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Tuesday, Jan 1, 2008

Welcome back to Re:Print.


It’s been a big week, yeah? I’ve spent much of it stifling at work, in an un-air-conditioned DVD shop, hating every single face that says to me: “Wow, it’s hot in here!” Really? We hadn’t noticed. And neither had the last 35 customers to sweat their way through the latest releases. Global warming is well and truly under way, and has landed smack on Australia. Here I am, 11.09pm on New Year’s Day and the air blowing through my office window is filthy and hot. It stinks of dirty grass. No relief, not even at home, not even at midnight. Actually, the split-system in the living room is brilliant, but my partner refuses to let me move the computer next to the TV. So, here I am, and it’s hot. 


New Year’s was a slow one. I spent it watching Wild Palms, of all things. Scouring the ‘net today, though, I see a good time was had by most elsewhere in the universe. We heard fireworks going off, which excited me, until a little boy came into the shop this morning with a “Missing Dog” poster—the terrier named Bonnie ran away in fear of those fireworks, apparently. So, there’s that tradition ruined. Here’s hoping Bonnie finds her way home safely. My pup, Fulci, feels her pain. He spent the noisy clock-turning under a blanket by the couch.


As always, my New Year’s resolution is to “read more”. I say it every year, and usually wind up reading roughly the same amount of books as the year before. With a new house, and a new library all set up and looking awesome in the other room, I’ve decided that even if I read the same amount of books as last year, I want some of them to be those steadily yellowing over there, that I already own. I’m toning down the book-buying, and digging through the existing stockpiles for new and exciting reads. I’ll let you know how I go as the months progress. At the moment, I’m still knee-deep in movie tie-ins, with The Assassination of Jesse James… on the go now, and Death Sentence coming up next. I just finished Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz—a quick read, horribly morbid and sad. Jesse James is proving a harder task—Ron Hansen’s language is true to the time period, and I’m wrapping my tongue around old west words more sluggishly than expected. After the movie books, it’s classics all the way. Well, long-standing shelf-dwellers, at any rate.


Here’s to a great 2008 in books. Myself and my co-blogger, Lara Killian, will be here to capture the highs and lows as we see them. For now, here are some articles to read to get you ready for Books ‘08:


Read all about the best books of 2007 set in New Jersey.


Who will be who in 2008 according to the Guardian.


Compare Ty Burr’s reading resolutions to your own, like this one:


Read at least one book that is not being adapted into a major motion picture. In 2007 I really enjoyed reading The Golden Compass and Atonement and No Country for Old Men and Persepolis and The Kite Runner (OK, the last one not so much). Was there anything else that came out last year? Can someone tell my wife I’ll get around to The Omnivore’s Dilemma when Cate Blanchett is signed to star in it?


Hmm, yes.


 


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Monday, Dec 31, 2007


Okay - so it’s actually 11. Instead of playing by the rules and sticking to the mandatory 10, another title managed to sneak its way onto SE&L‘s annual celebration of the artform’s best. Even more depressing, there are dozens of releases from 2007 that deserve almost equal appreciation. You know it’s been a banner 12 months when films like Grindhouse, SiCKO, The Simpsons Movie, Knocked Up, Eastern Promises, Juno, and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead are stuck circling around numbers 11 through 20. Unlike past years, where compiling this list required a fair amount of aesthetic archeology, practically every week saw another astounding effort announce its classic intentions. Some may quibble with a few of the selections, but the bottom line remains firm - 2007 was a great year in cinema, and these 11 masterworks are proof of same.


Still, with nearly 300 titles taken in during the last 52 weeks, what is and is not included here may seem specious. After all, there were dozens of foreign works (Persepolis, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) that never got screened for SE&L. In addition, there were monumental movies that had to use a direct to DVD ideal just to get distribution. Leaving them out was painful as well. It’s important to remember, however, that said lists may look like consensus, yet remain securely in the paradigm of personal opinion. Your choices may vary, and indeed, probably should. If we all agreed, it would make such annual wrap-ups rather pointless. With that in mind, here are SE&L‘s selections for the 11 best films of the year, starting with the tie at 10:


#10 (tie) - Sunshine
Sunshine is a film about sacrifice. It’s a movie that asks the big questions and waits for the inevitable answer. It’s the kind of intellectually driven science fiction that Hollywood can’t be bothered to make nowadays. Instead of staying betrothed to the George Lucas School of Speculative Design, where everything is techno-wow and movie serial sodden, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland have gone back to the original source of serious future shock – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – and fashioned their own post-modern, post-punk space odyssey. The results resonate inside the brain in a way few films in recent memory can claim, awakening long dormant desire for truth and explanation. This is the kind of movie that stimulates debate as it mires us in the mysteries of the cosmos. It sings – and it also saddens.



#10 (tie) - Ratatouille
Like the gourmet food it so exquisitely renders, one fears that the sensational Ratatouille will end up being a decidedly acquired commercial taste. Far too languid for sugar fried kid brains, but marketed in such a manner as to keep the more mature demographic it’s actually perfect for from lining up, it represents a brilliant step forward in Pixar’s continued domination of the 3D animation realm. It also proves that Brad Bird is the reigning king of outsider cartooning. From his pen and ink triumph The Iron Giant to the pumped up perfection of The Incredibles, he’s managed to become a genre genius by refusing to believe the artform’s inherent limits. Constantly pushing beyond its narrative and visual capacities, Ratatouille ends up one frighteningly effortless entertainment.



#9 - The Darjeeling Limited
Like a once in a lifetime trip that only grows grander with the passage of time, The Darjeeling Limited is idiosyncratic filmmaking at its finest. Sure, there will be those who see director Wes Anderson’s trademark quirks, his moments of forced magic realism and out of the blue character shifts and claim the same old self indulgent designs. And within his previous settings—a private school, a New York apartment, an oceanic research vessel—such strategies did indeed appear downright excessive. But within the context of India, a mysterious nation with its own inherent eccentricities and extremes, Anderson finds a totally complementary venue. In a country where seemingly anything can happen, where faith folds itself neatly into the fabric of everyday life in a manner so seamless that it’s almost indecipherable, the idea of three wayward men seeking interpersonal salvation doesn’t seem quite so quixotic. The way Anderson portrays it, it’s standard operating procedure in such a pulsing, overpopulated locale.



#8 - The Brave One
Try as you might, you cannot shake The Brave One. It sticks with you, digging down into your own scarred psyche and touching on every pain, problem, and possibility your current life holds. Calling it an estrogen-laced Taxi Driver or a female fashioned Death Wish misses the point. Certainly, there is vigilantism and the immediate, ill-considered impact of such street style justice. But there is something much deeper here, something that goes to the very nature of being human. When confronted with the possibility of letting those obviously guilty instantaneously pay for their actions, or to simply go free, which way does your moral compass point? This movie not only asks the question of what would you do, it then goes a step further to question whether you can live with yourself, and what you’ve become, afterward.



#7 - Into the Wild
Based on a book by Jon Krakauer and Christopher McCandless’ own diaries and writings, Into the Wild stands as the best movie in Sean Penn’s limited career behind the camera. After The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, and The Pledge, the Oscar winning actor pools all his talents to take on one of those too good to be true storylines. In the McCandless saga, you’ve got familial dysfunction, interpersonal pipe dreams, psychosocial subjectivity, the call of nature, and the undeniable allure of the open road to transform a simple act of individual wish fulfillment into something far more meaningful. Laced with amazing visual stunts, standout performances, and a perspective of our nation that’s nearly incomprehensible, we wind up tramping right along with our wide-eyed hero. We experience his dizzying highs…and everything that countermands such living in exile delights.



#6 - Gone Baby Gone
In the hands of first time director Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone arrives as an incredible cinematic experience. Taken from a novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, this simple story of an abducted little girl, the surrounding investigation, and the suspicious mother at the center, has the kind of narrative power and acting prowess that elevates it above other like minded dramas. By capturing a sense of society lost, by using both the media focus and the behind closed doors denouements that seem to follow such situations, Affleck produces tragedy on an epic Greek scale and moviemaking of classic neo-noir artistry. In combination with some of the most riveting performances in recent memory, as well as a true sense of setting, what we wind up with is an incredibly dense and layered exploration of human ethics.



