Redheaded Ramblings: Sheila A-stray  

"This race and this country and this life produced me, he said. I shall express myself as I am." -- James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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I will bear witness, 1942 - 1945 The Diaries of Victor Klemperer


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Where is Raed? ... May 7: He's back!...


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Hanging out with my nephew Cashel tonight ... Can't wait.

Until tomorrow, then ...

  contact Sheila Link: 5/03/2003 02:32:00 PM

Saturday, May 03, 2003  

BATTLEFIELD RECAP - plus my own tragic tales of "bad reviews I have received"

Perhaps I should add a feature to this blog: "Bad movie review of the week", seeing as the whole Battlefield Earth thing got so much attention. Clearly, there are other people out there, who enjoy a well-written scathing review. Who do not see terrible reviews as evidence of a downward-spiral slippery-slope of negativity.

To re-cap:

My original post: compilation of bad reviews

An additional bad review, sent to me by a reader

A bit of a controversy ensued. So interesting to me that with all of the potentially inflammatory stuff I yap about (politics, political correctness, etc.), that THIS is what stirs up a real conflict. Movie reviews. Perhaps I have missed my calling.

Curveball wrote a note of support (scroll on down...permalink not working)

Benjamin Kepple found me, through Curveball, and chimed in.

An interesting site called It's a Mystery somehow found me, and also linked to the bad reviews. (Scroll down. No permalink feature it appears...)

And now Dean Esmay, my esteemed Command Post colleague has also linked to me, enjoying the humor in which my original post was written (or compiled.)

Here's a personal story about terrible reviews:

I am an actress. I have been in my share of bombs. Plays which made me question whether or not I was doing the right thing with my life. Plays which being a part of made me hate the whole world. Plays through which I understood, on a deeper and more visceral level, just what the word "embarrassment" really means. My long-time dear friend Jackie has labeled the kind of embarrassment you experience when you are up onstage in a HEINOUS piece of theatre as "white-hot shame". That about sums it up. Embarrassment like that is not an emotion. It is a full-body sensation.

The only thing to do when you are in such a cataclysmic bomb is bond ferociously with your fellow cast members about how terrible the play is (hopefully they feel the same way ... If they do not, if they think the play is good, then you are completely screwed ... you will realize what it means to be truly alone) - and have absolutely rocking cast parties where the bacchanals you create will drown out the memory of the SHITE you have just inflicted on an unsuspecting audience.

Some of the best parties I have ever been to, parties that will live on in infamy, were cast parties for some horrific play I was doing. Being in a BAD play is much more condusive to making life-long friends. Because you must cling to one another in agony and white-hot shame.

I was in a production of Lysistrata in college. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to see it, 15 years ago, continues to use it as a gauge by which to judge other terrible plays. As in: "I saw a TERRIBLE play the other night. It wasn't as bad as that Lystistrata you were in, but it came close."

First of all, the director thought it would be cool (and please, do not ask me why), to call HIS version of the play "Ly-SIS-trata" ... as opposed to the normal pronunciation, which everybody knows is: "Lysis-TRA-ta."

So we, as cast members, were forced, against our will, to join in on this idiocy. He forced us to be accomplices.

"So what play are you working on now, Sheila/"
"Uh … I think you mean Lysis-TRA-ta." (with a tone of: Wow. You just mispronounced that word, and you're a theatre major!)
"No, no, I know ... but this director wants to call it Ly-SIS-trata."
"Uh ... well...I think he thinks that maybe the audience will ... uh... he wants to show that the play has relevance in today's....Oh, Jesus Christ, I have no idea."

I had countless conversations like that, and I resented it.

3,000 years of Lysis-TRA-ta needed to be upended. For what purpose? If the play had come off brilliantly, then of course the director would be forgiven everything, because it is all about the result. You can be as pretentious and as pompous as you want, as long as the end-result is something to be proud of. That's the deal with the entertainment business. It attracts massive egos. And that's fine. But if you have a massive ego, then you BETTER deliver the goods. Nothing worse than a grandiose personality, filled with dreams of glory, pumped up with a sense of grandeur and originality, who does crap work.

We, as cast members, were held hostage by our own director. He forced us to do things onstage which we found supremely embarrassing and stupid. At one point, I snapped and pleaded with him, "Oh, come on, you aren't serious, are you?"

He was a pompous ass and we just had to ENDURE the run of the show. I remember one night, as we all were preparing to enter for the first time, I started crying. I just could not go on. I could not subject myself to that meat-grinder of white-hot shame. I wept to my friend Mitchell, as we stood in the wings, "I just don't want to go out there! I feel sick! I don't want to do it! It's so awful!" Meanwhile, of course, we are in our GOOFBALL Roman-toga-esque costumes, talking to each other seriously, having nervous breakdowns at the same moment. The situation was bleak.

Actor-friends would come to see Ly-SIS-trata and not even hold back their contempt and scorn. Normally, when you are in something that is clearly bad, and other actor-friends come to see it, they usually say one of these comments:

"Congratulations!" (complete avoidance of the awful-ness)
"So how did you feel?" (that is my least favorite one)
"Great energy up there!" (subtext: You put all your energy into that???)
"So what's next for you?" (subtext: You need to move on from this nightmare as quickly as possible.)

