Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Vs. Day of Dead

Spooky holiday deathmatch!
And the uncontested winner still is the Mexican Day of the Dead! Both holidays, I assume, arise from the same Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve, or Día de Todos los Santos, in Spanish. I'm a Jew, so don't think for a second that I am about to give you the historical context for this asseveration. I'm talking out of my ass. But I can still tell you why Day of Dead kicks Halloween's ass. If this starts the next Mexican-American war, so be it.

Basically, there is a very simple reason: Day of the Dead, which I assume, also out of my ass, has been going on in this continent longer than Halloween, has not yet reached a stage of commercial apotheosis in which its original meaning is totally lost under the maniacal ringing of the cash register. Yes, you can buy pan de muerto, Day of the Day bread, or sugar or chocolate skulls with your name or that of your loved ones inscribed on them, but most of the money spent on Day of the Dead celebrations goes towards buying bunches of cempazúchitl, the orange flower that decorates the altars to your beloved dead, and the stuff that goes in said altars, which is the stuff the dead used to love when they were alive (mostly involving tequila, mezcal, cigarettes, Japanese Mexican peanuts and other sundry pleasures and vices). No need to be gouged on a green itchy wig and a cheap Tinkerbell costume at Ricky's.

Moreover, the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition is a fascinating combo of the indigenous cult of the dead of the Precolumbian cultures with the Christian tradition that was shoved down their throats later on. Whereas Halloween has long ago lost its connection to its original intent, whatever that was, Day of the Dead insists on getting emotionally and spiritually close to the actual dead, not just look like them.  Besides, in Mexico, people are natural artists. They make things with flowers and paper and cardboard, not just plastic made in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, Halloween has made enormous inroads all over Mexico. I spent Day of the Dead in Oaxaca several years ago and kids were dressed as mummies or ghouls and trick or treating for cash, as opposed to candy, which comes in handy when you actually have issues getting enough food to eat. But the beautiful, deeply personal, deeply heartfelt tradition of Day of the Dead prevails.

That's my hero, Benito Juarez in the left bottom corner.
Yes, there were some obnoxious rich Mexican juniors after midnight in the cemetery who hired a band of Mariachis and were disturbing everyone with their drunken hollering (and, of course, if the humble people honoring their dead were as annoyed as I was, they did not show it). But to walk into a cemetery late at night and see the graves lit by candles surrounded by these gorgeous flowers, and see the families sitting at the graves, bringing their dead their atole (sweet corn porridge), and communing with them, that certainly beats the hordes of drunken idiots tottering about the Village in New York City. I'm no party pooper. I used to hate Halloween when I was a child, but I like it in New York because the grown ups get dressed up. I think it's lots of fun. But it has become pointless. And isn't it richer when celebrations actually have a point?

Halloween masks in Oaxaca
"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round..."
Grave at the cemetery. 
The entrance to Oaxaca's cemetery at night
American plastic ghosts decorate a grave with Mexican panache

"You are dust and to dust you shall return"

A humble cemetery during the day.

