Monday, July 28, 2008

The God Delusion: Review

My English class last semester loved to discuss Richard Dawkins-- Dawkins the fierce and noble scientist, inventor of the meme, cultural critic and genius extraordinaire. This is the Dawkins of "The Extended Phenotype" (1982) and "The Selfish Gene" (1976). But for my first Dawkins-reading experience, I picked up a friend's (signed!) copy of "The God Delusion," which I consider to be a polemic on atheism.

I had my qualms at first. A die-hard atheist in high school, I've grown slightly warmer towards religion in college (although still clearly an unbeliever). My theory, as many secular humanists, was that humanity needs religion to fill the areas of our recently acquired consciousness that we cannot comprehend. Religion is often intertwined with ethnicity and community, and I find nothing wrong with this. But I get overwhelmingly annoyed with religious bigotry, and thus get extremely defensive when somebody claims to "dislike" my ethnicity (one that the clueless call "religion").

"The God Delusion" appealed to my angry side. I read it with relish, although I didn't always agree with the great Richard Dawkins. My criticisms, other than the aformentioned it-is-a-cultural-necessity-incapable-of-being-eradicated argument, are mostly about his tone. His point of view is also entirely scientific, while in the matter of religion it is also necessary to look at atheism from a romantic or artistic perspective. Not everyone is a scientist, but everyone is capable of atheism. Dawkins puts science above all else, which, though noble, is a bit naive.

Also, "The God Delusion" is simply a fun read. Dawkins is surprisingly hip for his years. He even appeared on the Daily Show when the book came out, if I'm not mistaken. And not a chapter goes by without a quote from George Carlin (RIP), Douglas Adams, or the Monty Python crew. I say "fun," but not "funny," although Dawkins does attempt some misguided jokes. But all is well. Dawkins is charmingly British.

There are also some spectacular quotes in the book from renowned atheists, as well as hilarious nerdy references. If anyone ever sees the book, skip to page 85 for a quick laugh (or just find the God Proof section in

To conclude, a quote from a quote of the book, on pages 354-5:

"I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man's place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own."
-Bertrand Russell, 1925

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lucky Boys Confusion

Yesterday, a truly landmark experience: my first pop punk show. Granted, I dislike most pop punk. It annoys me. Two things define pop punk for me, and that is: 1. a nasal-voiced lead singer, and 2. unbearably simple guitar chords. Yet Lucky Boys Confusion is truly an amazing band. Almost every one of their songs is catchy. "Bossman" is simply brilliant. "One to the Right" and "40/80" are also spectacular. So I decide to go to their show with a friend who has been to no less than 23 of their concerts (I feel it's always better to go with a die-hard fan for a better experience).

And you know what? It was great. It was the most fun I've had in a while. Even after being trampled by a stage-diver.

Goodbye, calm and repetitive indie shows. Hello, noise and chaos! This is not to say that I am no longer an indie rock devotee. Far from it (for goodness sake, I nearly went to Pitchfork!). But a concert simply isn't as fun unless there is violent and highly dangerous dancing involved. I guess you could call LBC my first "real" concert, including these essential ingredients: 1. crowd-surfers, 2. stage-divers, 3. devil-horn fingers (or however they're called-- metalhead-hands?), 4. people taking their shirts off, 5. sweat soaking through your shirt, 95 percent of which is not your own, 6. awkward bumping and grinding, and, last but not least, 7. mild-to-serious bodily injuries.

Even ten hours after the concert my ears were still ringing. Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a concert experience. So anyone who hasn't heard LBC, download or buy an album immediately. This was by far the best show of my life. Besides, LBC is a legitimately good band-- talented, interesting, catchy: slightly ska, with reggae and hip-hop influences. But the lyrics are the best part; many of the songs deal with working class and immigrant experiences (the lead singer is a first-generation Indian immigrant), which makes my little refugee heart happy as could be. AND they're from Chicago. Can it get any better?

This song in particular, though not at all popular or played often, and really just the intro to another song, makes me tear up a bit every time:

"South Union"

I left you in the morning
Still drunk of melodrama
You're so pretty
So natural
but I have to salvage honor
Down your spiral stair case,
the television I bought you
Took a deep breath
of your "endless love" perfume
The carnage,
that the storm left 6 inches on the ground
The south side of Chicagostands eerily so sound
I look up at your window
hand out as if to touch you
You used to be so perfect,
why did I ever meet you

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Landmark

If you don't already know, my job this summer is working in a movie theatre. But not just any movie theatre-- Landmark Theatres, the only one still spelling it the British way (theatRE not theatER), just the way I do. Landmark is currently the only movie theatre chain playing only foreign and independent films, which means that it is largely due to the landmark that people see movies like "La Vie en Rose," "Inconvenient Truth," or "Paprika." Basically, I am a landmark theatres tool. I upsell and cross-sell like no other, and actually (lo and behold!) want the company to benefit as much as possible. Plus I get free pop, nachos, and popcorn. And I haven't had the time to write that many film reviews, but let's just say I've seen 5 of the 7 movies currently showing. I will describe 4, since I've already mentioned "the Fall."

