july 07



Alex Garland was one of my favorite novelists back in high school. How can I resist a writer that describes his own work as: “Genre. Written with affection for previous books, comics, and films. All wrapped up in stoner ‘philosophy’”? So many people hyped him as the heir presumptive to J G Ballard, but several years later, revisiting his two novels, The Beach and The Tesseract, I see them only as works of promise. One of many things that makes Ballard a speculative-fiction writer par excellence, is his capacity to craft a fantastic ending. Garland’s books unravel soporifically halfway through (and that’s probably why I hadn’t even noticed he published a third novel in 2004, The Coma, until checking Wikipedia today.)

I suppose it’s like first listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, before discovering My Bloody Valentine and then trying to listen to BRMC again; nevertheless Garland is still very very young (37) and Ballard only got rolling – with The Drowned World – in his forties. In the meantime, Garland’s making diversions into cinema, with similarly uneven success. Don’t get me wrong, I loved 28 Days Later…but…the first half. Three endings were filmed (which usually means that all of them are lacking) and I wonder if their latest film. Sunshine might also have been pasted together with a roulette wheel.


The incessantly illuminating Geoff Manaugh points out exactly what it was that made the film hard for me: the first half is brilliant. Really, really brilliant. The second half isn’t. “At the risk of wildly exaggerrating the philosophical depth of the first 5/6ths of the film, this seems roughly akin to throwing in a serial killer for the last three chapters of Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Nietzsche is chased through the claustrophobic rooms of his mountain home – or adding the Son of Sam to the grand finale of the Tao Te Ching,” he writes.


Perhaps it was the A/C, or my coffee, or my pleasant mood that day, but I was in love at first sight: the extraordinary visual effects, Underworld’s Gyorgy Ligeti-tribute, the thoughtful characters, the golden spacesuits (!), and the heterodoxy of a familiar science fiction trope: the crew isn’t headed to the moon or beyond, but to the sun. But after the first hour, my love just died. The ending was excruciatingly horrible, comparable to Jason X, the Friday the 13th sequel set in space in the 25th century.

I love pulpy sci-fi as much as the next person, and appreciate the range from pseudo-serious (Gattaca) to utterly ridiculous (The Island, and aforementioned Jason X), but what I badly want is for someone to make a film as good, or nearly as good, as 2001. There was Dark City, of course, but an underground nightmare tale can’t ever quite capture the imagination like a spaceship traveling to the great unknown.

Several months ago, I heard Marvin Minsky speak about his role as adviser on the set of 2001, giving me an entirely new appreciation of the film. Minsky – himself one of two men (the other was Carl Sagan) that Isaac Assimov called the smartest he’d ever met – explained that Stanley Kubrick was a quick-study and grasped all the concepts Minsky explained immediately. I guess I can’t fault Garland and director Danny Boyle for not being superhuman Kubrickian geniuses, but they could, at the very least, finish what they started, which is to say, let the characters come to terms with their imminent death, as we knew they would straight from the beginning (that is not a spoiler.)


The film is still worth seeing. There is one sequence in particular that stands out as one of the finest I can remember in years (when Capa and Kaneda put on the gold spacesuits.) And the cast is wonderful, most photogenic among them being Cillian Murphy, who has such an interesting, alien-esque face, I am not at all surprised to see he’s now filming another sci-fi film, about as a “pair of identical twins are separated by Russian scientists to determine if they can communicate with each other while one is kept on earth and the other is launched into space.”
I don’t really think he’s attractive (to which a number of gals seem to disagree) but were he in a restaurant eating a couple tables away from me, I’d find it very difficult not to stare.


Other assorted good things: the set design is gorgeous, avoiding cliche. The oxygen garden, in particular, is a work of inspired beauty, and yes, gosh, those gold spacesuits. From the beginning, it achieves a contemplative mood that is difficult to get in science fiction (cf: Soderberg’s disasterous attempt at Solaris.) One of the first scenes shows a man desperately arguing with the spaceship intercom AI, requesting she let him view the sun in as high intensity as he possibly can. Later on, they all gather to view the beauty of the planet mercury, knowing this is something they, and no one else, alone will ever see

Posted by site admin at 2:58 pm |

Comments Off Edit This



Fashionista (via Iris) has scanned the ENTIRE November 2002 issue of Sassy:


Posted by site admin at 5:50 pm |

Comments Off Edit This



We once had the option to record TV shows and movies (remember the double decks to copy rental tapes?) But we drank the DRM kool-aid and phased out our VCRs. Now we buy DVD TV sitcom seasons off Amazon for $49.99. (Don’t try to tell me the director’s commentary and scene selections make up the difference.)