#5 - Zodiac
It’s a film about a famous serial killer with very little murder in it. It’s a story about an iconic crime figure from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s that only eventually gets around to discussing the possible suspects. It’s a police procedural, but it’s the old school kind of cop work: Lots of late nights; Way too many cups of coffee; Offices without fax machines trying to coordinate the jurisdictional division of evidence and information. And it’s a character study, told in triplicate. In each case, an individual who we are introduced to toward the beginning of the story is intrigued, obsessed, and then destroyed by the ongoing investigation of a man calling himself Zodiac, and a string of slayings that threaten to go unexplained…and unavenged. It’s also David Fincher’s best work to date - and when considering his creative canon, that’s amazing.



#4 - Hot Fuzz
Stop with all the spoof talk, already. The latest masterpiece from Brit wits Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the spectacularly anarchic action buddy cop caper Hot Fuzz is more than just a simple-minded lampoon. Such a categorization limits what the amazing movie manages to achieve, bringing it down to a level of creative crassness that the duo manage to transcend time and time again. The truth is, Wright and Pegg have much larger funny business fish to fry than merely taking on the Bruckheimer/Bay gonzo gunplay dynamic. There is more to their satire than flying bullets, fisticuffs and testosterone-laced fireworks. No, this exceptionally talented duo is out to undermine their very own Englishness, to poke fun at a country that still views itself as a bastion of good manners and inbred etiquette. And they do so magnificently.



#3 - There Will Be Blood
This is the Paul Thomas Anderson that all his past films promised. This is the unbelievably talented young gun whose been accused of channeling Robert Altman for a lack of his own style. Well, all reverence and referencing are now officially gone, replaced by a solid conceit which announces the 37 year old as one of his generation’s greatest. How Upton Sinclair’s mannered Oil became this brilliant dissection of greed and God, stoked by a sensational performance by Daniel Day Lewis as wildcatter Daniel Plainview, will remain part of cinema’s creative karma. Still, all credit to a director for playing outside his contemporary comfort zone, exploring period piece precision in a way that few filmmakers have ever managed to accomplish. In concert with the amazing cinematography and storytelling, we end up with an epic so electric it threatens to destroy everything we know about the medium.



#2 - No Country for Old Men
Shockingly effective and incomprehensibly great, No Country for Old Men proves that the Coen Brothers are America’s reigning motion picture Gods. Looking over their creative canon, a body of work that includes Oscar nods, a single win, several career defining films and more than a couple cult classics (“We want the money, Lebowski!”), they argue for their place among the artform’s true greats. Sure, some find them unusually quirky and lost in their own insular world of homages, references, and crudely hidden in-jokes, and in the past, all of those caveats would be concerning. Fact is, they are painted over every frame of their consistently fascinating flights of fancy. But No Country for Old Men is different. Instead of going outside their sphere of influence to the cinematic stalwarts that defined the medium, the Coen’s are riffing on themselves – and by doing so, they forge a near flawless filmic experience.



#1 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Fans of Stephen Sondheim had every reason to be worried. His Tony Award winning masterwork Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is perhaps the most difficult and obtuse of his shows to make the cinematic leap - and with a track record that includes the unbalanced A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and the miserably miscast A Little Night Music, he’s far from foolproof. Luckily, the right auteur came along, a director so perfectly in tune with the composer’s layered conceits that one imagines it was written specifically for him. Many have dismissed Tim Burton as a goofy Goth visionary who has never met a narrative he couldn’t defang. Even worse, some have suggested that, as his mainstream acceptance has grown, his artistic acumen has faded.


Not true - and his brand new version of Sweeney Todd is more than enough proof. As the perfect marriage of maker and material, this dark, disturbing splatter-etta stands as the best film of 2007. It is an outright masterpiece, a work of bravura craftsmanship by a man whose been preparing for this creative moment all his directorial life. Like soulmates bound at the most primal, bloodlusting level, Sondheim and Burton merge to form a cohesive, craven whole, the show’s thematic undercurrents of malice, corruption, and revenge splashing across the screen in monochrome mise-en-scene and torrents of arterial inevitability. Stripped of its need for constant self-referencing (fans may balk at the cutting of some key expositional numbers) and reduced down to its nastiest nature, it’s the reason that film continues its status as art.


