Like Tiger Woods, I Too Had an Affair

and it was with David Leavitt, and it only recently ended.

But unlike Tiger Woods, I am not sorry.

I spent the last several months reading Leavitt’s Collected Stories from cover to cover. I loved it. I hope it’s no secret that I love a short story. I do. If I cheat on poetry, it’s always with a short story. I love their brevity, like single windows in a hallway, each with a private and discrete view. And now, I love David Leavitt.

I heard him read once, at a conference, and he is foxy. His prose is also foxy. And, sometimes pretty ballsy.

Stories that stand out to me:

“Alien,” in which a mother comes to terms with the fact that her young daughter is convinced she is an alien waiting to be reunited with her people.

“Dedicated,” in which Celia and Nathan first appear (more later), exploring the complicated dynamic of the queer peer/gay guy relationship.

“The Infection Scene,” in which the story of a modern-day bug chaser is compared to a historically fictional account of Oscar Wilde’s traitorious lover Lord Douglas.

“The Marble Quilt,” in which a linguist is interviewed by Italian police about the murder of his ex-lover, a marble thief.

“My Marriage to Vengeance,” in which a woman attends the wedding of her ex-lesbian ex-lover.

“Houses,” in which a married man emerges from the wreckage of his marriage to a woman and his affair with a man.

“Black Box,” in which a man comes to terms with his lover’s death in an airplane crash in a very unusual way.

I could definitely feel the stories come together as stronger and more forceful works in each subsequent collection (there are three collections in this volume). The third collection I read in a weekend and could not stop, the stories were so beautifully written and so compelling.

What I truly loved about this, though, were Nathan, Celia, and Andrew.

Nathan and Celia, really. The three characters are introduced in “Dedicated” and come back again in subsequent stories and collections. Mostly we see the world through Celia’s eyes, checking in with her as she slowly but surely becomes her own person, stepping out from behind Nathan’s obscuring shadow. It is a joy to spend time with her, to see the world as she sees it. She is level-headed, a little insecure, but good-hearted, warm-hearted, and astute.

It was surprising to me as I first encountered the two of them in “The Wooden Anniversary,” a novella from Arkansas, and read first how they ended up in life, then went back and got the back story.

This is a book I’ll want to read again.

The Gossip in DC

Last night I stayed up waaaaay past my adult bedtime and snuck out to see The Gossip in concert. They played with Men and Apache Beat at the 9:30 Club, an awesome little venue here in town.

I thought Men were pretty cool; I’d never heard them before, so I bought their sampler CD. It was fun dancey music.

But I wasn’t fully prepared for how awesome The Gossip were going to be. Beth Ditto, the band’s zaftig singer with bright orange hair, was both kooky/charming and a beast barely contained. Her voice was perfect in performance, and the rest of the band turned in a really great performance. It’s one of the more fun shows I’ve been to, partly because the audience was into it.

You can hear the show on NPR’s All Songs Considered.

Much to, I’m sure, Collin Kelley’s chagrin, I paid money to see Jennifer’s Body.

And I don’t regret it.

That said, the trouble with Jennifer’s Body isn’t Megan Fox, believe it or not. It’s simply that, while trying to be both funny and unsettling, it succeeds at being neither. There’s no gore to speak of, which means this isn’t a horror movie. And there are laughs, yes, and there are some gross things that happen, but overall, it can’t decide if it wants to be a teen comedy or a teen slasher flick.

Megan Fox is actually excellent in this role, and it’s because of her that it’s as funny as it is. She dead pans all of her best lines, fully committing to the honesty of the situations as absurd as they might be. A favorite: after being impaled on a metal pole, she looks down at her bloody gut and asks her best friend, with surprised frustration, “Do you have a tampon?” When the girl says no, Fox replies sadly, “Oh…you looked like you might be plugging.”

Diablo Cody’s script here is good, almost better than Juno because she’s really tamed down her too-cute-for-school slang and focused more on character development and relationships. At it’s heart, Jennifer’s Body is a biting satire on girl-girl friendships–the BFFs who, despite all their affection for each other, can’t help but compete. Although the actual storytelling has a little hiccup in it that sort of wrecks the plot a bit, it’s done interestingly. Cody got demerits from me from letting good girl Needy figure out the situation too quickly and without a lot of plot clues.

Adrian Brody turns in a fantastic performance as the dickweed frontman of up-and-coming indie band Low Shoulder. If it weren’t for Megan Fox, he’d have walked away with this film in his back pocket. Mugging through his thick lines of guyliner, Brody gives an enthusiastic send-up of fame-hungry emo dbs, complete with Satanic ritual sacrifice of a virgin, and the repetitive playing of the band’s hit single. Amy Sedaris pops up for a minute, too, which was nice.

I think this is a movie with some cult potential. It has a fun Mean Girls vibe to it and was pretty quotable. I’ll have to watch it again to determine that. But Collin, it wasn’t a waste of my money.

Dear Diary, Today I Met the Greatest Guy…and then He Ate Me

So, I know that all of you out there have been waiting with bated breath for my take on the CW’s new series Vampire Diaries because:

a) I am basically a 14-year-old girl
b) I am virtually a PhD-level scholar of the current vampire Zeitgeist
and
c) You knew there was no way I wasn’t tuning into something set in a high school.

It’s all true.

And let me tell you: Vampire Diaries did not disappoint. In fact, I almost wished it wasn’t about vampires. The moody lighting and great cinematography set the show apart on their own; the fact that the soundtrack rivaled most Noxema commercials didn’t hurt either.

And: it was creepy. It was a little scary because people actually died in the episode, which sets it way far off from (barf) Twilight and most episodes of Buffy and True Blood. And the kids in the show are a little messed up. And it takes place in this creepy little New England town. So a lot of factors are coming together and making it work.

It does read a little on the Dawson’s Creek side, though, thanks to writer Kevin Williamson. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means the kids talk a lot like grown-ups, which teenagers have the capacity to do (they just often choose not to).

The two vamps on the show are, of course, very Louis and Lestat in terms of their viciousness. One is your typically assimilationist loner who wants to be human while the other, the vicious killer, would rather eat his neighbors than have them over for coffee. And like oil and water, they really don’t mix. Ah! Conflict. Plus, they kind of have eyes for the same girl, who looks strangely like a girl they once knew a couple centuries ago…

While the tropes are getting tired, the delivery isn’t, and that’s what ultimately sets this show apart from absolutely horrifyingly bad drivel like Twilight (don’t even give me that crap that “it’s a good story even though the writing’s bad.” Folks, have you even read a book before?).

Plus, you know, like high school. It’s all, like, evil and stuff.

I Know What You Did Last Semester

First, the good news: Sorority Row, while gross and formulaic, was actually an enjoyable horror film.

I’m glad horror films have started to up their production values. Sorority Row is filmed with your typical handheld-shaky camera work (think Blair Witch with slightly more stability) combined with some very slick sets, lighting, and steadycam work. The opening was like a very long tracking shot through a wild and crazy party, the camera moving from room to room as we finally see one of the Theta Pis running upstairs for a special party shot leading up to the film’s premise-spurring prank. The shots and lighting are particularly strong here.

You get your usual archetypes: the sexy girl, the brainy girl, the bitchy girl, the Lindsay Lohan, the sanctimonious girl, and the vengeful girl. Something they plan goes horribly wrong and then…flash forward to graduation when someone comes along (or back?) to extract revenge.

Sorority Row plays up the suspense more than the gore, for which I was grateful. The actual killings are brief, but the film, like the killer, plays with its prey, taunting it. The plot was so obvious it felt like Braille at times, but with movies, as in with life, I find the lower I keep my expectations, the more often I am proved right–or pleasantly surprised.

One thing I have to say about the actresses in the film is that they really commit to their roles. The performances were believable–even Audrina Patridge of The Hills, who surprised me by sounding more like a human being than she does when she’s on TV. And I didn’t see one instance of rolly doe eyes when she was on screen. Good job, Audrina!

And yes, I kind of like Rumer Willis, too. Although one of the other stars sounded just like Demi Moore in St. Elmo’s Fire and I kept thinking how weird it would be to star in a movie with someone who talks like your mom.

The Best Tarantino Film Ever Made. (Almost.) SPOILERS, read at your peril.