Just as irrationally, we buy bottles of water for $1.12 … again and again and again. And we buy those bottles even though water is basically free.

Sorry H20 connoisseurs – tap water tastes like bottled water tastes like WATER. So why do you buy bottled water? Would you buy bottled air or bottled stones? Fast Company’s Charles Fishman has a special report attempting to figure out why people pay for something that is basically free, “Yes, it’s just a bottle of water – modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer. But when a whole industry grows around supplying us with something we don’t need – when a whole industry is built on the packaging and the presentation – it’s worth asking how that happened, and what the impact is.”

Fishman does the math: “If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly bills would run $9,000.”

Sales of those “squiggly light bulbs,” as my aunt calls them, show that dollar saving is the first “green” people consider in the marketplace. And we’d all buy hybrid cars if we still got tax breaks. Yet, the most simple way to save – literally – a buck, still escapes most of us.

Bottled water sales are likely why hallway bubblers (remember those?) are broken or nonexistent. And forget trying to refill your bottle with a bathroom tap – public bathroom sinks typically lack the height and width to allow a complete refill. Tap water drinkers like me have to hold it slightly crocked and only fill the bottle halfway. (Hey, anyone want to go into business with me and design swan-necked bottles specifically for refilling from the tap?)

It’s also worth noting that airport screeners have no problem with empty bottles. Perhaps owing to their mid-80s interior design, the one place bubblers are readily available are in airports.

Posted by site admin at 12:37 am |

Comments Off Edit This



You can’t box up an old building and store it in the attic until it looks cool again. The best a janky motel owner can hope for is for a hipster clientele to come in and ironically appreciate old facades. But will anyone bother to spend the night?

There’s a scene in Swingers where they walk into a Vegas casino – The Stardust – and it’s full of old ladies. Then they argue whether or not they should head down the street to one of the newer places. But those energy-inefficient glittering neon lights and dirty orange carpets offered an authentic Vegas lounge-cat fantasy. You can’t picture Dean Martin sipping gibsons by the bar or Sammy on stage singing, if the interior design of a casino is even vaguely Scandinavian.


Sadly, the Stardust – the last piece of old school left on the strip – was razed in March. (Yet another reason why I regret forgetting my digital camera when I was there last summer.) “Echelon Place,” a $4 billion venture, will take over the lot, and likely be a complex of Cirque de Soleil, Italian high end clothing boutiques, and superstar chef eponymous eateries, like most of the rest of the strip’s current real estate.

Might someone argue The Stardust was a historic landmark as essential to Americana as Plymouth Rock or Monticello?


I was reminded of this while reading Wayne Curtis’ article in The Atlantic nostalgic for vintage motels in Treasure Island, Florida.

Around Florida’s coast, skyscraper condos are replacing fun space-age and tiki-themed mid-century motels. “[As] the number of these old motels falls, I like to think that their value will rise and they’ll be saved and savored,” Curtis begins.


He talks to one vintage motel owner – a former fashion executive – who is hoping to revamp his property with a mix of old and new charms – wifi, pool-side bingo, flat screen TVs, and synchronized swimmers. That motel could be a big hit, in the same way that glitzy bowling alleys have taken off in major cities. But if you’ve ever gone to Lucky Strike or Jillian’s, you know the experience is nothing compared to the dingy dive bowling alley on the outskirts of town.

So what’s going to happen to all the panhandle motels that haven’t found hipster-baiting investors? The article ends with Curtis in Ft lauderdale listening to the din from construction of Trump International, over what was, naturally, an old motel.

But what can they do? One writer Curtis interviewed seems to think that the right buzz could get irony-seeking hipsters to flock to Treasure Island. I’m not convinced.