All of this is code for: "Wow. That was absolutely god-awful."

Well, actor-friends came to see Ly-SIS-trata and couldn't even hide behind any of those stock phrases, they could not lie. To lie about a play that was that offensively bad goes against the grain of human morality. I would come out afterwards, having changed into civilian clothes, washed off the stage makeup, and one of my friends who had come to see it would immediately exclaim, "Oh my GOD, you were NOT KIDDING when you said this was a piece of shit." Or, literally, blatantly saying, "That was absolutely fucking terrible."

Ha ha

One friend (who is generally always negative, whenever he comes to see anything, good or bad) actually recoiled from my hug. As though my even being associated with such an awful production meant that somehow ... my soul was corrupt, or I was a bad person.

The play wasn't just bad. The play was so bad that it made people angry.

Another TERRIBLE play I was in (and I've been pretty fortunate ... haven't done too many white-hot-shame plays) was a musical version of Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. I did it in Philadelphia. I knew from the first rehearsal, when I met the Anglophile playwright, that I was in trouble. The only way to save myself was to treat the entire process as one long extended GOOF, which did not endear me to said playwright, who thought that Three Men in a Boat was on par with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

A couple of very good friends (Mitchell, Jackie, and Steven) drove down for opening night, to participate in my goofing on the production.

There was an opening night gala afterwards, where I could not contain my apathy for the playwright. She kept trying to take my picture, for her photo album ... I would protest. Openly. "I told you not to take my picture, okay?" I wanted no evidence that I had ever been involved with this production. But she trapped me a couple of times, taking candid shots of me, her lead actress, swilling back free wine like a lunatic, drowning my sorrows and white-hot shame, whispering with my friends like a conspiring Roman senator. All 4 of us guffawing with irreverent laughter.

My friend Mitchell took one look at the playwright, saw which way the wind was blowing, and murmured to me, "She looks like a retired racehorse." Which was so true, and so spot-on, that the ENTIRE terrible experience was redeemed for me, in that moment. I feel like I did Three Men in a Boat in order for Mitchell to be able to make that frighteningly apt observation.

But the crowning glory was the review. It is, by far, the worst review I have ever received. Actually, I escaped comment. All of the actors did. The full brunt of blame for the debacle was placed on the retired racehorse. As it should have been. I even kept the review. I still have it somewhere.

I don't remember anything but the first sentence:

"Not since the Titanic has there been such a nautical disaster."

Even though there was definitely shame involved in being a part of that "nautical disaster", I also admit that I felt tiny pricks of weird pride at being involved with something so monumentally bad. It wasn't just a bad show, a take-it-or-leave-it show. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill bad show. It was HISTORICALLY bad.

Another white-hot shame production I was in was a new play, (well, actually: since its inauguration with our production of it, it has never been done again, small wonder, so now it can almost be called an 'old play') called Sitcom. It was a spoof on sit-coms. It was written by a friend of mine, who has written other hit shows, shows which have had long and very successful runs in Chicago. Night of the Mime, to this day, remains one of the funniest things I have ever seen ... but Sitcom...Sitcom...Unfortunately, we all went into it with very high hopes. He had just had a very big success. A very good friend of mine directed it. And the cast was made up of dear friends.

But it didn't work. It didn't work on multiple levels. It was obvious what he was going for ... It could have been funny. It was a diatribe against sit-coms, it added darkness to the typical "Cosby Show" format ... it had all the right elements. There was a family ... a kind of fluttery flaky mother, and a Father-Knows-Best dad. I played their over-sexed rebellious teenage daughter, like Christina Applegate in "Married with Children". My costume was basically a doily for a skirt, and a string-bikini for a top. I looked ridiculous. There was a geeky earnest younger brother, played by Mitchell (mentioned above). There was a younger sister, supposed to be a little girl, a la "Full House" ... Every time the younger sister came on (played by a grown woman, Rachel Hamilton, of Second City, who is, no doubt, one of the funniest women on the face of the planet), there would be a soundcue of the "studio audience" going "Awwwwwww." You know, treacly, sickly-sweet. It could have been funny. In a nauseating way. There was also a puppet who lived behind the couch, a la "Alf". The actor who had to lie behind the couch, doing the puppet, Rich Hutchens, again, is one of the funniest men I know. I see him in national commercials all the time, and occasionally remember our bleak days of doing Sitcom, when he, a very good actor, had to lie behind the couch, with a PUPPET ON HIS HAND, and talk in a funny little voice. My very good friend David, who by now is a veteran of Law and Order day-players, and had a very nice scene in the premiere of last season's The Sopranos, played my boyfriend .. whose name was Max or Spike or something like that. He was a bruiser, a "juvenile delinquent". My fluttery square parents were supposed to be very concerned that their sweet young daughter (sashaying around in a see-thru blouse and stilettos) was going out with such a reprobate. There was also the wacky neighbor.

At some devastating point during the rehearsal process, it dawned on all of us in the cast: Uh-oh. I think we're involved in a stinker here.

Unfortunately, the guy who wrote it (who, again, was a good friend of mine) also played the 1950s era Father, so we couldn't really openly bitch about how bad the play was going to be, why the script didn't work, why the whole thing was shrieking down the highway towards terrible-ness.