Over the weekend, I saw Inglorious Basterds and keep thinking about it. I think it’s best of Tarantino’s films and would be a perfect film except for one minor detail.

The film concerns, as you’ll see in the trailer, a special “Apache”-style military unit headed by Brad Pitt who drop into occupied France to kill and terrorize the Nazis behind enemy lines. Most of these scenes feature Tarantino’s trademarks: extensive expositional dialogue that borders on dadaist; scenes of sudden and intense violence; film genre shorthand like regional dialect tics, racial and ethnic profiling, etc. All this is to say it’s very entertaining.

But this film is really two films at the least–maybe three. A parallel story concerns Jewish refugee Shoshannah, sole survivor of a massacre in which her family died in front of her at the hands of German SS officer Hans Landa. Shoshannah resurfaces in France as Emmanuelle Mimieux, owner of a Paris cinemateque that, through the amorous intents of an ardent Nazi hero, becomes the site of a German propoaganda film premiere drawing the highest ranking members of the Nazi party.

Mélanie Laurent as Shoshannah is amazing. She is cold, heartless–a crowd-pleasing femme fatale, almost–but she has not completely abandoned her humanity. As Frederick Zoller, the Nazi hero who wants to get with Shoshannah-as-Emanuelle, becomes more and more intent on seducing her, she finds herself seated at a lunch table with Joseph Goebbels and–yes–Hans Landa. Tarantino has really refined what makes a situation tense and suspenseful for an audience, and this is one example. And when Shoshannah takes her revenge, splicing into the German film a close-up of herself telling the Nazis she’s about to kill them, Tarantino achieves a kind of artistry his prior movies have really lacked. As the cinema burns, Shoshannah’s face flickers over the smoke at the front of the house, ghostlike and eerie.

The other standout is Diane Kruger as double agent and German film star Bridge von Hammersmark. Although her role in the film is brief, she makes a lasting impact through her convincing duplicity–even the audience wonders if she’s truly a double agent or not throughout her scenes, up until the very end. Oddly, she reminded me of Kate Winslet in this role, a comparison I liked but that isn’t 100% accurate. Her cross-cutting between effusive and self-possessed starlet and cunning double agent is done deftly and beleiveably, giving even more credence to her character’s success in the film industry.

Chrisopher Waltz’s portrayal of Hans Landa was also fantastic. He was one of the few truly horrifying characters in the entire film, menacing mostly because of his affability and openness to getting the job done with everyone’s support. Nicknamed “The Jew Hunter” for his ability to seek out and destroy hidden Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, he could easily have been a charicature of an evil, mindless killing machine. But he is not. Probably made even more evil for his ability to draft and redraft the “truth,” so to speak, he discovers a way even to rewrite history.

Til Schweiger as Hugo Stiglitz was another enjoyable performance. Quiet and merciless, Stiglitz looms in his scenes with menace and hatred for the Nazis, erupting in sudden fits of violence that are as justified as they are horrifying.

If you’ve read about the film at all, you’ve probably caught wind of some kind of big risk Tarantino took with the script–and with history. While Hitler does attend the film premiere and, like the rest of the guests, is locked inside, the audience can’t help but believe he is going to escape somehow. That Tarantino is tackling his first true story leads us to this. And then Hitler is machine-gunned to pieces by one of the Basterds, ending the war. It’s an odd moment. Logically, we know this isn’t true or possible, and so our suspension of disbelief is broken. But honestly, was it even there? Going into a Tarantino film, we’re expecting things to be offkilter, but I think Tarantino’s only mistake is crafting stuch a stunning, classic film that is truly powerful and moving–then undercutting it with its cartoonish redraft of history.

One article I saw wondered if Tarantino had the “right to rewrite history.” I don’t know if that’s fair. Steven Spielberg used Nazi villains over and over in the Indiana Jones movies, technically rewriting history, you’d suppose. Hitler even shows up in the first Jones film, signs and autograph, and then moves on. Certainly that’s a rewrite of history, yes? So why is killing Hitler, which most Americans living at the time would have liked to have done, seen as a faulty narrative device?

Totally recommend seeing this if you haven’t.