Here they are, with snippets of short reviews:

The Last Mistress

Asia Argento stars in this "bodice-ripper," as my friend Alex called it. A period piece, the film is set in 19th century France, which means costume details, lace, and fans galore. No female in this movie is overwhelmingly attractive, and the lead male is more feminine than either of the women, but the sheer sexuality of the movie is worth a peek. The plot is minimal: a man is set to marry a noble woman, but the man has been sleeping with another woman-- Spanish, wild, and somewhat crazy-- for 10 years. During the movie he attempts to rid himself of his dependency on the wildwoman. As a film, something doesn't quite work. The ending is abrupt. Much of it, though serious, seems comical, and I think this is done on purpose. Unlike many period pieces, shot with virtually no creativity, "The Last Mistress" uses less respectful but more emotional and exciting cinematography. Most importantly, this is the first movie I have ever seen that continuously focuses on the female orgasm, and does it pretty well. On the whole, the movie is ambigous and difficult.

Tell No One

French thriller about a man set up for the murder of his wife 8 years ago, then wakes up one morning to find an email from her sitting in his inbox. Cue general thriller activities-- car chases, foot chases, guns, murder, red herrings, plot twists-- and insert amazing camerawork, good American rock music, gorgeous actors and actresses, and the French language (sexy in and of itself), and you have Tell No One. Many have described it as the perfect thriller, and I'd have to agree. This one's just too much fun. Who doesn't like those oh-so-European close-ups of women walking in high heeled shoes?

Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Fans of the Doctor Thompson will attest that this documentary about the inventor of Gonzo journalism is exactly what they expected. And they'd be right. But I see this in a more positive light: the movie gave me exactly what I wanted. It looked like it jumped right out of Rolling Stone magazine (one of my favorite publications) and onto a movie projector. It was cool, and sizzling, full of pop culture references, politics, and hatred of authority figures. You expect, when watching the movie, a glorification of the '60s and '70s, and boy did this film deliver. You expect Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones. In these terms, it was great, if a bit too long. My only criticism is that the film doesn't accomplish as many modern-day comparisons as the trailer suggested. They only offhandedly mention that Hunter Thompson committed suicide partially due to the Bush Administration, and his enormous hatred of it. Only in the last five minutes do they compare Iraq to Vietnam. But it's still well worth a viewing, whether you've read/seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas multiple times or not. Plus, Johnny Depp narrates it, and his voice alone is well worth the price of the movie ticket.

The Visitor

I've already written a review of this movie, so here's all you need to know: it's the best-reviewed movie we have at the Landmark so far (over 90% on!) but it's simply not very memorable. It's sweet, the acting is solid, but it's relatively uninteresting, and a little cliche. There are two sides to the story. On one hand, we see a story of midlife re-awakening. A middle-aged economics professor is a living zombie: emotionally numb, entirely ambitionless, and largely apathetic. Thin-lipped and dry, always with a glass of red wine in his hand, Walter reminds us of our least favored professors. To put it bluntly, he isn’t a very likeable character. One afternoon he finds a Syrian twenty-something with his Senegalese girlfriend sharing his well-kept apartment in NYC. Initially, Walter politely asks the squatters to leave, but then asks them to stay out of guilt. Tarek brings a much-needed spark into the academic’s life, even teaching him the art of the African drum. But it's also a story of immigration post-9/11, and the troubles honest people have in an age of constant fear. It's a well-meaning story, done well, with little enthusiasm.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Freaks and Geeks

Hey kids, love Knocked Up and Superbad but want something a little less well-known to add to your collection of old prematurely-cancelled '90s shows? Add this to your repertoire between Twin Peaks and Popular: Judd Apatow's first creation, Freaks and Geeks. It's brilliant and hilarious, if somewhat cheesy-- something that perhaps characterizes all Apatow's creations.

I shouldn't get ahead of myself, though. Apatow produced it; the show itself was created by Paul Feig. And I lied-- it isn't really a '90s show (1999-2000 SO doesn't count). But it's remarkably well done. As always, the writing is sharp, the direction immaculate. And somehow it got me really nostalgic for high school. That, and re-awakened slight crushes on Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. This little show, with only 12 episodes aired on TV, launched the careers of these two as well as Samm Levine, James Franco, and others. And is it just me or does Linda Cardellini look like the clone (or original?) of Juno?

At first I related to Lindsay Weir, the main character pictured here in the green army coat, because I assumed she would somehow travel between the "freaks" and "geeks" of her high school, sort of like I did. In reality (or tv's virtual reality) Lindsay desperately wants to fit into the "freaks," who, contrary to city kids, are the stereotypical suburban bad kids (throwing keggers, trashing houses, egging little kids on halloween, absurd amounts of PDA...). But in my high school, the freaks and geeks often blended together. Then again, my mostly working-class CPS school isn't really typical of what most would consider an American high school. Maybe it's time to change that? The suburbs are over-represented in high school satires anyhow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This American Life

My friend Kirsten said something offhand about This American Life a few weeks ago, so when I saw it available on Netflix Instant Viewing I decided to give it a go. Who knew? One of the most highly esteemed and well reviewed radio shows (and now TV show) ever started in my hometown! I will certainly be tuning into Chicago Public Radio more often.

