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Jun 22 15

On Being Dad …

by gwolinetz

I don’t often have time to reflect on what it is or what it means to be a father. I’m typically too busy trying to get my kids to listen what I’m saying (or even acknowledge that I’m saying anything at all) to even have time for that. And jeez, who has time to think at all really? Most of the free moments that I get, I spend staring blankly through the TV, the computer or a book. Yesterday, I let my mind wander for like 90 seconds and I missed the goddamn exit on the New Jersey Turnpike. For me, thinking can even be dangerous (in the very first world sense of the word danger).

But fortunately, at least for me, I got a couple of minutes to myself yesterday. I got to thinking (and please remember, it’s dangerous when I think) what it means to be “Dad.” There are two people in the world that call me that. They’re still pretty little. When we play with the little toy basketball hoop in the house, I still reject the shit out of all of their shots at the basket. So I’ve got some time before they begin to see me as just a regular old dude with flaws as big as anyone else and before they can ferociously dunk on me.

At the risk of eliciting a giant “duh”, being Dad is a giant responsibility. It’s an amazing responsibility and it’s typically a pretty fun one, but that doesn’t make it any less huge. I’ve tried to attack it as an exercise in restraint more than anything. Offer advice, but let them try to figure things out on their own. Be there to lean on when they need you, but don’t hold too tight because you need to be able to let go. Get that finger out of your nose, because you don’t know where that finger has been. That sort of thing. You want them to figure out and interact with the world on their own terms.

But what I never stopped to think about, what I never took enough time to consider, isn’t what me being Dad means to my kids. I’ve thought plenty about that. No, I never thought about what being Dad means to me. There’s a story I think about often, which happened shortly after my son was born and I was walking my daughter to school. I was eating an apple, which was the only thing that I was going to have a chance to eat for a while, when she asked for a bite. I gave her one, then took one myself. And she asked for another. And after we went back and forth for a bit, she said “We’re sharing now.” I’m kind of an emotional guy and this one really hit me hard, because in that moment, I was very aware that those moments wouldn’t always be there for me to enjoy. Eventually, she’ll get older. And she won’t think about sharing an apple with her dopey old man. Then she’ll get married, have kids of her own, and I’ll be old and staring into the vastness of a cold, empty Universe wondering where it all went.

Wait, I’m off track here.

The point of that story isn’t that my kid is going to grow up. Of course, she’s going to grow up. The boy will too. That’s what kids do. Hell, I watch them do it every single day. What does being Dad mean to me? What’s the point of all this? It’s not just about me passing on things that are awesome, so that they have a decent point of view and I feel like a success as a parent, a man and a generally awesome fucking guy. It’s not just teaching my kids that people are people, so treat them how you’d like to be treated or that Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers are fucking awesome or that the New York Rangers are the greatest hockey team in the world. Those things mean a lot to me, but they’re very micro concerns. At a macro level, for me, it’s actually more about acceptance.

In the end, most of our lives are spent awkwardly searching for acceptance. Accept us for what we think or how we feel or what we want to do with our lives. Or even simply accept us for who we are. Under the veneer of this man of magnificent splendor lies the same guy who has always just wanted to fit in, to be a part of something bigger: a group of guys, a soccer team, an international cartel. Whatever.

And that’s what I get from my kids. It’s not just unconditional love; it’s unconditional acceptance. No one in the world accepts me for me like my kids do. They accept me for who I am, warts and all. They still run and hug me when I walk through the door at night. And truth be told, I couldn’t dream up a place I’d rather fit in.

Feb 26 14

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #6: Rushmore

by gwolinetz

I love Wes Anderson, but I don’t think I’ve seen many of his films. I saw the Royal Tenenbaums, which I loved. But until last week, that was the ONLY Wes Anderson film that I’d ever seen. So it begs the question: do I love Wes Anderson or do I just love that there’s a guy like Wes Anderson that out there, making weird films like this that I think I would love if I had seen them?

