One day when I was a little kid, I was at my grandma’s house being watched by a few of my aunts and uncles in their early 20s. A commercial for a new flavor of ice cream came on TV, and everyone agreed it looked good. My uncle went out, got in the car, bought some ice cream, and brought it back. As we ate it, I thought, “So this is what it means to be an adult. When you want something, you just go get it.”
I remembered that afternoon tonight as I got in my car to drive from Minneapolis to Hudson, Wisconsin. It’s Sunday, which means that Minnesota liquor stores are closed by law: if you want to buy some beer, you can either go to a bar or go to Wisconsin. I wanted to fill the fridge, so I pointed my Taurus toward the St. Croix River.
Even more than the beer, really, I wanted to drive for a while on the open highway in the setting sun. Most days I take my car to work in St. Paul, but that’s rush-hour city driving. To distract myself and to allay the frustration, I usually listen to audiobooks while commuting. Tonight, I wanted to roll my windows down and listen to some loud music.
Working on the Internet, you grow accustomed to a floating, rootless feeling: news from the other side of the world bumps up against tweets from five feet away, and the sun never sets. Driving through fields of soybeans at Minnesota’s eastern edge, I felt acutely in and of a particular place and time—a time in history that was slipping away with the sunlight.
When sociologist Orlando Patterson asked Americans, a few years ago, what activities they associate with freedom, he was disappointed to find that very few mentioned voting or exercising their first-amendment right to free speech. Instead, most of his respondents talked about their cars. Americans love to drive, and to many of us, our cars are the most tangible representations of what we consider freedom.
Will that last? It seems unlikely that it will, alternative-fuel technology notwithstanding. Our car culture—especially our fossil-fueled car culture—is unsustainable, and if we survive the next several decades of global warming, our great-great-grandchildren certainly won’t be hopping in their Fords to combust fuel as casually as we do now. The American age of the automobile is waning, and we’ll need to find another way to feel free.
Almost certainly much nearer in the future is the demise of the blue law banning Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota. After decades of shoulder-shrugging, a new generation of Minnesotans with a more acute perspective on the absurdity of this puritan law are agitating for its repeal. Whether or not that happens before Super Bowl XXVI shines the international spotlight on our Sabbath-day dryness, the change seems inevitable. My first Sunday border beer run might turn out to have been my last.
Though I’d crossed that border to Wisconsin innumerable times, I’d never done so on Sunday explicitly with alcohol purchase in mind. I realized, when I got to Wisconsin, that I’d subconsciously expected Wisconsinites to be waiting at the roadside with bushels of booze at pop-up establishments like produce stands. Instead, when I chose what looked like the first exit, I had to drive past several Hudson hotels before I found a strip-mall liquor store.
I pulled in next to another car from Minnesota, which contained the only other customer browsing the beer coolers. I grabbed a case of New Glarus Spotted Cow, an ale that holds mythic status in Minnesota because it isn’t distributed outside Wisconsin. “You can take it there to drink it,” said the clerk when she saw my Gopher State ID, “but you can’t take it there to sell it.”
Obeying her injunction, I brought the bottles back and stashed them in a private refrigerator, to be enjoyed exclusively by me, my girlfriend, and maybe our neighbors if they come to hang out on the shared porch where we’re now tapping on our laptops while sipping Spotted Cow. I wanted this beer, so I got in my car and went to get it, because I could.
It’s a beautiful Minnesota night circa summer 2014, and there will never be another quite like it.
Appropriately for a franchise centering on robots with the ability to dramatically change their appearance, the Transformers stories have evolved from a small toy line and gently absurd comic—created, on Hasbro’s order, to provide a new American narrative involving pre-existing toy molds from Japan—into a series of four increasingly gargantuan feature films directed by Michael Bay.
Really, it hardly seems appropriate to call Transformers: Age of Extinction a “movie” at all. It’s more akin to an IMAX symphony: a symphony in the mode of Mahler, sprawling and clamoring, disdaining conventional niceties of structure and development in favor of its own logic of scaffolded, massive happenings.
There’s a plot, but there might as well not be: it’s clear that Bay is not going to be bound by time, place, or character when it comes to doing precisely what he wants to do with $165 million. For the fifth Transformers film, Bay really ought to abandon a conventional plot altogether and just make a three-hour battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron (now Galvatron, in an increasingly rare nod to the first-generation continuity).
