::Literate Blather::
Thursday, May 31, 2007
5 Questions About: Star Wars

An Interview With TheForce.net Writer Mike Barrick

(DaRK PaRTY doesn’t want to harbor secrets. So we’ll come right out and say it. Star War fanboys frighten us. Not in a serial killer with a machete kind of way, but in a pitiful way – like seeing a filthy baby with a droopy diaper and realizing what is causing the droop. That said Mike Barrick is making us re-think our hasty impressions of fanboys. So what if they have an unnatural attraction to “action figures?” Mike writes for TheForce.net – one of the largest Star Wars community sites on the Web. If it is about Star Wars then TheForce.net is the place you want to be. Mike is such a diehard Star Wars fan that he actually named his one-year-old son Landon – after Lando Calrissian (a former smuggler and a friend of Han Solo played by the actor Billy Dee Williams). By day, Mike sells real estate and lives in Maryland with his wife and son (“We don’t all live in ou
r parents’ basements,” he says). Recently, Mike was kind enough to take the time to give us his take on the Star Wars universe.)

DaRK PaRTY: Why have the "Star Wars" films become so popular?

Mike: When you strip away all the special effects, Star Wars is a genuine story of good verses evil. A story of right verses wrong told in a way that is pleasing and fun to all ages. It is rather timeless. You had an original group of fans that were created by the Original Trilogy (of Star Wars movies). Then came the Expanded Universe in the early 90s that spawned many novels and comics. From there, around 1997, the Original Trilogy was re-released in theaters giving us a chance to see the films on the big screen again and gave a younger audience a chance to see them in theaters for the first time.

The prequels helped usher in more fans. Sure you have your segment of the fandom that did not get into the prequels, but many a young fan did. For every fan that was turned off, there were three more that were newly excited with the franchise. With books, comics, TV shows, video games, and collectables, there is no end in sight and a little something for every type of fan. Every piece of the Star Wars universe is someone's favorite, whether it be Boba Fett or even Jar Jar Binks.

DP: Some rabid fans have listed "Jedi" as their religion on census forms. What does being a "Jedi" mean in the "Star Wars" universe?

Mike: To live a good and honest life. To be true to yourself and those around you.

DP: Which of the six "Star Wars" films is your favorite and why? What film do you like the least?

Mike: As an adult, I love "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) mainly for the story and relationship between the characters. Everyone is much more dynamic than in "A New Hope" (1977) and I love the way the whole story plays out. On the other hand, "Return of the Jedi" (1983) was my favorite as a kid... and still is some days. I loved Lando piloting the Millennium Falcon and the space battles in
general, took things to a level not seen in "Hope" or "Empire."

DP: There are hundreds of characters in the films. What are your three favorites and why?

Mike: Lando Calrissian: Coolest cat in the galaxy. Really comes into his own in the novels (I am just as big a fan of the novels).

Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi: Loved the sarcasm in Alec Guinness' portrayal and found Ewan McGregor to be the highlight of the prequels in every way.

Luke Skywalker: He started as a simply farm boy, so he was the easiest to identify with. If something spectacular could happen to him... what about me?

DP: TheForce.net is one of the largest "Star Wars" fan sites in the world. Can you tell DaRK PaRTY readers about the site and what it wants to a

Mike: TheForce.net is run by fans for the fans. We want to get all the Star Wars news and articles out there to feed the fans hunger for more Star Wars information. It could be news on an upcoming project, news on cast appearances, or links to Star Wars related articles that people might otherwise not see.

We cover news, collecting, TV, video games, books, comics, you name it. If it has to do with Star Wars, we will cover it. We also have a very active message board and Fan Force section that allows fans all over the world to connect, share ideas and even post their fan films and art.

In a lot of ways we are like a big community center online for Star Wars fans. Regardless of what area of the Star Wars universe peaks your interest, you should be able to get your fix here. Regardless of your vice, we are all united with our general love of Star Wars.

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Monday, May 28, 2007
Essay: On Mowing the Lawn

I mowed my lawn today. The spring grass – the color of clover -- still had the soft, velvety feel of newness and a sheen of dew still dappled the blades. It was as tall as mid-calf and beginning to look like an unkempt meadow. I dragged my electronic lawn mower out of the garage and carefully cut the grass back.

I enjoy mowing. I like the feel of my muscles as they push the mower; the sweat on my brow and down my back. I like the smell of freshly cut grass. It’s a pungent, earthy scent that reminds me of baseball, picnics, and darting through lawn sprinklers on hot August afternoons.

Mowing the lawn is a chore. But it’s work that has an easily identifiable beginning and an end. I get to watch the results of my labors as I progress. There are no hidden tasks, mysterious agendas, or extra work orders. I make course corrections immediately for any missed patches and when I’m finished I get the satisfaction of a neat, beautiful lawn.

I’m a rarity in my New England neighborhood.

Few of my neighbors mow their own lawns. Oh, there are some hold-outs – mostly neighbors of my father’s generation. But the majority of the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers hire landscaping companies to do the work. It’s a new mindset. Mowing the lawn is menial – a trivial and irritating task that is better left to others with the time and motivation.

So once a week pick-up trucks loaded with industrial mowers, leaf blowers, and Brazilian laborers descend on my street. The sound of engines and blowers roars above the song birds and the laborers mow the lawns of my neighborhood. These strangers also prune shrubbery and throw down cedar mulch.