David, in a sheer act of actor-desperation, decided that his character (Max or Spike) or whatever, should actually be more of a heavy-metal type than a Rebel without a cause. He found a long stringy blonde wig (when I say "long", I mean the hair almost reached his butt), he wore a sleeveless denim vest (sleeves ripped off), he drew fake tattoos all over his arms, and he began to behave like an absolute maniac. I could barely look at him when he made his first entrance, looking like THAT. David's survival technique was to go completely over the top.

We had one scene where we had to be making out like wild animals on the couch, and the PUPPET interrupts us. Rich Hutchens lying behind the couch, puppet on his hand, waiting for his cue. I am laughing right now, remembering all of this. So David, a man I have known since I was 17 years old, is lying back on the couch, I am lying on top of him ... I keep getting the long blonde hairs from his ludicrous wig in my mouth. David would make this crazy grunting sex noises, he became a crazy lustful heavy-metal dude lying beneath me. Occasionally, as we would be doing this (filled with white-hot shame the entire time, of course), we would make eye contact. Not as the characters. But as Sheila and David. Trapped in this terrible play. Wearing RIDICULOUS costumes. And behaving like morons. I would see such pain and existential panic in his eyes that occasionally I would burst out laughing. Onstage.

The worst moment in Sitcom, though, perhaps the worst moment I have ever had on stage ever, was this;

I was in the middle of a scene with my Father (who, remember, was also the playwright). There was an audience there, an audience sitting in stunned silence. Nobody was laughing. Doing the show felt like doomsday. It wasn't just a bad vibe. There was actually a malevolent atmosphere in the theatre. I have never before done a play where I sensed waves of actual hostility coming up at me from the audience.

And then -- in a completely surreal moment -- an audience member had finally had it. He stood up ... an angry figure out in the darkness, yelled at the stage, "WHO WROTE THIS SHIT?" and then stormed out. (I have never experienced something so odd in my whole entire life. Hearing this voice explode from out the darkness...) But it took him a while to get out of the theatre for a couple of reasons: first, because he had to get out of his aisle. So as the scene went on (the show must go on), between me and the actual person who had "wrote this shit", we could hear this man saying, not even trying to keep his voice down he was so annoyed, "Excuse me ... excuse me ... excuse me..." The second reason was that either the front door in the lobby was locked from the inside, or it was stuck, I have no idea ... All I know is is that the man literally could not get out of the theatre. The door would not open. So we began to hear his rage escalate out in the lobby. Poor man. As the scene trudged on, we would hear random explosions out in the lobby: "Jesus CHRIST ... would this door just OPEN?" And: "Goddammit, get me OUT." And finally: "God, would SOMEBODY just get me OUT OF HERE?"

I am not exaggerating.

As I write this, tears of laughter are streaming down my face.

The final terrible show I must inflict on you all is: the half-hour version of Macbeth I was unlucky enough to get roped into. At grad school, we had a season of thesis productions. Each one had to be half an hour long. So the actors would have half-hour scenes, whatever the playwrights wrote for their thesis projects had to be get the picture. Well, there was a director in our program who (for some unknown STUPID reason) wanted to somehow do the entirety of Macbeth in half an hour. The Cliff Notes version. Why his thesis project was approved, I have no clue. I'm still angry that it was. Angry because I was playing one of the five witches. ("Hold on a second," you might be thinking, "five witches? Aren't there only three witches in Macbeth?") You may be thinking that but that is only because you are an intelligent person, with a sense of dignity and logic, which clearly was lacking in the mind of the director. He made there be FIVE witches.

There are too many problems to even discuss ... because it is hard to get past the wrong-headed-ness of the entire idea of the project to begin with.

People were racing around, murdering each other, casting spells, having duels, seeing blood on their hands ... all in half an hour's time.

The man who played Macbeth had an accent. He was from Texas or something like that. So the line: "Have we eaten the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?" consistently came out as: "Have we et the insane RUHT that takes the reason prisoner??" RUHT. And he would emphasize that word. It got worse and worse. Every time he would say it, every time he was even close to approaching saying it, the five witches (who all had to be onstage at all times, terrible luck, we could never escape to lick our wounds) would put our heads down, as we were casting our spooky spells on the five corners of the stage (not the four corners, the five corners), and shake with laughter.

Finally, the director said tentatively, "Uh ... yeah ... could you please say 'root' and not 'ruht'?"

Macbeth said, "I am saying 'ruht'."

Two or three of the witches burst into inappropriate laughter.

The director, trying to hold us all together, and keep us from spiralling out of control, said, tentatively again: "Actually ... you just did it again. The word is 'root'. With an 'oo' sound. If you say 'ruht', then the meaning of the line is lost."

I held myself back from saying, "If you attempt to do Macbeth in half an hour's time, then the meaning of the ENTIRE PLAY is lost."

