Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sheen/Estevez '08

Ok, not only is Charlie Sheen the highest paid actor on television now, he's also the best.

Well, maybe that's stretching it a little. He's not the best actor, by any means, but I would argue he is the best public figure on television.

In the '80s, Charlie Sheen and his brother Emilio Estevez were on everybody's radar: Emilio had his Brat Pack connection, Charlie was Emilio's bad-boy brother, and they were both in the Young Guns franchise.

Times have changed and the poles have shifted. Now Charlie is the star (no more Navy Seals for him), while Emilio does shit like Bobby, which maybe three dozen people snoozed their way through.

Why did Charlie stand the test of time while Emilio crashed?

Because he's the embodiment of the right to live his life any way he chooses and to publicize it so. He elects to be the king of excess, and he does it admirably. So, he bangs a couple of hookers a night. So, he loses thousands on cockfights. So, he overdoses after injecting cocaine 'cause he was bored. So what?

What I most appreciate about Charlie Sheen is that he never tries to hide his lifestyle. He publicly acknowledges all the ridiculous shit he does, and he does it with a wink and a grin. He knows he's scummy, his characters know they're scummy, but they're happy in the gutter all the same.

Before anyone has a chance to give him shit about his life, he's given himself it two times over. He does it in interviews, he does it in his characters. Whether on Two and a Half Men or Spin City or Major League, he takes the piss out of himself because he knows that's smarter than hiding from the truth.

He's a libertarian icon. I say more power to him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I don't think China has duct tape

My sink sucks.

Currently, it's full of dishes I'm unable to clean. I am unable to clean them because whenever I turn on the water for more than ten seconds, it comes gushing out of the cupboard underneath like idiocy from Sarah Palin's mouth.

Any of the plumbing connected to the sink seems to dislodge with the slightest bit of pressure. My natural thought: This calls for duct tape. Maybe it's a Canadian thing.

I tried Carrefour. I tried B&Q. I ultimately resorted to scrounging around dust-covered alleys near the train station, hoping some drifter had left scraps of tape from his rucksack on his way outta Dodge.


In a hole-in-the-wall hardware store, I find several rolls of tape. I think this is a good sign. I ask the shopkeeper, "Hey man, do you any of this stuff, but, like, grey and really strong?"*


"You know, it's tape, but this stuff is too ... not strong. I need strong tape, usually grey-coloured. See, I have a problem with my bathroom."

"Buy this stuff."

"No, see, this is for electrical problems. I have a water problem."


There was then some confusion about whether I wanted tape or I wanted some sort of piping. This took ten minutes to clear up.

Eventually, the young guy runs out of the store. I sit and chat with the old guy. Five minutes later, the young guy is back with a roll of something approximating duct tape, except it's as thin as Saran wrap and looks better suited for pasting together an alien's helmet. This stuff practically glows.

"Fuck it. How much?"

Fifteen kuai later and I've got a roll of ... something ... which I'll use to stick my sink back together. Or try to. Wish me luck, true believers.

*Point of order: This is my very loose translation of what happened. My Chinese isn't that fluent. In fact, it's more like a monkey gibbering, punctuated with English curse words.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ghosts in the machine

Gremlins 2: The New Batch is seriously hot shit. Completely chaotic, silly, mindbending, fourth-wall-breaking, horror-based fun. Plus, it's a clever early-'90s satire of blind faith in technology that reminds me of Total Recall for some reason.

Watch Gremlins 2 here.

I seem to be posting about satire a lot. Ah well, satire's great.

Anyway, the best scene in Gremlins 2: The New Batch is when they bust out of the movie and start shredding the film, until eventually Hulk Hogan threatens to kick their ass unless they start it rolling again.

Here's a video some guy did where the gremlins, instead, burst into other movies and fuck shit up.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Funny Games U.S.

Hmm, wish I remembered writing that last post.

Just watched Funny Games US, as part of my annual October Horror Movie Marathon.

I wouldn't really call it horror, but I suppose it's the closest genre tag you could stick on it. It does focus on violence and its effects and interpretations in the media, and I suppose it's a little scary – although disturbing is a more appropriate word.

The story follows George (Tim Roth), Ann (Naomi Watts), and their kid Georgie (Devon Gearhart) as they arrive at their lakefront vacation house. Their neighbours are acting strangely and are followed about by two faux-charming young golf enthusiasts, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet).

