Monday, August 27, 2007

The The Wall Street Journal

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - This morning, as my first day back at The Wall Street Journal began, I began to feel a little awkward. Here I was, returning to the South Brunswick branch, only two or so weeks after nearly everyone at the copy desk had said their goodbyes to both of us interns. It's like, "Oh goodbye and maybe have a nice life" and now "Oh you're back already?" It felt a little weird, I must say.

Of course, the awkwardness only lasted about five minutes, if that. Part of that was because I was situated in a different section of the third floor---though right next to the copy desk---but most of it was probably because the woman who hired me---she's officially considered "Assistant News Editor, News Prepress Operations"---made it clear early on that, when I was there at the monitor desk, I was all hers, and that I wasn't allowed to have much contact with the copy desk unless it was work-related. (She sure means business!)

Also, when I was able to say hello to all the people I had met earlier in the summer on the copy desk, they all seemed to welcome me with open arms, so to speak. It helped that I had cake, which my mom had made ("just to show your appreciation that you're back," she said. I wasn't really asking for the cake, but how can I argue?).

How did my first day go? Well, I'm supposed to keep a journal for the internship coordinator over at Rutgers, so perhaps I'll just rework the brief little summary I wrote tonight to sum up my first day. (I plan to write some kind of entry every day for this internship journal; however, I may not post every single entry on this blog.)

My first day on the job at the Wall Street Journal monitor desk basically consisted of shadowing the woman who currently handles all the monitor duties for The Wall Street Journal Asia. Apparently I am going to be taking over her job in a few weeks, which means I will pretty much be the guy in charge of looking over all — and I mean all — of the articles and pages as they are being laid out in our layout program, Hermes.

No mean feat, and I admit that my first impressions are mainly enthusiastic mixed in with a tinge of apprehension. When it comes to the domestic edition later in the afternoon, there are a few pairs of eyes looking at the various pages in the U.S. paper. But when it comes to Asia and Europe, it’s just one pair of eyes at the monitor desk, with a few of the people over at the pagination (layout) department looking over my shoulder, figuratively speaking.

But I guess that’s okay; that kind of pressure comes with the territory, and I suppose it’s about time I get exposed to some real journalistic pressure of the type that reporters face every day. Compared to what it sounds like I will be doing at the monitor desk, interning at the copy desk in the summer was a relaxed summer walk in the park.

Hopefully I’ll pick it up quickly, especially after shadowing Donna (the name of the woman I watched today), who has developed her own system of keeping track of which articles are on what pages — a system that I’ll be sure to adopt when I start working on my own.

Friday, August 24, 2007


EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Hey readers---I've contributed a new article to the film/TV blog The House Next Door!

Essentially, it's a discussion-starter in which I list five movies that have a particular effect on me personally: these films are ones that are so powerful as filmmaking, and speak to me on such a personal level, that I find moods and images from them invading my head at random moments---moods and images that get me to reflect on how I wish those moods and images would be a part of my own life, instead of merely being a part of some movie.

Originally, the piece was supposed to be about one movie---Pen-ek Ratanaruang's exquisite 2003 Thai film Last Life in the Universe, a new favorite of mine (although the last act admittedly goes a bit overboard with the time- and space-bending, making it muddier and more confusing than it perhaps needed to be---a possible fault that nevertheless doesn't break its singular spell one bit, as far as I'm concerned). But, as I started writing the piece, I realized that, in trying to explain why it affected me so personally, there was a broader direction that it could go. Thus the article posted on the blog right now.

By all means, go ahead. Discuss!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Movie Still for the Day: Inland Empire

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - These past few days have been so uneventful---at least, uneventful compared to the rest of the summer---that I'm almost glad next week I'm going to be working at Dow Jones again. I've been keeping myself occupied in small ways, though, so it's not like I'm dying of boredom or anything.

Anyway, how about a movie still for the day?

I recently acquired a copy of David Lynch's latest mindbender Inland Empire on DVD, and I imagine that my second viewing of it a few days ago will not be the last. There is just so much to parse from this film on a thematic level! Is it merely a three-hour epic about an actress who redefines the idea of getting ugly for her art (the only interesting thematic and narrative angle I played up when I originally reviewed the film on this blog here)? Or does it daringly equate thesping with whoring? I sense a self-reflexive meta-movie context in this film, but I'm still not entirely sure how it fits in with the rest of the film. And here's an idea that came up during my most recent viewing: is this really Nikki Grace's or Susan Blue's story at all? Could much of this be a projection of the nameless Polish girl's---her envisioning a Hollywood movie equivalent of her own personal troubles? And what the hell is up with the rabbits??? I'm seriously considering taking notes the next time I watch it straight through (although when that will happen is anyone's guess---oh life).

Until then, though, I think the above image will suffice as a nightmarish representation of that getting-ugly-for-her-art theme. It's a random moment a little less than two hours into the film: a painting of a clown dissolves into a shot of Laura Dern, in some indistinct environment, tiptoeing towards the camera as it pans left. Suddenly, the film speeds up a few frames and we're suddenly treated to the above image, with light blaring into Dern's face, and complete with screeching sounds on the soundtrack. Cut to next shot, which is of Dern reacting as if she had just seen herself. I reacted exactly the same way. The moment doesn't make a lick of sense on a narrative level, but on an emotional level---and it's amazing how compassionate Inland Empire, at heart, really is---it makes all the intuitive, subconscious sense in the world. That's pretty much the way the whole movie works, I think.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Fall Internship Search Concludes

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Looks like my stay at Dow Jones will be going on a little while longer!

Yesterday I had my second interview with the lady at the monitor desk in The Wall Street Journal's South Brunswick office, and basically she offered me a job at the desk for the fall with the understanding that I would be getting internship credit for it through Rutgers. Naturally, I took it.

I'm going to start the week after next, on Monday, Aug. 27. I will be working five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (although I'm told that may change later in the semester). Again, this is mostly proofreading and such, so it's not quite as involved as copy editing, but it includes certain aspects. And yes, I will be getting paid---not as much as I did as a copy-editing intern, but hey, $16 or so an hour is still pretty damn good pay, I'd say, even in a part-time position.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about that.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 21: Sunset/Restless

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Another weekend, another RV trip. This time, we went all the way down south Jersey to Cape May, Wildwood and Atlantic City. To be honest, most of it was pretty dull (although at least now I can say that I've finally been to Wildwood---even if I didn't go on any rides). The only exception was a whale- and dolphin-watching excursion on Saturday evening in which we were able to take in a beautiful sunset in a clear sky. In fact, here's the one picture of it I took on one of my father's Canon cameras, to give you a taste of what it looked like out on the sea:

On another trip-related note: I think our dog Dusty has somehow become rather more hostile toward other dogs since last summer. At the very least, he never barked incessantly at the sight of other dogs the way he did frequently this weekend. Every time a dog would come into his field of vision, he'd start growling, moving his hind legs like a bull in a bullfight or barking loudly. None of this he did in Maine. What happened, Dusty? I guess too much barking at other dogs on the television has trained him to start automatically doing the same thing to other dogs in real life.


Speaking of real life: my real life post-Wall Street Journal---with the exception of the weekend RV trips and the internship interviews in New York---has been pretty unremarkable. Not dull, necessarily; just humdrum. I'm still watching movies on a regular basis (I'm hoping to get more into the work of our two recently deceased film artists, Bergman and Antonioni, because I'm told in every eulogy I read that to not be exposed to their work is to be seriously deficient in one's knowledge and appreciation of film art); once in a while I take some time out of my day to seriously read the news online (mostly the New York Times's Web site); and I'm starting to do more biking, to improve my cardiovascular health.

One thing I haven't really done much of is pleasure-read (well, I guess reading the news online counts, although I do it more out of duty than pleasure). I dunno, I just haven't been in much of a mood to sit down and concentrate for an hour or two to reading a book---a significant change from my high school summers, when one would probably have trouble tearing me away from books. Not sure if this is a good thing. Truth is, these days I feel more restless than anything else, so I find myself jumping at opportunities to go out somewhere, no matter how close or how far it may be. So, planned for this weekend is a possible trip to a friend's new apartment somewhere in Pennsylvania for what I guess is a housewarming party. All my years living my sheltered life here in East Brunswick has most likely conditioned me to be a little nervous about driving to unfamiliar places, especially out of state---but, after this Wall Street Journal internship ended, I found myself both yearning to do something other than sitting in front of my laptop most of the day, and also regretting some of the trips I avoided this summer---to northern New Jersey and Staten Island, among others---just because of my conditioning. Maybe my bike rides are one form of curbing that restlessness (and at least I'm getting some decent exercise out of it).