Then they load back on the trucks and vanish for another week.

Sometimes my neighbors are home and watch as other people perform the duties that were once considered the admission price of home ownership. My father would never have dreamed of hiring someone else to mow his lawn. It would have been a sacrilege. It would also have cast dispersion on his character.

My father will still judge a man by the condition of his home. Neatly mowed, nicely painted, and well maintained speaks well of a man’s makeup in my father’s world. It also speaks to his Puritan work ethic – a willingness to sacrifice leisure time in order to take care of his property.

This mindset – and one that my father passed on to me – is disappearing. No longer are chores like mowing the lawn considered part of a man’s duty. In fact, I often get friends and neighbors asking me why I mow my own lawn. Why waste the time? Why not spend the money to hire someone to do it?

“For a hundred bucks a month, I don’t have to bother with it,” one friend told me and then said to me. “Don’t be so cheap.” In his mind, my reluctance to hire a stranger to do my own chores is about money.

This same friend is the father of a young boy. His son mimics Bill, the landscaper he hires to mow his lawn. The boy pushes his toy mower up and down the driveway as Bill mows the lawn. The boy idolizes Bill while my friend sits in his living room watching the Red Sox play on TV. This strikes me as sad. Isn’t the boy reaching for something in Bill that his father just isn’t providing?

I wonder what he is teaching his son.

Will his boy learn that responsibility can be pushed to others just as long as you’re willing to compensate them for it? That getting something done is more important than doing it yourself? Will his son ever learn that there is something inherently special and satisfying about working with his own hands? Menial labor isn’t menial at all. It’s about a sense of accomplishment – about self-reliance, responsibility, and doing a good job.

I mow my own lawn because the thought of hiring someone to do it for me embarrasses me. It makes me feel like a less of a man: That I’m shirking a chore that belongs to me. I might not be able to put on a new roof or fix electrical wiring, but I can at least mow my own lawn, water my garden, and pull up the weeds growing between my patio stones.

Yet most people don’t mow their own lawns. They don’t paint their own homes. They hire maids to vacuum and dust. There are many reasons: They don’t want to; they are too busy; they can’t be bothered; they are too lazy; or maybe it is simply one of the conditions of a society that gets too affluent.

Whatever the case after I finished mowing my lawn and stowing my gear, I pulled out a lawn chair and sat. I opened a cold beer and smelled my grass and let the scent push out memories.

My rest was richer and more satisfying because I knew that I had worked hard, that I had accomplished a chore, and that I had fulfilled a responsibility – a responsibility to myself.

Read our essay on the lies of technology

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Friday, May 25, 2007
An Atheist Watches "The Passion of the Christ"
Random Thoughts During Mel Gibson's Jesus Torture Flick

(I didn’t make popcorn for the “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) for fear that any food would induce vomiting. It’s been more than three years since Mel Gibson made his film about the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus. I specifically avoided going to see it or renting it on DVD. This had less to do with being an atheist and more to do with watching a movie that Roger Ebert called “the most violent film I have ever seen.” But finally curiosity caught up with me and this week, I rented the DVD. With notebook in hand – here are my thoughts, concerns and impressions of the film that David Edelstein of Slate called “the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.”)

Great. The film is in Latin with subtitles. This is going to make taking notes impossible. Thank God (no pun intended) for the pause button. Hey, didn't James Caviezel star in "Angel Eyes" (2001) with Jennifer Lopez?


The movie opens like a teen splatter flick. A full moon obscured by dark clouds sends a silvery light through the foggy desert wilderness (since when do deserts have fog?). Wild birds squeal and squawk. The camera pans across the desolate landscape to Jesus praying to God in a harsh whispering voice. He wants protection and clearly feels abandoned.

That’s the weird thing about the Bible and Jesus. Every other major figure in the Bible has an intimate relationship with God. David, Joseph, and Moses all have conversations with God – he speaks to them, directs them, and advises them. Yet no where in the New Testament does God speak directly to Jesus – his son.

God apparently is very aloft with family.


Judas gets a bum rap by Christians. Without his greedy betrayal there would be no “passion.” Jesus would have lived to a ripe old age with his wife Mary Magdalene, sired several children, and retired to a bungalow somewhere on the Mediterranean Sea.

Gibson takes some liberties with Judas in the movie. He creates a “Children of the Corn” moment when the babbling Judas is chased from town by a pack of raving, demon-possessed children right out of “Oliver Twist.” They taunt and poke him to the point where he hangs himself over the rotting corpse of a grinning camel. One wonders why he’d kill himself. Won’t death bring him face to face with Jesus’ dad?

Bad planning there.


Mel resorts to “Mad Max” mode when the Jews come to capture Jesus. There’s a slow motion battle with swords flashing and blood spurting. I almost expected Saint Peter to shout: “FREEDOM!”


The torture of Jesus begins about 12 minutes into the movie when the Jewish soldiers chain him and begin to whip him. That didn't take long.


Well, it’s clear why Jewish groups were offended by this movie. Gibson clearly casts the Jewish rabbis as the bad guys – they are portrayed as ruthless, conniving villains (complete with squinty eyes – George Lucas couldn’t have come up with a better caricature). The Jews – according to Gibson – manipulate the conquering Romans. What a neat trick.


