Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 2011

So, Christmas! In past years it seems I've written more about it. The truth is I think we're starting to really feel the economy now; our house is worth a lot less than we paid for it, our store is struggling, my wife's union almost just went on strike (and still might), and my freelance hours have been cut. So we're working as hard as we can to make as much money as we can, which means we don't have a lot of time left for anything like holiday decorations, or much money for presents. It's harder to get in the spirit of things...

We bought a tiny little 2 foot treetop a week before Christmas. And put a few little presents under it. That was the extent of our Christmas decorating.

We've gotten into this (bad) habit of buying our own presents and then putting the other person's name on it in the "from" field on the wrapping. I used to like it because it meant we always got what we wanted, and anyway, the money comes from the same place. Every couple has their own way of doing things. But now I miss the anticipation and mystery of not knowing exactly what's under that tree.

Anyway this is starting to sound depressing. Onto the presents! (One is late; I'll update this post when it gets here.)

You're gonna hear my voice on this one, some of you for the first time ever. I did a video review! My wife gave me a watch (I actually bought it, which is why I say that in the video review), to replace the ridiculous Casio digital watch that I bought because it was "retro" but really because it was cheap (you may remember that watch from such posts as this one). I now have a watch that's slightly less cheap but makes me look a little bit less like a hobo, even if it does have a "VII" where the "XII" should be:

"I" also "gave" my wife a watch, though her tastes are a little more mainstream than mine (and she wouldn't mind me saying that) - she chose a Victorinox Swiss Army watch. I believe it was this one. (And no, we don't always have to have the same gift! Just worked out that way this year.)

We do still pick out smaller gifts for each other. It's become tradition, apparently, that every year my wife has to give me a gag gift making fun of what she thinks are my nerdier interests.  This year, it was this:

I swear, she'd better be careful, because she's going to turn me into an actual fan one of these days. The more I'm exposed to AKB48, the less I dislike them. It's a dangerous game she's playing!

Or maybe the gag gift was actually this one:

Which is nerdier for an American guy, a Japanese all girl theatrical pop music act, or trains?

I do love old Amtrak stuff, though, and I had this book on my Amazon wish list (it's long out of print, which is why it's in this condition - I don't care). I started riding Amtrak when I was a kid in the 1970's, and despite the fact that it was a mess of a system, I really liked how riding the trains was like riding on a working museum of all the railroads that Amtrak had absorbed just previous to that point. Books like this one remind me of that time.

One of the things I love about my wife is the fact that she puts up with my nerddom, and actually indulges me in it.

I will say my last gift from my wife is both cool and nerdy at the same time - it's a new tremolo unit for my Jazzmaster. So, guitar: cool. Guitar part: kinda nerdy.

My brother's family and ours didn't really exchange gifts this year (because we're both poor-ish). My mother gave us $40 in cash, which is actually helpful. My stepmother gave us a $50 gift card and some Egyptian champagne flutes from Neiman Marcus.

That was pretty much my Christmas this year. Hopefully next year we can put a little more effort into it; we'll have more money to both buy things for each other and others around us, and more time to get in the spirit of things a little bit earlier.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Moulin Rouge

Not everybody appreciates kitsch. And not every film director does it well, even when they're trying for it intentionally. (Some actually do it better unintentionally). Successful kitsch depends on participation by both the director and the viewer; the director has to get it right, and the viewer just has to get it.

Baz Luhrmann knows how to do kitsch. And Moulin Rouge is probably the best example of it there is.

I first saw Moulin Rouge in the theater, with my wife. We are not the kind of people who typically talk through movies, so she thought my constant snickering at the film meant I was not enjoying it, and was in fact making fun of it. She was wrong! Moulin Rouge is such a great film in part because it's so much fun, and I just felt like I was in on the joke. (I could tell not everybody in the theater was.) Every new and creative use of some pop song I'd grown up with in such a melodramatic context made me laugh out loud.  By the time Ewan MacGregor busted out KISS's forgotten 1980 disco hit "I Was Made For Lovin' You" while standing inside a giant elephant, I knew Baz Luhrmann had created something amazing.

But the genius of this movie is that it's campy and kitschy and earnest and beautiful. This film was a prototype for things like Glee, a combination of irony and seriousness that's almost impossible to pull off without the deftest of hands (as Glee has repeatedly proven). Baz Luhrmann's confidence in this style shows through in just how quickly he changes gears, as in this early scene:

And not to digress, but this scene features some of my favorite closeup shots of all time:

Nicole Kidman is more beautiful in this movie than she ever has been before or since. And Baz Luhrmann and his director of photography Donald McAlpine know how to film her. The closeup is a true art form in itself, as it's really the way that characters convey non-verbal emotion in film, and this one should be used to teach that art in film schools. You may not consciously appreciate a good closeup as I do, but their quality and use (or lack thereof) can make or break an entire film.

Luhrmann's known for his lavish sets and costumes, but he's really an actor's director, and he knows that's where the drama is. Without emotion and chemistry between the actors, there is no drama.

Since this film's release, my wife and I have watched it both together and separately probably 50 times through. I guess you could say it's "our movie". (Hey, every couple needs one.) Despite its sad ending, there are moments in it that always remind me of why we got together in the first place, and I feel like we're Christian and Satine. (I don't think I'm spoiling anything - this is a film that telegraphs its ending right at the beginning, and the fun and drama are in the journey getting there.) Especially whenever we're fighting, watching this scene will always start me blubbing uncontrollably:

I swear to God, every time I watch her sing "come back to me and FORGIVE EVERYTHING", I just freakin' lose it right there, and I'm gone for the rest of the scene. (I often have a second breakdown when she says "I love you" - I'm such a sap!) Sometimes, if I'm a little drunk as I am now, just thinking about it will get me misty-eyed.

I suppose posting the "finale" scene might be considered something of a spoiler, but first of all, this film is almost ten years old - hey, also? DARTH VADER IS LUKE'S FATHER. Anyway, this is not even really the end, although often I do stop the movie here because I can't watch the real ending.

The film has actually inspired me to take an interest in the real Moulin Rouge and in fact my wife and I are planning a trip there... soon. (The current show features topless dancers, btw... along with plenty of cheesy 80's-style Solid Gold-esque music and dance.) I actually didn't think the film was in any way close to reality but apparently it actually is - many of the photos from that era do look very similar to the film, and the main hall really was that big! (It seems smaller now.)

Why the hell am I writing about this film now? Well, because my wife and I just watched it through again, and I just picked up the Blu-Ray version. In all honesty, I've had a post on both Moulin Rouge and Rent sitting here in draft mode, unpublished, since 2007. So it's not like I'm just thinking of it now. (I'll get to talking about Rent eventually.)

This film is destined to be a cult classic, and if you can't appreciate it, I really don't think I want to be your friend. If you like it, though, it was practically made for high definition and Blu-Ray - pick it up. But the definitive version in terms of extras is still the Collector's Edition DVD, which also happens to have some of the nicest packaging of any DVD release I own - and it's cheap! Get them both if you're a fan.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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