The Wallpaper(*) magazine reading jetset live by upscale W-style boutiques. And hipsters of the Red Hook and Astoria sort are unlikely to leave their city without a couch to crash on.

Part of the reason we so often reference Philip K Dick today is he was the lone sci-fi writer to imagine that in the future we’ll obsess over the past, and value antiques over white spacesuits. But the great thing about antiques is the tangibility to the past. Motels offer nothing but fleeting memories. A vintage motel might be fun to look at, but sleeping and eating in it – transfat, bedbugs, and all – is a whole nuther story.

Going back to what Curtis said about the value increasing with scarcity – that seems to be happening up north in Cape Cod. Along Truro’s shoreline, there is series of hatbox-sized rooms at Days Cottages. Each is named after a different flower – Zinnia, Violet, Petunia, etc. And each is fully booked summer after summer. Many curbside motels have closed but the most iconic are cherished.

And plenty of loopy post-WWII architecture can be found untouched in Southern California. For one thing, the city limits keep expanding (By the year 3000, all of the United States will be part of “Los Angeles.”) It’s the only place where finding a new cool neighborhood is more of a matter of building it rather than gentrifying an existing one. Secondly, Los Angeles is – as Anthony Lane (or maybe David Derby) wrote in his review of the Black Dahlia – a city in love with its past. So much in love, it seems perpetually stuck in–and revising – its dreamy noir history. Just look at these Santa Monica apartment names (via Things Magazine). This is a city where old movies are played on the side of a mausoleum in the cemetery where Jayne Mansfield and Valentino are buried. The amazing confectionary erzatz architecture of the 40s, 50s, and 60s may be hard to sustain as a motel’s facade, but hotdog stands, dive bars, and diners carry-on the tradition just fine.

Posted by site admin at 2:05 am |

Comments Off Edit This



Almost seven years ago, I went to the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland and since then I’ve probably made a dozen or so blog entries alluding to it. Well, now I’ve got a new pretentious museum to continually reference – the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in Culver City, which I visited a couple weeks ago. Judging by the name, I was expecting an investigation of ancient robots and abacuses and aqueducts. The New Yorker recently had an article on the Antikythera Mechanism, with an aside note saying that there automatons in Ancient Greece, but they were designed more for entertainment than utility – “simulations of animals and men, cleverly engineered to sing, blow trumpets, and dance, among other lifelike actions.” I’ve tried without much luck to find more about the ancient Greek robots, and hoped MJT might be the place.

Well, it wasn’t, but what it was is even more wonderful. The museum is an enormous cabinet of curiosities. Unsurprising now, as I later learned the curator is behind Cabinet magazine, a wonderful, wonderful quarterly. Included are investigations of Cat’s Cradle and other string games, oil painting of the dogs Soviets sent on space missions, letters of “advice” civilians sent to astronomers, a history of medicinal old wives tales, and many things made in miniature. Right now, there is a display on Dr Shea Zellweger’s Logic Alphabet models, a mind-boggling series of wooden models and diagrams.



If you are in the Los Angeles area any time soon, you have no excuse to miss it. Plus, the book selection is probably the best of any gift store I’ve ever seen – including Flann O’Brien’s The Third Man, Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonte, and a biography of Athanasius Kircher.

Posted by site admin at 3:29 pm |

Comments Off Edit This


My review of Rebecca Mead’s book One Perfect Day appeared in the Sunday Washington Times last week:

If the cost of a wedding were directly proportional to a couple’s love for one another, Donald and Melania Trump would be the Romeo and Juliet of our time. Clearly something other than romance is driving the $161 billion wedding industry. In her new book, “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding,” New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead, a bitingly funny Englishwoman, reveals how lavish weddings thrive on our country’s worst insecurities.

One thing that always bugged me about weddings: on what planet is a white ankle-length gown and hair pulled back tight enough to restrict facial movement, considered sexy?


Posted by site admin at 3:04 pm |

Comments Off Edit This



Two new things:

A very funny interview with Audacia Ray for Bookslut and my new column on “memory erasing” drugs for PTSD sufferers

Posted by site admin at 11:42 am |

Comments Off Edit This


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: