This week: A medieval tale that involves a laser. Need we say more? There aren’t really words to describe the strangeness of this particular episode. Stick around for the surprise ending of the year!
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Travel + Leisure’s Unexpected Italy
Nancy Novogrod (Introduction)
January 2008, 192 pages, $24.95
From the well-traversed urban centers of Venice and Rome to out of the way and rarely visited vineyards producing incredibly robust wines in the northwest Le Langhe region, every reader will come away with a new destination atop their travel list.
As with Unexpected France, the reader is quickly drawn into this fascinating collection of articles from Travel + Leisure magazine. Useful maps, suggestions for lodging, dining, and occasionally, reading material (such as poetry from a famous writer native to the Le Marche region on the northeast coast, or world-class literature inspired by visits to Naples) accompany each section. The focus of each traveling journalist is different, from experiences centering around a single city to the wearying journey around an entire region in search of the boldest Borolo.
Michael Gross describes his quest to find an island getaway more satisfying than touristy Capri, and encounters the Madonna sott’acqua off Lampedusa, an island so far south as to be nearly in Africa. He writers, “We dive down to the ghostly yet benevolent Virgin, who is gazing up from her silent blue sanctuary.” The statue is set in a stone arch nearly fifty feet below the surface of the water.
A journey through “hidden Rome” reveals more than any vegetarian (and possibly most carnivores) would ever want to know about the old slaughterhouse district of the city. True epicureans will revel in the descriptions of various traditional and modern recipes for the “fifth quarter” of certain farm animals.
I noted with curiosity that the entire “Places to Stay” section was contributed by the same Christopher Petkanas, but quickly became enamored of his quick-witted observations and inclusion of unusual elements, not to mention his willingness to be rather critical of service if warranted. Observing historical villas with an artist’s eye, both flaws and impeccable details are pointed out.
And for those wishing to truly commune with great art, a section on Florence details how it is possible not just to observe, but to sign up for amateur figure sketching classes and draw (so to speak) on the inspiration of centuries of painters. The hands on style of this entire book helps it stand out from the normal rank and file of travel guides. Turning a mundane trip into the experience of a lifetime just got a bit easier for those not totally comfortable with venturing into totally undocumented territory, yet wanting to avoid the well-worn pathways of major cultural centers.
With such a promising start to this series of books in Unexpected France and Italy, the first ever compiled and released by the magazine, I definitely hope to see more of these country-specific collections of inspirational articles and stunning photographs.
Here’s some good advice- if you’re going to make an announcement to a lot of people online and you’re slipping in a joke that might not be obvious, always tack on something that does make it obvious (“ha, ha” or a smiley face symbol). I learned that the hard way when I made this announcement about the latest issue of Perfect Sound Forever: “rock crit dean Robert Christgau will edit the summer issue of PSF (which will be followed by rebuttal issues edited by Byron Coley and Joe Carducci)...” The first part is true- Christgau’s doing the next issue- but Coley or Carducci ain’t doing any issues of PSF that I know of (though I’d be glad to work with them if they wanted to). Since neither of them seems to be a fan of the Dean, I thought it’d be funny to imagine them doing entire issues as rebuttals to his work. Not funny enough as it turns out since I received e-mail’s congratulating PSF for working with THREE esteemed scribes. Only later did I realize that I posted that info late in the evening on March 31st, making it an unintentional April fools joke. Oh well, live and learn… Admittedly, not as funny or outlandish as John McCain appearing at Burning Man (and yes, some people took that seriously too).
I’m generally skeptical of social networks—they seem to me primarily ways to commercialize and monetize one’s presumable bevy of friends and get competitive over how social you are—but I find this trend (via Marginal Revolution) toward using them to play games heartening. It makes me understand for the first time why people bother to sign up for them. (I don’t understand why so many people play Scrabble on them though, a game I find to be no fun and very nearly antisocial.)
Games have become some of the most popular applications to be introduced. While some programs have quickly flamed out, games have drawn repeat users who keep coming back for more. And games have steadily amassed new recruits as players invite their friends.
Unlike traditional online casual games, users playing inside a social network aren’t competing against strangers who happen to be online at the same time, but against their friends. It’s a significant distinction: Segal said he had tried playing backgammon online in the past, but didn’t have a good experience. If he played well, his opponents sometimes would just abandon the game and disappear. That doesn’t happen among his friends.
Social gaming has become yet another means to keep in touch.
“It delivers the message, ‘I’m thinking about you’ without having to think of something to say,” said Jeremy Liew, a general partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who has blogged extensively about social gaming. “You can’t always instant message (your friends) or write to them, but playing games with them is one way of expressing that they’re important to you.”
I completely relate to that last part. I used to play bridge (wished I still was playing bridge, actually) and part of the pleasure was definitely the structured social activity, which allowed conversation to be subordinate, and fill in the gaps naturally. It’s very hard to make an activity out of “keeping in touch”—it ends up feeling forced and off-putting; there’s just no context for knowing what a friend who is not integrated into your everyday life would want to hear about. How I went to the hardware store to get screens for my windows? How I spent hours combing over fantasy baseball news? These were among the big personal events for me recently. But a game obviates the need for pretexts, lets a connection exist without contrived chitchat.
I don’t quite get this though:
San Francisco startup Serious Business, founded by 23-year-old Alexander Le and 24-year-old Siqi Chen, believes that a new genre of games could be mined from tapping into social networks.