Rushmore is a somewhat iconic film for people that are my age (at least, anyone worth talking to that’s roughly my age), because it’s Anderson’s second film, but his first one that was mainstream, but also because there’s lots of good acting, including Bill Murray, who is like a god to not just people around my age, but basically everyone these days because he says things like he took the Garfield role without reading it because Joel Cohen wrote it. Turned out, it wound up that he thought he was working with Joel Coen (no h) and he was attached to this shitty film he couldn’t back out of, which doesn’t exactly explain why he did the second Garfield film.

Rushmore had been sitting on my DVD since my son was born. I assumed I’d have a chance to watch it in the middle of the night when he woke up, so I just recorded it and left it there and never got around to it. I got home the other day and there was fuck all on TV and my wife was into the idea of watching it, so we put it on.

Here’s what I’ll say: Rushmore’s a good film. Bill Murray is great, so is Jason Schwartzman. The woman who played the teacher was fine. I just didn’t love the story. It seems like there’s tons of potential there, and maybe I built it up too much in my head, but I just didn’t LOVE it the way I thought I was supposed to. And I think my wife hit the nail on the head, so I’m going to tell a Chuck Klosterman anecdote, then say what my wife said and then talk about Moonrise Kingdom.

In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman has a chapter on Saved by the Bell, and he talks about this dude that he would watch the show with every day. And every day, he’s sit there in silence while Zach Morris did all kinds of things that completely defy logic and reality, but it wasn’t until there was a simple scene where the Bayside gang was friends with Belding that the guy exploded and said “Oh, come on!” You see it wasn’t that the show was unrealistic. Of course it was. It was just consistently unrealistic, until that moment. Which is exactly what my wife said about this movie. There were certain scenes in it that my wife just couldn’t handle. They were inconsistently unrealistic.

Which is why I liked, but didn’t love this film. It’s not even half the film, in my estimation, that Moonrise Kingdom is. It just happened that I saw them in the same week (M.K. first) and seeing them side by side made that plainly obvious to me.

Feb 7 14

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #5: The Usual Suspects

by gwolinetz

For the record, I am extremely ashamed that I’ve not seen this film yet. There are a lot of reasons, but the one that I’m most ashamed of is the fact that I actually OWN this movie on DVD. It was given to me over 15 years ago by a friend who was shocked back then that I hadn’t seen it. Now, 19 years later, and courtesy of Netflix streaming (and really, courtesy of my sister, who let’s me use her Netflix account), I’m finally diving in.

Here’s the other important point: I have no expectations of this film, other than that I’m told I might like it. That’s it. It’s been so long since it came out that I feel like I’m at the point where societal pressure here is completely gone. The Usual Suspects is now as old as Annie Hall was when it came out.

So, what did I think?

Mind. Blown.

/end review

Feb 6 14

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #4: Frances Ha

by gwolinetz

I nearly turned this movie off like 6 times in the first 20 minutes, because it felt like the entire movie was going to be one long episode of Girls. And I absolutely loathe that show. The 5 episodes of the show that I watched and the 2.5 hours I spent watching them are near the top of my list time and energy that I wish I had back. And then, the fucking guy from Girls actually showed up in the film! That’s when I put a bullet through the TV screen. After that, I went out and bought a new TV, and finished watching the movie.

And I’m glad I did, because the movie grew on me. I thought the choice to film it in black and white was interesting. I thought Greta Gerwig was wonderful. She’s a really charming actress, and this role seemed made for her. I know Noah Baumbach has said he doesn’t write roles for actresses, but I find that a bit hard to believe in this context. It seems ridiculous to have to say this, but it’s nice to watch characters that actually, you know, evolve and develop. There’s complexity to each one of these characters. None of them falls into a specific stereotype (except the fucking guy from Girls) and that makes them much more authentic, at least to me. The characters grew up. Because they had to. Because that’s what everyone does, whether they want to or not. The little subplots were enjoyable also: the best friend and her boyfriend. The other dancer who was weird around Frances. The two dudes she roomed with for a bit and their individual life theories. And that he tied it all together having all of them in the audience at the end was a cool little finish.

