Saturday, December 19, 2009

More sentimental than you might believe

After yesterday's post about Love Actually, I had a brief email exchange with Lynn in which she asked which parts of the film caused me to choke up with emotion. She mentioned the touching scene of never-to-be-fulfilled love when Mark (Andrew Lincoln) expresses his feelings for Juliet (Keira Knightley) via handwritten signs as a Christmas carol plays on a boom-box; the beautifully acted scenes when Karen (Emma Thompson) has to cope with her sudden realization in her bedroom and then later confronts her husband, Harry (Alan Rickman); the sight of Sarah (Laura Linney) sitting in her office at night talking to her brother as Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), the man she loves, walks away; and many others.

None of those scenes, however, nor any of the others in the movie that explore the complexities of love are what most move me.

Instead, the bits that most touch me are those in which writer and director Curtis deliberately ignores reality and focuses instead on instants of impossibly perfect love. To me, the most powerfully touching of them is the scene in the restaurant in which Jamie (Colin Firth), in halting and frequently incorrect Portuguese, asks Aurelia (Luciz Moniz) to marry him. The build-up for this moment is perfect: a long and ever-growing parade through the streets of Marseille as rumors emerge and mutate about the purpose of the insane Englishman. The music swells and alerts us that something majestic is happening, that what comes next matters, that what we are about to see is powerful.

Conventional wisdom makes clear that the proposal is too soon and the marriage unlikely to last. Jamie and Aurelia have known each other less than a month, they know nothing significant about one another, they have no common language--nothing about it makes any sense.

Except that they love each other.

In most movies or books, this scene might annoy me. Here, though, it stands as one among many tributes to the power of not only love, but of choosing every now and then, however briefly, to focus solely on love.

Those moments, when Love Actually steps into fantasy and shows us the potentially redemptive power of love and of seeing only love, even if only for an instant, those are the ones that choke me up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Every Christmas

I watch Love Actually and Bad Santa. Tonight, in a wild and crazy move, we watched both on Blu-Ray. Damn, but they do look better in high-res.

Every year, the first fills me with emotion, and the second cracks me up. I am such a sucker for these two films.

I am also such a sentimental fool. The same scenes in Love Actually make me tear up and choke up each year, though I know them as well as old friends. I cannot recall another movie that makes me as happy as Love Actually.

Tonight, after watching it, I was thinking about why that was, why this film can affect me so strongly after so many viewings, and I decided it was this: Curtis, the director and writer, commits fully to a vision that he knows goes too far but that he invites us--nay, entices us--to share nonetheless. He is not saying that everything always works out, or that love conquers all, or that all romances will last forever. What he is saying is that love is out there, every minute of every day, happening in big ways and small all over the world, and that's it so powerful and so real that we should take hope from it and never forget it and know that always, always people will love no matter what.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C. Bruce Hunter: R.I.P.

Bruce died on November 13. I didn't hear about it until today; that fact alone shows that we weren't all that tight.

But, damn, now he's dead.

When Bruce didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner at the Drake's, we all wondered if he was okay and hoped nothing bad had happened to him; clearly, something had.

Each year, Bruce would come to the same set of our big parties--New Year's Eve, the Fourth of July, the pig-pickin', Thanksgiving--and we would chat a little. Never much; as best I can tell, he was socially awkward, and the two of us were definitely awkward around each other. Still, we'd exchange the odd joke--Bruce was always ready with a bad joke or ten--and talk about food, a shared love, or writing, another shared passion. At New Year's Eve, we'd play a game or three of pool. He wrote a large family history and books about Masons and probably a lot of stuff I never saw. He gave me signed copies of his books. He always brought a little something to share.

Mostly, though, he came, sat quietly alone, listened, was unfailingly polite, and was an odd but constant fixture in our strange little crowd.

When he left, we always shook hands, as we also did to mark the start of each of the past twenty or so new years.

I always had the sense that Bruce felt apart from everyone, almost invisible, and I probably contributed to that sense by not spending much time with him.

He wasn't invisible, though. He was quiet and odd, but he was visible: we knew him, we worried about him, and he's gone now. He was a man of the generation who almost certainly would have been deeply uncomfortable in the face of honest emotion from another man; a handshake was as far as anyone needed to go. So I'll say now what I never said to him and probably should have made clear.

However odd you felt, Bruce, however apart and alone you thought you were, you were a strange part of our stranger little group, and when you were with us, you belonged.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things that piss me off: Glitter-covered cards

When a Christmas or birthday card arrives in the mail, I tend to think, cool! Someone sent me an actual paper card. So, I tear it open, check out the front, read the inside, and then even look at the back if the card is at all interesting. Most folks probably do the same thing. This approach works well for almost all cards...

..but not for those covered in glitter.

You touch one of those demonic creations, and your hand comes away covered in glitter. More falls onto your shirt, your pants, maybe even your shoes. If the light isn't good, or if you're in a rush and don't notice the glitter, then you start spreading it around your body and your surroundings. Glitter on your face. Glitter on your keyboard. Glitter everywhere.

You better hope you don't need the bathroom before you notice the glitter. If you do, you'll be sorry. Twilight myths to the contrary, some parts of you simply should not sparkle with glitter.

Okay, maybe they should if Angelina Jolie wants them to do so, but that's another topic entirely.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah: glitter cards. I hate those things. If you intend to make one, coat it in plastic or use some new nano-polymer to secure every single bit of glitter to the paper so that it will still be attached when the sun dies and the planet has frozen into an icy lifeless mass. Take no chances: Do everything you can to ensure that every speck of glitter stays in place.