The show is what it is: a snapshot, 10-60 minutes long, of an American life. I've only seen three episodes thus far, but it has blown me away. There's some sort of mix of voyeurism and objective journalism involved in liking this show... an in-depth look into the joys and sufferings of another, without ever condescending to the characters/people involved.

I can't say much after 3 episodes, but after reading the wikipedia article I was amused to find it labeled as "hip" and "trendy." Sure, Ira Glass may wear those oh-so-Lower-East-Side Buddy Holly glasses, but what is it that actually makes This American Life seem... hip?

That said, I was absolutely fascinated by how cultured it was, without ever being elitist (then again, as a Columbia student I have a ridiculously high tolerance for elitism). And apparently Ira Glass is directly related to Philip Glass, (neo-?)classical composer extraordinaire (you might remember him from Chuck Close pieces). And this secular Jew found herself wondering how the hell so many of us can be successful without that many of us left (since some of us discovered that 1. parenting is surprisingly difficult, and 2. birth control is, indeed, fabulous). And then I realized: Jews are in. Jews are trendier than weezer glasses and ironic tees. We're the pasty kids with inhalers in grammar school who get made fun of, develop neuroses, and thus become either Woody Allen/Jerry Seinfeld hilarious or just plain smart. Well, that or live in their parents' basements playing DnD (Dungeons and Dragons for you non-nerds out there).

Huge generalization, but you know how all generalizations are part true anyway. Like that Russian saying that all jokes are 5% joke (also translated as all anecdotes are 5% anecdote). Freud and Mother Russia have my back.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Explanation, etc.

So you might be wondering: what the heck is this blog about? I don't really write many personal entries, so it isn't necessarily a travel blog or autobiographical one.

And you might be asking, what's with all the random reviews? For one, I just love writing reviews, and want to spread some love. I'm also spending much of my time researching urban subcultures, so all of them are somehow connected to one or more of them. Hence the slightly hipster title ripped off of the Pixies song, Subbacultcha.

You might notice my blog list on the right hand side. Although I truly like each of those blogs-- some of which, like stuffwhitepeoplelike, is just hilARIous--it also speaks about a specific subculture.

Examples: urban outfitters, which is clearly indie/hipster/scenester. The sartorialist, which is somewhat hipster/scenester, but more so yuppie. Postsecret is sort of emo but also nerdy and covers all sorts of subcultures. Mitch Clem's blog, which is punk. The rest are friends' blogs that I find interesting.

I've compiled a list of subcultures (or subbacultchas, if you will). Many blend into one another. I'm also making a chart. *Ahem*: Nerd, indie, hipster, scenester, yuppie, granola, hippie, BoBo, punk, ska, hardcore punk, straight-edge punk, vegan punk, anarchist punk, pop punk, emo, goth, metalhead, folkie, pothead, hardcore metal. If anyone has more ideas, just let me know.

In other news, a friend showed me this funny (though poorly voiced and somewhat tacky) webcomic/video: Hilaaarious.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fall

Let's just say this movie was much anticipated. I had seen the trailer many months ago and expected a Jodorowsky-type Dali-influenced spectacle. Who knew it actually had a plot? Now a confession about my movie taste: style is far more important than substance. So although "The Fall" is, by and large, mostly a B + movie, it gets full marks in beauty and power.

Mostly, the film is about storytelling. Director Tarsem Singh shot this movie on location in 28 countries, so you know the story has to be impressive. Set in 1915 Los Angeles, a poor Romanian girl recovers from a broken elbow in a covenant hospital. Clever yet gullible and quite silly, she befriends a fellow patient who weaves an exciting story. Really the only interesting parts of the movie were the Dali-esque story scenes. But just imagine how breath-taking these moments were on screen: an elephant swimming in an ocean, a Moroccan town painted completely blue, golden hills of sand beneath a cerulean sky... and the cinematography! Oh, the cinematography! *gasp*

Then there's the amazing soundtrack, comprised of only one song: the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony no. 7. Now, if you haven't heard it before, here's an excerpt:

Now you can understand how this one 9-minute piece can serve as the framework for a film.

Usually I judge how good movies are on the after-affects, and this one certainly has it. Rottentomatoes gives it a 53%, and though I usually trust the tomato meter, in this case I have to strongly disagree. "The Fall" is amazing. Perhaps not amazing enough to buy, or even to beg the Landmark for the poster, but wow. That said, you either love it or hate it, so don't take my word for it. Support your local Landmark Theatre and see it! My poor minimum-wage earning soul will love you forever.