Then, we could be spared the mockery of character development we’re subjected to in Age of Extinction, as hot-single-dad Cade (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to let go of hot-teen-daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). We could also let go of the ethnic stereotypes that, in what I can only interpret as an anti-PC fuck-you, are actually dialed up from the original comics and cartoons. We used to have the black Transformer, the Brooklyn Transformer, and the British Transformer; now we have the Samurai Transformer (Ken Watanabe), the Hogan’s Heroes Transformer (John Goodman), and the exaggeratedly black Transformer (Reno Wilson).
What makes Age of Extinction compelling, in its way, is Bay’s total commitment to spectacle. As Transformers and humans slide down buildings, jet into the stratosphere, and barrel through countless windows, Bay’s camera flits around like a paparazzo. There are a lot of flying shards of things in Age of Extinction, and the motion frequently slows down so we can fully appreciate the detail of Bay’s digital creations. Even the light seems computer-generated: 3D lens flares seem as tangible as beach balls.
I say “spectacle” rather than “thrills” or “excitement,” because though the tempo of Age of Extinction is consistently high (except in the excruciating scenes of would-be family drama, as Walhberg makes wincingly meta references to his daughter’s tiny Daisy Dukes), Bay—seemingly by choice—foregoes almost every opportunity to create a genuinely suspenseful situation.
Only one scene, as Walhberg is chased down the terraced exterior of a Hong Kong apartment complex by a CIA officer, is sufficiently anchored in tangible space and time for the audience to become invested in what falls where; another promising scene, as humans crawl along vertiginously high moorings between a spaceship and the Sears Tower, disintegrates into jump cuts and whiny, gendered dialogue (Dad, Boyfriend, and Daughter venture forth; guess which one gets scared? Bingo!) until a Transformer comes along to bring us back to our regularly scheduled commotion.
Towards the end, the super-size Dinobots are summoned, but they’re almost incidental: the climactic showpiece of the film is a sequence that has a powerful spaceship sucking ships and cars up into its maw, then dropping them several hundred feet to rain down on the implausibly lucky human characters below. The soundtrack throbs and buzzes, theater seats shaking as objects the size of small skyscrapers pound against the ground. To continue the symphonic simile, this is Bay’s Ode to Joy.
Transformers: Age of Extinction represents Michael Bay turning the Michael-Bay to 11. It’s an extreme film, and moviegoers looking for this particular brand of extreme experience won’t want to miss it. Moviegoers looking for an actual movie may want to look elsewhere.
Jersey Boys, the 2005 jukebox musical that tells the (more or less) true story of Frankie Valli, is one of the sturdiest and most enjoyable Broadway shows of its type. Focusing on the relationships among the Four Seasons—in particular between Valli and guitarist Tommy DeVito—gives writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice room to explore resonant themes of trust and betrayal that go beyond the daddy issues, drug abuse, and lost love that generally provide fodder for this sort of show. It also grounds the show in a specific place and time…or, really, in the timeless milieu of “Jersey.”
Clint Eastwood’s new film adaptation seems to be aimed at bridging the gap between Jersey Boys on Broadway and Goodfellas in the cinema, but that’s a long gap to bridge, and Eastwood falls short somewhere north of Newark. The swift pace and broad caricatures that help Jersey Boys play well on stage feel rushed and off-putting when translated to the screen. The film never comes near being convincing as a gritty slice of life, but Eastwood’s efforts in that direction weigh down the musical scenes and would-be lighter moments. Though the plot is more than sufficient to tie a string of songs together onstage, there’s not enough substance in this script to fuel the quiet close-ups Eastwood positions as emotional apotheoses.
Eastwood is indisputably a gifted director, with some fine films under his belt, but these days it’s hard to separate his filmmaking from his bizarro interview with Obama-as-chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Was Eastwood drawn to this material because it seems to valorize individual responsibility and hard work, the personal traits that Republicans think can do the work of a progressive tax code? Did Eastwood’s GOP friends guffaw at the flamboyantly gay Bob Crewe, as played by Mike Doyle?
