watch deep arty serious live-action films, either.

    Looking back, if you're going to watch Akira, find a good plot summary, then watch it in Japanese without subtitles. You can pretend the plot is more basic SF and skip some of the flaky mystical stuff, you get to skip the cheesy bits of the dialogue that (I hope) are not so painful in Japanese, and IIRC there's some stupid sound effects that were added to at least one English-language version.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    @LaBella…I too am a Plague Documentary junkie. (also a Holocaust Documentary junkie, and a Serial Killer Documentary junkie.) Are there meetings? A 12-step program? Because I give myself nightmares & yet I can't resist.
    @ Jaybird, that was Dachau for me. The ovens. I'll never forget that feeling you described so well…like an overdose of reality.

  • cheryl says:

    I've had the short-out feeling when visiting a genocide memorial in Rwanda. If there's not a term for it, there should be.

  • CJB says:

    Oh, thank goodness. I have an (amateur) appreciation for anime, and I found Akira both confusing and incredibly boring, and I thought I had failed anime. I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt that way. I tend to feel that the level of regard for it might be influenced a bit by its historical significance. Which is fine — it's just not something that's especially important to me, and a lot of action also isn't a big favorite of mine, so, you know, different strokes and all that. But it's nice not to be alone.

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