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Monday, Dec 31, 2007

Don’t act too shocked but it turns out your non-friends at the RIAA want you to know that copying any CD’s that you buy to your computer ain’t legal.  While it’s not the focus of their lawsuits, they’re starting to get the word out that you’re engaging in criminal activity whenever you do this, as they spew in this Washington Post article.  Why these scumbags haven’t filed suits against the software companies that make this possible is something to ponder- shouldn’t Microsoft, Winamp, Apple and others be liable or at least be threatened to be dragged into court for making ripping possible?  Don’t bet on it- the RIAA typically act like cowards, going after individuals in their lawsuits rather than large, deep-pocketed companies.  As the article notes “... for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.  The RIAA’s legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed.”


Speaking of new models, Billboard has an interesting article where a group of lawyers evaluate the new 360 contracts that labels have been cooking up to get a piece of the touring and merchandising pie as part of artists’ contacts.  Needless to say, they don’t think that these contacts are all peaches and cream and that artists need to be savvy before they sign away anything.


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Sunday, Dec 30, 2007


It will be remembered as the year when past geniuses (The Coen Brothers, Sidney Lumet) made astounding comebacks, while others (Francis Ford Coppola) merely continued to slip and stumble. It will be the time when the ongoing writer’s strike threatened to close down the industry come Summer blockbuster time - or destroy the union in the process. The typical topic areas - family dysfunction, crime and punishment - found new and novel ways of expressing their ancient Greek drama dynamics, and blood flowed freely from barber’s razors and a despotic oil baron’s temperament. All in all, 2007 was an astounding year in film. Too bad we’re about to look at this baby’s messy, muck filled diaper.


Many of the nominees for the year’s worst derive their awfulness from a purposeful demographic pose. Apparently, making entertainment for the underage crowd gives Hollywood hacks a creativity migraine. At least half of the movies that made the list are pre/post tween terrors, geared so far down on the intellectual paradigm that they battle the Earth’s magnetic core for control of its gravitational pull. The rest of the dross is derived from unfunny comedies, unexciting thrillers, and the kind of sickening schmaltz that leaves many a viewer in a cinematic sugar coma. While direct to DVD offerings can be far, far worse (look here for some incredible foul examples), you’d think a major mainstream corporate media giant would know better. Looking at the 10 worst films of 2007, that’s clearly not the case, beginning with:


#10 - Hitman
Hitman overstays its welcome from the moment the ammunition starts flying, and never finds a satisfying way of winning us back. It’s dry and dour, so full of itself that you’d swear it was a college athlete. In a genre not known for its subtlety, cinematic tact, innovation (unless you’re John Woo), or lack of contrivance, this vacant videogame adaptation is a barely passable poster child. You’d figure a movie with such a title should revel in its gory, gratuitous killings. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t comprehend the fun in firepower. Instead, they keep pushing things into political intrigue mode – and in these days of uncertain international ideology, a From Russia with Love storyline feels so Tom Clancy.



#9 - Underdog
Underdog is so piecemeal it should come with a roll of duct tape. It’s so desperate to be everything to everyone that it ends up being very little to nobody in particular. Scripted by a committee that obviously didn’t contain a logician, a comedian, or someone adept at characterization, what we wind up with is a one trick dog and pony show without the little horse. It’s hard to figure out what’s more insulting about this post-millennial live action update - the way it talks down to, and then plays perfunctorily to, its intended audience, or the opening credits callback to the original series, complete with material showing the classic cartoon icons we’ve come to know and love.



#8 - Shrek The Third
Though it tries to deliver something new this third time around, the truth is that this tired tre-quels narrative more or less sits there, lifeless and limp, waiting for the already creaky cogs in its comedy machine to make up for the lack of complexity. Indeed, this type of clothesline yarn is ripe for many a hilarious animated set piece, but the quartet of screenwriters can find very little to do with it. Indeed, lame rap lingo and prevalent pop culture references that seemed to work before now come off as amateurish and pat. Even the standard star stunt casting has been lowered a couple of notches, resulting in good but generic voices looking to enliven things. They don’t.



#7 - Mr. Bean’s Holiday
Physical comedy is officially dead, and Rowan Atkinson killed it. Well, not the actor himself, but his inexcusable desire to keep destroying the reputation of his resplendent Mr. Bean with all manner of mediocre motion picture incarnations. That sunny British series was a class act of timing and treatment. Now, on celluloid for a second time, it’s nothing more than crass kid fodder, a G-rated response to the parental cries of media inappropriateness. Once he was a mean spirited plank who saw the entire world as worthy of his slightly askew scorn. But now he’s been transformed into a gangly, goofball Gamera, friend to everyone except the sideswiped member of the audience who didn’t see such a tiresome trainwreck coming.