Notwithstanding the fact that co-writer Elice is gay, I couldn’t help squirming at the laugh line when Crewe tells the Four Seasons they’re in trouble if they need to have him explaining the lyrics of a song about being wrapped around a girl’s finger; Crewe isn’t just a gay character, he’s the Gay Character. That’s in keeping, of course, with a film that also has the Alcoholic Mother, the Wayward Teen, the Awkward Virgin, and…well, I won’t give away the other stereotypes. You can see the film and enjoy them for yourself.
Will your parents and grandparents like Jersey Boys? Yeah, probably. The source material is too solid for Eastwood to entirely ruin it, and no movie co-starring Christopher Walken can be all bad. Even if the musical scenes don’t soar, the music itself is timeless, and anyone whose youth was soundtracked by the Four Seasons’ harmonies will still feel their power. The shame is that Jersey Boys isn’t anything more than an exercise in nostalgia. The songs, if not the boys, deserve better than this.
bitterreaper: I was asked to take on the absolutely enormous responsibility of writing a story about someone's life. I'm anxious. Any tips or suggestions? Also, could you check out my blog and tell me what you think of my work? I'm looking for feedback from anyone and everyone, even if its negative. I want to know what people think. Sorry for being so needy :D Thanks!
if you’re writing about someone you know, ask them if they’d be ok with you spinning their life into something more exaggerated and story-like, and how much detail they’re ok with you getting into.
the truth about writing about people in your life is that you can’t play it safe and only say things you’re sure won’t offend anyone. it’s when you get into the hard, uncomfortable stuff that the story gets meaningful. if they’ll be offended by you going there, pick someone else to write about.
if you’re just writing about someone you don’t know, or a fictional person, then you can really go nuts. in that case you might get paralyzed by the lack of constraints, so try to give yourself some self-imposed limits. Does it all have to occur in a Wal-Mart? Should it be less than 1500 words? Should it be from the point of view of a neighbor? Do something to narrow your focus in a challenging, interesting way.
Quick – name all the times you can remember characters in movies or shows having abortions. Is it zero times? Maybe one if you watched Friday Night Lights? What about the amount of times characters in movies or shows have simply talked about having abortions? Carrie Bradshaw talked about it on Sex and The City, but I recall few other instances.
What I can recall is many, many plotlines where teenage girls dutifully have babies, or adult women’s ripped condoms lead to wacky romantic adventures or the most overused spin of all, when a woman on a show gets pregnant and then hit by a car so voila, baby problem solved.
Our storytellers’ blind spot when it comes to abortion is one of the most puritanical things about America, and finally somebody dared to end it. Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate and produced by Gillian Robespierre, just came along and proved that we can say the “a” word in movies – and survive!
I can’t tell how popular Obvious Child is going to get, but I hope it rises in the indie ranks to become as big as Juno and Knocked Up, both very funny movies that happen to sidestep abortion.
I went into this movie curious about a couple things:
-What happens when the drama of a baby is removed from a plot? As a writer myself, I have discovered that sometimes characters get pregnant and have babies not cuz all Hollywood writers are militantly pro-life, but because pregnancies and babies are great catalysts for change, hard choices, learning experiences, odd couplings etc. Writers like that kind of stuff, even if they wouldn’t advise their own Ellen Page-like peers to keep their babies and commit to accidental motherhood.
-Can Jenny Slate carry a movie? I think she’s one of the most underrated female comedy actresses out there, and she’s cute as hell. SNL didn’t know what they were missing when they got rid of her just for dropping an eff bomb. This would test her skills way more than her recurring PubLizity skit on The Kroll Show.
One of the biggest things I noticed during this movie was that I had internalized the device of a lightning-strike-like moment when a female character decides to keep her baby. Often it happens in the waiting room of the abortion clinic, like it did for Joan on MadMen, other times it’s more subtle.While watching Obvious Child, there were about three or four moments when I expected Jenny’s character Donna to just say “aw shucks” and decide to have the baby. The movie even makes fun of this moment when she is sitting in a box in a bookstore, whining, and the guy who got her pregnant walks into the store. She asks her friend later if that was the universe’s sign that they were supposed to start a happy family together, which her friend quickly shuts down.
