Culturology 032 – Funemployment DVD Special!

So Nick? Did you wind up seeing Star Trek? Pretty good, right? Probably, like, a better movie than Wolverine was, huh? Good enough, in fact, that in the box office figures, this past weekends new should-be blockbuster release, Angels & Demons barely beat it out while Wolvie experienced his second straight weekend of precipitous decline. I wasn’t about to run out to see A&D, either.

DVD Round-Up

Beyond just reading novels and generally not working, not doing much of anything at all, really, I’ve decided to keep my internet DVD rental service within my budget, as getting a few movies a week to watch seems to take the edge off of having so many hours a day to be so painfully aware of my own uselessness (a pretty straightfoward reaction to being jobless, I reckon). So I’ve finally gotten around to seeing a bunch of movies that came out sometime in the past:

Once: This wasn’t terrible. As much as I haven’t gone for the whole singer-songwriter thing since the first half of my sophomore year of college, the music in this was okay, and the whole notion of making a small movie about making music is one way to get me to admit that not everything sucks. It’s interesting to me too, ’cause I reckon this movie did well enough last year that people will be trying to repeat the success, and make more “indie-pop” musicals or whatever. But, as generally impressed as I was with this movie, I switch right back to my more usual cynical appraising as soon as I think of the idea that there would be a market for this stuff. Not that I want to dredge up any old issues of hipsters and what they ruin (see early Culturologies for the epic hipster conversation of 2008), but I’d imagine that this, if co-opted by indie-panderers, would become a style of movie which falls ever so neatly into that category of “the new sincerity,” that explicitly post-ironic or anti-ironic aesthetic mush that gives cultural credence to treacle in the process of recanting its own usually heavily ironicized worldview.

Role Models: I realize that he wasn’t directly involved with this movie, but I’m gonna go ahead and make the association: Judd Apatow is ruining American comedies. There’s plenty to like about Role Models (not the least of which is the fact that the above-mentioned comedy-ruiner isn’t actually involved). Actually, I almost went and saw this in the theaters. There are some good jokes, and Seann William Scott is a funny guy. David Wain is a funny guy. The Jesus bit from The Ten was funny enough to make seeing something with Wain and Rudd working together a reasonable thing to do. But I can’t help but feel like this movie would have been funnier if certain other movies hadn’t built a certain set of expectations for character arc and nerd-comfort in comedies. Maybe it’s wrong to blame other movie-makers for the badness of something unrelated, but I feel like the comparison is an obvious one to make. At least we have the eminent release of The State DVDs to look forward to.

My attitude there is also influenced by having finally gotten around to seeing Pineapple Express, which was barely funny at all, and mostly bad. And Knocked Up was unwatchable. Normally, my attitude with this online-based DVD renting is that to get my money’s worth, I must watch fully (not including special features or commentary tracks) everything that I rent, but I sent back Knocked Up after watching maybe its first twenty (if that) miserable minutes. And, for comparison, I did manage to watch all of

Leonard Part 6: This is a terrible movie. The only reason I managed to get through the whole thing was that the villainess was a crazy vegetarian woman who used henchmen dressed like animals, and lots of actual animals to accomplish her nefarious plots. This thing won a ton of Razzies back in ’89, deservedly so. Cosby’s at his worst. But it is made worthwhile because at a crucial point, Cosby defeats the head henchman by getting him to take a bite of a hotdog, which causes the henchman’s head to explode (it appears to have been filled with sawdust, I guess to keep their PG rating).

Pete Can’t Believe He Hasn’t Read This Before! #2: If on a winter’s night a traveler

This book is probably only on your radar if you went to college, and maybe even only if you studied some amount of English literature (though it was originally written in Italian, and translated into English). Why? Because it’s probably one of the better examples of the kind of book which gets labeled as “postmodern” but is actually quite good. The structure is very interesting, with ten sections each being the first few pages of different novels which a character, addressed in the second person, gets involved with in interstitial chapters, in a wild international hunt for an elusive entire book.

Those of you that did study some amount of English probably see this as being indicative of the literary atmosphere in Europe after the ground-breaking critical work of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, who liberated the text from the author, the reader from the author, the text from meaning, etcetera etcetera. The poor protagonist of If, then, is a kind of atavistic fellow who just wants to read a good old fashioned book, and doesn’t like all this fragmentation and historicizing of the text. There’s an awful lot of heady nonsense to be said/written (of course, if we’re speaking post-Derrida, then everything is “writing”) about If on, which is probably why I never bothered reading it until now.

Last week, I talked a little bit about the notion of the canon, and the fact that there are many different canons of work that all exist simultaneously, as different ways to sort the same set of books (the big set being something like All The Books That Are Readable By Demographic X). If on a, to its detriment, falls into the canon of books That Are Likely To Be Talked About By Annoying Lit Majors That Think They Know Something About Stuff, when, of course, they know very little. It’s a reasonable stance, especially the further one gets from having been in an American college or university, to hate what’s broadly called in this country “postmodernism”.

