Midweek Rant #3: The Academy Awards

March 5, 2009

My favorite Theater critic is Charles Isherwood of the New York Times.  It took some time for him to earn my respect, but he got it.  How did it happen?  I started seeing plays based on his reviews, and I couldn’t help but find myself agreeing ninety percent of the time.  Or sometimes I’d see a play before his review came out, and then I’d read it and think “not bad, Charlie, not bad at all.” 

Sure there have been a few times when I have been appalled.  Edge Theater’s “Essential Self Defense” by Adam Rapp was one of the most interesting and thought provoking and entertaining plays I’ve ever seen with to-die-for performances by Paul Sparks and Heather Golenhersh, incredible music by Ray Rizzo and Lucas Papaelias, a breathtaking set by David Korins, and seamless direction by Carolyn Cantor.  Yet Isherwood thrashed it.

Why did I forgive him?  Because it was the exception, not the rule.  Isherwood is my man most of the time, and even when he’s not, I at least respect his poor judgement.

That being said, I’d like to talk about the Academy Awards.  Living in Los Angeles, I could smell the ceremony in the air in the days leading up to February 22nd.  Everyone had a party to go to.  The Oscars!  The Oscars!

But thinking back, what has the Academy done to earn this respect?  Money aside, they don’t have much to tout.  Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow won for “Shakespeare in Love,” beating Cate Blanchett for “Elizabeth”?  Is there any explanation for this in terms of acting merit?

I could go on and on about not only all the bad choices made, but the good choices made for the wrong movie (Scorcese wins for Departed, Denzel Washington for Training Day?).  But all of these lead me to believe that artistic merit is trumped by politics, which is of course controlled by money.

So this year I was feeling a bit angry about the awards before they even happened.  Would Melissa Leo even be considered for Best Actress?  Of course not!  And I was at peace with that.  I love Kate Winslet as much as the next jerk, and no one would argue that the award is overdue.  But was it necessarily the right choice?

But an offense occurred this year that I will never recover from.  I’m not sure why I’ve let the Academy Awards get away with this nonsense for so long.  If Charles Isherwood was this irresponsible, I’d have cancelled my delivery long ago and let them know in writing how come!  But the Academy has a stranglehold on the industry, so it’s been tough for me to let go.  I’m ready now, thanks to a little category called “Best Live Action Short”.

While in New York City I went to the IFC Film Center with my buddy Tim Clancy to watch the five short films nominated.  There was one movie that was obviously going to win, two that could possibly win, and two that there was no way was going to win.  Of the two that didn’t have a chance, my least favorite by far was “Toyland”. 

The Holocaust one.  Problem was, it wasn’t that good of a movie.  Tim argued a few of it’s attributes, of which I will admit it did indeed have.  The Nazis in the film were played with bone-chilling humanity.  It was like they were NYPD cranked up a few notches.  But all in all, it’s not that good of a film.  The ending was so trite I actually laughed, and laughing at a Holocaust film is something I always assumed I would never do.  If I was Isherwood, I would have torn this film apart with a few nice comments somewhere in the middle.

But it won.  And I think it’s because no one saw any of the films, and so they voted for the Holocaust one.  Way to go, Academy!  Imagine if Isherwood went off of the descriptions of the plays without actually seeing them?  I’d be like, “Charlie!  C’mon!  C’mon, Charlie, get your act together!” (you may have noticed by now that I am taking great pleasure in referring to Charles Isherwood as ‘Charlie’).

I don’t know if anyone finds my conclusion offensive or not.  I urge you, however, to watch the film that should have won.  You can buy it for $1.99 on iTunes.  It was the last film that played in the IFC showing, and so Tim and I had to do the “walk of shame” in which two guys in their mid-twenties walk out of a theater, no dates in hand, eyes swollen from crying.

Embarrassing, but worth it:

Manon on the Asphalt

So please please support this film by watching it (click the link above).  You’ll thank me, I promise.  And please please don’t watch Toyland.  The Holocaust deserves a better film than this, and the people today deserve a better Academy than we have.  And I’d also like to remind you that the Academy has always sucked and been dominated by politics.  Citizen Kane?  A whopping ONE win in the 1942 ceremony.  Two awards would have been overboard for a film that influential.  As for Charles Isherwood, I don’t live in New York City anymore, so please please keep doing a good job for me.

I’m sorry, but I’ve got to do it once more:


Chapter 13: The Gym – Part 1

March 2, 2009

When we last left off, I had just decided I was going to fight to stay in the house I had come to love so much.  I wasn’t going to let one little, or rather five or six relatively large, altercations ruin things.  I was going to fight!

