Thursday, February 28, 2013

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #21: Monthly Expense Project and Moral Hazard

NIED #21: Monthly Expense Project and Moral Hazard
By Christopher J. Knorps

                On January 25, 2012, I had an inspiration.  The germ of this idea came from a period in early 2008.  I had recently gone on a road trip and managed to spend about $10,000.  While I could track most of my expenses through credit card statements, obviously I had not been diligent about keeping receipts from cash transactions.  Thus, I became paranoid that someone was taking money out of my account—recognizing that I was traveling (filling up my tank about once a day, paying for a hotel almost every night, buying snacks and meals) and incurring heavy expenses, and believing (perhaps correctly) that they could slip a withdrawal or purchase under my nose. 
                But it took four years for me to realize that a more eloquent system had to be constructed for personal finance.  Starting on February 1, 2012, I kept track of every dollar (nearly every penny) that I spent.  On February 1, 2013, I had completed one year of what I called “Monthly Expense Project” (or MEP).  Here were my totals (for the 5 main categories out of 16):

Total: $27,207.15 ($2,270.46 per month average)
Transportation: $2,344.75 ($195.40 per month average)
Food: $3,820.72 ($318.39 per month average)
Recreation: $4,923.93 ($410.33 per month average)
Academic: $1,877.67 ($156.48 per month average)

                More important is the disparity between “fixed” expenses and “discretionary” expenses.  Here, my 1 year MEP shows an interesting trend—as my fixed expenses dropped, my discretionary expenses grew (the disparity arose from a summer spent in Chicago, where I paid about $450 per month in rent as opposed to about $1,000 per month in Brooklyn). 
                On a very general level, I can tell that my fixed expenses come close to equaling my discretionary expenses.  Of the $27,207.15, about $11,000 of that is attributable to rent.  Thus, my total income after taxes should be about $33,000 (applying the general principle that rent should equal 1/3 of net income).  My total expenditures after rent totals approximately $16,000.  Thus, I would have roughly $6,000 to dispose of in other ways—it could go into savings, but after graduation, a good portion of that should go to loan payments.
                But more interestingly, how do these totals stack up to the approximations that Brooklyn Law School provides for its incoming students?
Add $49,976 to my total and you get $77,183.15 (the school estimates $75,536—not bad!)
                However, the school estimates housing in the amount of $17,200 (probably the cost of a fairly nice room in Feil Hall).  Subtracting $6,000 for me, the school estimate drops to $69,536. 
                Now this starts to look fishy.  Am I really spending almost $8,000 more dollars than the typical law student?
                What about transportation?  The school estimates $950 for that category, and I spent $2,344.75, about a $1,400 difference. 
                A word about transportation: over the summer, I took the El Train to work every day, and had monthly CTA cards, but at BLS, I rarely use the subway (I walk to campus).  However, I have also taken a number of plane trips, and this is probably responsible for my high totals (though there is certainly an argument to be made that this transportation expense is misleading).
So now, we’re down to $6,600—but let’s get to my favorite category: living expenses. 
                The school estimates that the average student will spend $5,880 on miscellaneous and living expenses.  Now, I did spend roughly $3,800 on food, which leaves about $2,000 for recreation, toiletries and various household expenses like cleaning and laundry. 
                If you add my recreation and food totals, it equals a whopping $8,744.65—almost $3,000 over the school estimate. 
                Still, there is about $3,600 difference lurking in the shadows.  My academic expenses equaled $1,877.67 and the school estimates “books” at $1,300.  Down to $3,100. 
                You could take out another $1,400 for health insurance—which I was on last year until I realized I could qualify for Medicaid (the school factors $0 into health insurance and does not widely distribute information about Medicaid—perhaps an attempt to drive up business with their provider, Aetna).  Still, there is a $1,700 shortfall.  I would imagine that cell phone and other utility bills makes up this difference.
                I advertised MEP as best as I could.  One other person participated in the November MEP.  My total was $1,999 and “Jackie Chan’s” total was $1,955, so the average was $1,977.
                My goal with MEP was to show that the school’s estimates were inaccurate and misleading.  People often criticize for BLS for its massive tuition and the expense of living in what is perhaps the most expensive area in Brooklyn. 
It is questionable what kinds of figures the school is “estimating” for food and recreational expenses.  It is not surprising that MEP has failed—but I am not a quitter and I demand that one more attempt be made.  The point of MEP was to write a scholarly article about personal finance, and to send it to Elizabeth Warren for comments.  In Chapter 13, disposable income is separated from fixed monthly expenses, and the debtor pays the court each month, and the court distributes that amount to creditors.  The point of the article would be to see if those amounts allocated by the court ($280 for food per month, for a single individual, from what I recall…) matched up to reality. 
Of course MEP is a larger project, but it has its seeds at BLS, and my experience of going from “fairly wealthy” to “broke” from 2007-2013—and I do not think my experience is unique.
I urge you to join me in the March 2013 MEP.  I know I will have at least three other participants, but of course greater participation equals greater accuracy.  Please visit this link to watch a 28-minute video of the MEP Presentation.  I will e-mail you the slides from the Powerpoint if you prefer not to see the comedy.  I realize that MEP can be a tedious exercise, but it has been a valuable one for me (it has helped me figure out what kind of salary I should aim to earn), and I would be very pleased if you join me in this endeavor.

Christopher J. Knorps is a 3L.  He enjoys studying Bankruptcy and Constitutional Law.  He is organizing a Monthly Expense Project “reporting” for March of 2013—please e-mail him at if you are interested in participating.  He is also organizing a 2nd Annual Open Mic and seeking performers so please contact him if you are interested. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress #20: Sticker Shocks and Certificates

In this column, I addressed sadness over a bad report card.  I also wrote about business law classes and law school grading mysteries.

NIED #20: Sticker Shocks and Certificates             
By Christopher J. Knorps
In keeping with the tradition of being an open book when it comes to grades, I must confess that my 3L Fall Semester was my worst academic performance in law school.  Over the first few days of the “sticker shock” I suffered after reading the results, I searched for a reasonable explanation:

(1)    The Professors did not adjust the curve upward for the two classes I took that had less than 39 students and that I got C+’s in.

(2)    I had the same “first exam” jitters for Accounting for Lawyers that I had for Criminal Law—only getting 3-4 hours of sleep before a 9 AM exam.

(3)    I didn’t appropriately allocate my time on the First Amendment exam.

(4)    I didn’t put in enough time to ensure that I knew the material cold (or that I could do the mathematical calculations that I’d be expected to know in Corporate Finance).

(5)    I never fully understood all the permutations that the different intestacy regimes for Trusts & Estates would implicate (though this was the least disappointing grade).

(6)    The clinic professor didn’t really pay attention when she gave students a “P” or an “HP.”

(7)    The other students in the class were just too damn smart (or the professors taught the class too damn well).

(8)    The other students getting Business Law Certificates are too damn smart.           

