The Vacationing: July 2009 Edition
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.
Also, 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.
We 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 MartÃn 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.
Great, 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.
Is 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.)
Tags: Aaron Sorkin books Brooks Robinson Cecilia Roth Christopher Isherwood Don Bachardy Earl Weaver Fay Vincent food inexcusable spelling Joan Kennedy Julio Chavez Lizzie Borden movies N Cereal AA N Cookie AA Napoleon Party of Five Pee Wee Reese Ralph Branca Ralph Kiner Samurai Jack sandwiches to haunt the dreams short dudes shut up Dana's Dating Plan Stan Musial Stephen Talty Ted Kennedy Teri Polo travel TV Vincent D'Onofrio