I had so internalized the plotline of the accidental baby that I had no idea what to expect in its place. What kind of emotional conflict, sadness, pressure, and even self-discovery happens in the plotline of an abortion? That area hasn’t been explored in mainstream media, because it’s supposedly taboo. But Obvious Child proved that a whole lot goes on, and it’s not just a woman sitting around feeling ashamed of herself and wondering if she’s making a wildly misguided choice. For Donna, having the abortion is one of the most obvious choices she will have to make. It’s whether or not to tell people about it that’s difficult.
The movie does bring on a fair share of conflict and pain. One of the most melancholy scenes is when she has the abortion, and even while sedated and smiling, a few tears leak from her eyes. But in the long run, we see that Obvious Child is carving out a whole new type of redemption story, one of conflict and trial that leads to deeper relationships and deeper levels of self-acceptance. A whole lot can happen without the catalyst of a baby.
It doesn’t hurt that the movie is hilarious. In her Louie-like stand-up scenes, Donna reveals some of the most touching and vulnerable feelings that young women experience, while also inventing the phrase “murder-sui” to drunkenly rant about what she’d like to do to her cheating ex-boyfriend. She’s a mess, but an awesome, relatable one who proves Jenny Slate is good for a lot more than just horrifying Lorne Michaels.
Obvious Child isn’t just politically important for women. It’s good. It’s sweet and touching and most importantly, funny. I give it five accidental babies out of five.
On Twitter and Facebook, I saw people saying they were “blind with rage” or “seeing red.” My friends and acquaintances were calling the essay’s author stupid, and asserting that their love of YA was the least embarrassing thing about them. I feel that.
However…we’re living and reading in capitalist structures, so how can we divorce our interest in anything from the means of its production? We can’t. For starters, consider that adolescence is a social construct invented for capital gain.
Consider also: To make a lot of money in YA or children’s lit, you have a couple of options. A super viable one, as we can see from looking around us, is to play off larger cultural fears and create fantasies that pander to our collective anxieties. This is actually one of the things I love about YA and children’s literature, and this is why I studied it in college so much. But if we think about this above the level of the author—taking a zoom-out to look at the publishing house and the marketing team and the entities that own both—doesn’t it get a little sinister?
Maybe I would have more trust in the YA lit industry if it didn’t fail, year after year, to represent huge swaths of the population. We keep getting skinny, white protagonists who have beautiful, white, male love interests. How many young adults are actually like that?
It’s scary to me that all these mild-mannered “new adults” I know who work at non-profits and vote in elections and contemplate adopting corgis and read Slate flew off the handle over an article that asks them to question something they like.
I never want to be the person on the internet who’s like, “Don’t get mad” or, “I don’t care about this thing, therefore you shouldn’t,” because that’s my least favorite Internet type. Also, I care a lot.
I’m just of the belief that all storms of Internet anger betray certain discomforts and embarrassments, especially when they loudly proclaim “I’m not uncomfortable/embarrassed!”
We don’t have to be embarrassed by our summer reading lists but we should be embarrassed that we’re so ready to donate all of our love, money and trust to an industry just because we feel an emotional pull toward what it creates.
10. Albert Lea. Home of the most epic highway rest stop in the state of Minnesota. There’s outsize wooden statuary, there’s a veritable football field of Minnesota-themed merchandise, and there’s a Cold Stone Creamery where at least one of the employees will toss your blended ice cream into the air behind his back, whip a 180, and catch it in your cup. What were the community meetings that led to the decision to build this majestic edifice of fun near Minnesota’s southern border, for Iowans coming north to realize they’ve discovered a new frontier of fun and to give Minnesotans traveling south one final reason to regret leaving the state, however temporarily?
9. Delano. This city of just 5,500 boasts a giant dancing chicken and the gloriously surreal Peppermint Twist Drive-In, a 50s throwback not so much to Ozzie and Harriet as to The Twilight Zone. What other delicious horrors lurk here?
8. Duluth. After a few tough decades economically, Duluth is aiming to become not just the tourist mecca of Minnesota but also its hipster haven. There’s a boardwalk, there are beaches, there are giant ore freighters, there’s a nationally-relevant experimental music scene. What’s the next trick Duluth has up its sleeve?