Also I had no friends that wanted to study with me.
Most likely, all 8 of these explanations, taken together, explain my precipitous drop.  However, I think the last two are the most important.  #7 was true for First Amendment (Araiza is an excellent professor, and while I would never brag about that grade, I am sure that everyone in the class left it with a very good understanding of the material).  #8 was true for Corporate Finance and Accounting for Lawyers (I would also add that, as a left-handed person forced to handwrite knuckle-smearing page-smudging-notes and struggle to keep up with the pace of the class, I was at a disadvantage).  Corporate Finance is a required course for the Business Law Certificate, and nobody in their right mind would take Accounting for Lawyers unless they are getting the Business Law Certificate (while not required it is “strongly recommended”) or taking a general Business Law Curriculum route. 
Certificates have their critics.  They say, “Nobody is going to care if you got a Certificate and you get to list it on your resume.”  However, I “trusted the school” in deciding to do this.  I felt that if I took these courses, then I would have the basic skills necessary to enter a number of different areas embedded within the general “business law” wheelhouse.  Perhaps it will have served me well to “punish myself” (in a sense) and learn this material, but it remains to be seen.
Some people may read this column and think I am dumping on all the other students that don’t take the Business Law Certificate.  They might think I’m implying that the Business Law kids are the really smart kids in the school.  But there are kids that are brilliant when it comes to Criminal Law, Intellectual Property (which, it is perhaps worth noting, seems much less popular than I thought it would be coming into law school), and Tax too.  But I must admit that I haven’t dug deeply enough into these areas (have not delved at all into IP, regrettably) to really know the kids taking the advanced courses.
Brooklyn is not a very highly-ranked school, but we suffer outside of the New York region because people do not recognize the intellectual quality of our students.  I have repeatedly said that I have never been surrounded by such an intelligent peer group in any other academic context in my life (and I think my previous schools were all more “prestigious”).  And I think that holds true for most of us.
I still have to believe that I would have done better if I had taken “fun” courses like I did last year (i.e. Interviewing and Counseling, Trial Advocacy, Employment Law, Business Reorganizations—all B+s through A’s).  And if all you care about is your GPA, then I highly recommend you just take courses that interest you, and don’t push yourselves to take big survey classes unless you are doing it for the Bar Exam.  Some people tend to say, “That sounds awful!” when I tell them I take Securities Regulation or Federal Income Taxation or Corporate Finance or Accounting for Lawyers.  And my GPA and class rank are now, officially “weak,” and there is nothing I can do about it.  But I remind myself that I have been learning something “new.” 
It would be interesting to see if there was a correlation between class rank and area of concentration or certificate field.  I would venture a guess that the Business Law kids would be highly-ranked, but then again I am sometimes accused of allowing my experience to cloud my judgment.  Regardless, a study should be made. 
Christopher J. Knorps is a 3L earning a Business Law Certificate.  He enjoys studying bankruptcy and constitutional law.  He is organizing a 2nd Annual Open Mic this Spring with the proceeds going to Sanctuary for Families.  Please e-mail him at if you are interested in performing.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Die Hard 2: Die Harder - Dir. Renny Harlin (The Die Hard Project #2 - JM)

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Dir: Renny Harlin

The Blueprint for a Successful Sequel
By Jay Maronde

                Before one can begin a review of Die Hard 2: Die Harder, the question must be posed: what really makes a Great Action Movie?
Now if your answer to that question is that you need to see some “all-new,” “next-level” kind of stuff, then this is not the Die Hard for you—as yes, this is essentially the same movie as the original Die Hard, except in an airport. The production staff of this movie seemed to have realized this glaring flaw, and as such, went “all out” in other ways to produce a fun movie.  
Now, if you define a Great Action Movie as a movie with great characters, great action, and a spectacular ending, then DH2 will be a great time.
                First things first, Bruce Willis returns to reprise his role as the Everyman Cop Hero Caught in the Wrong Place, but trying to save his wife (now no longer estranged)  from terrorists on Christmas Eve. This time the terrorists (who for the only time in the franchise are really terrorists, not just thieves) have seized Dulles Airport while John McClane’s wife is airborne waiting to land.
It is perhaps worth noting that the worldwide popularity of John McClane played no small role in the very quick production of this sequel.  Furthermore, Bruce Willis’s portrayal of John McClane was so popular with audiences that he was encouraged to do more ad-libbing “anywhere he wanted.” To that end, John McClane comes off as grittier, angrier, and more determined than ever—and it works charmingly: Willis, without a doubt, ensures his place in movie history with this fantastic performance. But it takes more than just a great hero to make a great movie.
                Also necessary for a Great Action Movie is a really evil, sick, weird, villain with a fucked-up plan: in this case, to save a thinly-veiled Manuel Noriega caricature from extradition to the US. This evil villain (while possibly the weakest in the series) is played quite well by William Sadler as the traitor Colonel Stuart.  As the movie opens, we find Stuart doing Tai Chi naked in a hotel room and that is just the beginning of his sick-twisted-ness.  This early highlighting of his horrid personality was conceived by director Harlin as an early way to let the audience know that they were experiencing a special kind of villain. But in a shocking twist, it turns out he’s not the only bad guy we find in the movie. Again (as with the original Die Hard), the federal government sends help that isn’t really much help at all. As much as I like Sadler, he is easily outshone by his deviant co-villain, played by John Amos.
                Also of note in this movie are John’s unlikely allies at the airport in the form of its Chief of Police and Head of Airport Operations, played respectively by Dennis Franz (then-hot on the success of “NYPD Blue”) and later U.S. Presidential Candidate Fred Dalton Thompson. Franz is great as an overwhelmed cop who wants nothing less than some hero cop like John McClane bringing trouble to his airport. Thompson, as would be indicated by his run for President, is always great in any role where he is the boss.   
                Now all these great actors doing the best acting in the world wouldn’t be impressive for an action movie at all if the movie didn’t have any action, and DH2 never for a moment lacks on action. John McClane is in the middle of gun fights, snowmobile chases, and all-out-brawls, and Harlin does everything he can to keep all of this action extremely interesting and the movie flows remarkably quickly while keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat the entire time. Harlin, however, saves the best action for the very, very end of the movie.
DH2 easily has one of the best endings of all the Die Hards, and may even boast the greatest action movie ending of all time. While the villains aren’t necessarily beaten or shot to death by McClane, his method of eliminating them is more than outrageous and serves to make for this spectacular ending. John McClane not only blows up a whole plane full of escaping terrorist scum, but in the process singlehandedly re-opens the airport, allowing for his wife’s fuel-depleted plane to make an emergency landing. Audiences always love a loud, crazy and yet “everything turns out great in the end” ending, but the manner in which McClane brings down the plane along with his classic “yippie –ky-yay-motherfucker” is pure Hollywood genius.
                Die Hard 2 may not be the best of all of the Die Hards, but without a doubt it is an enormously entertaining movie. The fact that the movie is in a lot of ways a complete rehash of the original Die Hard is more than made up for by the movie’s excellent pacing, great cast, and off-the-charts action.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Points of Rebellion - William O. Douglas

Justice Douglas is my favorite Supreme Court justice.  Law school is extremely boring at times, but any class that features Supreme Court opinions from 1939-1975 holds the potential for excitement: Douglas is likely to dissent in many cases, and there is almost always a sentence or two of pure brilliance and disgust.  Points of Rebellion, then, is a 97 page dissent against America as she stood in 1969.  It is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.