Boom boom boom, scenes came fast and furious. Boom: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth conspire. Boom: Murder and carnage. Boom: The witches race into place and cackle gleefully. Boom: Lady Macbeth staggers on, shrieking "Out damn'd spot" ... in the tone of an angry housewife looking at her dirty kitchen floor. Boom: There is a very quick sword fight. Who knows why. People just had duels back then, I guess. Boom: Everybody dies. Except for the five witches. Who live on, eternally. Exeunt

The whole thing was ridiculous. Actors have different ways of surviving terrible shows. The five witches survived this nightmare by literally becoming ONE. We were a five-some. We completely separated ourselves from the poor stars of this stupid production, who still were trying to actually do Macbeth. We realized very early on that Macbeth could not be done properly in half an hour, so we refused to take anything seriously. Nothing. Nothing.

Nobody had told us what our makeup should be like, as witches, so the five of us designed our own looks. Our makeup and hair got more and more elaborate and out of control with every performance. We had to arrive at the theatre earlier and earlier in order to complete our transformations in time for curtain. Our faces were literally caked with Kabuki-mask makeup. The more grotesque the better.

At one point, Eileen, a beautiful Asian girl, turned from the mirror, to display her horrific makeup job ... red circles around her eyes, red wrinkle lines radiating from her mouth, caved-in cheeks, and said to all of us, brightly, "Do I look really gross?"

We validated her. "Yup. Pretty gross."

My costume, unfortunately, made me look like the chair of a women's studies department at a small college in Vermont. We would all be sitting at our makeup mirrors, and I would suddenly start to pontificate about the evils of the patriarchy, or about holding focus groups to show women their cervixes, and everyone would absolutely die with laughter. I was also in the midst of reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at the time, so there are a couple of pictures of me, backstage, in my "wymyn's studies" Wiccan outfit, twigs sticking out of my hair, big brownish-purple circles around my eyes, seriously reading my book.

Jen, my roommate, with her long mane of curly hair, made her hair bigger and bigger and bigger every night. That became her main goal. To make her hair as large as possible, so that it would completely shield her face. Also, every time she had a line, Jen disguised her voice.

The five witches were so taken up by our stupid costumes and makeup that we would hang out in the backstage hallway before entering, taking pictures of ourselves. Pictures of all the witches peeking their crazy heads around the corner. Pictures of all the witches making their way down the stairs, like some demented version of the Von Trapp family singers. Pictures of the witches lying about in death poses on the floor. We were collectively late for our entrance one night because we were too busy taking pictures of ourselves. We resented the actual SHOW we were doing, for taking away from our time taking pictures of ourselves in costume.

Each witch had a big gnarled stick. The first witch-scene began with us doing what was supposed to be a Celtic dance, I suppose. Lots of drum-beats, and moving in circles, and banging the sticks on the floor. It was interminably stupid, and horrifically embarrassing to execute. We had to enter, as one, holding up our sticks in front of our grotesque faces, moving as slowly as glaciers. The effect was supposed to be scary and ominous, I guess, but a couple of nights I heard someone in the audience burst into laughter at the first sight of us. And occasionally, as we moved on like that, with our sticks, I would hear either Eileen or Jen or Kimberly start to giggle ...and try to choke it down ... but laughter like that catches on like wildfire. Once it begins, it is nearly impossible to stop. So there we all were, supposed to be the scary 5 witches, moving on, holding up our sticks, shaking silently with laughter.

Jen made a big announcement backstage to the rest of the witches, on the night of our dress reherarsal.

"I have decided ... that when we come on with our sticks----" Long pause. We all waited, breathlessly, hoping that she might actually have an IDEA about how we could make it all better. But then she concluded, finishing her thought, "We look like assholes."

  contact Sheila Link: 5/03/2003 08:46:00 AM



From The Great Crash by John Kenneth Galbraith

In the autumn of 1929 the New York Stock Exchange, under roughly its present constitution, was 112 years old. During this lifetime it had seen some difficult days. On September 18, 1873, the firm of Jay Cooke and Company failed, and, as a more or less direct result, so did fifty-seven other stock exchange firms in the next few weeks. On October 23, 1907, call money rates reached 125% in the panic of that year. On September 16, 1920 -- the autumn months are the off season in Wall Street -- a bomb exploded in front of Morgan's next door, killing thirty people and injuring hundreds more.

A common feature of all these earlier troubles was that having happened they were over. The worst was reasonably recognized as such. The singular feature of the great crash of 1929 was that the worst continued to worsen. What looked one day like the end proved on the next day to have been only the beginning. Nothing could have been more ingeniously designed to maximize the suffering, and also to insure that as few as possible escaped the common misfortune. The fortunate speculator who had funds to answer the first margin callpresently got another and equally urgent one, and if he met that there would still be another. In the end all the money he had was extracted from him and lost. The man with the smart money, who was safely out of the market when the first crash came, naturally went back in to pick up bargains. (Not only were a recorded 12,894,650 shares sold on October 24; precisely the same number were bought.) The bargains then suffered a ruinous fall. Even the man who waited out all of October and all of November, who saw the volume of trading return to normal and saw Wall Street become as placid as a produce market, and who then bought common stocks would see their value drop to a third or a fourth of the purchase price in the next twenty-four months.