#6 - The Heartbreak Kid 2007
This is a disaster, an unmitigated humorless horror that never once plays as raunchy or as outrageous as it thinks it is. Realizing that their patented gross out scheme has long been usurped by others more adept at said scatology (read: Judd Apatow), the Farrelly Brothers have managed to make the worst film of their careers – and that’s saying a lot. Using extremes like excuses and shouting where a script should be, this guaranteed to please the least demanding of audiences atrocity is a perfect illustration for why Mr. Freaks and Geeks and his party posse had to step in and save cinematic comedy. Without their Superbad life support, an effort like this would have been fatal.



#5 - August Rush
Heavy-handed, undeniably saccharine, and about as magical as a clown at a kid’s party, August Rush is an implausible, pus-covered pixie stick. It’s Oliver without the twist, a well-meaning lament fashioned out of arrogance, artificiality, and artlessness. This ‘adult fairytale’ is one of those films that announces its archetypal intentions from the very start. It salutes you with schmaltz and then turns up the convolutions until the clichés no longer have room to breath. Eventually, they die off in waves of unexplored potentiality, resulting in a literal ghost of a film. There are times when this maudlin muck is so lightweight and wispy, we fear a sudden sneeze from the audience will cause the screen to go blank.



#4 - I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
No one in Hollywood ever went broke underestimating the entertainment taste of the American public. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry is proof of such a sentiment. Geared directly toward the lowest common denominator, with occasional side treks into PC-lite pronouncements of tolerance and acceptance, this is comedy as callous homophobia. In a current social climate where same sex marriage has been bandied about as a powerful political and pundit tool, to treat the issue as the basis for a frat house level of funny business is disturbing. But then to watch as the plot purposefully backtracks in order to make amends for such lampoon-based insensitivity is disingenuous at best.



#3 - Mr. Woodcock
With the proper, no holds barred approach melded with a mean-spirited, manipulative script, this could have worked. But because of a preemptive PG-13 mandate from the studio, and a lack of any real intelligence or insight, this potential testosterone-laced standoff ends up a panty waisted wuss-out. It’s not just that the film is painfully unfunny – it fails to even understand why its jokes don’t begin to work. Had the movie spent more time in the setup, showing John Farley as a sad little boy in a constant war with the evil and uncouth PE pig, any payoff would have some context. But all we get are lame ‘lame’ kid riffs, followed by more dull Wood-cockiness.



#2 - Alvin and the Chipmunks
Alvin and the Chipmunks is, what we call in the profession, a “-less” film. This means it’s point-less, joy-less, soul-less, and worth-less. It is nothing more than an excuse for overpaid computer geeks to render quasi-realistic wildlife. While it only plays the fart and poop card once each, this is still a juvenile effort helmed by individuals who should really know ‘funny’ better. Substituting stupidity for smarts and silliness for satire, we wind up with the kind of mindless box office babysitter that lets inattentive parents feel safe about dragging their kids to the Cineplex. And with box office grosses well beyond $100 million, it’s clear that many are taking the ersatz au pair bait.



#1 - Norbit
Like a Jerry Lewis vehicle gone gangrenous, Norbit is a nauseating mess. It finds Eddie Murphy once again treading water, working within the same lame stunt gimmickry that resuscitated his lagging star quality some 11 years ago. Back then, his multi-character turn in The Nutty Professor actually had some intelligence and humorous heft (excuse the pun) behind it. The remake of the classic farce contained heart, insight, and just a smattering of the scatological material that usually mires most post-modern comedies. But by the time the inevitable sequel came along, the crappy Klumps proved that the ‘man of many make-ups’ conceit had really run its course.


Now, seven scattered years later, Murphy is back under latex and foam, reduced to race baiting and egregious ethnic slurs for his supposed satiric insight. Norbit is so bereft of laughs that it actually owes the cosmos a couple dozen cleverness IOUs. What passes for jokes are obvious swipes on color, creed, and context, and the physical slapstick is so outrageously amplified that it plays like a metaphysical Merrie Melody on massive stupidity steroids. From the opening moment where an infant is randomly tossed out of a car, to the sequence where the rotund Rasputia gets scrimshawed in the blowhole (don’t ask), the basic brutality and aggressive abuse garners little except contempt.