In college, I majored in Writing and Politics at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.  We were required to state our concentration and present a colloquium on the topic.  I chose "Political Rebellion in Literature."  My presentation (delivered to my academic adviser, as well as two other faculty members) was mostly a mess.  We had to talk about 30 books.  Some of my books were Utopia (Sir Thomas More), Hamlet, The Rebel (Albert Camus), The Flowers of Evil (Charles Baudelaire), The Origins of Totalitarianism (Hannah Arendt), One-Dimensional Man (Herbert Marcuse), White Noise (Don DeLillo), Something Happened (Joseph Heller), Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Richard Hofstadter), The Trial (Kafka), Discourse on Method (Descartes), Bend Sinister (Vladimir Nabokov), and others...

My basic argument was that the different forms of rebellion had been squashed by the majority in American society.  I could not make this argument anywhere nearly as well as I could today.

Points of Rebellion would have been THE PERFECT BOOK for this colloquium, and I am sorry that I did not know anything about the law, or the Court, when I was 21 and designing my project.

Were I to give this presentation today, the so-called "Occupy movement" would no doubt move heavily to the forefront of the conversation.  Last year when the police arrested protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge and raided Zuccotti Park, I wrote on Facebook that it had taken 7 years, but I had finally been proven wrong: the flowers of rebellion still bloom today.

But I would like you, one day, to look at Google Analytics (I find it from my finance page) and look at Domestic Trends and see the last ten years in various industries.  You will be able to see some remnants of the Great Recession, but more notable is the continued dominance of the credit card industry.

While the "Occupy movement" may have brought like-minded individuals together and fostered a stronger public consciousness of the ways in which the financial industry has siphoned off economic growth from 99% of the population, it is hard to say that they have made a serious impact.  Elizabeth Warren has made a much stronger impact in terms of formulating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and she is but one person.  It is far too early to talk about 2016, but other people are already whispering that Hillary Clinton will be running on the Democratic ticket--but I am convinced that the only way we can enter into a "golden age" is with Warren as President.  Many people are saying that we will continue to live with high unemployment rates for the rest of our lives, but if more people read Points of Rebellion, one would realize that rapid and radical change is, in fact, possible.

To be sure, Douglas's vision of an American utopia is improbable.  It is quite easy to counter Douglas's statements or claim that he asks too much out of people.  Indeed, many of his statements ignore the psychological tendencies of people to organize themselves in "the Establishment" that Douglas faced in his lifetime, and that we still face today.

First, Points of Rebellion was written in 1970--but it might as well have been written yesterday because nothing has changed (excepting some of the statements about foreign affairs):

"The advances of technology present the problem of increasing disemployment in the private sector.  We brag about our present low unemployment.  But that is due to Vietnam.  Without Vietnam we would have 15 per cent or more unemployment.  Must we fight wars to have full employment?
Technology is in the saddle and displaces manpower.  The old problem of unemployment has become the new problem of disemployment.  How many of the present eighteen-year-old men and women will be permanently disemployed?  Thoughts such as these fill the hearts of the young with dismay." (66)

Douglas does, at one point, flex his literary experimentation to hilarious effect:

"A number of federal agencies also use personality tests.  One included the following choices:--my father was a good man, I am very seldom troubled by constipation, my sex life is satisfactory, evil spirits possess me at times, at times I feel like swearing, I have had very peculiar and strange experiences, I have never been in trouble because of my sex behavior, during one period when I was a youngster I engaged in petty thievery, my sleep is fitful and disturbed, I do not always tell the truth, as a youngster I was suspended from school one or more times for cutting up, everything is turning out just like the prophets of the Bible said it would.
The experts are at odds about these personality tests.  These tests commonly grade a person by eight, nine, or ten traits while twenty-five thousand traits might approximate an accurate personality portrayal.  Moreover, the creator of the test fashions his own neurotic world as, for example, to daydream is neurotic--the thesis that is present in one personality test." (25)

Most people know nothing of Justice Douglas.  Law students may hear the gossip that he was married four times and that he was an early advocate of environmental protection.  His passion for the environment is present throughout Points of Rebellion.  Sometimes his love for it is so innocent and genuine that one cannot help but be moved:

"I remember an alpine meadow in Wyoming where willows lined a clear, cold brook.  Moose browsed the willow.  Beaver came and made a dam which in time created a lovely pond which produced eastern brook trout up to five pounds.  A cattle baron said that sagebrush was killing the grass.  So the Forest Service sprayed the entire area.  It killed the sagebrush and the willow too.  The moose disappeared and so did the beaver.  In time the dam washed out and the pond was drained.  Ten years later some of the willow was still killed out; the beaver never returned; nor did the moose." (83)

Notably, Justice Douglas does not write as you would expect a Supreme Court justice to write--and it is refreshing as hell:

"In April, 1968, only 3.5 per cent of the general population was unemployed, while for those in the slum areas it was 7 per cent, with 5.7 per cent for whites and 8.7 per cent for Negroes.
The national white unemployment rate has been about 3.1 per cent and the national Negro unemployment rate 6.7 per cent.
Police practices are anti-Negro.
Employment practices are anti-Negro.
Housing allocation is anti-Negro.
Education is anti-Negro.
The federal government, with its hundreds of federally-financed public road contracts, and its thousands of procurement contracts negotiated each year by the Pentagon and other agencies to purchase munitions, towels, stationery, pens, automobiles and the like, is admonished by Congress to make sure that the contractors for these goods make jobs available without discrimination.  President Johnson gave hardly more than lip service to that mandate." (45-46)

When a Supreme Court justice can write the way Douglas does, one feels more secure in their love for their country.  However, there have not been many like him.  Points of Rebellion predates the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and one supposes that Douglas would think that agency a step in the right direction.  However it is more likely that he would find much to hate about it too.  His distaste for the administrative state is eloquently stated in another passage that could be written yesterday:

"Corporate interests, as well as poor people--unemployed people as well as the average member of affluent society--are affected by these broad generalized grants of authority to administrative agencies.  The corporate interests have been largely taken care of by highly qualified lawyers acting in individual cases and by Bar Associations proposing procedural reforms that define, for example, the 'aggrieved' persons who have standing to object to agency orders or decisions. [One wishes Douglas was on the Court when Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation came down...] But the voices of the mass of people are not heard; and the administrative agencies largely have their own way.
Moreover, the Establishment controls those agencies.  That control does not come from corrupt practices or from venality.  It results from close alliances made out of working relations, from memberships in the same or similar clubs, from the warp and woof of social relations, and from the prospects offered the administrator for work in the ranks of the Establishment, if he is the right and proper man.  The administrative office is indeed the staging ground where men are trained and culled and finally chosen to the high salaried posts in the Establishment that carry many desirable fringe benefits.  The New Dealers mostly ended up there.  Under Lyndon Johnson there was lively competition for administrative men who would in two years have made a million working for the Establishment.  That is a powerful influence among many agencies; and it results in those who have agency discretion exercising it for the benefit of those who run the corporation state.  And those people are by and large the exploiters." (79-80)

Like a law review article, this book ends with suggestions for reform.  President Obama should read this book (or at least indicate to me that he has read this book) and so should Elizabeth Warren.  They are the only ones out there right now that can make any of this change happen.  Of course, Congress will likely stand in their way, but if lawmakers are truly servants of the public, then they must listen to reason rather than self-interest.  Douglas nicely summarizes his vision at the end:

"There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is responsive to human needs.
If society is to be responsive to human needs, a vast restructuring of our laws is essential.
Realization of this need means adults must awaken to the urgency of the young people's unrest--in other words there must be created an adult unrest against the inequities and injustices in the present system.  If the government is in jeopardy, it is not because we are unable to cope with revolutionary situations.  Jeopardy means that either the leaders or the people do not realize they have all the tools required to make the revolution come true.  The tools and the opportunity exist.  Only the moral imagination is missing.
If the budget of the Pentagon were reduced from 80 billion dollars to 20 billion it would still be over twice as large as that of any other agency of government.  Starting with vast reductions in its budget, we must make the Pentagon totally subordinate in our lives.
The poor and disadvantaged must have lawyers to represent them in normal civil problems that now haunt them.
Law must be revised so as to eliminate their present bias against the poor.  Neighborhood credit unions would be vastly superior to the finance companies with their record of anguished garnishments.
Hearings must be made available so that the important decisions of federal agencies may be exposed to public criticism before they are put into effect.
The food program must be drastically revised so that its primary purpose is to feed the hungry rather than to make the corporate farmer rich.
A public sector for employment must be created that extends to meaningful and valuable work.  It must include many arts and crafts, the theatre, industries; training of psychiatric and social workers, and specialists in the whole gamut of human interest." (92-94, emphasis mine)

Justice Douglas is most famous for introducing the word "penumbra" into the world of constitutional rights.  A lot of people criticize him for that.  People tend to forget that he was giving married couples the right to use contraceptives.

If Justice Douglas was mentioned in my U.S. History classes, I can't remember.  However, in my small and humble opinion, he was one of the greatest Americans to have lived.  Law school has been a long and painful process, but at the very least it allowed me to gain exposure to Douglas, and to find a view of the Constitution and American society at large with which I could agree and seek to propagate in my own life.

Points of Rebellion is an inspiration.  Some of the material may be dated, but those portions are at least entertaining.  It is a short little book.  If you care about radical politics, I highly recommend you check it out.  Then go out there, and try to build a more enlightened society.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How Literature Saved My Life - David Shields

Recently I went to the post office to pick up a package, and the woman behind the counter said, "We've been holding this one since January 1, is this for you?"  It was a big, flat manila mailing package--a book.  "Oh yes, that's mine."  It said 184 Clinton St and it said Flying Houses (I live at 148 Clinton, f.y.i.)

This was the first piece of mail I received for Flying Houses from a major book publisher (Random House/Knopf/Borzoi Books).  I was expecting it to be Taipei by Tao Lin (from Vintage).  I had requested that book.  I did not request How Literature Saved My Life.

Regardless, I took this to be a moment of divine inspiration: slowly but surely, Flying Houses was turning into a reputable media outlet.  I would not pass up the opportunity. Unfortunately I wish I had because I fear this review will satisfy no one.

David Shields (not James Shields, the pitcher for the Kansas City Royals formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, who has also written a book) has written thirteen books, the most prominent of which appear to be Reality Hunger and Remote.  They also appear to be written in a "collage" style that eschews traditional forms of character and plot development in favor of a sort of stream-of-consciousness.  How Literature Saved My Life is also written in this style.  I have many problems with this book so I will enumerate them.

#1: Shields does not really discuss how he was about to lose his life

This is not The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon.  It will not make you feel better if you are sleeping 20 hours a day and eating something and worry that you have no purpose to fulfill on earth.  He does describe some moments of ennui at a famous MFA program:

"I remember hearing my highly alliterative short story 'The Gorgeous Green of the Hedges' gently demolished in class and, upon returning to my apartment, eating bowl after bowl of mint chip ice cream until the room spun.  I remember admiring how some of my classmates (Elizabeth Evans, Mike Hutchison, Walter Howerton, Michael Cunningham, John Hill, Jan Short, Peter Nelson, Sarah Metcalf, Bob Schacochis) had figured out how to get their own personality onto the page.....I remember people saying that nothing ever happened to anyone in Iowa City and me wondering what in the world they were talking about.  I remember, above all, during the five years I lived in Iowa City, believing that what mattered more than anything else in your life was writing as well as you possibly could." (119-120)

He also later described being unemployed at age 30 and sleeping on his father's apartment couch in San Francisco and watching a uni-cyclist juggler on television, and how that had moved him to tears--and how, had he seen the feat in person, he would not likely be moved anywhere near as much.  This was a nice vignette.

The book is separated into more than a hundred of such vignettes, but the vast majority of them focus on Shields's engagement with a text or other such work of art.  In a sense this is prime material for Flying Houses because it gives us the very exciting opportunity of comparing his opinions to my own.

"Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.  The book that I think of as mattering the most to me ever, but I read it more than thirty years ago and I find that I have trouble reading it now.  Seems sad--do I still love it, did I ever love it?  I know I did.  Has my aesthetic changed that much?  If so, why?  Does one resist that alteration?  I think not.  The book still completely changed me, still defines me in some strange way.  Proust for me is the C.K. Scott Moncrieff translation in paperback, all the covers stained with suntan oil, since I read all seven volumes in a single summer, supposedly traveling around the south of France but really pretty much just reading Proust.  I came to realize that he will do anything, go anywhere to extend his research, to elaborate his argument about art and life.  His commitment is never to the narrative; it's to the narrative as such as a vector on the grid of his argument.  That thrilled me and continues to thrill me--his understanding of his book as a series of interlaced architectural/thematic spaces."  (152-153)

I could not read Swann's Way four years ago, and it is one of the three posts of Flying Houses that is (incomplete), though I did remark that,

"When I first heard about him, I thought it lied very close to the same aims I hoped to produce in my own work--the inexplicable singularity of a life, with all of its attendant idiosyncrasies, which thereby educates an audience more as to the total "meaning of existence." Lofty ambitions indeed, and I will say, after 60 pages, that I am sure Proust succeeds on his own philosophical level, but that 21st century American readers will find it extremely difficult to 'dig.'"

This does lead to the next topic, which is adapting literature to new forms of technology, but I would pause to remark that the above quotation may shed light on why I did not like How Literature Saved My Life: we seem to have a similar philosophy when it comes to creating literature that is "useful," but we go about it in different ways.  I do not like the "collage" method, though I did employ it in the past.  That method is popular with writing group peers and the so-called "MFA Contingent" but I prefer to take cues from modern masters and not try to invent new forms when society itself is enough of a spectacle that it bears relating in plain language, without the jumping around from topic-to-topic, channel surfing, twitter news-feed scanning, etc.  While I recently joined twitter about a week ago, and plan to use it sparingly, for marketing purposes (or to record funny incidents in my Tax Law class) I hope to fight against this urge to make literature more "user-friendly" for the "Me Generation."

#2:  This is not Taipei

I requested a galley copy of Taipei, which is Tao Lin's 3rd novel, from the author himself.  He told me that he would forward my information onto Vintage Books and that "hopefully" they would send one in January.  When nothing arrived, I cursed Vintage and major publishing houses (Melville House had sent my Tao's 2nd novel Richard Yates) and then went to pick up the package in early February.  It looked like they had come through!  Then I opened the package, incredibly, to find that it was this book and not Taipei.  Perhaps this is some elaborate trick or "test" being played on me (since Flying Houses may be "famous" for excerpting large sections of text), but I am sad that I will not be able to keep up with Tao's oeuvre.  However, while I don't necessarily disagree with Shields' statement, "I don't want to read out of duty," (167) I do want to read out of duty if people want my opinion on something.