I don’t know what I’d call this a great movie. I certainly enjoyed it. I see why other people enjoyed it, maybe for different reasons than I did. this isn’t a movie for the annals though. I thought The Squid and the Whale was a significantly better film, with significantly better acting. Actually, for that matter, so were Margot At The Wedding and Greenberg. But this is a nice film. That’s the best word for it. Nice.

All in all, I was pretty happy I spent the 90 minutes watching.

Nov 15 13

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #3: Irreversible

by gwolinetz

Ten years ago, on YPR, Josh and I co-wrote a ridiculous piece (pseudonymously credited to Bobby Rufferto) called “My Dinner with Bellucci and Bellow“, which posited a ludicrous scenario in which the author had soup with a naked Monica Bellucci and surly Saul Bellow. I feel like at the time we’d read an article or something (I’m too lazy to Google it) that had them connected in some way other than the fact that their names are homophonic and that they both speak French. In truth, I’m sure they never met, or if they did, never collaborated in any way. But to us, the idea of the old perv and pretty young woman made for nice theater. In re-reading the piece, it’s still ridiculous and kind of funny. I approve.

Anyway, I stumbled on the original draft of that old YPR piece and it made me remember that, at the time, Bellucci was in two movies where she was naked for a significant portion of the film (which is the reason we had her naked in the piece): Irreversible and Le Pacte du Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf). I figured I’d watch one of them as part of this series. Irreversible was the only one available on Netflix streaming.

And once I began watching it, I remembered why I’d decided not to see it in the first place. The film is absolutely disturbing. I mean, it’s just difficult to watch on so many different levels. Start with the cinematography. The way the first third of the movie is shot, I wanted to throw up. It’s on purpose, obviously, and I’m assuming meant to convey the anger, how out of control the guy is, etc, but I’m surprised that I didn’t succumb to an epileptic seizure. Not only that, the brutality of the film is just horrifying. I don’t even know how I made it through the first 20-25 minutes. It’s just a horrifically disturbing film at the beginning.

And for a while, it downshifts into a decent narrative (“decent” may be the wrong word, let’s just say it leveled off). The camera settles down and it’s a bit easier to watch. You’re following the story in reverse, so each scene builds on the one before it by revealing some information about the scene that came immediately before it.

Then it shifts into a whole new disturbing level.

Without getting too graphic, the scene that features Monica Bellucci’s attack is disturbing on so many different levels, you have to wonder how the director could even sit there and watch it, despite knowing it’s fake. The scene lasts so long that I got uncomfortable and then settled down, only to get uncomfortable again like three different times. And the fact that it’s shot backward ain’t doing us any favors either, because we realize (spoiler alert) that the guy they spent so much effort chasing down and dispatching in the opening, isn’t even the guy that did it. That guy fucking gets away with it. This scene goes on so long that I actually got up to get some water, hoping it would be done when I got back, and a full 3 minutes later, it was still fucking going on (no pun intended). And then you find out all of the character background as the movie winds down, and it becomes absolutely fucking heartbreaking.

In the end, I’d call it a good movie, but I mean that in a truly clinical way. i think they made a good movie. I just found it absolutely horrifying (I keep using that word, but I really mean it). It gets an A for the effort, but an F for rewatchability. I’m never going to see this movie again.

Oct 9 13

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #2: Fargo

by gwolinetz

Movie that I did see in 1996: Independence Day
Movie that I did not see in 1996: Fargo (also, Trainspotting, which will come in a later iteration of this series)

I got my money back for Independence Day, because it’s a tremendous piece of crap. I should have used the refund to go see Fargo.

God, William H. Macy is a great actor. Intuitively, I know this. If you ask me whether I think he’s a great actor, I say yes without even thinking about it. Then you watch a movie like Fargo or Boogie Nights and you remember just how awesome the guy is. The guy brown bags it to work every day. He’s not a flashy star of any movie. He’s not doing big action thrillers. He’s a phenomenal character actor and kills it in an ensemble cast. Completely understated and totally believable in everything that he does. I actually found myself rooting for him in this movie (up until I started calling him a total putz about 20 minutes from the end). This guy is so goddamn likable.