The Coolidge bull market was a remarkable phenomenon. The ruthlessness of its liquidation was, in its own way, equally remarkable.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/03/2003 08:32:00 AM


This photo essay, on USS Clueless, has me in tears.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 04:19:00 PM

Friday, May 02, 2003  


A heartfelt farewell to the NYC subway token. I'm not ready to say goodbye, quite frankly.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 03:04:00 PM


Last night, my roommate's show previewed. It's opening at "Theatre for the New City", down on 1st Avenue and 10th Street. A great area.

I walked into the theatre, however, and felt like I had entered the hub of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Or some ... radical underground leftist militia headquarters. The lobby walls were covered with loving portraits of Che Guevara, Mumia, Lenin, Castro. And hostile disgusting pictures of Bush. A pastel of Osama. With a note underneath about how he was a "dissident". A dissident. Not a terrorist. I stared at the artwork, the posters, etc., and felt like: Wow. I live in such a different world than these people. So different.

It was baffling.

Then I saw in the program that the two people who have contributed the most money to "Theatre for the New City" are Yoko Ono and Tim Robbins. Enough said.

But what I really want to write about is my moment on the corner of 10th Street and 2nd Avenue.

The evening was beautiful. Cool air, blue sky deepening into sunset, the air fresh and spring-like. The sun going down. People on their bikes. Restaurants with tables outside. Beautiful. An evening where New York looks fresh, and lovely. Like anything can happen.

I stood on the corner of 10th Street and 2nd, waiting for the light to change. I was in my own little private Idaho, but suddenly ... noticed my surroundings.

Behind me, on the Southwest corner of the intersection, was a restaurant called "Rectangles". More specifically: "Rectangles: Yemenite and Israeli cuisine".

Yemenite and Israeli cuisine. In the same restaurant.

So that was thing # 1.

Across the street, diagonally on the Northwest corner of 2nd and 10th, is the famous St. Mark's Church in the Bowery. A 17th century Episcopalian church. I've been to weddings there. But it's also a vibrant performance space, with dance companies, etc., finding a place to work there. A beautiful stone church, set diagonally, with benches around it, people hanging out. People going to an evening mass.

Right across from a Yemenite and Israeli restaurant.

Then, directly across the street from me, on the Southeast corner of this intersection, the famous Second Avenue Deli. The signage looks like Hebrew letters. There is a clock, with Hebrew numbers.

All of these different cultures and faiths converging on one street corner.

As New Yorkers pedal their bikes slowly by, or drink Guinness at the Irish pub 2 doors down ... This kind of diversity is rarely even noticed. Or commented upon.

But in that one moment, I thought: Okay. Hold on. This is extraordinary.

And what is MOST extraordinary about all of these faiths and cultures co-existing on the same corner ... is that it is kind of NOT extraordinary. Nobody even notices.

This is rare. Beautiful. Something to be cherished.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 12:55:00 PM


I got so many emails from people yesterday about those wacky retro Weight Watchers cards. One of them just had this for a subject line: HAHAHAHAHAHA

So here is something else along those lines, sent to me by Ann Marie. It really, actually, cannot be described. You just have to experience it.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 12:35:00 PM


Interesting piece in The Guardian: "How male or female is your brain type"? There are two quizzes to take: to find out your Empathy Quotient, and your Systemizing Quotient.

Empathising is the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathiser intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity.

Systemising is the drive to analyse and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system; and the drive to construct systems.

Of course, some males can have more empathy than some females, and some females can take apart an engine and put it back together while other males cannot do this.

Here's how I scored and what it all means:

My Empathy Quotient is 51. "You have an average ability for understanding how other people feel and responding appropriately. Most women score about 47 and most men score 42." AVERAGE????

My Systemizing quotient is 31. "You have an average ability for analyzing and exploring a system. Systemizing is the drive to analyze and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system; and the drive to construct systems. On average, women score about 24, men score about 30."

Then you put both your scores on a graph, and see where your "brain-type" lands. Male, female, or balanced.

Halleluia, I am highly balanced.

For some individuals, empathising is stronger than systemising. This is called the female brain, or a brain of type E.

For other individuals, systemising is stronger than empathising. This is called the male brain, or a brain of type S.

Yet other individuals are equally strong in their systemising and empathising. This is called the 'balanced brain', or a brain of type B.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 12:29:00 PM


from James Lileks.

It's a rambling bleat, covering personal and political ... I liked his comments on Tina Brown.

I should note that I have no intention of ever watching her show, and I’m really not interested in what she writes - the stuff I’ve read has been shallow and silly. But I do think she saved the New Yorker. I’ll never forgive that awful Eustace-Tilly-as-a-Punk cover (It was Crumb, I think) or the Roseanne guest-edit, but her tenure was necessary - she jammed the paddles on that purpled corpse, shouted CLEAH! and zap, it lived again.

Also, deconstructing Barry Diller's comment on The Simpsons: "You can't have a more genuinely pure, liberal program .... than 'The Simpsons'." Lileks goes all out:

Now, longtime readers of this space know that I regard the Simpsons as one of the finest products of our culture, but a “genuinely pure, liberal program?”