But it’s a really good book! I don’t often go for books that use “you” like this (see Bright Lights, Big City for another–very different–example), but it works here, as its taken to such ridiculous heights as the poor Reader tries to keep a hold on any of the books he starts to read. In the end, if I were to read some sort of philsophical or theoretical aspect into If on a winter’s, it’d be that it’s pro-old-fashioned reading, rather than against it, and demonstrating that, as much as Barthes and his acolytes might proclaim the author’s death, the reader is never all that empowered either. Language rules (the only theory that I know that actively works with this notion that language-itself yields the power in cultural works is the still-burgeoning “meme theory” which rises out of neo-Darwinism (the word “meme” was coined by heavy-hitting evolutionist Richard Dawkins, though, in anything I’ve read, he hasn’t returned to the concept all that much).

Next Week: Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (this might actually take me more than a week to read, since its pretty thick).

For June 1st: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly

For July 6th: Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth

Other requests?

14 Responses to “Culturology 032 – Funemployment DVD Special!”

  1. 1 kirsten

    Neal, wasn’t there an If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler essay question on the Choate application? Not one that necessitated reading the book (I didn’t), but one that referenced it and quoted Italo Calvino? Am I making this up?

  2. 2 neal

    I’m sorry Kirsten, I don’t actually recall applying to Choate. I mean, I went to school there and all, but I remember nothing about the process of getting in.

    I agree that Knocked Up and Pineapple Express were cold trash. Role Models nearly redeemed the Apatow-esque comedy, but in the end it was Sean William Scott and the nutty 7 year old that made the movie. That kid was also in an episode of Human Giant and he was Hi-larious.

  3. 3 Nick Marino

    i left the theater after watching the first 20 mins of Knocked Up. then i demanded entrance to a different film. Hostel 2 was awesome.

    Pete, i agree that Apatow is really fucking shit up for comedies. he’s raising the bar ridiculously high in some ways (complete nerd acceptance) while lowering the actual quality of what’s acceptably funny in a slacker comedy (if there are nerds and social outsiders, it’s gotta be good… right?… RIGHT?). the good news is that there will be some Apatow backlash and we’ll probably get some awesome stuff then. but in the meantime, we have to put up with his assembly line slacker not-so-funnies. i mean, really, what did he direct that was good other than 40 Year Old Virgin? and what did he produce that was good other than Superbad?

    Pete, i forget – did you watch Balls Out yet?

    i would like to nominate Motley Crue’s The Dirt for the book club. that book will absolutely blow your mind. i kid you not.

  4. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

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  5. 4 neal

    isnt that the book with the story about ozzie snorting a line of ants that someone pissed on?

    and no one has even noticed/mentioned the new AS default avatar – I spent so much time on that!

  6. 5 Nick Marino

    you mean the favicon?

  7. 6 neal

    no the gray shocker hand that shows up next to pete/ross/kirsten’s comments.

  8. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

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  9. 7 Nick Marino

    OMG that’s so cool!!!!!!!

  10. 8 Pete

    When do I get my own picture? I mean, I do write a weekly column… maybe half a picture?

    I do realize that we’ll eventually get some Apatow backlash, and I look forward to it as much as the next guy, but it might be a while yet. ‘Cause the only other comedies that seem to come out with any consistency are those awful “_______ Movie” parody conglomerations. I can’t even think of the last comedy that I successfully saw in a theatre. I guess Be Kind Rewind was pretty funny. That was only a year ago.

    Great idea on the The Dirt, Nick. Do you have a copy you can send me? I’m gonna mail you A Scanner Darkly tomorrow.

  11. 9 nick marino

    i’ll buy a copy of The Dirt (i borrowed it from my kooky roommate back in the day) and skim it (i only read it a few years ago and i probably remember a lot of it). when i’m done, i’ll send it over.

    i liked The Heartbreak Kid. that was the last truly good movie theater comedy experience for me.

    as for getting your own pic, that’s not something Neal or i can do. you have to go to and set up an account. it’s actually pretty easy and the bonus is that your picture follows you around on multiple different websites as long as you use the same email address when you leave comments.

    and i can’t believe you liked Be Kind Rewind! i thought the idea was great but i didn’t actually laugh once during that movie.

  12. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

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  13. 10 Pete

    Does saying “I guess it was pretty funny” count as liking it? I did laugh at several instances, though. The Swed’ed (or whatever its called) version of Ghostbusters was genuinely hilarious, by my book. But I’m also predisposed to finding Jack Black and Mos Def funny, and the theater I was in was laughing a lot, which can be infectious.

    I did watch Balls Out. At your apartment. Don’t you remember?

    Also, Neal, removing the shocker from its old speaker icon seems to me to be upping the shocker half of the equation without bringing along the audio.

  14. 11 nick marino

    we watched Balls Out? i thought we watched Balls of Fury.

  15. 12 neal

    hey pete – do something better and then we can talk.

  16. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Nik Furious instrumental music

  17. 13 nick marino

    so i got my copy of A Scanner Darkly last week and i’ve been reading it a lot. BUT i left it in fucking Philly over the weekend!!! i just bought another copy today. Pete, don’t get me wrong, i think your book club is awesome. but i don’t know if i’ll be able to participate in any others beyond this Dick one. me + novels = rocky relationship.

  18. 14 Pete

    You actually bought a second copy? That’s intense. Clearly, you should be spending more of your money on me.

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