Pregnant police chief. Brilliant. Has anyone ever seen the old SNL sketch “Lisa Pongrassic: Very Pregnant Undercover Cop,” where she’s like 9 months pregnant, but on a drug sting? And no one wants her to go, not because she’s pregnant, but because they have a surprise shower planned for her? And Dana Carvey is the drug lord who gives her Paddington Bear as a gift? I digress. Frances McDormand is fantastic also. First, I love how she immediately figures out what happened when she gets to the scene of the crime and how casually she describes the “execution-type deal” and talks through the whole thing like a triple homicide happens in Brainerd, MN every single day. Hysterical.

I love the classic Coen brothers dialogue in here also. That stuff that just passes the time in between actual plot points, like the joke about the personalized license plates.

Here’s the thing though: if this were simply a movie about a detective figuring out who committed this crime, it would probably be a terrible movie, because McDormand just methodically works through solving the crime and it’s reasonably straight forward. But it’s all of the usual Coen brothers brilliance: the subtle touches, the location that has the accents and the pleasantries and the friendliness, even in the face of a triple homicide, that make the movie so great. It all feels very Columbo-esque: a friendly, seemingly clueless detective faux-stumbling through the investigation, while actually being in control and calculated about every move. Just brilliant.

To close: “You’re such a super lady!”

Oct 7 13

The Greatest Movies I’ve Never Seen #1: Glengarry Glen Ross

by gwolinetz

I realized recently that while I’ve certainly seen a lot of movies, there are a whole lot of movies that I’ve always wanted to see that I haven’t seen. You know how it goes: you plan on catching a movie in the theater and then before you know it, it’s out of the theater, so you say you’re going to see it at home, which of course you never do, because there’s 80,000 channels of nothing to watch and you don’t want to miss any of it, and before you know it, years and years have gone by and you feel like it’s too late to see it.

It’s time to see some of these films. I basically did a Google search of best movies by decade, clicked on a few of the lists, compiled some of the movies into my own list and now I’m going to watch them and write down some thoughts about them. I’m hesitant to call these “reviews” because they won’t be very good. WARNING: THESE ARE GOING TO BE RIFE WITH SPOILERS. These movies are old. You should have seen them by now. Also, you’re going to be shocked by some of the movies that I haven’t seen.

I started with Glengarry Glen Ross.

Alec Baldwin is in this movie for like 5 minutes (granted, it’s a pretty awesome 5 minutes), and he gets third billing? Not bad.

You know what I love most about Al Pacino in this movie? It’s that’s he’s not a goddamn, over the top caricature of what everyone wants him to be. He’s fucking acting in this movie. And he’s GREAT. During the first half of the movie where he’s at the bar in the Chinese restaurant just working over Jonathan Pryce is the shit that should earn Oscars. And since I enjoyed this so much, I went back on looked at his filmography. It became clear that the time period after Scarface and before Scent of a Woman could be the best pure acting of his career. Obviously, these aren’t the best movies of his career (what, you don’t think Sea of Love’s got legs?), but he was a truly great actor. Now, he’s just a barking lunatic. Also, I found it hard to believe that he’s 73 years old, as of this writing.

Boy, Jack Lemmon was a versatile actor, huh? And that was a somewhat unexpected turn at the end with his character, where he goes from the top of the world after his “sale” to finding out his sale is bullshit and then inadvertently giving away his involvement in the break-in. More than anyone in the movie, you sympathize with his character: the down on his luck salesman who thinks the next hot streak is right around the corner, unable to face that he’s losing his touch. Really moving shit.

But still, tell me you don’t see ol’ Gil from the Simpsons every time you look at the guy.

Aug 9 13

High Times

by gwolinetz

There’s an opinion article on CNN.com today about the dangers of legalizing marijuana. I’ll just quote my favorite part here from the close to the end, although I do encourage you to read the whole thing. I read this article twice, just to be certain that I wasn’t missing anything, but I wasn’t.