A Free Man of Color

Have you ever really wanted to like a play even though you could tell it sucks from the first two minutes? Have you ever pondered why sometimes the conjunction of a bunch of very talented people spells disaster? If you haven't and you'd like to know how it feels like, by all means check out this terrible play by John Guare, directed even more awfully by George C. Wolfe. It reminded me of the school plays we used to stage about the life of Benito Juarez when I was in second grade. A bunch of people standing on a stage declaiming at the audience for an interminable almost three hours. A didactic, expository, undramatic account of what could have been an interesting character living in interesting times. The play is almost like a pantomime, and with less frantic direction perhaps it could have been salvaged into a wanly witty but funnier, more moving play. But Wolfe has instructed all his actors to scream and ham it up and desperately reach to be funny. If you try too hard to be funny, you are anything but. They are so terrible, my throat was aching from all their screaming. It is painful to watch Jeffrey Wright make a caricature of a character who could have been charming and poignant. The only person who behaves with any dignity is Mos, formerly known as Mos Def. He is the only one who refuses to overact. The garish sets are by Interior decorator David Rockwell, the magnificent costumes (I predict Tony) are by Anne Hough and the lavish production seems to knowingly overcompensate for a static play that were it not for its trite sexual humor, would be great to stage at elementary schools all over the country. The idea is worthy: at the beginning of the 19th century in New Orleans, there was less segregation than later on. Discuss.
Since this play is about race, I will say that I never understood if the generalized stereotyping and caricature (black men have huge dicks and are great lovers, people who speak Spanish lisp and talk ridiculously, the French are fops) are meant to be ironic. If that was the intention, it was lost on me. I will go further. If I were black, this play would piss me off. Why do we need a history lesson? Why can't we have a black character, fully fleshed out, through which we can experience his experience as a free man of color? The same happened to me with Fela! Why the school pageant? Why so much exposition? Don't these extraordinary characters deserve a real drama?
I'm afraid A Free Man Of Color is the result of noble but artistically useless intentions. We should see more plays about race. Unfortunately, this one feels like we are witnessing the playwright's research. He did his historical homework, and he turned it into vaudeville.
George C. Wolfe spills a barrel of tricks on the stage to try to disguise the fact that the play is like reading about the Louisiana Purchase in wikipedia, but a lot less fun. However, there is not one coup de theatre, not one heart stopping moment in the entire evening, despite the steady parade of prancing and scenery changes. I remember seeing his original Angels in America in the early nineties. Then it seemed like a visually bracing production (of a much better play). Here we are almost 20 years later, and he's kind of doing the same old shtick.
I saw La Bete this week too, and it's not a great play but the set makes you gasp and there is a beautiful moment when the princess makes her entrance that is a simple effect of light and gold dust, but it works wonders. La Bete at least is very funny, although rambling, and the actors, Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley (the magnificent Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous) know how to use their instruments. They perform in iambic pentameter with nimble and delightful musicality. Sitting through A Free Man of Color is like listening to someone scratching a blackboard with their fingernails: an aggressive assault on the ears.
This drives me crazy about many American actors. Whatever happened to voice training? Why do they sound like a screeching brake?
If this play doesn't bomb, I'll be very surprised. The applause was tired and polite. The couple next to us sensibly absconded during intermission. I considered it but wanted to see if it improved. It actually gets worse.
I'm almost looking forward to reading the reviews and see if the critics will have the balls, despite the subject matter and the sacred cows, to call out the groaner that it is. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Perfect Shitstorm

For weeks I've been waiting for a stroke of inspiration to release one of my deadly rants. Of course, in this country there is a fresh bounty of provocations every day. But some of them are not worth getting our panties up in a bunch about. For instance, I will not waste my time kvetching bitterly about the satanic stupidity of the Tea Partiers. That's way too easy. This one, however, is too good to pass:
Juan Williams gets fired from NPR because he said on Fox News that he is afraid of Muslims on planes. Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly doesn't get fired from Fox News when he says Muslims perpetrated 9/11. And you know what? They are both right in the most idiotic, simplistic way possible. Which is why nobody should listen to either one of them morons.
O'Reilly is right. The people who attacked us that day were all Muslims. They were extremist Muslims, which are a minority in Islam, but they were nothing other than Muslim. Moreover, they attacked us precisely because we offend their particularly destructive way of interpreting Islam. What is idiotic and irresponsible is to blame absolutely every single Muslim person for 9/11. O'Reilly knows it, and he does it anyway because it means ratings and attention. And probably because he relishes the chaos he unleashes on the well-meaning, like Whoopi and Joy, who should have hollered at him until he walked off the set. Talk the asshole down, instead of playing all high and mighty, huffing and puffing with offense.
As for Juan Williams, I defy any fucking liberal (and I consider myself one, although a tad less tainted by political correctness) to tell me that they don't harbor any kind of stereotypical prejudice in their minds whatsoever, about anyone. And particularly when they are on a plane, or on the subway or anywhere that could bring their noble lives to a spectacular halt.
To O'Reilly's question of whether there is a Muslim dilemma in this country, a better answer would have been: there is only the irresponsible fear-mongering that you people are bent on creating. Otherwise, there is no Muslim dilemma whatsoever. Williams' answer was stupid, but I bet that a lot of people, who are not card carrying racists, relate to it. Let's stop pretending that we navigate this world without making these kinds of assumptions every waking second of our lives, because it is simply not true.
I am a paranoid traveler. I am always checking out everybody on the line to see if someone looks like walking mayhem to me, since I don't trust the morons from the TSA to recognize a live grenade if it explodes in their ass. It could be Oxycontin-Guzzling-Trailer-Trash-Walking-Mayhem, or it could be School-of-Mohammed-Atta-Walking-Mayhem, or a number of other potentially obnoxious fellow travelers (on planes, pretty much anyone under two feet tall gets a red alert from me).
This doesn't mean that I believe that every Muslim is a potential Mohammed Atta (although this is what Fox News and their ilk most fervently wish), or that every white person likes Jell-O with mayo and can't dance. But it infuriates me that NPR fired this idiot for speaking his mind. Since when is being a bleeding heart liberal synonymous with censorship? If you don't want Williams representing your news organization in unsavory places, don't send him to Fox News.
Now, let's remember another professional idiot, Rick Sanchez, who was fired from CNN because he said in so many words that "The Jews" own the media. A half truth, just like O'Reilly's. Some Jews own some media. Not all of them, all of it.
As a Jew, do I think that he should have been fired over the remarks? No. Had he said so on the air while on CNN, maybe. But he was on a satellite radio show with 3 listeners.
Fact is, people think prejudiced thoughts in the comfort of their own minds, but few are as stupid as to utter them in public, especially in this country, where we know better (if people were fired for thinking these kinds of thoughts, more than half the planet would be unemployed). Sanchez could have been made to apologize for spewing resentful, benighted and sclerotic antisemitism in public while representing CNN. Period. At least now we know where he stands.