Let’s look at its premises: Men are stupid lazy child-choking drunks; married women are docile house-slaves; boys need Ritalin; nuclear power is inherantly unsafe and run by ancient malevolent plutocrats; schools are full of tired, burned-out cynical teachers who couldn’t care less about their charges, and whose cafeteria serves up a steady diet of cow hearts and testicles; the police are incompetent buffoons; the mayor is a corrupt bimbo-chasing fool with a note-perfect JFK accent; rural folk are shoeless criminals who interbreed and have huge families; kiddie-show hosts hate children, and the three immigrants in town consist of a janitor, a convenience store owner, and a quack doctor. The only Hispanic guy in town runs around in a bee costume shouting Ay ay ay! and the sole gay character is a helpless gerontophile. The preacher is a disinterested bore; the most devout man in town is an id-diddily-idiot.

This is how liberals view America, Mr. Diller? Seems like one endless slur to me.

I’m kidding, somewhat. But. This is one of the things in the world that makes my bile-ducts flame up: our side, we’re better people. We're the enlightened ones. You get this sanctimony on both sides, of course. I think that people who have different opinions on, say, the tax system, public schools, the regulatory apparatus, et cetera, want a better America as much as I do. Some of them are motivated by nasty preconceptions that taint and distort their view of the world, just as some who oppose racial preferences aren’t really interested in a truly color-blind society, but are tired of having to pretend they like people who don’t look like them. But I don’t start with the assumption that people who disagree with me are wannabe Lenins who want a command economy and a gulag for creationists.

Dogmatic overgeneralizations are useless!

Except for that one.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 11:42:00 AM



Today's entry is from September, 1997. I was in my third year of graduate school, in Manhattan. I was also, apparently, filled with existential angst on an almost daily basis. I really want to post some journal entries from my high school years (to REALLY mortify myself) ... but I can't find them. Perhaps they are in a box in my parents' attic. I must retrieve them, because I know there are some absolutely classic things in there. A "tragic" toga dance comes to mind.

So here, with no more exposition is:

September 14, 1997

I'm in a new mode. If I have energy: I use it up. No more trying to save, trying to conserve energy, trying to hide away bits of myself to use for later. I've been being very careful, very safe. No more.

Good date with myself to see Cliff [Eberhardt]. And I wasn't barely lonely at all. (Sometimes you just need double negatives to make your point. Like ****** saying, "I hardly never cheated.") I had a couple brief pangs, or maybe I should say waves, I flashed on T. a lot. He's been coming up for me a lot lately.

I heard that his grandmother died. And -- I just am so sorry about it. My heart goes out to him and to his family. He had a special relationship with her. He will miss her very much. And I'm sure there's all kinds of tension going on in that crazy family about all of her properties, her will. They're that kind of family, and I'm sure that that's very hard for T. to bear . He's been on my mind. We are totally out of touch. The last time I talked to him was --- God, when? When I told him to stop sending me pictures of his son. (Poor T.) He's a lonely soul. I wish him well. I do want to touch base with him and offer my condolences about his grandmother...But I don't even have his phone number. I don't know what he's doing.

So anyway. I did flash on him a during Cliff at "The Bottom Line" a couple of times. And actually, the flashes had a warmth to them. T. and I were such good friends. We always had such a good time together. It was nice. There are worse things in life.

Then: brunch at Brooke and Jim's. Met a nice new couple. Brooke had made a feast. My life is on such a different course. But then, too, I have to say: whose life is really on a course anyway? That's just an illusion. Brooke's life is different from Jim's life. Jim's is different from Maria's. They aren't all on the same "course". They are individuals. It sometimes doesn't feel that way, though, when I'm with all of them together, and the babies are there, tottering around, and I feel like I don't fit in anywhere. I feel out of it.

But despite that: Good day. I went, with the O'Connors, to a crafts and music festival at the surreal Liberty State Park in Jersey City. The Park itself is so weird: It was big. There was a bigness to the whole thing: this industrial complex, with Wall Street looming across the Hudson, Manhattan glittering and huge, an Emerald City. There are times when perspective is such that you can't see the Hudson River at all, so it looks like you could step right across into that huge gleaming backdrop of a city.

And Lady Liberty!

I couldn't believe her! She was huge. It looked like she was on the land, right across that field. She was a bright swimming-pool green. Normally, she seems so dwarfed by the buildings of Manhattan, but over there, in weird Liberty State Park, she dominated. And you never knew where she would show up.

"Oh, look! There she is again!"

You could not tell that she was on a little island out in the middle of the water.

And there was something about the late afternoon light -- the clarity of it -- the goldenness of it -- a warm wash -- the shadows black and slanted in comparison -- the World Trade Center like an optical illusion -- like tinfoil cutouts -- the city looking unreal and majestic blasted by that golden light -- gleaming white cruise ships going by -- live music -- crafts tables -- a huge old train terminal, green-painted, long, deserted (I love big old cavernous buildings like that). Jim and I talked about how we could totally imagine the thousands of immigrants huddled in that imposing echoey space at the turn of the century. The ghosts of those people are still so strongly there.

We sat outside, ate food, drank soda. Beautiful, windy -- a good band -- the arc of blue sky -- people dancing (all women). Brooke and I loved to watch them.

I love Brooke.

"I feel very small right now," stated Brooke, and I knew just what she meant.

The big sky, the looming iceberg of Manhattan, green Lady Liberty gleaming above us, the space around us, everything wide and open. Wide fields Jim referred to as "fields of toxic waste." "Okay, let's go across that field of toxic waste to get to our car." Any open expanse in New Jersey has to be a toxic waste dump.