This is the part of the sitcom where an electric guitar cues a montage of me getting rieady to battle.  I guess it doesn’t make sense, but I figure I would be working out at some point.  Fortunately for the filming budget, I already have an LA Fitness membership.

Jesse Gavin?  Going to the gym?   That would either come as no surprise or a total shock to people that know me depending on when I met them.

I had stopped going to the gym five years earlier because, well, I was afraid I was going to get my ass kicked.  It’s not like there was a guy that was out to get me, or that fights break out at the gym a lot, it’s just that I find I’m a real easy target for someone to pick on if I provoke them. 

For example.  I was at a pizza place a few years back with a huge guy standing in front of me, talking to his equally meat headed buddy.

“So yeah, I said fuck it, I’m going out every night this week, ya know what I mean, bro?  Just get hammered and take home chicks.”  He gets his slice and goes to sprinkle on some parmesan, and the cap falls off. 

Now in a situation like this I can’t help but crack a smile.  If I was watching it on television I’d be on the floor laughing.  There’s a mound of parmesan cheese on this guy’s slice and you know it’s not making him happy.  Of all the people for it to happen to in the pizza joint, it has happened to the guy that makes it by far the funniest scenario.  He’s got that befuddled look on his face that says “duh, what just happened,” combined with expanding veins that leave him one trait short of being the Incredible Hulk: green skin tone.

So this guy kind of turns back to see if anyone saw it happen, and there I am with a very subtle grin on my face.

“Hey bro, somethin’ funny?”

This is where I get in trouble.  Now he must know that the pizza place is going to give him another slice; it was, after all, their shaker that had a loose cap.  There are slices already in the oven so it shouldn’t take too long for him to get a new one.   There was no mistake he made on his part that he should be upset or embarrassed about.

But for a meathead, there is nothing more infuriating than someone finding something he did funny.  The only nonverbal thing they do intentionally for laughs is to mime having sex with women.

“I said you think somethin’s funny?”  It’s situations like these that make me think the delivery fee might be worth it.

In this situation I have three options: fight, reason, appease.

If I fight him, he’ll probably win, although there’s that small chance I take him down and everyone looks at me wide eyed.  “Wow, he kicked that guys ass!” they’ll think as I sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on his slice and walk out the door.

If I reason with him, at best I’ll get him to understand that we’re all human and funny things happen from time to time.  This will take a minimum of two hours to accomplish, and will require a monosyllabic tweak to my all too often overly verbose explanations. 

“No man, sorry.”  I bow my head and wait for him to notice that in his rage he has expanded in size and ripped his jeans and black, ribbed A-Shirt.  By this time his new slice has arrived.

“I’ll take a slice to go.”

Gyms statistically have the densest population of meatheads, slightly edging out Sports Bars and Las Vegas.  So it’s the highest risk location for me to get picked on because I can’t keep a straight face when people are acting ridiculously.

To explain, I will walk you through the last day I went to the gym before going on hiatus: March 12, 2004. 

I walked into the lobby, where I was greeted by Vinnie at the counter with his usual question: “you wanna renew your membership today?….Jesse?”  The dot-dot-dot was for when he looked at my name on the computer screen.  I’m sure he’s got a lot of names to keep track of, but that little glance calls extra attention to how he’s acting like we’ve been friends since middle school.

“Hey Jesse, it’s me!  Vinnie from Genet: 5th grade.  Wanna renew your membership.

This is no big deal, but it sours my mood because I have to have a ninety second to-do every time I wanna work out about how I don’t have my card with me, and then he checks if they have it on file, assuring me they do, and then he finds out that they don’t, which I know because I would never let them keep it on file and I paid for my first six months in cash.

Sheesh, I’m winded already.

I walk into the locker room and the real danger begins. 

The first two bays have naked guys standing proudly with their towels inconveniently wrapped around their shoulders, if at all.  They’re conversing, perhaps comparing.  I walk into the third and final bay, which is empty.  Upon opening a locker, I am joined by the occupant of the locker right next to mine, who has just walked back from the shower. 

Here I am in a delicate situation.  I can easily move down a few lockers, as we’re all aware of the kind of spatial awareness that prompted the 1-3-5 urinal rule.  But by this point I’ve taken my shoes off and put them in the locker.  And if  I move down someone else may come in anyway; it’s a busy midtown Manhattan gym.  And we’re all men, right?  What do we have to be ashamed of?  I’ve showered with naked men plenty of times after hockey games and it was never an issue.  Just as I’ve made the decision to stay where I am, I hear the light thud of a foot hitting the bench.