But Tao is a good entry-way into the next point about technology.  For those unaware, Tao Lin is the foremost writer of my generation (we graduated in the same class from NYU) and has built his following entirely on his own through the various forms of social media.  His evolution as a writer has been fascinating to observe, and perhaps with this book he may actually enter some "year end best lists," as Mr. Shields apparently has. And the strongest part of this book, for me, are its comments on the current literary world:

"The individual has now risen to the level of a minigovernment or minicorporation.  Via YouTube and Twitter, each of us is our own mininetwork.  The trajectory of nearly all technology follows this downward and widening path: by the time a regular person is able to create his own TV network, it doesn't matter anymore that I have or am on a network.  The power of the technology cancels itself out via its own ubiquity.  Nothing really changes: the individual's ability to project his message or throw his weight around remains miniscule.  In the case of the web, each of us has slightly more access to a mass audience--a few more people slide through the door--but Facebook is finally a crude personal multimedia conglomerate machine, personal nation-state machine, reality-show machine.  New gadgets alter social patterns, new media eclipse old ones, but the pyramid never goes away....New artists, it seems to me, have to learn the mechanics of computing/programming and--possessing a vision unhumbled by technology--use them to disassemble/recreate the web." (188-189)

The only other point worth mentioning about Tao is usage of the term "scare quotes":
"Updike: 'I loathe being interviewed; it's a half-form, like maggots.'  Gertrude Stein: 'Remarks are not literature.'  Um is not a word, but I like how people use it now to ironize/mock/deflate put scare quotes around what comes next.  The moment I try not to stutter, I stutter.  I never stutter when singing to myself in the shower." (133-134)

"Scare quotes" are not a component of literature that has been accepted by the public on a mass scale by any stretch.  Tao Lin is largely responsible for the excessive use of "scare quotes" (and the reason I must put it in quotes, regarding Shields's failure to do so as a "hipper than thou" mistake) in new books, but Shields point is well taken nonetheless.  I confess this is a minor quibble but "scare quotes" deserve at least a moment of clarification.

#3: Recommended Reading

In order to fully appreciate this book, I really think you have to have read all of the books that Shields references--and there are many:

(1) Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
(2) Dead Languages by David Shields
(3) The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields
(4) Spiderman (2002 film)
(5) Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus (?)
(6) Reality Hunger - David Shields
(7) Shortbus (2006 film)
(8) Laura (1944 film)*
(9) Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973 film)
(10) Le Gout des Autres (2000 film)
(11) Anagrams by Lorrie Moore*
(12) "Weekend" by Amy Hempel*
(13) Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
(14) The Last Studebaker by Robin Hemley
(15) Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer
(16) Built to Spill - Perfect From Now On (1997 album)
(17) In Bruges (2008 film)
(18) Calendar of Regrets by Lance Olsen
(19) The Guardians by Sarah Manguso
(20) The Name of the World by Denis Johnson
(21) Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
(22) Zona by Geoff Dyer
(23) Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee
(24) This Is Not a Novel by David Markson
(25) "This is the Life" by Anne Dillard
(26) Butterfly Stories: A Novel by William Vollman
(27) History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life by Jill Bialosky
(28) The Brothers by Frederick Barthelme
(29) The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
(30) Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity by David Shields
(31) "The Dead" by James Joyce
(32) Sherman's March (1986 film)
(33) Speedboat by Renata Adler*
(34) Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
(35) Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky
(36) Now and Then by Joseph Heller*
(37) The entire oeuvre of J.D. Salinger
* books I actually want to read after this.

Note that this does not include the "55 works I swear by" section, along with perhaps a handful of other texts that are mentioned more briefly.

You do not need to read all of these books to "get" How Literature Saved My Life, but the book tends to function as a collection of books that inspired it.  While the book is marketed as "blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography," there is decidedly a focus on the former.

There are three parts worth noting where Shields slams Toni Morrison for complaining that her book didn't win an award and where Shields admits that he is actually kind of like George W. Bush and where Shields talks about Bryan Singer sitting next to Bush in first class where Bush confesses that he has been on Ambien "for years."  These are probably the "sexiest" parts of the book, though other parts do indulge in vague-erotica.

#4: Been There, Done That

The big takeaway from this book (for me, at least) is the "collage" as the new form of literature--and I don't buy it.  My zine "Autointoxication," (2003) flirted with this medium, and while some viewed it rather charitably, I am mostly embarrassed by it in retrospect.

Bite-size chapters (like in, oh say, Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut) may be something else entirely, but blending a work of creative non-fiction by mixing in one's own patina with the aggregate of artistic cultural linguistics amounts to a book of aphorisms that may serve as a nice collection of potent quotables (things to write on a piece of paper that you tape to the wall in your "writing station") but does not compel me to run out to my friends and tell them to read.

Shields has written 13 books and has been quite successful, it appears.  However this book leaves the impression that he has given up on fiction as a method towards reaching psychological realism.  He is, as he notes, an extremely ambivalent person, and I am quite ambivalent about this book.  On the one hand, I am quite honored that someone decided to send it to me, and it has certainly opened up my mind a bit when it comes to literary experimentation (while I doubt that I will return to the "collage" form anytime soon) and there are a few nice passages, such as this one:

"Some people seemed to think I was the Antichrist because I didn't genuflect at the twin altars of the novel and intellectual property (there's an oxymoron if ever there was one).  I became, briefly, the poster boy for The Death of the Novel and The End of Copyright.  Fine by me.  Those have become something close to my positions.  The key thing for an intellectually rigorous writer to come to grips with is the marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and thus more visceral forms.  You can work within these forms or write about them or through them or appropriate the strategies these forms use, but it's not a very good idea to go on writing in a vacuum.  The novel was invented to access interiority.  Now most people communicate through social media, and everyone I know under thirty has remarkably little notion of privacy.  The novel is an artifact, which is why antiquarians cling to it so fervently.  Art, like science, progresses.  Forms evolve.  Forms are there to serve the culture, and when they die, they die for a good reason--or so I have to believe, the novel having long since gone dark for me..." (129, emphasis mine)

Even in this comparatively pristine paragraph Shields make a comment with which I take issue: I am under thirty (for another 60 days, at least) and I think I have a notion of privacy.

There is also a nice part about him working at a law firm:

"My entire twenties, I lived on practically nothing, slept on my father's couch for ten months.  At thirty-one, I was a proofreader for Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro (PMS), a San Francisco law firm that represented the wrong side of every case.  The lawyers hated their jobs.  I loved mine, though, since I spent my entire time there finishing my second novel.  All the other subalterns were as bored as I was, and they were happy to print out copies of drafts for me, retype pages for me.  It was Team Shields.  We also discovered something new called a fax machine.  Very exciting.  I'd arrive before anyone else, and the lawyers would thank me for being such an eager beaver." (163)

That passes the LSAT Test!  A newly formulated test on Flying Houses that says any mention of legal culture on page 163 in any book passes the test (163 was my LSAT score).

But on the other hand, I just get annoyed when people write D.F. Wallace or DFW.  Sure, he is literature's answer to Kurt Cobain, but I think he's put up on a bit of a pedestal.  Sure, I've yet to review Infinite Jest here, but I will, I will...I just can't put him on the same level as FSF--and no one refers to that master as F.S. Fitzgerald.  In my opinion, David Foster Wallace is occasionally great, but more often tedious, and it can be quite difficult to derive pleasure from reading his work--he has about a 10% success rate and a 90% fail rate, though admirers of his will slap me for saying this, and I may disagree with myself whenever I get around to reading Infinite Jest (2013 or 2014--that's a promise!).

It's a petty thing but people that abbreviate him DFW are part of the larger problem of the "MFA contingent," who like to wax philosophical about Amy Hempel and Barry Hannah and maybe occasionally Nabokov but never Mann.  These are new 20th-21st century writers that have taken the short story form as far as it can go while still being recognizable as a prose piece.  I don't intend a blanket criticism of everything they've ever done--I just shudder at the thought that the new way to write is to get an MFA, get published, and just keep writing really good short stories--forget about a novel--takes too long--with the weird middle coming in "linked-short stories."

I guess I am like Kafka "who was unusually susceptible to textual stimuli, [and] read only a couple of pages of a book at a time" (182) and just don't have the time to go to the library, on a full stomach, and sit there for hours devouring literature in a huge chunk.  I want to check my e-mail and worry about some more "real" urgency ahead of me.

In summary, this book reads like a law review article.  It's not particularly enjoyable, there are tons of citations to authority (sadly without footnotes--but happily with a Cf. or two that I believe means "indirect support), and a reform is (sort of) proposed.  However, I am afraid that I have not gotten deeply enough into the mind of David Shields to fully appreciate his comic-linguistic asides.  Fans of his may love this, but as a newcomer and as a neutral critic, I can only regard this work as a "virginity loss" type experience--but laypersons generally don't receive galley copies.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Bloody Valentine - m b v

Everyone wrote reviews of this album over the last two weeks (it is two weeks old tonight) and I still have not purchased it.  It costs $16.  I have been listening to it on streaming players.  As such I do not have it with me anywhere outside, in my iPod, playing on my headphones; I can only listen in my apartment, and with the AUX cable connecting my laptop to my stereo.  Listening to this album from tinny laptop speakers would be sacrilege.  When I have the discretionary income, I'll get it for the headphones.  

There was a 22 year wait for this album.  I joked on facebook two weeks ago that a betting pool should open up on whether m b v would really be released that evening or not.  I forgot about it and then listened to the first half of the album the next day and went to a Super Bowl party.  I watched Beyonce perform her halftime show and I asked my friend hosting if he liked My Bloody Valentine (I know he likes much newer indie rock, but he is not generally known for liking all of the Our Band Could be Your Life bands, except for Sonic Youth perhaps, which is certainly in the direction of My Bloody Valentine...).  He did not know about m b v, nor was he interested in how it might sound.

Oeuvre rule: I love My Bloody Valentine.  See Concert Review  (which still has one of the best pictures of a band I have ever taken, I think, because it looks like the cover of Loveless) and 50th Post Milestone in Anticipation of Concert.  I have heard almost all of their music.

And this is one of the many things that sets MBV apart from other bands: you start with Loveless, you don't get it necessarily, but it's good--then you move onto Isn't Anything and reflect that it may be even better than Loveless, but don't exactly make this generally known because it might cause other people to think you don't "get" Loveless--you hear all of the old stuff (maybe not the stuff from Geek! or This is Your Bloody Valentine--getting into that 1985 stuff separates the hardcore fans from the obsessive fans)--and you are content to listen to Loveless or choice tracks from other releases from now until the end of time, and you expect Kevin Shields to keep teasing everyone that he is going to put out another MBV album soon and take everything he says with a grain of salt.

Until two weeks ago.

The closest analogue to this situation is the excitement that surrounded the release of Chinese Democracy.  That album took 15 years to release.

This album took 22 years to release.

This album is much better than Chinese Democracy.

We don't know exactly what Axel Rose and Kevin Shields were up to during that period, but we know some details.  Shields worked with J. Mascis (he played guitar as a member of "the Fog" on a few songs during the time that Dinosaur Jr.--a band highly responsible for the development of the MBV sound--was broken up).  Shields worked with Primal Scream, apparently (I haven't listened to them enough to offer an opinion on it).  And then there was Lost in Translation.

I saw Lost in Translation in December of 2003--but before I came back to the States for that, I heard the song "City Girl" in Paris.  Another classmate and friend of mine recognized the extraordinary character of that song and he downloaded and we listened to it over and over and talked about how great it was and we wondered why something that seemed so effortless wasn't matched by anyone currently working.

A lot has changed since 2003.  Dinosaur Jr. is back together (and have been very prolific and successful).  Chinese Democracy was released.  iPods and iTunes became de rigeur, and Compact Discs flirt with obsolescence.  The Nirvana legend continues to generate income for Courtney Love.  The Rolling Stones put out a new album.  Weezer all but lost their former greatness.  The White Stripes and the Strokes "saved" rock and roll; The Arcade Fire brought "majestic rock" to the masses and won Grammy Awards.  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs became respected elder statesmen(persons?).  R&B and Hip Hop came back in a bigger way than the "Outkast album" from that year could ever anticipate.  Elliott Smith committed suicide (around the same time as "City Girl").  Lollapalooza and other music festivals (i.e Pitchfork) became cash cows.

People would shell out hundreds of dollars for festivals, now.  Coachella could offer Morrissey $45 million (and purely vegan food vendors) to reunite the Smiths on their stage, and he would reject them, and he now flirts with retirement.  David Bowie went away and is about to come back.  Michael Jackson was about to come back, and he died in the process.  Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore broke up, and Sonic Youth's 32 year legacy remains a question mark.  And then My Bloody Valentine came back in 2007.  And then Pavement played reunion shows.

Rewind back to October of 2000, my senior year in high school, and my [ex-]friend Jon giving me Loveless, telling me not to listen to so much Smashing Pumpkins because Billy Corgan was really just ripping off this album.  Listen to Jon speak at length about Siamese Dream--"it is exactly the same guitar sound!"  Listen to all of the other bands Jon endorses--Minor Threat, Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, Slint, the Velvet Underground, Cap'n Jazz--go to college, find other people that like the same bands and become obsessed along with them.

And then go to see My Bloody Valentine play alone because you don't have any friends in the city you're in--or at least any friends that want to shell out $50.

And then have m b v come out when you are in the waning days of your 20's.

Every review of m b v must have this personal element.  To talk about the album itself seems like an afterthought.  The first track sounds kind of boring.  The second track reminds the listener that they are listening to MBV and that it is about to get awesome.  The third track, "Who Sees You," is probably my favorite song on the album.  It stands along with the best songs they have ever done.  I personally find "Is This and Yes" to be one of the weakest songs on the album.  "New You" and "In Another Way" blend into each other for me.  One of them is super awesome and the other one is only really awesome.  "Nothing Is" is often compared to "You Made Me Realise" and indeed is the most fun song to turn up really loud on the stereo and play guitar to, while "Wonder 2" is often considered a standout track, though I am usually worrying about what album to put on next by that point (or getting ready to go to bed).

You won't be reading this far unless you are already an MBV fanatic.  You won't care about this album unless you are, and you probably won't be converted to MBV with the release of this album.  That is one of the things about this band.  It's unlikely they will play the Super Bowl next year.  They're not a band for the masses, but they are one of the most popular "underground" bands in history.

With m b v their legend is complete.  Nothing more need be said at this time.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Die Hard - Dir. John McTiernan (The Die Hard Project #1 - JM)

Today we commence The Die Hard Project.  Better late than never....

Die Hard (1988)
Dir: John McTiernan
The Detective Turned Super Cop
by Jay Maronde
                In the summer of 1988, a Christmas movie was released. This movie, staring a then-upcoming actor named Bruce Willis would later be described as the standard to which all other action movies must be compared, and with this director John McTiernan gave birth to a franchise of movies so epic that that fifth in the series is due to be released this week, 25 years later! Of course, this movie is the original Die Hard, and as we moviegoers eagerly await the release of this year’s Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard, the fine staff at Flying Houses have decided to give you a little recap in case you may have missed or forgotten anything in the past 25 years.
                Die Hard was adapted from a novel titled Nothing Lasts Forever written by Roderick Thorpe. Mr. Thorpe had previously written a little book called The Detective, which was so popular that it had been made into a 1968 movie starring none other than “old blue eyes” himself, Frank Sinatra.  After the success of The Detective, Mr. Thorpe wrote a sequel with full intentions of it being made into a movie. Praise was lavished on this book from many venues and eventually Twentieth Century Fox agreed to begin production. As he was contractually obligated, Sinatra was given the right of first refusal to play the lead role.  He refused, and from here began one of the most extensive searches for a lead male actor in Hollywood history. When I say extensive I truly mean it, as the role of John McClane was offered to a laundry list of the best male actors in a generation before Bruce Willis finally accepted the role. This list included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Nolte, Richard Dean Anderson, Don Johnson, Sly Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Tom Berenger, Robert Deniro, and Charles Bronson.
When Bruce Willis was finally convinced to take the role it was in no small part due to Rupert Murdoch’s personal offer of five million dollars. With a lead actor signed, a director was needed, and after being approached numerous times John McTiernan eventually agreed with the stipulation that he be allowed to “lighten the edges” of a script which he had already twice refused claiming that it was “a real nasty piece of work.”
                John McTiernan then began, scene-by-scene, to assemble what we have already described as the pinnacle of the entire action movie genre. First and foremost, the original script called for terrorists who were really terrorists, and McTiernan immediately turned them into thieves masquerading as terrorists so that “the audience could enjoy them stealing a boatload of money.” Further, the original “Detective” was more of a super cop, and McTiernan had this idea that the role should be more of an “everyman.” As such he felt Willis was perfect for the role and with some more minor tweaks to the original story, the Die Hard we all know and love came about. McTiernan’s vision was not small though, and as such a massive moviemaking process was undertaken, it was greatly due to this big comprehensive vision that Die Hard is such a great movie.
Besides his script work in order to make the movie lighter and more fun McTiernan also demanded the highest caliber of music from his sound designer Michael Kamen. The idea to use Beethoven as the theme music for most of the movie was McTiernan’s, and initially Kamen staunchly refused, saying that he would gladly butcher the entire catalogue of Wagner or Schubert for the movie, but the thought of using lovely Ludwig Van was too much for him to stomach. To counter this, McTiernan explained to him that he wanted the movie to feel inspired by the Ultra Violence of Director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and Kamen, being a Kubrick fan himself, eventually consented.
This however wasn’t McTiernan’s only slick move to make Die Hard the fantastic film that it is: he also decided that he needed a real life office tower to shoot the exteriors of Nakatomi Tower. Being that not too many buildings of that size are unoccupied and or available for almost complete demolition, he came up with an interesting solution: he would use 20th Century Fox’s brand new 90% completed office tower (and of course Fox charged themselves rent on their own building). They also required the production team to import from Italy enough marble to retile all the plazas and stairs outside the building.
                Besides a great set, great action, and a great hero, any good action movie needs one final thing to really reach the other plateaus that the Die Hard films have reached: a resoundingly evil villain.  To fill this role the producers and director gave a British stage actor (of very high repute) his first role on the silver screen. At the time the directors and producers were sure he would be good, but Alan Rickman was so good in the role of Hans Gruber, that over two decades later he’s still the man to call when you need a really evil villain. Rickman is exquisite, and McTiernan’s particular high intensity directorial style was essential in achieving this wonderful performance from a film novice. The clearest example of this delightful collaboration comes later in the movie when McClane meets Hans. In the original script there was never a meeting between these two lead characters and the producers had lamented this extensively. One day during rehearsals McTiernan discovered that Rickman was quite talented at faking an American accent and as such the scene was born. The part of this scene that really highlights both of their genius is while Hans is speaking quite convincingly with a Midwestern American accent, McClane offers him a cigarette, and while non smokers may have never picked up on this subtle detail, Hans smokes like a European. This subtle nuance—along with many others—added a level of detail to the movie that is a big part of the reason why it stands out. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s quite apparent that McTiernan went scene-by-scene to make this movie as utterly fantastic as it is.
                While I could go on and on about how delightful this movie is, it would be completely remiss not to mention the outstanding co-stars. Bonnie Bedelia is fantastic as John McClane’s estranged wife—beautiful, but not someone that an Everyman couldn’t attain. Reginald Vel Johnson as the first cop on the scene and John’s radio ally on the outside was perfectly cast, especially considering that at that time he was already America’s favorite police officer from being one of the stars (opposite one Steve Urkel) from television’s Family Matters.
                John McTiernan had a tremendous vision for Die Hard that was so well executed that it has become the seminal action movie. By really demanding the best from all his actors and production staff he made a movie which has not only stood the test of time, but 25 years later still has America clamoring for more. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Bond Project: The End? (Part Two)

I know, I know.  It seems as if we cannot stop the Bond Mania.  I believe this will be the 30th post on Flying Houses dedicated to James Bond.  I am sure there are other sites on the internet that have more Bond memorabilia, but this will be the last one (seriously--The Bond Project is officially over as of this post unless I decide to watch Bonds 1-20 + Never Say Never Again and replicate what my colleague Mr. Maronde has endeavored to provide--and I do not think I have the patience for that).  Also, this is the last day I can publish this post in good faith because Skyfall will be released on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.  Happy Valentine's Day.  

A Bond Project Wrap Up: Part Deux
by Jay Maronde

This is it. My last Bond article for a minute (Until Bond #24--JK). It’s probably best this way. Most women don’t want to hear too much about James Bond while at the bar, and thinking about James Bond all day leaves one quite prone to telling women at the bar all about Bond.  But after ranking all the films, it seemed to me that there were still some things left unsaid—ratings to be made, pithy comments I never got to commentate—so here dear readers is a long list of Bond Bests including the best cars, Bond girls, henchmen, and villains.
Let’s start with the cars because some of the choices are a little bit obvious.

TOP 5 Bond Movie Cars

1.       The Silver Birch 1963 Aston Martin DB5
No vehicle has ever been more iconic or more fully aligned in the world’s understanding of a character. The car has been in numerous films and plays a huge role in Skyfall.
2.       The Aston Martin “Vanish”
Die Another Day wasn’t that great of a film, and everyone hated this car but I think it’s super awesome for Bond to be driving an invisible car. Aston Actually designed and produced this car strictly for the film and while in real life you cannot purchase an invisible car, you can however purchase a V12 Vanquish and get your 007 dreams on.

3.       The Lotus Espirit S1
From The Spy Who Loved Me. I’m not necessarily a large fan of the film or of seeing James Bond outside of an Aston, but a car that turns into a submarine is clearly so James Bond that it hurts.

4.      The BMW 750iL
From Tomorrow Never Dies. James Bond has a smart phone that not only starts his luxury car but can also completely control the machine.  Oh and by the way, Bond has this smart phone over a decade before the release of the iPhone.

5.       M’s Jaguar XJ Ultimate Long Wheel Base

“Just get out of the way! Don’t you know the car!?!” M’s car is a standout. A real touring saloon that Bond steals with M inside.  Just imagine being able to power around London in one of Britain’s finest luxury cars with police lights to avoid all the traffic troubles!

Honorable Mention: The BMW R1200 Motorcycle

From Tomorrow Never Dies. As an avid motorcyclist I would like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable of the various types of motorbikes, and the BMW R1200 had long been a favorite even before Bond put one through all of its courses while handcuffed to Wai-Lin. The R1200-C model inspired by the film was even better.

TOP 5 Bond Henchmen
1.)    Jaws

Always Jaws. He’s the only henchmen to reprise his role. He’s so famous it hurts and Richard Kiel still does appearances for the James Bond franchise.
2.)    Dario

From Licence to Kill and played magically by Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro. I would suggest watching this whole movie just to catch the glimpses of early genius at being so creepy. Truly, if Jaws wasn’t Jaws, Dario would easily be #1.
3.)    Oddjob

 The classic hat throwing monster mute dude might even be more famous than the villain for which his featured film is named (Goldfinger). The actor Harold Sakata paid a high physical toll to film his death scene as he was really electrocuted.
4.)    Nick Nack

Herve Villechaize is remarkable, fun sized, and hilarious. He is the only redeeming factor in what could be one of the worst Bond Films: The Man with the Golden Gun.
5.)    Xenia Onatopp
The only lady to make this list will actually appear in this article twice as what’s really better than a lady henchman who kills via fornication?

Honorable Mention:   The two weirdos from Diamonds are Forever.

Credited as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd and played by Bruce Glover and Putter Smith, these two hand-holding murderers are funny as all get out and eliminated in a lovely manner by Bond, but not before the very end of the film.

TOP 5 Bond Villains

#1: Silva

Skyfall’s epic villain is played masterfully by the remarkable Javier Bardem. To be honest, Silva is without a doubt the surprise of Skyfall. A real twisted warped evil villain, so weird and evil on so many levels that he easily tops our #2 on this list.

 #2: Max Zorin

The genetically engineered villain from A View to a Kill, played as only could be done by Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. It’s really hard to top Walken when it comes to the “creepy factor,” and had Bardem been anything less than stupendous, Walken would easily be #1

#3: Auric Goldfinger

“Ha ha ha, no Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” One of the earliest villains in the canon could easily be the best. Mega rich and super weird, Goldfinger not only operates on numerous continents, but also has a plan to rob Fort Knox.

#4 Telly Savalas

Savalas is easily the best Blofeld amongst the several actors to play the part—creepy, scheming, and definitely trying to ruin the entire world. While Blofeld appears numerous times throughout the James Bond canon, Savalas easily does the best job.

#5: Hugo Drax

Evil, Hitler-esque, and eugenically-minded, this super villain from Moonraker not only intends to destroy the whole world, but plans on repopulating it with his sort of people. Oh yeah, and he steals the space shuttle and builds an international space station several decades before the real ISS.

Honorable Mention: Gustav Graves and Colonel Moon

Two villains in one from Die Another Day. Granted, both of these actors are supposed to be playing the same deranged North Korean bent on world domination, but without both of their wonderful performances this already rough movie completely falls on its face.

TOP 10 Bond Girls
        Well, now that we’ve come to the very end and to the part that everyone has been waiting for, I must be honest and admit that ranking these 10 women might have been even harder than ranking the films themselves, as there are soooo many beautiful women in the world of Bond. I’m sure I will upset a lot of people with this list, but IDGAF, this is my article and my opinion.

#1: Agent Caruso

The busty Italian agent that Bond has hidden in his closet at the opening of Live and Let Die. Played magically by the horror film classic Madeline Smith, and reportedly working through being massively anxious due to Roger Moore’s insanely jealous real life wife being on set during filming, Miss Smith is amazing. Her busty physique has provided her with mountains of work throughout the years, but her doe eyes, plush pouty lips, come hither attitude, and bad Italian accent are absolutely perfect to compliment the debonair Moore. Further, Bond should totally be involved with a real life sex symbol, not just a very pretty actress.

#2: Honey Ryder

The original Bond girl herself, played by the super famous Ursula Andress comes in a very close second—such a close second that if I preferred blondes she could easily be first. 

#3: Vesper Lynd

Played by the radiant Eva Greene, Vesper Lynd is the only woman who Bond ever loved. Casino Royale’s main female lead is gorgeous, and I know more than a few women who dream of being her.

#4: The Countessa Tracy  Di Vincenzo 

Played  by one of the biggest stars of the day Dame Diana Rigg, the only woman who Bond ever marries is gorgeous, and while her performance against George Lazenby leaves just a little to be desired, this co-star of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service certainly gets the job done.

#5: Xenia Onatopp

The villainess who literally screws people to death is the only person to appear on multiple lists in this article. This remarkable lady henchman from Goldeneye was a little known actress but major model and sex symbol before this film, and Famke Jannsen has since gone on to remarkable silver screen greatness as the X-(wo)Man Jean Grey and numerous other roles.

#6: Dr. Christmas Jones

Denise Richards being a James Bond girl and then later marrying Charlie Sheen easily serves to prove how much that guy is “winning.” Her role in The World is Not Enough  was almost written for her Playmate of the month self and her name leads to one of the best puns in the canon when at the end of film Bond says: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year”

#7: NSA Agent Jinx

Played by the stunning Halle Berry, to not include Jinx (Bond’s American spy counterpart in Die Another Day) would be utterly remiss. I almost wish I could put her higher but Jinx trying to be the American Bond only serves to highlight how super awesome Bond really is.

#8: Domino

The kept woman from ThunderBall. Miss Claudine Auger was Miss France before attaining this role. Her beauty is still remarkable all these years later and her chemistry with Connery is beyond reproach.

#9: Maud Adams

BUT NOT FROM OCTOPUSSY. It sounds completely crazy but Adams can’t have the award for the movie named after her character. To be honest, she was too old in that film and she only made Roger Moore look older. However, a few years before that, she starred as Scaramonga’s girlfriend in The Man with the Golden Gun, and while I utterly loathe Moore’s treatment of her during the film, her beauty shines through so much that she easily makes this list.

#10: Strawberry Fields

We never learn the real first name of Gemma Arterton’s character in Quantum of Solace until the film’s final credits, but the actress is absolutely perfect as a foil towards Daniel Craig’s Bond. Her death scene is as fine of an homage to the James Bond Canon as has ever been dreamed.

Honorable Mention: Carey Lowell

As CIA pilot Pam Bouvier from Licence to Kill. I just love Carey Lowell.