Readers, this blogger needs things to do!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Transfigured Night: Fallen Angels Back at BAM

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - So apparently BAM is reviving Wong Kar-Wai's glorious 1995 feature Fallen Angels for the week starting yesterday. (If only I had both heard about it before going into the city yesterday, I might have spent a little extra time to catch it!) It's a brand new print struck by Kino International to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

As much as I love this film---in fact, it may well be one of my favorite movies of all time, and personally, I find it more entertaining than his recent films In the Mood for Love and 2046, as much as I respect both of those films---I'm not sure if I feel a great driving need to go out of my way to trek out to Brooklyn to catch it on one of BAM Rose Cinemas' big screens, the same way I did earlier in the summer when I checked out their brief revival of Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 feature Pierrot le fou---and part of the driving need to see Pierrot came from the fact that I was left a bit cold by that film the first time I saw it on VHS a few months ago, so I figured seeing it on a big screen might possibly turn me around to loving the film (it didn't quite do the trick, alas---I still think the film loses steam by its second hour---but it was still lovely to see Raoul Coutard's wonderful color photography in bigger dimensions). Besides, I've already spent so much money in the past few weeks for trips to NYC for internship interviews... But if there's any movie that would probably gain from being seen on a big screen, Fallen Angels---in all its garishly colorful, nocturnal, neon-lit, hyperbolic, lonely and oddly moving splendor---is one that would, I imagine, gain immensely.

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, here's a link to a piece I wrote for the film blog The House Next Door about the film, in which I try to argue for its importance in Wong Kar-Wai's body of work, straddling the fence between his youthful, gleefully modern earlier films (Days of Being Wild notwithstanding) and his more mature and reflective later works, Happy Together onward. What my piece probably doesn't capture, however, is just how intoxicating the experience of watching the film is, especially alone and with all the lights out at night.

Here's a trailer to tantalize anyone who's interested:

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 20: Summer, and Interview Internships, In the City

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I had two more internship interviews in New York today, both with small companies and both related more to film/TV than copy editing. One was with Departure Films, a company that produces reality shows for networks like A&E, Court TV and HGTV. Supposedly I would be mostly helping out with production and post-production there: reviewing tapes, transcribing TV episodes, and probably some administrative stuff. The other was with a woman who works behind the scenes at the Margaret Mead Film/Video Festival at the American Museum of Natural History. It's a documentary festival that runs sometime in November, and I would most likely not only be doing administrative duties there. I would also do some work in public outreach to promote special events at the museum---meaning I would help make and put up flyers and contact universities, organizations and such to try to get the word out on things happening at the museum.

Why these two organizations? Just because they look interesting and fun to me, really---not in the service of some larger copy-editing plan.

I think both interviews went fairly well, although the first one was over pretty quickly---not bad in and of itself, but I felt a little like I wasn't as successful at saying all I wanted to say about myself when I left. I think I was a bit more successful in that regard in the second interview, but...well, let's put it this way: if I don't get it, I don't necessarily think I'll be dwelling too much on that fact. Still, the Departure Films interview was tantalizing in one respect: when I asked the ladies over there about the possibility of compensation for travel, they said that they would be willing to compensate for both travel and lunch. That actually got me rather excited about the possibility of working there---the possibility of being reimbursed for travel expenses and thus getting back all the money I would spend traveling to New York City---even if I end up doing mostly grunt work. As long as I'm in the city, I'd be happy.

Can you tell that I love New York City very much?

Not much to love about being in the city today, however. Last night a storm hit---I heard the thunder loud and clear last night---and somehow it left MTA subway lines all out of kilter. Many lines were down, and people were waiting longer than usual for train rides. And have some of you been in NYC subways during the summer---especially on a day as hot and muggy as today (I think the high hit 95°, with a heat index of about 102° with the humidity added in)? Ugh! It was worse for me, in my long-sleeve white dress shirt with a shirt underneath and black dress pants. At one point in my day, I waited about half an hour for a local A train to come. Luckily, I made it early to both of my interviews today, but the experience of riding MTA was...well, interesting, to put it mildly.