7. New Ulm. Minnesota is famous for its Scandinavians, but actually the single most populous ethnic group in the state isn’t Swedes, Norwegians, or Finns: it’s Germans, and the epicenter of Gopher State Germanness is New Ulm. The Hermann Monument (“Hermann the German”) is the national monument to German immigrants, and three times a day the Glockenspiel chimes downtown as figures on a rotating platter emerge to tell the story of the city’s history (except in December, when they tell the Christmas Story). Is the next step a Bavarian-themed amusement park? Let’s hope yes.
6. Winona. The Tangential’s Chris Vondracek and Mary Juhl have been in Winona a lot for work over the past couple of years, and their tweets have been kind of fascinating to follow, revealing a #TinyMtnVillage (to use Chris’s hashtag) in southeast Minnesota, where—as Mary’s photos in Bright Lights, Twin Cities depict—stunning vistas and bucolic river idylls coexist with knuckles-bared bar fights and strange fires. Let’s all go party there.
4. Grand Marais. The Cape Cod of Minnesota, Grand Marais bustles with vacationing yuppies, wanna-be voyageurs, and bad art. If I lived up there, I’d self-publish a Gossip-Girl-style series of young adult novels about popped collars and bruised egos among Grand Marais townie youth.
3. St. Peter. You’re driving through the wide streets of south central Minnesota, past soybeans and meat markets (of both the literal and the country-bar varieties), when BAM! you run into an establishment that offers coffee cuppings, fleur-de-lis lattes, and artisan sandwiches in tinfoil boxes. Welcome to Brooklyn-on-the-Prairie, the college town that’s home to Gustavus Adolphus College. Better check your street fashion before you step out of the minivan.
2. Stillwater. What the average Minnesotan knows about Stillwater is that it’s “good for antiquing.” The more time you spend in Stillwater, though, the more fascinating it gets. Michele Bachmann’s current home town is just a bridge jump away from the back woods of Wisconsin. Its caves have been used for boozing, for theater, and for scaring the crap out of little children on pitch-black boat rides; gangsters used to hold court at the “cave view” table in the adjoining restaurant. Stillwater is home to Minnesota’s most notorious penitentiary, which also produces—as Colleen Powers notes in Bright Lights, Twin Cities—the country’s oldest continuously published prison newspaper. Intrigued yet?
1. Morris. If all of Minnesota’s college campuses were at a party together, the University of Minnesota—Morris would be the quiet character sitting out on the porch, wearing sunglasses at night and smoking an expensive clove. Bored with the jocks and know-it-alls inside, you’d go out to make conversation, but Morris would be gone, roaring away on a motorcycle as the late-night DJ on KUMM says something you can’t make out over the roar of the engine but sounds like it must have been beautiful, profound, and sad.
When they were learning to talk on ancient Cybertron, how did the Transformers decide which ones would be black, which ones would be Brooklyn mobsters, and which ones would be British?
Given that Cybertron was already running low on energy when the Autobots and Decepticons left, how is Shockwave supposed to hold down the fort for literally four million years?
Were the writers making a political statement by having the leader of the bad guys transform into a pistol? “These ‘Americans,’ as they call themselves, use ambulances and fighter jets, but they worship the handgun!”
Was Soundwave pissed that, after a lifetime of transforming into a streetlight, he got the short end of the stick again when he was repaired after the Earth crash and now transforms into a microcassette recorder instead of something cool like a sports car? (Related: why was Laserbeak’s original form also a microcassette? Do they use analog tape technology on Cybertron too?)
Once the Decepticons are repaired, why do they just take off and assume the ship isn’t going to go ahead and repair all the Autobots too?
How does Optimus Prime assume that a Jeep and a VW, driving out into the desert, are going to find the flying Decepticons wherever they are on Earth? Why do the Autobots drive everywhere instead of flying like the Decepticons?
Re: Starscream and Megatron, isn’t the point of Machiavellian plotting to not tell the person you’re plotting against?
Granted it’s the 80s, but how has absolutely no one noticed the Decepticons building a giant space cruiser from the ruins of a power plant they destroyed by causing an earthquake?
Isn’t it inefficient to make the Autobots wait for their names to be called before they can transform and roll out?