Very weird flashback moment in the movie – Jesus and his mom in a bonding moment (she chastises him for not washing his hands before lunch. What Gospel passage is this from?).

And apparently, Jesus invented dining room tables. Not only is he the Son of God but a damn fine woodworker.


Wow. The top Jewish rabbi just backhanded Jesus and spit in his face. Then the rest of the rabbis line up Conga-style to slap and spit on him. Then the crowd – in glorious harmony – kicks the crap out of him.


Hmmm. There’s more appearance of Satan in this movie than of God.


Mel’s Pontious Pilot is a nice guy manipulated by the evil Jews. The poor bastard had no choice but to crucify Jesus. The only thing missing is for Pilot to pass out homemade chocolate chip cookies to the crowd.


The scene when the Roman soldiers – depicted like cackling overfed hyenas – is one of the most brutal I’ve ever seen on screen. They flay Jesus to the point where his skin is flying through the air in sprays of blood. You can even see his uncovered rib bones. Is this necessary?


What kind of God would allow this kind of brutal, inhuman torture of his son? And why would millions of people choose to worship such a God? How sad. Isn’t the Christian God supposed to be about love? How does this torture fest reconcile that?

What a vile movie.


If Jesus is supposed to die for the sins of us all – then why does he cop out of the agenda at the last minute when he screams: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Does Jesus lose faith at the end?


So the Gospel According to Mel comes to an end. It's a bad action/horror flick. Religious porn. Hard to believe that this movie is embraced by Christians.

Read our commentary on Fiction and the Catholic Church

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Thursday, May 24, 2007
5 Questions About: Documentary Films

An Interview With Filmmaker John Michalczyk

(After seeing the recent documentary "Murderball" (2006)
, DaRK PaRTY became intrigued by the use of film to convey the truth – while at the same time giving viewers a powerful story line. We sought out documentary filmmaker John Michalczyk, whose films are often shown on PBS. John has an impressive resume of creating films that focus on social justice. Two of his recent movies include “Killing Silence: Taking on the Mafia in Sicily” (2004) and “South Africa: Beyond a Miracle” (2002). Michaelczyk, a former Jesuit priest, is chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Boston College and teaches film at the university).

DaRK PaRTY: What makes a good documentary?

John: As with real estate’s essence of location, location, and location, I believe the three most integral parts of a documentary are story, story, story. It is at the heart and soul of a documentary. The range of documentaries is vast, from the direct cinema of a horrifying tale of abuse in Fred Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (1967), to the shattering experiences of the disabled in Murderball(2006), yet they each must have a story that can hold an audience that is often jaded by the popularity of the moving image. The documentary must share a unique experience with this audience that is over-exposed to the visual image, now in high definition.

DP: The most popular documentary filmmaker today is Michael Moore -- yet many of his peers are critical of his work. What is your view of Moore and his films?

John: The two most successful (popular and financially sound) documentary filmmakers are Michael Moore and Ken Burns. Both have shed light on a fractured America that needs healing. While Burns takes the high road of romanticizing the story with mesmerizing images, Moore gets to the heart and soul of an America that is truly hurting, whether it is the physical, psychological, and financial bankruptcy of the auto industry in “Roger and Me,” to the complete availability of weapons in our society that still may live by the code of the Wild West at times, and now to “Fahrenheit 9/11” as he exposes our government and president in all of its weakness concerning the current war in Iraq.

His new film on the health care industry, “Sicko,” will surely raise some of the same controversies of old. While Burns is the official film historian of America — taking the place of the former analyst of American institutions, Fred Wiseman — Moore is the guerrilla filmmaker who lives as a Socratic gadfly, provoking us, forcing us to re-examine the tenets of a fragile society. I appreciate Moore for the cleverness, tongue-in-cheek approach to the craft (at times, art) and delight is the freshness of his personal style. It is certainly not mine, but there is an important place in our society for this type of filmmaker.

DP: What three documentaries would you recommend and why?

John: Historically, I would seeNight and Fog” filmed in 1955 about the Holocaust a decade after World War II, as one of the more important documentaries to watch about man’s inhumanity to man. The unnerving conclusion of the film is that this genocide could happen again…. and it has, multiple times!

“Born into Brothels” (2003) offers an insight into a slice of Indian life in a section of a city that caters to prostitutes. Since its focus is on the next generation, the children, it is especially interesting to view as a window into the future. The cleverness of the story as it unfolds, and its freshness with the behavior of the children, renders it a very educational and entertaining work of art.

“Murderball dealing with an American wheelchair rugby team with disabilities is exciting to watch as the team prepares for its major athletic competitions. The viewer gets an insight into the psychology of those who are disabled, especially Mark Zupan, who some may think borders on psychotic at times, as does his former American coach.

DP: Your films, such as "Killing Silence: Taking on the Mafia in Sicily" and "Different Drummers: Daring to Make Peace in the Middle East" often focus on social justice. W
hat motivates you as a filmmaker?

John: Since 1991, our film crew has made approximately 15 films, mostly around an hour long for PBS. My passion is social justice. These films are very, very serious documentaries that oblige the viewer to rethink society, especially in the areas on racism and bigotry, conflict resolution, and disabilities.

