Two Movies

Red (2010) – Never read the Warren Ellis comic it’s based on, but it probably wasn’t as frothy and fun as this entry in the Happy Hitman genre. Bruce Willis plays the Retired, Extremely Dangerous (GET IT?????) hitman Frank Moses, who is being targeted by assassins for reasons I still don’t understand. Mary Louise Parker plays his accidental girlfriend — a bored bureaucrat/harlequin romance fan who quickly gets used to high-stakes spy work — with her patented braininess and habit of never keeping her eyes on the person she’s talking too. John Malkovich is the drug-fried paranoiac who’s actually totally right. (“He was secretly fed LSD every day for 16 years,” explains Moses.) And Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Morgan Freeman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Rebecca Pidgeon (!!) make appearances. No one seems to be working particularly hard, but they’re happier blowing shit up and shooting guns than they might be in a Harry Potter movie.

Captain America (2011) – Surprisingly good, corny, fun, although I think the long Hydra set-up might be dull on future viewings. Chris Evans, who has specialized in playing flashy jerks, is actually cool, humble, and convincing as the skinny short guy who’s Serumed into superherodom. (I’m sure Transformers will win the special effects Oscar, but the CGI that puts Evans’s head on a shrimpy guy is really something.) Hugo Weaving plays the Red Skull with a Werner Herzog accent. There are just enough scenes of a dude flying off a ramp on a motorcycle as stuff blows up behind him.

R.I.P. Borders

It’s not cool to feel nostalgic for chain stores. There was a time in the 1990s when the thing to do was resent massive chains for driving mom-and-pop places out of business.

Still, though. My memory of visiting my first Borders, a hideous brick complex off I-95 in Delaware, is surprisingly vivid. My parents, who had always been overly generous about letting me buy books and music, drove me over to the store and let me loose. I was 15 or so, just getting into weird texts about religion and forgotten power pop and punk bands. This store, so quiet and well-appointed, had all of it. There were CDs on sale that I’d only read about online. I grabbed some stuff, marveled at the discount, and headed up.

It was tough to fabricate reasons to head up that way on I-95, but soon enough another store opened up 10 minutes from our house. Already, I was into politics, but didn’t know much about the world outside Time and Newsweek. Here was a store with six magazine racks and unfamiliar offerings like The Nation and National Review and In These Times and Reason.

I just loved walking through the store. I loved browsing new books that hadn’t made it to the library. I loved seeing which magazines had come in. When I was 17 I applied for a job at the store, failed the interview (I didn’t know what the protocol was for dealing with a hostile customer), and settled for some temp job in a bank. It was a bummer; that employee discount would have been used and abused by a college-bound quasi-snob who would read anything he could get his hands on, and watch any weird movie that got a good write-up online.

When I moved to Washington in 2004, I would kill time in Borders. If there was a sale on, I’d buy fresh stuff. I’d pick up magazines that I wanted to pitch stories to. When I visited my parents, and wanted to hang out with my dad, we’d drive to the store, grab coffee, and sift through a pile of new age religion books (him) and comics or political bios (me).

Ah, well. In 2011, no one needs to search for slightly-off-mainstream books or movies anymore. Anything can be bought on Amazon. Most things can be rented on Netflix. The thousands of dollars I spent at Borders were mostly given over to things I don’t use anymore. But the place educated me, despite myself, and it gave my family an outlet for its nerdy, introverted kid, and a place to hang out with my brother. I’ll miss it.

Some Movies

What’s a good way to get over a stupid theft that puts you out >$1000? Watch some movies, obviously.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

I was pretty bored by the first film in this series, and the horrible second one I only saw in snatches on HBO. (Several friends had the same joke on the way in: “Can I follow it if I haven’t seen the second film?” Yes, asshole, you can.) This, however, is a solid Michael Bay joint. It’s clear now that Martin Lawrence’s ad-libbing in Bad Boys II has convinced Bay that ALL of his characters, human or robot, should be socially maladjusted idiots. (Unless they’re women, in which case they’re either moony hot girls or frigid scolds.) Shia LeBouef’s Sam Witwicky may be the goofiest lead of a major franchise, ever — a jealous, bitchy, arrogant, whiny jackass, who is only useful when he’s blowing up robots. Why, for example, does he drive to the secret Transformers depot at DHS and yell at guards instead of preemptively calling Bumblebee to help him out?

But ANYWAY: Robots are in this, and they blow shit up. The other films in the series give us robot fights in barren locations or small cities. This one gives us a full-on alien invasion. And alien invasions are cool, what with the humans running away from danger in slow motion.

Gattaca (1997)

Finally caught this one at the stage when its futuristic design has become anachronistic. It’s very amusing to watch the newborn Vincent be tested for genetic traits, and for doctors to announce these traits with… a ticker-tape print-out! The twist at the end is silly but powerful [SPOILER: the cop investigating the murder is Vincent’s genetically perfect brother, and the reason Vincent eventually outraced him is that he didn’t save any energy for the trip back, which we can read directly into his Titan mission]. The dialogue and love story? Wonderful, actually sort of meaningful. I think it was this film and Wilde that made a star out of Jude Law, and deservedly so — he’s sleek, mean, and impossible to read.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009)

Just horrible. John Krasinski, the tall and handsome star of The Office, directs a bunch of David Foster Wallace short stories by incoherently stringing them together. I don’t think there’s 30 seconds of film without dialogue, and the IMPORTANT dialogue is announced as such with BIG BOOMING MUSIC. A bunch of actors you might remember from better movies and TV shows appear, read DFW lines, and disappear. Krasinski appears in order to provide a dictionary definition of smugness.