Talked with Brooke as we watched Jim and Mackenzie dancing. I told her about shooting my film (haven't talked to her in so long). I heard about her job, and the black cloud of depression she's been in. These things are so important for me to know. I yearn to get in there with her. I love to be let in.

And then ... later in the day ... alone with my thoughts ... I don't know how to describe it. I was conked on the head with Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Out of nowhere: complete panic about my future. And it kept reverberating itself in my mind in this way:

Am I okay? Am I all right? Am I going to be all right? Is everything okay?

Is it okay?

I can't express it any better than that. That really is how I'm feeling now. Well. Words. So inadequate.

Am I okay? Cosmically ...

Is everything going to be all right?

Who am I? Am I living the life I'm meant to?


So many things, known and unknown, conscious and unconscious, have brought this on, and I'm trying to just go with it. Let go. Accept. Accept what I understand and what I don't yet understand.

There's a lot contributing to this existential nervous breakdown.

My experience with ***** lately has triggered much. That's part of it. But not the whole.

The marriage proposal from Michael -- and then the aftermath of that -- and all my feelings about it --

But none of these things are really it. None of these things are really what I'm talking about. They aren't all I'm about. I'm not obsessing. I have so much happening. I feel like I'm in a constant dream-space like John Strasberg talks about. But that's not quite it either.

Reading Shirley Maclaine's Out on a Limb certainly is an ingredient....

My visit with Kate....

My late night talks with Jen as we eat salad by candlelight ...

My wonderful phone conversation with my dearest MJF -- He enriches my soul, my life. He makes this earth a better place to be ...

What else ...

So much working on me. I am a sieve, a filter.

Reading Richard Ford's The Sportswriter and Independence Day -- how he keeps coming back to mystery, to avoiding "full disclosure", how he cherishes anticipation, and a calm sense of hope -- However things turn out, it'll be okay. Yet the melancholy and loneliness and "searing regret" in those books ... All of it working on me. Making an imprint.

Brendan approaching fatherhood. That's definitely in there.

Maria ... getting bigger and bigger ... change. Impending enormous change.

Going with Rebecca to the party at Sara's loft. A raucous, insightful, hilarious night. The two of us have such a good time together. It has the awkwardness of a new romantic relationship. I like that. A good basis for a friendship, I think. We spent our time fending off goofy men.

Me in my crewcut, tanktop, and blackberry lipstick: I broke the wine cork, and then turned on a nearby guy who was staring at me and demanded, "Are you judging me?" And I wasn't just being a smart-ass. I really wanted to know! It scared him so much that he followed me around for the rest of the night, and kept nervously apologizing. (Now this is life as I remembered it in Chicago! Torturing guys and then having them ask me out.)

Well, he didn't ask me out, but he clearly wanted to.

I liked being at the party with Rebecca, and letting this other level of me OUT -- the social ANIMAL -- I'm so specific too. I'm not a party girl. Or if I am, I'm more like Dorothy Parker than Drew Barrymore.

Then Rebecca was being stalked by a goofy architect named MONO with round glasses like the ones that nutso girl wore in The World According to Garp. He told us they were "custom-made". And he kept cornering poor Rebecca, she could not escape. We finally fled out onto the fire escape to get some privacy, but he eventually found us. And invited her back to his apartment for "oysters". It was 2 a.m. (We roared about this later. How OBVIOUS! Inviting someone back for a clearly aphrodisiacal snack. "Come back for oysters and ginseng tea!") She kept saying, being so nice, "No, thanks." (How much clearer would she have to be? I know that I could have been clearer, because I'm not as concerned with being polite to people if they're annoying me. The third time I had to say "No" to the guy I would have said, "Listen, dude, buzz off. I should NEVER have to say 'No' more than once. You got it?")

But we had a really good time.

What am I talking about?

I get worried. About myself. About my life. There's so much I now want. So much more possibility for, in the words of Richard Ford, "searing regret". I must keep moving forward. Keep dreaming. Keep making plans ... keep hoping ...

I get worried. It's very abstract ... just a very general uneasy feeling ...

But then -- to balance -- I have moments of a heartbreaking sense of well-being, a sense of right-ness, of belonging -- triggered by the weirdest things sometimes:

Like when I saw the movie The Pillow Book ... and suddenly, sensed a future man in my life ... so strongly I felt him. In a very real way. His energy -- telling me to hold on -- that he did exist -- You can't plan to have moments like that ... or maybe you can ... but that one was more out of the blue.

I called Michael tonight. We need to talk about that marriage proposal. I left a message, told him how I felt. I was observing my own behavior as I left the message: I would lie. And then correct myself. For example:

"If [you proposing marriage to me] was a random impulsive moment ... that's cool..." Pause. Pause. In that pause, I thought: What the hell am I saying? What am I saying "That's cool" for? I don't mean "that's cool" at all! It is NOT cool. Then I said, "Actually, if it was just an impulsive moment, it's not cool -- I just want to talk with you about it ..."

Weird. Knee-jerk emotional lying. Protecting WHO?

Did I dream that marriage proposal? Did it even happen?