It was like that part in Jurassic Park.  The water in my water bottle shook, and as I turned my head to look to my left my peripheral vision was fortunately alert enough to whip my neck back to where it started.

I didn’t have to see it straight on.  My peripheral view and the sound effects were plenty.  It was the old “lather my shaved legs with moisturizing cream” stance, one that seems to always be done in the nude by very muscular, tan men. 

Could someone please enter this locker bay so I’m not the only guy here?!!!

I mentioned sound effects.  One is pretty standard; it’s the same you hear when you put on sun tan lotion at the beach.  The other you won’t hear at the beach unless you’re in certain parts of Europe, perhaps watching a spontaneous, spur of the moment jumping-jack contest.

The speed at which he was rubbing the cream into his inner and outer thighs is really only appropriate for starting fires in the wild.  Replace the leg with a stick, and you’re ready for marshmallows….or maybe chestnuts.  Yeah, chestnuts sounds about right.

Now this guy could, and would, easily kick my ass if I started laughing uncontrollably.  I thought I was winded before, now my muscles are completely sore from the counter-tension needed to keep a straight face.  I could just imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t so self-disciplined:

“Yo, bro, you laughing at something?”

“Yeah, your balls slapping against your thighs.”

“What you a fag?”

“No, they’re two feet away from my face, I have no choice but to notice them.”

Then I get beat up by a naked meathead with smooth skin.

Now I understand this guy was probably in a rush.  He was most likely on his lunch break.  And I can deal with the metrosexual thing.  The shaving.  The lathering.  I’m Ok with it; I am.  And people that work out obviously care about how they look enough to want to take these extra steps.  And that might not be my thing, but to each their own.  All I’m saying is how about a “heads up, I’m about to moisturize”?

And one more thing…where is everyone else?  Can I please at least have someone else in this locker bay?

I finally get changed into my workout clothes and enter the gym area.  In my haste, I accidentally left my water bottle in the locker.  I’m pretty sure my next door neighbor is still buck naked and I decide to just go to the water jug instead. 

Challenge two.  Standing in front of the water jug the guy.  Which guy?  Really could be anyone.  But the second he gets that little cone cup in his hand he forgets about everyone else in the world and stands right in front of the dispenser.  He tends to stare off into space or at the girls running on the treadmill, making slight adjustments in his pectoral-to-rib alignment.

Will he move if I begin walking towards the jug?  No.  In fact, he’ll need an audible “excuse me” to move.  I stress audible because I tend to use a library voice in these situations, assuming that the person is aware of their surroundings and knows that you just want to get some water (much like he did, twelve seconds ago).  But no, you’ve got to speak up.  There’s a lot of meat in that head, and no doubt the ear canals had to make some sacrifices to make it all fit in there (Lord knows the neck did it’s part).

But the part that puts me in danger is between my first and second sip of water out of the cone.  Let’s face it, you only get two sips out of those things, despite how long it may take some people to finish it.  It’s in the silence between sips when I realize I am in what is essentially a lounge area for people working out.  And here we are.  Me and this guy.  Will he say something to me?  Will we talk about the weather, or will he ask me what muscle I’m working on today?  Does he have any idea I am even standing there?

All my questions are answered as he once again adjusts the alignment of his pectoral muscles in relation to his ribcage, this time doing a quick flex and release of his biceps.  This man is in a far away land where many scantily clad women are staring in ecstatic wonderment at his chiseled physique.  I throw back my second sip of water and throw out the cup.  Doing my best to not let the water going down my throat trigger the laughing fit I’ve been so carefully suppressing.

Phew.  Close one.

Feeling like I’ve escaped danger, I step out into the minefield that is the weight room.  No Thesaurus could help me explain this part, so, here goes:

The grunting.  The growling.  The sound of weights slamming on the floor, bars bouncing off of ribs, and spinal discs disintegrating into thin air all in the name of that last rep.  How do I not laugh amidst all this?

In a weird way all the nonsense blended into one, static, cacophony of ridiculousness.  I zone it all out much in the way that I coulc zone out street noise on Ninth Avenue when taking a nap during rush hour.  It’s all the blends together…

I was just getting comfortable with this new found state of Zen.  I was working my biceps with the curling bar, sitting on the isolation bench.  The outside world was blurry as I did my ninth rep.  Just one more to go…

Tune in next week for Part 2!