Nowhere Boy (2010)

It’s about time someone realized that the life of the young John Lennon was amazing drama. (Listen to Plastic Ono Band.) Aaron Johnson, the star of Kick-Ass, is amazing as Lennon — looks, accent, energy, everything. Ann-Marie Duff, who I can’t remember seeing before, is a wonderfully complicated Julia Lennon, whose interactions with John are as Oedipal as you can get without plagiarism. (I suppose the story is public domain by now.)

Rango (2011)

What a delightful kid’s movie — the best kind, with a Hunter S. Thompson joke! (Several, actually. HST appears in an opening sequence, and Rango’s hawaiian shirt is an obvious nod to the writer, whom Johnny Depp idolized and played him in the 1998 adaptation of Fear and Loathing.) The movie is cast for vocal talent, not starpower, so we get Ned Beatty and Isla Fisher in key roles. The action is as good as anything I’ve seen in animation.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

What Yglesias said.


If I were ever stupid enough to believe in karma, that would have ended last night.

Saturday afternoon, I agreed to meet up with some friends at Standard downtown. I saw some downtime ahead of me, so I packed my iPad and a couple of books in my messenger bag. Just when I was headed out the door, I heard a ring, quite rare in my neighborhood. The ringer was a volunteer for the UN’s refugee program, a tall man with an unpronounceable name and thick accent.

“I am, ah, raising money for refugees,” he said. He handed me a laminate with background on the program, and another laminate of different donation plans. “This is what you can give.”

I was skeptical, because — as my friend remarked when I told him why I was held up — who still fundraises door to door in D.C.? I don’t ever donate like this, and I told the man I preferred to give online. He stared me down with huge, plaintive eyes. “This is how, ah, our work is assessed… if we get people to give.”

Fuck it, I thought. It was a good cause. I make good enough money. I was about to blow $14 on a movie. I signed up for the $15/month plan via the rubber-encased iPad the man had been assigned to use. A few minutes later, I got an e-mail confirming the legitimacy of the exchange. This was a pleasant experience. I’d done a good deed.

Around 10 hours later, someone noticed that I had left my messenger bag next to friends in a D.C. bar, Dodge City.

Some context. Normally, I’d have been next to my bag. But two different groups of friends had appeared at the bar that night, and one of them, for all the usual twentysomething reasons of sexual angst and betrayal, did not want to make nice with the other. So my bag was nestled next to the bench where the first friends were sitting as I talked to the second friends. After a while, I walked to the bar to get a drink, after which I’d rejoin the first friends.

In this interval of time, someone noticed the bag, probably noticed that the people who knew its owner were focused on drinks and talk and cell phones, and he/she stole it. He got a $849 iPad, a $40 Philip K. Dick hardcover, some assorted pens, and — oh, this is the good part. Because this was one of the rare times I’d locked up my keys to the fob inside the bag, he got those keys. House. Office. Bike. Parent’s house. Lock box. Gym. Everything.

I would soon tell my friends, in between bouts of punching a pillar until my hand went numb, that I would have been happy taking the character-building lesson of the iPad theft had I only not lost my keys, too. There were sentimental and practical reasons for this. The practical reasons I was discovering straightaway. My bike was hitched to a bus stop sign and unusable. I realized that my lock-maker had a program under which I could register the key, and get the lock easily cracked in a situation like this. But of course I’d never done that. (I’d never taken the time to set up “Find my iPad” on that machine, either, and my mind wandered to the millions of time-wasting things I’d done instead of something that could have saved me $1000+ dollars and some untold number of wasted hours.) I called a cop, because that’s what I was supposed to, and I held an incredibly naive hope that cops have some sort of answer for questions like “how do I get my locked bike so I can go home?”

The cop was not helpful. I told him my story, stone sober at this point.

“You realize that you shouldn’t have done that, right?”

I did realize that! I realized that I shouldn’t have brought my expensive iPad out that day — that, in fact, I had wavered over whether to keep it charging or to grab it for the possibility of using it for 10-20 minutes as I waited for a friend. I realized that I should have put my keys in a pocket instead of the bag. I realized that I should have and could have put it closer to the center of the table where my first friends were sitting. Move it six, seven inches and it would have become prohibitively hard to steal without anyone noticing.

But smart people take advantage of situations, and stupid people let them. I was stupid.

It was some time after the cop had lectured me, after I realized that getting my bike freed would cost at least $120, after I realized that if I wasn’t such a slob I’d have registered the key, that I thought back to the UN donation. One way that people cope with being robbed is imagining that they’re happier than the robbers. On Saturday, I had a perfect little Goofus/Gallant fable set up. I’d just opened a checkbook to help some refugees stay alive, theoretically. Someone had lifted my messenger bag (which is itself $140 to replace, for a new and inferior model). Which of us is happier, really?

I would say the thief is happier. Congratulations: You have committed a perfect crime. You understand completely that Millennials who work in the media don’t pay attention to their surroundings, because they’re either wrapped up in themselves or wrapped up in their cell phones. (This is a distinction without a difference.) You get to play with a shiny electronic toy, read some fine science fiction stories, and perhaps even steal a bike, if you’re clever enough to find mine. Perhaps you can break into a house or office, though because those are crimes that take a little more effort, I doubt you’ll do it. You don’t need to go there — you can relish in the feeling of having humiliated someone and ruined a few days of his life. Believe me, you’re very happy. You should be.