I wonder if all that effort will end up being all for nought, though: as I was heading back to New Jersey, I got a call from someone at Human Resources at Dow Jones, saying they wanted to set up a second interview with me about working part-time there in the fall. Maybe a sign that I'm close to working there again in the fall?

We'll see. Meanwhile, the internship search continues...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Prison of Nature: Rescue Dawn

(Photo courtesy of Top Gun Productions)

"The jungle is the prison." ---Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) to Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) in Rescue Dawn
Nature has always been something of a prisoner in Werner Herzog's films. Both nature and Herzog's 1.37:1 film frame entrapped his conquest-obsessed characters in Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972). And in Fitzcarraldo (1982), while Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald temporarily triumphed over nature by hauling that ship over a mountain, nature eventually helped defeat him as it tried to make its way down a river. In Herzog's most memorable films, nature stands as a great unyielding, uncaring force, resistant to man's ambitions, whether it's bringing high culture to indigenous people or simply---in the case of Dieter Dengler in both Herzog's 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and his new film Rescue Dawn (*** out of ****)---to survive. That those same films are often spectacularly shot and viscerally evocative don't compromise nature's brutality---more accurately, the beauty of nature acts almost as a taunt against the occasional ugliness of man's deeds.

Rescue Dawn---his first American fiction film---isn't quite free of compromise itself, unfortunately. As accessible mainstream entertainment, it certainly stands head and shoulders above the rest of the mostly dull crop this summer in its humanity, intelligence and visual beauty. But as a Werner Herzog work...well, while it has glimmers---significant glimmers, but glimmers nevertheless---of Herzog's personality and obsessiveness, none of them quite overcome the more conventional war-movie elements that run throughout the picture.

Of course, there's another way to read these familiar elements, which I'll try to roughly work out here: If anything, one of the most interesting qualities of Rescue Dawn is a sense that perhaps Herzog is adopting old-fashioned Hollywood war-movie conventions in order to subtly undermine and critique them.

Consider some of the conventions Herzog's films touches upon.

1. At the Laos POW camp where a few Laotians are holding Dieter Dengler and others, for example, the Laotians themselves are essentially treated as villains out of a Rambo picture, with each one given a nickname (Little Hitler, Jumbo, among others) and a cute/scary trait apiece. They're not exactly made human---although, of course, none of the prisoners are wont to see them as human either.

2. Dengler himself---who was captured by Laotians during the Vietnam War after his plane was shot down---is painted as an optimistic good ol' boy, not above giving the occasional stirring speech to his fellow POWs even as he recognizes the physical and emotional hardships of the situation he is in. He loves his country very much, as evidenced in a scene early on in the film when he refuses to sign a document denouncing the U.S. And his fellow POWs---there are five others---are a fairly colorful lot, including Duane Martin, weary and cynical, with a penchant for shitting at nights; and "Gene from Eugene" (Jeremy Davies, in an effectively stylized performance), who speaks like a hippie yet still holds out hope that rescue choppers will come and whisk them home even after being a POW for about 2½ years.

3. The last scene---and heck, much of the movie itself, by extension---is perhaps the most conventional of all, the Herzog equivalent of the slow-clap scene as Dengler is welcomed as a hero after his harrowing ordeal.

But Herzog complicates these cliches in small but notable ways, and these complications are where Herzog's personality---familiar from both fiction films like the aforementioned Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo and nonfiction works like Grizzly Man---becomes most evident. So not all of the Laotians are mean and cruel, and even the nastier ones aren't allowed to be painted as subhuman monsters---even if it's not like we ever get to know or understand them or anything. (Besides, can one blame them for being deeply suspicious of Americans, especially as Americans are raiding and bombing parts of Laos in secret in the early stages of the Vietnam War?) Dengler himself is no jingoistic John Rambo; he says he loves America "for giving him wings," because all he really cares about---as he tells a Laotian and later tells Duane---is flying. (A story he recounts about how he looked into the eyes of an enemy pilot and decided all he wanted to do was fly is indicative of how apolitical both Dengler and the film itself is.) Even the "uplifting" close hits soft notes of subversion: in order to reach that overjoyed crowd on board a naval base, he has to be secretly carted out of an army hospital where he is being questioned by men in black to get information helpful for the war effort. And then, when asked what kind of advice he has for others in his position, Dieter provides some unexpected words: "When something is empty, fill it. When something is full, empty it. When you have an itch, scratch it." Puzzling as they may be at such a moment, to me those words embody Dengler's mindset perfectly: for him, it's not about patriotism or a cause greater than himself, it's all about survival---survival, perhaps, in order to fly again.