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Sunday, Dec 30, 2007

Yesterday, as I walked to the other side of the neighborhood to get my hair cut, I noticed that a little independent coffee shop that had opened only a few months ago was already closed. This didn’t surprise me at all; it was more of a whimsical notion than a coherent business. They sold hip, old-timey nostalgic things like campy paperbacks and candy in 1950s era packaging, and they also sold homemade pies at exorbitant prices. It had two tables in the back and one in front, not sufficient room for anyone to loiter comfortably, but enough where you were made to feel that someone ought to be but wasn’t. And the barristas, if you’d call them that, were generally on their cell phones or in the midst of conversation among themselves instead of dispensing service. And its location, sort of on the way to the subway for that side of the neighborhood, was adequate, but not prime. Maybe, if this article by Taylor Clark from Slate is to be taken as gospel, they needed to be even closer to the Starbucks that’s on the corner a few blocks away.


Clark argues that far from putting mom-and-pop coffee shops out of business, Starbucks teaches local customers to elevate their tastes and to find it reasonable to spend a lot on coffee.


Each new Starbucks store created a local buzz, drawing new converts to the latte-drinking fold. When the lines at Starbucks grew beyond the point of reason, these converts started venturing out—and, Look! There was another coffeehouse right next-door!


The reason Starbucks doesn’t obliterate its competition the way Wal-Mart does, is that it has far fewer overhead advantages, and the ones it implements (cheap, automatic espresso machines) degrades its product. Often, a chief aspect of the service it sells—convenience—is spoiled by its own popularity. And we all know how sentimental latte liberals can be about “anti-corporate” businesses—independent retailers and the like. The presence of Starbucks right next door allows such people to express their political views with much more salience when they actively reject Starbucks for the small-time coffee shop, assuming all the time how clever they are and how much better the service will be from the local people who truly appreciate it.


I admit that such thinking drove me from my local Starbucks to the now defunct independent competitor. I had received a few lukewarm cups from Starbucks (and didn’t have the time on the way to work to go back to the store, wait in line, and ask for a new one) and I remain fed up with Starbucks’ employees inability to properly prepare an Iced Americano, so that it doesn’t turn into a piss-warm puddle of watered-down espresso. I figured the new local place would do a better job out of pride. As Clark notes, you don’t beat Starbucks on ambiance but by providing a better product. But the local shop ultimately failed in this, serving their own lukewarm brew and sometimes making me wait as the counter person carried out their private conversations leisurely rather than waiting on me. Maybe I’m sensitive (i.e. paranoid), but I hate when clerks are laughing with their friends as I approach. I hate disrupting a good time, especially when all I want is what the establishment is presumed to exist to provide. So I stopped going there and made another effort to get up earlier to have coffee at home in the morning. (Clark cites this shocking statistic: only 10 percent of coffee shops fail. That confirms that my neighborhood java entrepreneurs were unusually misguided.)


So, though little public failures always tend to depress me, I wasn’t exactly sad to see this locally owned coffee shop fold. Instead, it was a reminder that I shouldn’t make the mistake of being sentimental about mom-and-pop stores. It’s the same temptation as being sentimental about small-town life, while forgetting the stultifying conformity and the routine invasions of one’s privacy. One benefit of, say, going to Starbucks is that you preserve your anonymity, which is tantamount to remaining basically equal in the eyes of the clerks (though the tall guy with the glasses at the Starbucks on my corner remembers me and gets my small coffee ready without my having to ask—this is more than the local place would do). Mom-and-pop places are much more prone to the petty graft that comes from familiarity and small-scale aspirations—extorting tips, using variable, spontaneous pricing to take advantage of neophytes, and so on. Local places will play favorites with customers, decide who belongs and who doesn’t, and work in various subtle and unsubtle ways to exclude those deemed undesirable. Some people will get “the nice guy discount” (if they have the gumption to ask for it) and others will get stonewalled mysteriously as they wait to be helped.


Ultimately, it depends on the disposition of particular employees how one will be treated in a shop, but national chains are more likely to insist on uniform service apart from local considerations. Sentimentality leads us to believe that those considerations are to our favor, are the sorts of things that knit us into a community. We forget that they can work the other way, and remind us of our arbitrary exclusion.


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