In November, the duo created Friends for Sale, now one of Facebook’s most popular games with nearly 700,000 daily players. Users buy, sell and own their friends, as though their friends were pets or stocks. Owners can control their acquisitions, forcing them to do or say things, as well as sell them and turn a profit. Those being bought and sold are also part of the game, going up and down in value.
This sounds like Slave Trade, the home game.
As a director, he continues to grow. He style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - work of genius.
In this second part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s latest unreleased epics, including a John Woo style shoot ‘em up featuring everyone’s favorite amorous monkey, and an homage to Michael J. Fox, winter sports, and genealogical shape shifting. Both efforts confirm that Seaver is one of the few filmmakers who can successfully mine their past while preparing the way for their soon to be famous future. It’s also clear that nearly two decades behind the lens has left him capable of creating the kind of cult camp classic that will have generations jonesing for more.
When Teenape is tapped for being a pedophilic perv, the government gives him an option. The President of Entertainment has been kidnapped by a crazy drag queen wannabe Rocky Horror fame whore, and it’s up to our groovy gorilla to rescue him. Of course, he’ll have some help, and meet a few “Escape from…” style characters along the way. One thing’s for sure - guns and monkey nuts will be blazin’.
For all his love of gore, Chris Seaver has never been a student of violence. The only film in his oeuvre to touch the Tarantino-esque trend still skirting the edges of modern cinema was an actual spoof of said video store savant - a brazen bite at Kill Bill called Mulva 2: Kill TeenApe. But Wet Heat changes all that. It’s a magnificent maelstrom of anarchic ammo goodness, a baffling bullet ballet with CGI blood spray for added action. Clearly influenced by the growing collection of over the touch gunplay grooves - Crank, Smokin’ Aces, old spy flicks, any number of Hong Kong titles - there is also a tasty throwback feel to the mid ‘80s, a time that’s very close to Seaver. Considering he was born at the end of the Me Decade, these films formed the foundation of his very aesthetic. But while others strive to emulate their heroes, this director is out to demolish them. Indeed, he takes the parts he likes and links them together with his own loony LBP universe and spawns something spastically special. In fact, it’s one of the many elements that make his movies so madcap and magical.
Again, the acting is excellent here, with standouts like Meredith Host as Scooter, affecting a perfect ambiguously asexual mercenary persona. There’s a wonderful sequence in which our main villain, the appropriately named LaFemme LaDouche taunts the President in an almost flawless Frankenfurter frenzy. Billy Gaeberina is stellar in the role. There are in-jokes a plenty, lots of scatological slams, and just enough whimsy to make you wonder where Seaver gets his ideas. By the time we reach the finale, where forces of good and evil are ready to face off in one final hail of Smith and Wesson wildness, Wet Heat‘s promise definitely pays off. This is another notch in Seaver’s sizable belt, a literal blast that strives to be more than your standard fart jokes and toilet takes. As part of his amazing maturation, we recognize the casting off of certain cinematic crutches. While continuing to embrace his love of pop culture, Seaver is surveying his career, and making the moves necessary to increase his production profile.
When Scotty Bateman visits his reclusive Uncle Billy at the family ski resort, he learns two awful truths. First, a lowlife rich prick named Ralston Zabka is trying to buy the place. Apparently, profits are low and the park is going under. Even worse, there is an unusual Bateman curse. Seems the males become werewolves under pressure. When Zabka puts the screws to his relative, Scotty responds…as a slopes-slaloming lycanthrope!
Here it is - Chris Seaver’s great leap into masterful mainstream comedy. Copping as many moves as he can from the entire Greed Decade dynamic of high school/college competition hilarity, and working in a few familiar LBP riffs along the way, Ski Wolf is a wicked, watershed moment. It’s every lowbrow high concept crapfest Hollywood ever hocked up spun into a sputum snow cone and served slushy. Featuring a fantastic cast including Trent Hagga, Billy Gaberina, Casey Bowker and porn princess Alix Lakehurst, Seaver savors every single second of this effort’s outsized scope. He uses the wonderful Rochester, NY location to its very best, and gets the most out of his crazy company of like minded miscreants. Those worried that somehow catering to the mediocrity demanding masses would blunt Seaver’s sex and scum based satire needn’t fret. He’s just as foul, albeit in a familiar, Farrelly Brothers manner. There are situations and circumstances that recall the best - and sometimes, the wanton worst - of the already DOA genre. Truth be told, if anyone could resuscitate that kind of crude humor, it would be Seaver. Thankfully, he appears to have bigger funny business fish to fry.
All the ‘80s beats are present and accounted for - the horndog histrionics, the cheese ball musical moments, the random nudity, the occasional lapses into gross out gagging - and thanks to the talent involved, it all works wonderfully. Special mention also needs to go to Casey Bowker. For several years he’s been stuck inside Teenape’s mask, reduced to playing a groin-driven dastard with more spiel than Ron Popeil. Here, he actually gets to give two totally distinct performances. His Scotty is your typical awkward adolescent, face carrying a couple of youth tagging blemishes as part of the performance. Naturally, once the wolf appears, Bowker’s uncanny ability to channel old school seediness comes through loud and crystal clear. He is matched perfectly by Hagga, who seems permanently unable to break out into the bigs. He’s the kind of recognizable type - cad, crook, kook - who could find dozens of character roles in La-La Land. When you consider the source, and the troubles behind the camera, Ski Wolf shouldn’t be this glorious. It should deliver, but only in tiny trickles. Instead, Seaver solidifies his already ripe resume, arguing for his continued success in a business that has been blind to his talents for far too long.
Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, the rest of 2008 looks to be a banner year for this tireless artist. What’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor. And we can all thank the motion picture gods for that.