Rescue Dawn isn't a pure Herzog film like Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde (1986) or, supremely, Aguirre, but it is still a superior entertainment, gripping, sometimes harrowing, always involving. It's a lot more Hollywood in feel than any of those three features (especially in the way it characterizes the Laotians and Vietcong---a reminder that most films set during the Vietnam War made in this country have dealt more with Americans than with the people on the other side), and while some of it is disappointing in that regard, Herzog still allows enough of his obsessions come through to make it a worthwhile, if imperfect, addition to his distinguished filmography. And by the film's final third---as Dieter and Duane are forced to go it alone---Rescue Dawn begins to feel like quintessential Herzog, with beautiful passages that have the power of a silent film, coasting on the considerable strengths of cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger's surreal, hazy-blue, modestly Apocalypse Now-ish images and Klaus Badelt's moody score (shades of Popol Vuh's indispensable music from Aguirre and other Herzog films from the 1970s and 1980s. With Zeitlinger's and Badelt's help, Herzog is successfully able to evoke the feeling two solitary figures forced to deal with all the challenges cruel nature puts in front of them. The jungle, indeed, becomes a kind of second prison.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Wall Street Journal Internship: A Brief Look Back and a Look Ahead

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Although my Wall Street Journal internship officially ended Thursday, unofficially it came to a close Friday, when a few of my coworkers treated me to dinner at the Alchemist and Barrister restaurant and bar in Princeton, N.J. Tyler, the other intern, had already departed from New Jersey earlier that day to go back home to North Carolina, so basically I was the center of attention---a rather uncommon position for me, even throughout most of this internship, where, by the third day, I was pretty much blending myself into the group.

As much as I enjoyed hanging out with some of the people I've come to know and admire for possibly one last time (unless, of course, I get that monitor-desk position that I blogged about a couple of entries ago, the one that might be able to get counted for internship credit from Rutgers in order to finish off my journalism major and allow me to graduate), my last shift Thursday evening was more memorable for me. Throughout the shift, people were coming up to me left and right, saying their goodbyes and their good lucks...but I also did my own victory lap, saying my own goodbyes to not only other copy editors, but also a few of the reporters on the other side of the room that I came to know during my 10 weeks there.

I didn't shed any tears, but it was a little sad to say goodbye to these people, nearly all of whom were extremely nice and helpful to both of us during our stay here. Even when I was faced with the most difficult of headlines to write in the smallest of spaces, I think I can sincerely say that I enjoyed my 10 weeks there. Yeah, I suppose I did learn a lot about copy editing in general, but I think it'd probably be more accurate to say that I learned a lot about what is expected from copy editors on The Wall Street Journal. I learned just as much by observing others as I did editing copy on my own. And of course it was cool to get a near-complete glimpse into what goes into putting out a paper every day---in the end, we copy editors are only one part of an assembly line that is expected to put out a first-rate product on a daily basis, especially one with the full weight of prestige and history behind it as this publication does.

I'm normally not one to enjoy the anonymity of assembly lines---hey, I rail against assembly-line product when it comes in the form of movies and music all the time. But while it's not like copy editors are celebrated nearly as much as reporters and editors-in-chief or anything, I found myself developing an enjoyment out of catching errors and coming up with informative yet attention-grabbing headlines (even if most of my headlines ended up getting reworked or rewritten by the slot editors---not that I feel bitter about that or anything; in fact, I'm glad for the extra eyes on the copy I'm assigned to edit). I caught quite a few major misspellings and factual errors during my 10 weeks, and almost all of them felt satisfying to catch. Maybe I feel better about assembly lines when I feel the product coming out of that assembly line is something worthwhile.

Anyway, it was a very pleasant and even bittersweet final shift, and when I walked out of the South Brunswick, N.J., Dow Jones office for what may have been the final time, it really felt like the end of some kind of era for me---or, less hyperbolically, the end of an eye-opening, productive, fun stay at a summer camp. The fact that I was there to witness both a copy desk and an entire organization in transition---not only did we deal with the Bancrofts and the rest of the shareholders deciding whether or not to let Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. take over Dow Jones, but I also witnessed one copy desk chief leave for Hong Kong and another one take over---made my internship that much sweeter; it really was a rare privilege to work there at such a fascinating time in Dow Jones history.

Of course, how many summer camps come with an intense two-week pre-summer camp in which I have to go to class every day; take maybe five tests a day; memorize the AP Stylebook, the geography of the world, and other facts; and many other things? Still, as tough as Dr. Edward Trayes' copy-editing boot camp was in the moment, I'll cherish those memories too, if only because that experience was like no other classroom experience I've ever had.


Now that I have the rest of August without The Wall Street Journal, what, some of you may be wondering, will I be doing?

Obviously, I'm still searching for that fall internship---nothing official yet, but some solid leads and a handful of positive interviews. There are rumblings between my parents that a week-long getaway---possibly back to Acadia National Park in Maine. (We went there last year, and faithful readers, remember how that trip ended? With a bitter family argument and an early exit, punctuated by a scene of all of us yelling at each other in the car on our way out of the Howard Johnson's we were staying at in Bangor, Maine. Maybe this is my mother's implicit way of trying to erase that memory...?) And of course, I still have my subscription to Netflix and my DVDs. (Speaking of DVDs...God, I haven't written an official piece of film writing in quite a while! I should think of something to write about and get published...)

If nothing else, I can spend the next three weeks or so pondering what may lie in store for me in the future after I (hopefully) graduate in a few months. Will graduate school be in the cards? Do I want to saddle myself with more debt in order to go to grad school right after college...or do I perhaps want to wait a few years before I make the plunge?

An obvious question, of course, is: what about copy editing, especially after this (I think, successful) internship experience? On the basis of this internship experience alone, I think it's something that I would be comfortable doing as a day job to hopefully support whatever things I'm pursuing on the side. I'm still keeping my eye on the film-criticism prize, but I also have to think practically as well, and if it's true that copy editors are always in demand in the journalism world---heck, in the last couple of weeks at The Wall Street Journal, I was seeing a handful of new faces trying to make their way onto the copy desk---then that sounds as promising a field as any.

It must be said, however, that there is truth to the death knell that is being sounded by many regarding how long print journalism is going to last with the emergence of the Internet and the declining subscription numbers for print outlets. I have no problem believing that, in maybe a decade or two, America may be down to a handful of small print publications and that most of our news will be relocated to the World Wide Web. Is it really all that practical to toss myself into what may be a dying field, print journalism, and hope and pray that I'm able to keep that job for many years? Maybe not.

At this point, I don't have some kind of solid back-up plan in case casting my net into the copy-editing field becomes risky or impractical. Right now, I'm hoping that all these skills I've picked up over the years, as well as a bit of good sense and luck, will enable me to make good decisions and excel in whatever field I choose.

And hell, I haven't even given that much thought to how I plan to advance my film-journalism career. I mean, will that be what I go to grad school for? One thing I know: this will not end up being merely a pipe dream. I'm also pretty sure that I don't plan on being a copy editor all my life, as much as I may enjoy it right now.

Maybe the brutal truth is, I'm essentially in a similar position I was two summers ago, when I was dreading spending the next two or three years at Rutgers pursuing an accounting degree---unsure of my direction in life, perhaps even worrying about whether this current path is one I'm comfortable with. (Come to think of it, I was thinking the same things last summer, most likely.) Granted, I feel like I'm on surer footing right now than I did two years ago...but, as ever with me, the questions remain.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Brokeback Big Daddy: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - To begin this entry, I would like to express my condolences toward all the people affected by the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, including the six (so far discovered, anyway) dead. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have felt being on that bridge at the time it started to show signs of being about to collapse. More worrying, of course, are the reports coming in that indicate that certain authorities had an inkling about the bridge's problems years ago, and that problem were still being repaired when it went down. (Apparently, this isn't an isolated incident after all.)

Of course, traffic going to some of the major venues around that area will become a nightmare---and that fact isn't allayed in the least by the fact that it may take years before that bridge will be fully repaired. Safe to say, it's a real mess (and maybe one that could have been avoided, from what I'm hearing and reading in the news about the incident). At least, I suppose, it'll be a safe nightmare (hopefully) compared to the nightmare of being trapped on a collapsing bridge.


Compared to real-life terror and tragedy, then, discussing movies I've seen---especially one that was burned up by a projector light bulb well before it ended---will inevitably seem insufferably trivial. But I just felt like I had to acknowledge the Minneapolis bridge collapse in some way---so this blog doesn't seem solipsistic all the time.

Yes, you read part of that last paragraph correctly. Today a friend and I went to see Werner Herzog's new film Rescue Dawn, but in its last third, right after one of its characters gets a major wound inflicted by Laotians on one of his legs, the film suddenly seemed to break up right in front of all of our eyes like an effect right out of the late Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Within the context of the action happening on the screen, no way was it intentional, and sure enough, the manager of the theater we were at came in a few minutes later and told us that it would take about 1½ hours to fix. First time that's ever happened to me! So he compensated us by giving us two free passes, one to see another movie that day, and the other...well, on the house, I guess.

I still haven't yet seen the first two Jason Bourne films (Netflix has both on wait), so I didn't feel comfortable seeing the new Bourne Ultimatum (although I do hope to, eventually, because Jason Bourne, from what I've heard about his previous cinematic adventures, seems like an interesting action hero: a killing machine trying to discover his past and maybe regain some of his humanity). Nothing else looked all that appealing to either of us, but we both felt it'd probably be better to see something on the same day and then get the second pass afterward.

Thus, we ended up seeing that new Adam Sandler/Kevin James gay comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (** out of ****). That's how lackluster the rest of the choices other than Bourne Ultimatum were, at least to me. (I guess perhaps we could have just seen something we saw already, like Live Free or Die Hard; maybe I would have enjoyed that movie more on a second viewing, who knows?)

How was it? Well, it's definitely not great. But when it comes to recent Adam Sandler movies, there's a sincerity and sweetness about him underlying his (sometimes welcome) fratboy rage to which I find myself deeply responding, sometimes in spite of the overwhelming critical-elite consensus against him. Such was the case with the mostly reviled Click last year, and such is the case in both Reign Over Me (in which Sandler and Don Cheadle couldn't overcome a gimmicky, unconvincing script and dull direction) and now Chuck and Larry this year.

Like Reign Over Me, Chuck and Larry is a well-meaning if clumsy attempt to say something both funny and meaningful on topical subject matter. In the case of Chuck and Larry, the filmmakers---director Dennis Dugan and screenwriters Barry Fanaro and (believe it or not) Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor---are trying to not only strike a progressive mainstream stance toward homosexuality in America, but also deconstruct and satirize homophobic attitudes, especially the super-macho attitudes of Chuck and Larry's fellow firefighters and also that of rampant boob-chaser Chuck himself. Taking two straight gays, contriving to force them to act gay by adopting the most stereotypical notions of "gay" behavior, and then getting them to start reacting to people as if they really are gay, thus undercutting all those cliches---sounds like a promising idea to me.

Once in a while, the movie actually spins a few genuinely clever and cathartic laughs out of it (including a gag that pokes fun at the fallen-bar-of-soap-in-a-male-shower cliche). Overall, though, Chuck and Larry isn't what I'd call a laugh riot. Some of the gags feel so typically Sandler-ish---in other words, loaded with amateurish smarm towards deliberately grotesque supporting characters---that the sting is taken right out of them simply because of how overfamiliar they feel. And the Rob Schneider-as-Japanese-man bit is as gratuitously offensive as Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany's; I didn't know that kind of racist caricature was still considered funny these days. (There's a bit more casual racism with Ving Rhames playing a scary axe murderer-turned-fireman, even if a midpoint revelation about his character does somewhat deflect such claims on the filmmakers' part.)

The movie, then, isn't a comedy classic, by any means (and it goes too far with Rob Schneider's appearance). But when it comes to accomplishing its admirably compassionate aims---as annoyingly heavy-handed as it sometimes gets (sometimes painfully so), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry isn't nearly as awful as the reviews have suggested it is. I won't oversell it and hail it as some kind of important mainstream breakthrough---it would probably have been infinitely more ballsy to have our two leads maybe play actual gay characters instead of just pretending, and especially braver to see them actually kiss onscreen (at least the too-timid Brokeback Mountain two years ago was brave enough to show that)---but when it comes to treating homosexuals as simply people and exposing the fallacy of societal attitudes that prize machismo over "gay-ness," now and then the film draws real blood. Particularly valuable for me is the way it pokes fun at machismo run amok, and how that testosterone overload spills over to blind homophobia. For instance, whereas Sandler's objectification of and occasional contempt for women was often played for approving laughs in some of his previous comedies, he slyly turns it around here as Chuck and plays it for disapproving laughs. Chuck is made out to be such a manipulative, womanizing jerk at the beginning of the film that, early on, it starts to feel less like the film itself being misogynistic than simply the filmmakers exaggerating Chuck's (and others') misogyny before setting us up for his eventual transformation (when he discovers Jessica Biel's charming lawyer)---yes, that's Sandler's typical arc for his movies, but somehow it feels a bit more convincing this time around (even if Sandler once again isn't quite credible enough as an actor to take it all the way). This time, we're laughing at him rather than with him---a subtle but crucial difference.

In the end, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry demands, in its own preachy and sloppy way, that we look past mainstream notions of "gay" behavior and simply accept people as people, whether gay, straight or gay-posing-as-straight. Sexual orientation, however real or faked, doesn't change the underlying human being underneath. Sounds banal? I suppose, but it's still a healthy and humane viewpoint, and the evident sincerity of the movie and its occasionally sharp and valuable satirical bits once again sneak past my cynical defenses and touches me, no matter how mediocre it may be as a movie. It's a messy and half-realized but admirable step in the right direction...even more so than Brokeback, I daresay (and yes, Ang Lee's film does make an appearance at one point in this movie).

As for Rescue Dawn---well, for what it's worth, I was deeply involved in much of what I saw, but I'm going to use that second free pass to see it all the way through, even if that means sitting through most of the movie again. So I'll reserve thoughts until then.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 19: The Fall Internship Search Continues...

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Another hot and sweaty Thursday, another trip into New York City for another internship interview. This time, it was for Diversion magazine, a leisure magazine for physicians---which isn't to say that its articles are necessarily somehow slanted to apply to physicians, just that only physicians are sent the magazine. Without the targeting of the physicians audience, it'd be just another leisure magazine, full of travel articles and such.

According to the people who interviewed me---including, eventually, the editor-in-chief, a woman who is a Rutgers University, Douglass College alumnus---I would be doing "photo research": looking up pictures for articles in the magazine. In addition, I'd do some fact-checking and maybe a little writing too. Doesn't seem too bad.

I think I hit it off with my interviewers quite well, especially the editor-in-chief. Boy, I wonder if this Wall Street Journal internship hasn't done wonders for my confidence in internship/job interviews...well, I suppose confidence comes easily when you feel like you have something to be confident about, or something to show off.

I was a little late to the interview, though...damn unpredictable mass-transit systems. Well, it's not entirely NJ Transit and MTA's fault; I did leave my house a little later than I had planned, mostly because I still haven't figured out how to tie a tie and had to get my dad to do it. Sad state of affairs. Hope that didn't leave too negative an impression on the people I spoke to over at Diversion; I mean, I did give them a short-notice call to let them know I'd be running a little late (I ended up getting there about 10 minutes late).

Speaking of Wall Street Journal...well, Thursday was my last day there, but I think I'll reserve details on what was a lovely last day for maybe tomorrow or something. For now, I'll just say that there is the slight but unmistakable possibility that I might be hanging on at the Journal---even under Rupert Murdoch ownership (yeah, I still haven't blogged about that; hopefully I'll get to that, too)---not at the copy desk, but at the monitor desk. In other words, proofreading, and lots of it. It's a bit of a downgrade, I suppose, but it sounds doable, and hey, as long as I can get school credit for it, I'm fine with it. And if the monitor-desk chief---who I spoke with at length about this internship possibility on Wednesday---thinks I'm good enough to hire for the fall, part-time, it'd be comparably more convenient for me than traveling to the city a few times a week.

We'll see what happens...