Liberals have to learn to to relax the thought police and give as good as they get. Otherwise, stop the whining.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

El mundo es una cloaca infecta

Translation: The world is an infected sewer. Just read the paper.

This is how I feel about it, hearing about the likes of Carl Paladino and his courting of a repulsive fringe of the fringe attention-seeking giant asshole rabbi. Memo to the both of them: enough with the gay hate. I've fucking had it with all this crap. Why are people so bent out of shape about gays? Most of the time, the most vocal anti-gay people are those who are deathly afraid of being gay themselves. Otherwise, what's it to you? So for fuck's sake, deal with it. Gay people exist, they will continue existing and they are no worse or no better than anyone else. Hence, they deserve exactly the same rights as everyone else. If you can't handle that, go to Iran. Or to Saudi Arabia. There you'll feel right at home.
That asshole Paladino has a gay nephew that all of a sudden didn't show up for work (in his uncle's very own campaign) after his uncle said horrible things about gays. This is the human turd New Yorkers want for a governor? Besides, who the fuck cares about what these ultraorthodox retrogrades think? They don't live in the modern world, They should not count for shit.

I certainly hope that both Rabbi Levin and Paladino choke on their kosher sausages.
Not that I am thrilled by that horrible Cuomo guy, but these are the freaking choices we get in this human sewer we live in. I miss Elliot Spitzer. Who is now pimping himself to CNN. Disgraceful.

I'm very happy about the Chilean miners, but I can't stand how everything becomes a vulgar, mawkish, horrendous circus. How about some dignity? Do people still know the meaning of the word? CNN makes me puke and cringe at the same time. I'm glad I didn't even watch the damn thing. Reading is better. Watching Jon Stewart skewer the whole unseemly carnival of cheese, even better.

And what is the Iranian vantz doing in Lebanon? A missile on his head could help dispel this foul mood of mine.

Then we have his counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, possibly the worst candidate to hold a Foreign Relations post in the history of mankind. A foul, abrasive right-wing asshole.
And don't be surprised if he ends up being prime minister. Israelis, if they continue voting with fear and extremism, are going to end up in even more isolation from the world. The hatred in that region is insurmountable.

No wonder I am in a bad mood.

I've Had It With Hollywood: Department of Rediscoveries: Birth

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I've Had It With Hollywood

Darlings! Because of popular demand (three readers) and because I am branching out towards world domination, I'm proud to present I've Had It With Hollywood, my new film blog, exclusively dedicated to movies, movies and more movies.
Every single thing I write about movies, including reviews, Oscar kvetching, rants and raves, is going to be published on this site from now on.
No need to panic. All regular kvetches about any other topic under the sun (Mexican Japanese peanuts, Nazis, things that make you sick in Mexico, Hugo Chavez, etc) will continue appearing in this here blog.
For your convenience, I will always link my film reviews and articles here, so you can access them with an easy click of your precious little fingers.
I will also be sending twitter alerts, so please follow me @grandenchilada. Those of you who are my friends in facebook will be able to get them on your home page.

Since 2005, I have written about 500 movie-related posts, including over 250 film reviews. The great majority of them are already waiting for you in their new home, which is still in progress but up and running.
So please make I've Had It With Hollywood your online resource for movie fun. Come in and say hello. Subscribe. Feel free to comment. And don't forget to tell absolutely everybody. I can't do world domination without your help.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Thanks for reading!