…I know what marijuana does to the human mind because I started smoking weed when I was 15 years old. It literally robbed me of my motivation to participate in my own life. I was absolutely OK with sitting around all day eating cookies and watching television and getting high with my friends. But, to go out and earn a living and do something with my life? That was all stuff that I was going to do later after I came down off of the marijuana. But, then I’d smoke some more and think, “Why bother?” . . . and, eventually, I started shooting heroin. If my family had not intervened and sought professional help, I would probably still be wandering aimlessly through the streets today; searching for that elusive “perfect high.”

There’s a lot more like that, especially the very end which is the hilarious payoff. Bottom line, his is just rank psychologism, using entirely anecdotal evidence. Because *you* smoked pot and sat in front of the TV all day and Homer Simpson did the same thing on TV, along with countless teens on bad after-school specials, that’s conclusive evidence that marijuana does more harm than good? I don’t mean to diminish this guy’s fight back from addiction, and he obviously does great work with addicts in his center, but how about a little bit of science? A little bit of data? Something that shows that you’re not simply reacting to something that you consider to be wrong. I get that this is opinion, but you should have *something* to back up your opinion, other than “potheads order a lot of Chinese food and sit on the couch, so pot is bad.”

I know plenty of people who are recreational marijuana users and are perfectly productive members of society with fine careers and contribute healthily to our gross domestic product. Does that mean that marijuana should get a full free pass and be completely unregulated? Of course not. That would be insane. It’s not a large enough view of the Universe to have any sense of the right course of action. You need to take into account all of the sides of the issue, before you can make an informed judgement about anything. That’s the way it works.

Aug 8 13

The Deconstruction of the First Verse of Tag Team’s 1993 Hit “Whoomp, There It Is” By A Guy Who Asked You To Bring Him Some Beers

by gwolinetz

Tag Team. Back again – it is questionable as to what they’re back from, as this song is the first and only hit that these two yo-yos ever had. Perhaps they’re back from a local convenience store with the beers that I asked for, although I don’t see no beers around here.

Check gets the records. Now, let’s begin – someone has procured the music that will allow a party to commence. However, one has to wonder how there will be a party without any beers.

Party on, party people. Let me hear some noise – they seek to encourage the partying by inviting the congregants to get louder. If someone had just come back with my beers, I’d have given them a standing ovation

DC’s in the house. Jump, jump, rejoice – DC is one of the yo-yos in the group. His actual name is Cecil, which means he made a pretty sound choice opting to be known as DC. Somehow, Cecil’s in the house doesn’t really do it. Although, I’d certainly rejoice if I had some beers.

There’s a party over here – presumably with beers.

A party over there – same as above

Wave your hands in the air – this being a gesture of excitement brought on by the music being played at either the party over here, the party over there or both parties. If you’re going to wave your hands in the air, please do not do it while holding my beers.

Shake your derriere – and by this, they mean dancing. You know what goes great with dancing? Beers.

These three words when you’re gettin’ busy – “gettin’ busy” is slang for sexual intercourse, and nothing paves the way to sexual intercourse better than beers.

Whoomp, there it is – this is four words

Hit me – I would love to. Where do you live?

Aug 7 13

In Which I Connect A-Rod With Racists (But Not In The Way You Think) …

by gwolinetz

UPDATE (8/8/13, 10:40am): Related and relevant column from Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation regarding A-Rod’s appeal. There’s some really good stuff in here about people’s vitriolic reaction to A-Rod.
——-
There’s a scene in the Blues Brothers (a movie that I admittedly hadn’t seen in many, many years before I was up with my son early in the morning a few days ago) where Nazis, led by Henry Gibson, are blocking Jake and Elwood’s way to go reunite with one of their former band members, so that they can complete their mission from God by earning the requisite funds, thereby saving the orphanage in which they grew up.* Anyway, the Nazis’ are being vigorously protested by some onlookers, who are being held back by a litany of policemen. And this is not the only comedy movie where there’s advocacy for violence against the Nazis (and honestly, with good fucking reason), movies where the simple notion of Nazi rights to march are met with a call to bludgeon the shit out of them. And here I am, sitting, watching this movie and thinking to myself, “Would people even get that riled up about this these days?” I answered that with a qualified “Probably,” meaning certain people probably would, but I think the population at large, while against Nazism if you ask them, would probably shrug their shoulder and say “Man, that’s terrible.”