Around dinnertime, Peter comes by to borrow some eggs, and things soon become awkward, then uncomfortable, then seriously tense, then terrifying, then analytical.

It's not spoiling anything to say Peter and Paul set about to torture the family, especially because the meat of the movie isn't in its violence (most of which takes place off-screen), it's in the ideas about violence.

Paul often turns to the audience to discuss what he should do, what movie logic dictates should happen, how we, as viewers, are complicit in the violence happening in the movie. We watch violent movies all the time, but rarely do we step back and think about the practical consequences of violence. I get a kick out of Dario Argento movies, but I don't associate all the stabbings and decapitations with anything other than fiction. Funny Games seems to contend that fictional violence is as real as actual violence – we're still seeing someone murdered, regardless of whether or not it's simulated or not.

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it works.

Director Michael Haneke remade his earlier Funny Games in English for an American audience, thinking it would probably have more of an effect if in the native language of the media culture it's criticizing. That's a sound idea, but the problem isn't with translation, it's with a breakdown in the satire.

Haneke seems to jab us for watching his movie, constantly raising questions about our desire to see violence. Fair enough, but he made the movie and he's just as much to blame as his audience. Producers of video violence are only catering to a demand, but they're still catering to it instead of just patently ignoring it.

More than anything, though, I think Haneke just wants his viewers to think about what they watch, rather than to tell us what to do. An unexamined movie isn't worth watching, after all.

Anyone have any thoughts? If you haven't seen it yet, it might screen in Dalian next month – details later.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Drunx punx

Alright, it's 1:30 am on a Sunday.

I'm drunk from winning the quiz again. What else do people do on Sundays in Dalian? I honestly don't know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Then We Came to the End

I went home for the holidays last year, seeking to retire away from China for a couple of weeks, recuperate, see the folks, and most importantly, pick up foreign crap I can't find in Dalian.

Books were pretty high on the list.

This town is great, but until Echo Books and Cafe opened recently, there weren't a whole lot of options for avid readers. The foreign language bookstore stocks every Agatha Christie story ever, but not a whole lot of recent literary fiction.

Which is why I was struck dumb when, last week, I found Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.

Time magazine rated it the second-best fiction book from last year. It was a National Book Award finalist. It earns comparison to Catch-22, another wicked fun novel.

Then We Came to the End is all about a bunch of employees at a failing ad agency in Chicago, who pry into each others' personal lives, try to hide their abject boredom and lack of things to do, and bitch and moan about their miserable lives they refuse to change. It's clever, funny as hell, dark and twisted. It's also the perfect reminder of why it's great to teach English in China.

For all the problems and irritations that arise naturally from spending significant time in a foreign culture and from spending significant time with children, it's all way better than these characters' lives.

I used to work in an office back in Newfoundland where I had about ten minutes of work to stretch over eight-and-a-half hours every day. Sure, I'd chat online, send e-mails, read the news, make trips to the coffee machine to fill myself up so I'd make trips to the bathroom later. I learned how to bend paper clips into remarkably strong projectiles. I hatched a plan to solve the world's energy crisis by harnessing the kinetic potential of giant paper clips. Eventually, I bought a toy gun that shot plastic pigs at my coworkers, who didn't even notice. Finally, I started reading the entire contents of and taking an hour-long nap every afternoon, in plain view of my bosses. No one cared. It sounds way more fun than it actually was – it was the most boring six months of my life.

Teaching ESL may not be a dream job: it's no scuba diving instructor, or hands-off investment billionaire, or candy-bar heir, or space pirate. But it beats the hell out of that old lifestyle.

There was one copy of Then We Came to the End left at the Foreign Language Bookstore. Someone go buy it, especially if you're starting to think maybe living back in the West is a better idea.

Inherited kittens are never the brightest

Lately, Anne Frank has decided my sofa is the most ideal location for her to start taking her leaks.

I immediately spray it down with cleaner, scrub it 'til the colour bleeds, cover it with pungent lemon air freshener. It doesn't look like piss, it doesn't smell like piss, and unless you read this, you'd never know there was cat piss there at all.

Yet, she'll do the same thing tomorrow. Anyone have any idea how I can break this habit without breaking her neck? 'Cause one or the other is bound to happen.