Don't make me use my sparkly fists on you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yes, I'm that predictable

So I was sitting around today, thinking about what to write for the blog, when I realized that it was vital that people listen to two of my favorite Christmas songs, "Silver Bells" and "Christmas Is All Around." Almost as soon as that thought crossed my mind, another raced after it: I can't write that, because I've done it already. A quick search of my blog revealed that yes, indeed, I had: December 15, 2008--the same date one year ago.

I am so predictable.

Nonetheless, I'm right that you should listen to these songs, so go read and listen to last year's entry. Each tune is wonderful, in very different ways.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Desert Rain

A long time ago, Pat Murphy and I co-wrote a story called, "Desert Rain." Pat was by far the more senior and more skilled writer in this collaboration, and over quite a long period she dragged me into completing the piece. (The vast majority of its virtues are due to her, and its flaws to me.) We sold it to the Bantam original anthology, Full Spectrum III. Gardner Dozois reprinted it in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Ninth Annual Edition (my only story appearance in that series). I've always liked that story, and I greatly enjoyed and learned an enormous amount from working with Pat, who is now a friend I never see and often miss. As with most past work, though, this piece tends to fade in my mind next to the work in front of me.

Thus, it was with some surprise that I read last night an email message, which came via my Web site, from a guy at Carnegie Mellon (I'm not giving his name because I have not yet received permission to do so). He said I might be interested in the fact that he had a class take a stab at building the kinetic, music-playing sculpture that Pat and I (again, the best parts from Pat) had the lead character in "Desert Rain" create.

Here's a video of what the CMU team built. It take a over a minute to get going, but please wait and watch the whole thing; I think you'll be glad you did.

At the risk of emitting an unmanly squee, I have to say that I find this intensely awesome. It is very cool to see people working to bring to life a creation of our minds in a story we wrote so long ago.

Well done, CMU folks! You made my day.

And, Pat, should you happen to read this, thanks again for this story, for making this cool creation possible, for everything.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UFC 107: How we fared

Balance is restored, and the universe is moving correctly again as I won the battle of the fight pickers: Kyle had 4 of 11 wrong, while I missed only twice. Of course, this was one of the easier cards to call--but we've thought that before and been wrong.

Anyway, on to the details. As usual, we'll go from the bottom of the card to the top. First, the undercard.

Kevin Burns vs. T.J. Grant

We didn't get to see this fight, but from what I've read it was a doozy. Dana White clearly agreed, because he gave it the Knockout of the Night award. Unfortunately, though both of us chose Burns to win, that award went to Grant, who TKO'd Burns as the first round was ending and thus put both of us down 1.

DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia

The UFC showed this fight after the main event, and for about half a minute I thought both of us were correct in our choice of Garcia. He knocked down Johnson and looked in control. Then, Johnson hit him with an up-kick and pulled him into a triangle choke for the Submission of the Night victory. Johnson looked better than I had ever seen him, and Kyle and I were down 2.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares

I said that better BJJ skills would lead to a Palhares win, and I was right, but barely. The UFC didn't show this fight, but from the descriptions it was back and forth until the middle of the second, when Palhares won with a heel hook. I had my first victory.

Kyle chose Linhares and so was down three.

Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch

Another fight we didn't get to see, but at least this time we called it right: we both chose Hendricks, who won a unanimous decision.

Four fights in, and I'm up to an even 2-2. Kyle is 1-3.

Shane Nelson vs. Matt Wiman

Wiman indeed won the decision in a three-round battle that was the last fight we didn't get to watch. Chalk up another correct call for both of us.

Wilson Gouveia vs. Alan Belcher

This fight probably should have been on the main card, but at least we got to see it. Despite lasted only 3:02, it earned Fight of the Night honors, because these two just beat on each other. Belcher TKO'd Gouveia, and we were now rolling with three correct calls in a row.

On the main card, we continued to roll--with one speed bump for Kyle.

Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve

At a few points in this fight, I thought Buentello had it. In the first round, when Struve was on Buentello's back, I thought Struve would finish him. Instead, the fight went the distance, and it was close indeed. Fortunately for me, Struve carried the majority decision. I still had only two misses; Kyle was up to four.

Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce

Fitch is rapidly becoming one of those fighters who drive Dana White crazy by not finishing opponents but whom he really can't cut because they keep winning. Fitch won a three-round decision. Kyle and I were right, though Kyle called annihilation, and I called decision.

Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida

Another fight we both called. I said Florian by submission in the third, but he actually finished Guida in the second after causing Guida what I would have called the nastiest cut of the night--until later. Florian keeps looking better and better, and in my opinion he deserves a rematch with Penn.

Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo

Mir blew through Kongo. For the short time the fight lasted, Mir looked better in every way. He dropped Kongo with a step-under left hook, then sunk in a guillotine choke.

Mir is back.

Oh, yeah: We both called this one.

B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez

B.J. Penn is amazing, and he proved it once again with a completely dominant victory over a game Diego Sanchez. In the fifth, he hit Sanchez with a high kick that split open Sanchez's head and caused one of the worst cuts I've ever seen in a fight. The ref and doctor correctly called the fight. Penn looked completely fresh (and so did Sanchez at the start of the fifth, despite being battered). We both called this one, and Kyle was right that Penn again showed himself to be a transcendent fighter. Though I'd like to see Florian get another chance at Penn, I have trouble believing the outcome won't be the same. Penn is the best lightweight fighter in the world.

(As always, and even though we did pretty well this time, do not make bets placed on our predictions.)


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