*I’d say spoiler alert, but the movie is over 30 years old, so if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen it, I’m letting you know you’ve got no basis for complaint. But still, see the fucking movie.

** There’s a great exchange in the Woody Allen movie Manhattan where Woody Allen is at a party. He brings up that some Nazis are going to march in New Jersey and that they should go down there with some baseball bats and bricks to show them what’s what. The party goer responds that there was a great Op-Ed in the New York Times*** about it, to which Woody Allen responds “Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.”

*** Newspaper reference!

Because really, I think our society has gotten to the point where people don’t make a big deal about the really big things and make a really big deal about the things that don’t fucking matter at all. You’ve got people that are actually saying out loud that Alex Rodriguez should be shot. Shot! For what? Taking steroids and trying to be a better baseball player by cheating? That’s why he’s become public enemy #1 in this country. You know, years ago, you actually had to do something pretty bad to be vilified in this country. I guess now all it takes is cheating at something that’s reasonably insignificant to get people’s blood boiling to the point where they think something should be done. They’re so desensitized to everything big: the bullshit in Washington, the spree killings across the country, etc., that they just react violently to things they consider to be black and white issues, even though nothing is all that black and white. It’s fairly obvious (to me anyway) that Alex Rodriguez is simply a flawed human being that did something that many of us in the same situation would do also. We just don’t realize it because we’re not in the same situation. It’s easy to say you wouldn’t do steroids to get better at baseball when you work a day job in accounting. Let me know how that works out when there’s millions of dollars, total adoration and fame at stake. I’m not saying that I would or wouldn’t. I’m just saying that I have no idea how I’d react in that situation. And I don’t think anyone else does either.

Getting back to the point a little bit, today, I read this.

This shit still exists in spades. Oh, sure, not by Nazis necessarily. Only the really stupid are actually affiliating themselves with Hitler or Nazis. but shouldn’t we be outraged at this? I mean, really outraged. Doesn’t it merit more than a cursory article and a “we’re treating this as a bias crime?” I mean, a) a bias crime? You think so, genius? It’s swastikas and racial epithets, not flowers and unicorns and b) where’s the outrage? Where the commentary beyond “Hate Crimes is investigating?” Where’s the “this is a disgusting act of desperate people looking for any kind of attention anywhere they can get it And if this is kids joking, it’s not funny. We’re going to find you and prosecute you. This type of language and behavior has no place in our society.” Maybe treating this case as matter-of-factly as the NYPD is treating it keeps them from getting the attention that they want. I just don’t think this is something to be matter-of-fact about.

There’s a lot of hate out there. Some of it is focused and some of it is unfocused. What are we doing to combat it? That’s my question. When are we going to be as outraged about swastikas as we were in 1979 (when Manhattan came out) or 1980 (when the the Blues Brothers came out)? I don’t know how to finish this other than to say that I’m really not in a position to tell people what their priorities should be. If you want to focus your hate on A-Rod, go for it. Seems like wasted energy to me, but hey, that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla. It’s difficult to sit down and have a discussion with the 10-year old that idolized A-Rod and explain to him that steroids are bad, but sometimes good people do bad things and that things aren’t always as simple as we want them to be. It’s a tough conversation to have and it’s a tough one for your kids to get. But I’d suggest that it’s a good conversation to have, because A-Rod’s not the bad guy. He’s just a guy, a guy who made bad choices. He’s not the only one.

But there are real people out there that really hate for a lot of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. I think we should be focusing on them.