I use films as an art form and as a vehicle to spread my own gospel of social justice without hitting the viewer over the head. If anything, I approach my work as trying to understand both sides in the conflict resolution series noted above. Through PBS television, I am able to get this “message” across to countless viewers, but it is in the intimate forum of a classroom or conference that I see the films making the most impact.

DP: Your films often focus on war and strife -- such as the conflict in northern Ireland and the violence in the Middle East -- what draws you to the subject of warfare?

John: I was born during World War II, grew up during the Korean War, and strongly protested the Vietnam War. My courses in film history and in interdisciplinary studies often focus on the literature, art, and film of war. I see war as the arena where the human psyche is pushed to its breaking point, showing courage or cowardice, wisdom or folly. I am especially sensitive to the post-traumatic stress that occurs in the wake of these wars and have published with my wife on trauma and warfare in veterans returning from war. Seeing the veterans from the current war returning critically damaged in body and soul, I feel great pain. My mind and camera go beyond the battlefield to the home and the heart.

Read our story on the best baseball movies of all time

Read our 5 Questions interview about 007 -- James Bond

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Under God's Right Arm: The Glorious Rev. Falwell

By: Rev. Colson Crosslick

I had the great and Godly pleasure of meeting the Rev. Jerry Falwell in the larger than life flesh. The roly-poly preacher with the silver-tipped tongue was barnstorming across the country in the late 1980s trying to build support for his organization the Moral Majority and I was invited to a tent revival that he was scheduled to speak at.

At the time, I was a newly minted preacher in charge of manipulating a small flock of evangelical Pentecostals in a small town in the Texas panhandle. I had heard a lot about Rev. Falwell and was eager to see him action. It was like being a singer and being able to watch Elvis Presley in action or an actor getting to share the stage with Nathan Lane.

And, boy, could Rev. Falwell speak! His voice was like thunder from the Lord God himself!

After his performance, the Rev. Falwell deigned to grant me an audience. I was frightened, of course. Here was a man with angels dancing on his shoulder, a man with DSL line straight to the Lord God’s ear.

I found the Rev. Falwell in a tent behind the main one wrapped in a purple robe and eating a greasy roasted turkey with several nubile women followers. He held the drumstick like a baton and once, when shouting out a point, he shook it like he was pounding the devil on the head (amusingly, the grease splattered on my white Oxford shirt and ruined it – but I didn’t mind).

I remembered staring at him, turkey-fat smeared across his pudgy face, and thinking that here was a preacher who would change America. He seemed to have an unworldly greenish glow about him (ironically, I learned later that he suffered from food poisoning that night).

I left that mattress-lined tent with my spirits high and my wallet empty (I handed over my hard-earned cash to the Rev. Falwell with pleasure because I knew he would spend it better than I ever could!)

When they buried Rev. Falwell yesterday, I cried. Not for him. The Rev. Falwell is now ensconced under the thumb of Jesus Christ, who no doubt has great love and devotion to the preacher who committed so many transgressions in his Lordly name.

No I wept for us – the good citizens of the United States. The Rev. Falwell was like a moral compass. He ferreted out evil in the dark, liberal corners of our country. He was like a chunky bloodhound with a nose for conspiracies.

It was Rev. Falwell who discovered that Tinky Winky, one of the Teletubbies TV characters, was, in fact, a gay puppet-like creature. Without the Rev. Falwell, our children would have been corrupted and seduced into the homosexual lifestyle by this purple, purse-carrying poison pill!

I had always wondered about my unnatural attraction Tinky Winky and now I know that the creators of the Teletubbies were deliberately trying to make the character hot for males. Shame on them! Hooray for Rev. Falwell!

Falwell was a tireless advocate against the homosexual agenda that is turning this country into a cesspool that allows gay people to have equal rights. Do we really want to grant consenting adults of the same sex the right to legalize their long term commitments in the form of marriage – which every one who has ever read the Bible knows belongs to heterosexuals?

I think not. And so did the Rev. Falwell. We both know that homosexuals should go back to the shadows (I want to stress that I do not hate homosexuals and, in fact, I count several gay men as my close intimate associates. It is the act of homosexuality that I despise with every fiber of my Christian soul. There is a difference – a big difference!).

So as I continue to mourn for the Rev. Falwell, I wanted to share my thoughts about this great teddy bear of a man. He might not have been the smartest guy on the block, but he certainly was the most religious! And religion is always better than intelligence in my book.

Rest in peace in the glorious gardens of heaven, Rev. Falwell. We will miss you down here on Earth.

(The Rev. Colson Crosslick is pastor of the Pretty Good Shepherd Church in Ripsaw, Arkansas. In the past, he has called for a boycott of the Teletubbies. He also writes the regularly appearing column Under God’s Right Arm for DaRK PaRTY.)

Read Colson's column on the Hollywood hate machine

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
"Maus" Revisited
This year marks the 15th anniversary since Art Spiegelman won a special Pulitzer Prize for “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,” his groundbreaking graphic novel about his father’s experiences in the Nazi death camps during World War II.

Somehow I managed to miss the hype around “Maus” when it became famous in 1992 (to mainstream audiences anyway. Spiegelman had actually been publishing excerpts of the graphic novel since the 1970s).

On the surface the two books in the series, “My Father Bleeds History” and “And Here My Troubles Began,” seem a silly premise: a Holocaust comic book with mice representing the Jews and cats the Nazis. I avoided “Maus” because I thought the format wouldn’t do justice to such a serious topic and would come across as a “Tom & Jerry” approach to an ugly part of 20th century history.

So when I received a copy of the first book at a Yankee swap at Christmas, I reluctantly plopped it on my stack of books to read. My expectations were low, but I figured that I would at least start the book to get a taste of the content.

I was completely wrong about “Maus.” The book is anything, but trite. It is gut-wrenching. It is an amazing piece of storytelling and a staggering pseudo-biography about Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as a Polish Jew from the late 1930s and until post World War II. The narrative takes us from Vladek’s life as a textile factory owner in Poland, to the Polish ghettos after Germany’s invasion, and finally to the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau.

Every page of “Maus” crackles with tension. It doesn’t seem possible that Vladek’s life can get any worse, but it does. You begin to admire him for his resourcefulness and pluck. Vladek is persistent and intelligent – a natural survivor. He’s also a complicated character, but we’ll return to that shortly.

The beauty of “Maus” isn’t just about Vladek’s amazing journey, but the relationship he has with his son, Art. The Holocaust story is the backdrop and told in flashback as Vladek narrates his experiences in a very detached manner to his son, who wants to create a graphic novel about the story. The older Vladek is a shell of his younger self, yet in many ways he is the same man. The older version is haunted by the Holocaust, but the scars run so deeply that he unable to face them in any proactive way. He is self-centered, tense, and nervous – a man who frets about the number of wooden matches he has left in his kitchen and stresses out about half-eaten boxes of cereal.

Despite his surviving the death camps, Vladek doesn’t appear to have learned anything about his inner self or human nature in general. He is shallow – racist towards a black hitchhiker, a sexist who degrades and insults his second wife, and a man who pinches every penny. But this personality trait may, in fact, be why he survived and others didn’t.

Vladek lives in the moment and lets the emotions of his life wash away – because he may understand on a subconscious level that these intense emotions might destroy him. His detachment is what helped him navigate through hell.

Not so for Art – who needs the cathartic experience of talking about his family’s history to heal his own wounds of growing up the son of concentration camp survivors (his mother committed suicide in 1968 – probably as a result of the war). This is part of the reason why Art and Vladek have an uneasy relationship. They don’t like each other and they bicker constantly.

And here lies the emotional center of the work. Through the terror of the death camps to the estranged relationship between father and son, we learn that the Holocaust wasn’t just a period of time, but remains a scar on humanity – on the survivors and their children and their children’s children. It’s a blight that won’t go away.

And that’s why “Maus” has become a classic. It offers no real insight or answers – but provides a stark view of Vladek and Art and what can happen to families that have such trauma and grief in their history, yet refuse to confront it head on.

Beyond all reason, the animal portrayals work like magic. Spiegelman goes beyond mice and cats with pigs used to portray Poles, dogs Americans, frogs French, fish the British, Reindeer Swedes and moths Gypsies. The animals humanize a rather inhuman tale. What they represent tells us a lot about the time and the societal mores of this period of history.

The artwork is a perfect companion to the complex narrative. The black and white drawings are done in heavy shadow with thick lines. It’s a masterpiece of setting and mood; and adds to the emotional punch of the writing.

“Maus” should not be missed. If, like me, you missed it the first time around, now – on the year of its 15th anniversary – is a good time to revisit this graphic novel classic.

Read our commentary on the works of Brett Easton Ellis

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Monday, May 21, 2007
Fantastically Bad Cinema: Music & Lyrics
Let’s all come to grips with Hugh Grant. He’s a one trick pony. He plays the same damn character (with slight variations) in every single movie. He’s the irreverent, slightly eccentric, slightly obnoxious English man who is really a boy at heart. When he’s on his game – like in “About a Boy” (2002) – he’s brilliant. But when he’s not – like in “Nine Months (1995) – the results are insufferable.

“Music & Lyrics” (2007) is the latter. This is bad cinema at its nauseatingly finest. It’s so predictable that at various points in the film you may get the tingling feeling of déjà vu because you’ve seen all of this before. Yet like all other fantastically bad cinema, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the screen. Even as you watch Grant and Drew Barrymore, the Meg Ryan of her generation, flailing with the poor writing and terrible plot there’s something appealing about watching them both drown.

Be prepared, however, because you’ll be forced to endure a trite, achingly bad romantic comedy overflowing with smug one-dimensional characters that sprout off bad one-liners like, well, like bad movie characters. But that’s the appeal of “Music & Lyrics.” The one-liners are the movie. Grant gets to utter nonsense like: “I like your roof. It's good that its upstairs” and “We could even re-pot the ficus.”

Then there is Drew Barrymore. Poor Drew. She seems to be stuck in romantic comedy hell. In the last few years, she’s fallen in cinematic love with the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Eric Bana. None of those couplings, however, are as stained to watch as “Music & Lyrics.” Generally, Barrymore is a natural in romances, but in “Music & Lyrics” her character comes across as emotionally unstable – not quirky.

Here’s the premise. Grant plays a washed up eighties pop star named Alex Fletcher (the forgotten half of a duo called Pop!). The best part of the movie is the MTV video of Pop’s hit single “Pop Goes My Heart.” Unfortunately, this hilarious parody takes place during the opening credits. It’s all downhill from there.

After spending the first 10 minutes establishing Grant as an affable, but self-centered has-been, we’re introduced to the fragile, emotionally scarred, yet talented writer Sofie Fisher. At any point in the film, it wouldn’t be surprising if Barrymore took razor blades to her wrists.

They meet when – get this – she comes to Grant’s apartment as his replacement “plant lady.” Her job: to water the plants. Barrymore plunges into the apartment as a nattering nub of neuroses. After lobbing one-liners and ridiculous asides at each other, she pricks her finger on a cactus. Panicking when she learns that he doesn’t have a first aid kit, she flees to the emergency room to get it treated. Oh, the hilarity!

They meet again, of course. She returns while Grant is trying to pen a new hit pop song for a mega-pop diva who happened to love him when she was 7-years-old. The problem: Grant hasn’t written new material in more than 10 years and has only – gulp! – three days to write a song for her new album.

Grant’s new lyrist is dark, bitter, and cynical (better suited, perhaps, for writing material for Rage Against the Machine). So while Barrymore waters the plants, she naturally begins to snap out punchy lyrics and suddenly Grant has got to work with her. She’s a natural!

Much hijinx follows – none it very memorable, lots of it painful. There’s a sub-plot about Barrymore and her former love affair with an English professor who used her as a model for his bestselling novel. Other than a wasted performance by the usually fantastic Campbell Scott, the sub-plot borders on the preposterous. I won’t bore you with the restaurant fight between Grant and Scott, where Grant shouts: “My face is in the butter!”

But here’s where we get to the fantastically awful part of the movie. Grant and Barrymore have written the song, fallen in love, and hit the deadline within the first hour of the movie. There’s nothing left to do – but the filmmakers need another 40 minutes. So they devise a bizarre sub-plot about selling out and artistic integrity.

It is truly painful to watch.

The pop diva (played by Haley Bennett) wants to change the song and Barrymore won’t have it. Grant, of course, could careless – just as long as he’s paid. Can the couple – partners for all of 96 hours – endure the artistic impasse? Can audience digest this improbable plot twist? Will there be more one-liners like: “You seem angry - click your pen!”

The answer is: yes, no, and yes.

“Music & Lyrics” ends up celebrating Grant’s final redemption – for not selling out. But the beauty is that he only does it to win back Barrymore. So, in fact, he sells out his sell-out personality to get what he wants.

Simply beautiful and hideous at the same time – kind of like “Music & Lyrics.”

Read our last "Fantastically Bad Cinema" column about Tom Cruise and Cocktail

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Friday, May 18, 2007
The Short, Short Story Contest
Thanks for Submitting to the

DaRK PaRTY 55-word Fiction Contest

The judging has begun so please stay tuned to learn about the three winners. We will be announcing the winners the week of June 18th. Winners will be notified shortly.

There will be three prizes:

  • The Grand Prize (first place)
  • First Runner-Up (second place)
  • Second Runner-Up (third place)

All three winners will be published at the DaRK PaRTY ReVIEW with mega-kudos.

If you have questions, please feel free to write us at: darkpartyreview@gmail.com.

Good luck to all who entered.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007
5 Questions About: Dorothy Parker
An Interview With Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, Founder Dorothy Parker Society

DaRK PaRTY is ashamed to admit that we were late to the Dorothy Parker party. We snuck in late, hung out by the crab dip, and tried to pretend that it didn’t take the movie “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (1994) to introduce us to this amazing writer. Kevin C. Fitzpatrick has a more distinguished relationship with Parker
. In 1998, he founded the Dorothy Parker Society, which has been featured in the New York Times, New York Sun, USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, The (London) Observer, and now, of course, DaRK PaRTY. Fitzpatrick is the president of the society and hosts the annual "Parkerfest" in Manhattan, which draws Dorothy Parker fans from around the world. Fitzpatrick is also the author of “A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York." in conjunction with the Algonquin Hotel, Fitzpatrick leads walking tours of the former Round Table homes and haunts in Manhattan. So who better than Fitzpatrick to lead to discussion about the life and times of Dorothy Parker?)

DaRK PaRTY: How would you describe the life and works of Dorothy Parker to someone who knows nothing about her?

Kevin: Dorothy Parker’s life was centered in two places: New York and Hollywood. In both cities she was there for time periods that were arguably the most exciting of the 20th Century: Roaring Twenties New York and the Golden Age of motion pictures. Parker started out at the bottom rung in magazines, and propelled herself into becoming one of the most popular writers of her era. She was not only friends with Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Parker was their peer. Parker’s career began with her light verse and short fiction, but she really wrote every kind of piece there is: reviews, essays, speeches, plays, and screenplays.

Most know of Parker for her verse and her short stories. Everything she wrote you could fit in your backpack, so she is fairly easy to get a grip on: about 300 poems and around 30 short stories. She never wrote a novel, to her chagrin. Her verse is well-crafted from a technical point of view, but what Parker is known for is her turn of a phrase, such as “Frustration” which she wrote 80 years ago this summer:

If I had a shiny gun
I could have a world of fun

Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;

Or had I some poison gas
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.

But I have no lethal weapon --
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.

Her short fiction is extremely easy for newcomers to get into. Parker wrote primarily about everyday people, the kind of characters you’d meet casually or know from school. All her work is centered in the world we know; Parker never wrote about 17th Century French chateau love triangles. Her stories are set in speakeasies, taxicabs, diners, and sidewalk cafes.

DP: Parker was known for her sharp, caustic wit. Can you give us some examples of your favorite Parker barbs?

Kevin: At one time Dorothy Parker was the most-quoted woman in America. The problem was, half of what was attributed to her, she never really said. But since she was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, her quips and bon mots always made the newspapers.

She was Broadway’s first female drama critic, and a lot of her immortal reviews and comments are centered on the theatre. Of the play The House Beautiful she wrote, “The House Beautiful is the play lousy.” She also reviewed books for The New Yorker. Reviewing a science book, she wrote, “It was written without fear and without research.” Of Lucius Beebe’s Shoot If You Must, Parker said, “This must be a gift book. That is to say, a book which you wouldn’t take on any other terms.”

There are so many good ones; it is hard to narrow it down. But I do like the story of Parker out on a date with a snobby younger man. He put down the antics of one of the other party guests, saying, “I’m afraid I can’t join in the merriment, I can’t bear fools.” To which Parker replied, “But your mother could.”

DP: Next month is the 40th anniversary of Parker's death and your organization is holding "A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York" on June 4. What exactly was Parker's New York?

Kevin: That is what makes Dorothy Parker timeless. Her New York still exists: cocktail lounges, hotel lobbies, jazz clubs, magazine offices, crowded subway cars, long taxicab rides at night. Almost all the places she lived 40, 60, 80 years ago are still standing. You don’t have to go too far in Manhattan to find the milieu that she lived in. However, since the mayor’s smoking ban, the cigarette smoke has been removed from the picture.

If you read one of her Broadway play reviews, the theater she sat in is probably still in business. Or a short story that is set in Grand Central Terminal or on West End Avenue. Readers can go to these places, 80 years after the story was written, and the scene is relatively the same.

DP: Parker attempted suicide on three occasions, yet lived to the age of 74. What demons do you think she was battling?

Kevin: All those attempts ended when she met her second husband, Alan Campbell, when she was 38. She was very unhappy in her thirties. Today, someone suffering such as she did would seek professional help or be prescribed drugs to combat depression. Instead she self-medicated with alcohol. I think she had a very unhappy childhood, which stretched to young adulthood. Her mother died when she was a child; I believe she was genuinely lonely. I know a lot of creative people that for whatever reason, they may be the life the party and have lots of friends and acquaintances, but suffer from depression.

DP: Is Parker still an important literary figure in 2007? If so, why?

Kevin: The fact is Dorothy Parker has never gone out of print. Work that she created before World War I is still on bookshelves. There are not that many American writers, male or female, who are in that company; certainly not a writer such as Parker, who had a limited output.

I’ve often said that the reason Dorothy Parker is still read today, and remains popular while others of her era have been forgotten, is because she wrote about the human condition. Getting your heart smashed into a million pieces feels the same in 2007 as it did in 1927. Parker wrote about bad boyfriends and lousy bosses, topics readers could identify with today. She chose as subject matter wives, dogs, gin, and getting old. Her work carries into the 21st Century so easily; new readers just scoop Parker up. One of the most telling moments, for me, of how Parker attracts new fans was when I attended an adaptation of her work a couple years ago. The young actors didn’t change any of her words, and they performed her pieces in regular street clothes, not dressed as flappers and gangsters. I vividly remember watching a girl perform Parker’s short story “A Telephone Call" -- using a cell phone. It showed me that Dorothy Parker is going to be with us for a long, long time.

Read our 5 Questions About: Charles Dickens

Read our 5 Questions About interview with Novelist Laurie Foos

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Beautiful Obscure: 12 Great Lesser Known R.E.M. Songs
I was a Van Halen-AC/DC kind of guy in high school; the type who decorated his locker and notebooks with the Van Halen logo and would often air guitar “Highway to Hell” in front of a mirror.

Yeah, I know.

That all changed in an underground record store in Burlington, Vermont, in 1983. I was a college freshman and browsing through the racks when I came upon R.E.M.’s “Murmur.” I vaguely recalled a Rolling Stone article naming it the best album of the year. The cover was peculiar – a moss-covered and vine-laden railroad trestle.

This was… different.

I must have been feeling daring because I bought it. Back in my dormitory room, I unwrapped the cellophane and put the album on my record player (yes, a record player – this was long before CDs and digital music). Coincidentally, I think I was wearing a Van Halen concert t-shirt.

I music quietly, but with authority, blew me away. Here was an intensely personal form of music filled with mystery, depth, and ambiance. It avoided the rush and crush of hard rock; preferring depth and style instead. Michael Stipes’ haunting lyrics cascaded along with the bluesy, yet pop-infused guitars of Peter Buck. There was richness here: an artistic sensibility – mixed with a rattling guitar that echoed the early rock music of the sixties.

The album opened musical doors for me. From R.E.M., I learned that music could be much more complex that guitar solos and lyrics about hot women and cold beer. The album was perfectly named. Stipes’ enigmatic lyrics were “murmured” rather than sung and his words drifted into the music from a faraway place (there were stories that Stipe, intensely shy, would sometimes sing with his back to the audience). It gave the music a soulful sensibility.

The lyrics were cryptic and filled with hidden meanings and symbolism. So much so that the songs became intensely personal to each listener – who often had widely diverging takes on the meanings of the Stipes words. Take this snippet from “Pilgrimage”:

“Speakin' in tongues, it's worth a broken lip
Your hate c
lipped and distant, your luck
Rest assured this will not last, take a turn for the worst
Your hate clipped and distant, your luck two-headed
The pilgrimage has gained momentum
Take a turn, take a turn

Take our fortune, take our fortune”

If you can translate those lyrics – then please get thee to a poetry seminar on e.e. cummings. But the lyrics and music hooked me and R.E.M. became one of my favorite bands through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The band was a driving force in the alternative sound and heavily influenced many bands of the time.

DaRK PaRTY gives you the 12 best R.E.M. songs you may not have heard of:

Wolves, Lower
Album: Chronic Town (EP)
Year: 1981
Why It Rocks: This is classic R.E.M. – a song that sets the tone for the band’s unique, contrasting sound – the jangling guitar, the haunting distant vocals (with bizarre nonsensical lyrics) and the heavy drum and base line. “Wolves, Lower” has a pop urgency with the sensibilities of a lyric poem.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “Wilder lower wolves. Here's a house to put wolves out the door.”

Perfect Circle
Album: Murmur
Year: 1983
Why It Rocks:Perfect Circle” feels like a love song – it has the gentle intensity of romance pervading it, but, of course, it’s not (R.E.M. generally shunned love songs). But it is as close as it gets for R.E.M. and the guitar work by Buck is magical and moody.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “Pull your dress on and stay real close/ Who might leave you where I left off?”

7 Chinese Bros.
Album: Reckoning
Year: 1984
Why It Rocks: One of the most underrated R.E.M. songs. This is a fable, a fairy tale of a song. The upbeat tempo seems to defy the intense, dark lyrics. “7 Chinese Bros.” really showcases Stipes singing and his ability to use his voice as an instrument.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean/ Seven thousand years to sleep away the pain”

Pretty Persuasion
Album: Reckoning
Year: 1984
Why It Rocks: Another R.E.M. song that sounds like it could be a love song – but it’s about our consumer driven society. “Pretty Persuasion” is another classic R.E.M. song – with all the classic elements clanking together into a smooth pop number.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “He's got a pretty persuasion/ She's got pretty persuasion/ God damn, pure confusion”

Driver 8
Album: Fables of the Reconstruction
Year: 1985
Why It Rocks: It’s a song about trains – and it’s a hard driving, blues-infused rocking number. One of R.E.M.’s best – hands down. “Driver 8” is infectious and hard to listen to only once.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “And the train conductor says/ "Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break”

Album: Lifes Rich Pageant
Year: 1986
Why It Rocks: “Cuyahoga” has a country twang to it, but with an infusion of the R.E.M. sound that makes it lift off. It’s another tune where Stipes voice seems to be one of the instruments.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “This is where we walked, this is where we swam/
Take a picture here, take a souvenir”

Disturbance at the Heron House
Album: Document
Year: 1987
Why It Rocks: This song could have been the theme song for the movie “12 Monkeys.” It’s got an end of the world, we’re all doomed and going to die message – but the music has bop to it. In other words – dance while you die!
Cool Lyric Snippet: "The followers of chaos out of control/ They're numbering the monkeys /The monkeys and the monkeys"

World Leader Pretend
Album: Green
Year: 1988
Why It Rocks: A fantasy about being the leader of the world. The lyrics are nuts, but more straight forward than most of Stipes cryptic efforts, but the pretentiousness isn’t enough to knock this one down. The hard pumping feel to the music makes it work.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “This is my mistake. Let me make it good/ I raised the wall, and I will be the one to knock it down”

Album: Out of Time
Year: 1991
Why It Rocks: After a three year hiatus from making music, R.E.M. returned with one of their best and most popular albums in “Out of Time.” Stipes’ reflective and personal lyrics are accompanied by the upbeat R.E.M. jangle to create another underrated classic.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “20,000 miles to an oasis/ 20,000 years will I burn/ 20,000 chances I wasted/ Waiting for the moment to turn”

Me In Honey
Album: Out of Time
Year: 1991
Why It Rocks: The title is dirty, but the song isn’t. In fact, it may be one of the few R.E.M. love songs. Maybe. Not quite sure. But let’s just say it is.
Cool Lyric Snippet: “I sat there looking ugly /Looking ugly and mean”

Album: Automatic for the People
Year: 1992
Why It Rocks: An angry protest song, which was unusual for R.E.M. No one would ever accuse the band of being happy and shiny (ahem), but angry? Nah. Yet, the song works and may be one of the hardest rocking R.E.M. songs.
Cool Lyric Snippet: "These bastards stole their power from the victims of the Us v. Them years/ Wrecking all things virtuous and true.”

I Don’t Sleep, I Dream
Album: Monster
Year: 1994
Why It Rocks: A haunting ballad about dreams and sleep that feels like a mystical journey. Another song where Stipes voice shines.
Cool Lyric Snippet: "You looking to dig my dreams/ Be prepared for anything"

Listen to an iMix of our "Beautiful Obscure" songs at iTunes

Read our article about 18 Bands That Should Go Away -- Forever

Read our interview with Billy Conway, the drummer of Morphine and Treat Her Right

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