Call me shallow and everything, but a first impression can mean a lot, and generally it's a pretty accurate reflection of what you're going to get - at least in the entertainment world. I didn't actually have this theme planned when I started writing the post, but I realized that I was posting the covers of everything I wanted to talk about, and ran with it. You can call me shallow, but at least call me resourceful too.
First: I just love the DVD cover for David Cronenberg's oft-forgotten 1996 vehicular erotica, Crash. Namely, that quote by Janet Maslin. "Sex and car crashes." I don't think the point of a movie has been so succinctly addressed in any DVD cover quote. It would be like if you put a quote that said "Zombies" on the front of Dawn of the Dead, "Racism" on the other Crash, or "Suburban dysfunction" on any drama that's been made after American Beauty.
I wish my passion for this brilliant work of advertising had transferred to the movie itself; I thought it was incredible that Cronenberg could take a great premise like people who do the sexy time after automotive issues and make it so utterly boring and repetitive. You can give it a philosophical/fetishistic read, but ol' Mr. Body Horror won't allow you a leg to stand on there. (That was a totally unintentional pun that I caught only after a reread. Damn my subconscious.) You can view it as a critique of pornography, but if that's the case then I think it failed in the way Funny Games failed as a critique on stylized violence. The movie stubbornly refuses to expound on its fascinating foundations and that is its undoing. But you do get to see Holly Hunter's tits, and watch James Spader have sex with a leg wound and another man, so I'm not totally discounting it yet.
Moving on to significantly gayer things, check out this herpetic Lisa Frank explosion of a CD. It is the debut effort of American Idol 6 runner-up Blake Lewis and it is awful. My problems with Audio Daydream are innumerable, but there are a few big ones that any idiot (read: not Blake's fans) could pick up. The boy wears his influences on his sleeve: if you've been listening to the radio this last year, you'll notice that his vocal stylings are basically Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine's retarded crack baby. This also moves us to his professed 80s obsession, which apparently crept into the album. "Crept into" is not the right phrase to use, so much as "burst in with a hatchet and shat all over"; Lewis lacks the knowledge of what made 80s music work, which is nothing in my equally unfounded opinion, and it shows. No one wants to remember what they listened to when they were tripping balls two decades ago.
And the final complaint, which is most glaring and least subjective, is that the boy couldn't write a lyric to save his life (or his album, apparently). "Hot and sexy is the definition of her"? Well, it isn't the definition of syntax! If grammar determines how hot and sexy you are, then Lewis's command of the English language seems perfectly appropriate for his gnomish stature.
To be perfectly fair to Blake, I did like "How Many Words". I don't know why it caught my ear amidst all the other swampy ballads and abysmal synthesized abortions on A.D.D., but I think it's pretty much the high point of the album. Now you guys can stone me for actually enjoying something on this. I die without shame.
A few days ago, I made a pledge to myself to start reading for pleasure again; 999 was the first book I picked up to begin this odyssey. Granted, I'm only a few stories in, but it has proven itself to be a consistent and excellently-written collection of horror short stories. "Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue," the lead-in by Kim Newman, is a darkly satirical tale about post-apocalyptic Russia. It happens to be plagued by zombies, who are all for some reason American tourists. Wacky things ensue.
Less goofy works include my personal favorite entry so far, "The Ruins of Contracoeur", by prolific author Joyce Carol Oates. Ruins is a tale of a politically disgraced family biding their time in a relic of a house, owned and disowned by their grandfather; Oates guides us through their eventual breakdown with stark isolationist horror. She does an incredible job of capturing this melancholy, windswept atmosphere in the pages. At one point she describes two characters as being blurry, like "poorly realized watercolors", and I couldn't help but feel much the same way about the story. It is enigmatic and dizzyingly sad.
The book also includes entries by William Peter Blatty, Neil Gaiman and - who else? - Stephen King, and if it can keep being as awesome in the next 20 or so stories as it has been so far, I'm excited to read the rest.