So all of this ... all of this intensity ... Where did it all come from?

Never ever believe that things go away --

That's where I get uneasy ... It's all out there. I know it's out there.

That's all I feel like saying right now.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 10:13:00 AM


that posting a compilation of terrible movie reviews would generate such a firestorm? (I am completely exaggerating. There is no firestorm.) But still: I have received more emails about that post, and more emails about the complaints about that post, than anything else I have written here.

I find it all rather amusing.

And then this morning, I receive a ringing endorsement from Benjamin Kepple. Thank you thank you! I read his blog every day, very good writer. And he comes to my defense resoundingly.

One funny thing:

In his post, he references the movie Corvette Summer. This brought back so many funny adolescent memories that I was practically blushing at my table, this morning, reading it. I LOVED that movie when I was a teenager. I saw it on TV, I was probably way too young to see it, but I HAD to see "Luke Skywalker" take on another role. I was pretty much a "Han Solo" fan, but still: anything to do with Star Wars had to be experienced. I should see Corvette Summer again, to refresh my memory. All I know is, I watched it as a 13 year old girl, absolutely swooning with pubescent feelings. So embarrassing.

But anyway. Thank you, Benjamin, for coming to my defense!

  contact Sheila Link: 5/02/2003 10:04:00 AM


where everything seems funny? Today is one of those days for me.

First of all, there is this: a SARS primer.

Then there is this: Looney uni cuts

Found both of these via Tim Blair

Then, this headline caught my eye. It's on the main page of the The New York Times:

Two-Inch Latino Role Models, for Good or Ill.

What? Is it me, or is that ... completely insane-sounding?

I love the warning note at the end there: "for good or ill". As though the editors think that everyone will read the words "two-inch Latino role models" and think: "Hmmm. That is a tough choice. Is that a good or a bad thing?" Instead of realizing that most people will read those words and think: "What the hell are you talking about?"

I can just the picture the concerned conversations:

"You know, i'm really worried about little Julio."
"Why are you worried?"
"Well, I'm concerned about the lack of positive role models in his life...but now he has a two-inch Latino role model..."
"Oh, that's great!"
"I'm not sure if the two-inch role model is a good influence, though..."
"Yeah, I see what you're saying..."

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 02:59:00 PM

Thursday, May 01, 2003  


Here's a cartoon from April 9. Stephen Goodman, the cartoonist himself, sent it to me.

I will add his daily cartoon series "Other" to my left nav. Stay tuned. He's got some good stuff in there.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 12:27:00 PM


The bunch of bad reviews I posted a couple days ago, read in one sitting, reminds this blogger of "overly exuberant cruelty, like Adolph and the boys sitting around some beers telling Jew jokes."


I suppose senses of humor go under the category of subjectivity. My sense of humor is such that reading all of those bad reviews of Battlefield Earth, in one moment, is supremely comedic. "Sheer liquid joy", again. Especially because when a writer wields his pen with such agility, and uses humor to slay the dragon: well, then you have my heart forever.

It's the same thing as physical attraction. I know what I'm attracted to, physically, in a man. I like big goofball loud funny pale (preferably Irish) guys. My "type" is extremely specific. If anyone knows the actor David O'Hara, who played the Irish mercenary in Braveheart, he is basically a perfect manifestation of Sheila's type. I wouldn't change a thing about him. He is the physical projection of my dream man. Unfortunately, we have never met. (Not yet. Heh heh) But anyway. There are people who probably wouldn't find him attractive at all. Whose ultimate type is Leonardo diCaprio, or Antonio Banderas, or Brad Pitt. It's completely subjective, and it appears to be in the DNA.

I can't decide, intellectually, to find Brad Pitt as gorgeous and as sexy as other women do. He's fine, there's nothing wrong with him, and I can objectively say: "Yes. That's a good-looking guy." But subjectively, he doesn't do it for me. Same with humor. I read Catch-22, and there were times when I had to put the book down, give up the ghost, and laugh and laugh and laugh. Probably there are those out there who would read the book and find it ... bizarre, off-putting, not funny at all.

I know what makes me laugh like a lunatic. And I know the kind of guy who makes my knees go weak just by looking at him.

These things are different for everybody. No use arguing or trying to convince people otherwise.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 11:21:00 AM


My father pointed me in the direction of this Alex Beam column in the Boston Globe: "Poetry month is over; time to get psyched".

I feel a dawning sense of exhilaration when I read a writer who clearly is FUNNY. A truly funny writer is a very rare thing. A writer who can make you guffaw, as you sit there, passively, reading. My friend Mitchell refers to certain comedic novelists as "sheer liquid joy". Like when we read the book Lives of the Saints together, years ago, literally SNORTING with laughter, shaking with guffaws, reading stuff out loud to each other, tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.

Catch-22 is like that as well. And, of course, the infamous I Was a Teenage Dwarf, by Max Shulman. I read it in high school and was asked to leave the library because I was disturbing the other patrons with my shrieks of laughter. I tried to keep it under control, but I could not. That is probably the funniest book I have ever read.

Anyway, tangent over. I read Alex Beam's prose and found myself getting all excited, like: "Oh God. This man is a funny frigging writer." Read it. It's hysterical.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 11:09:00 AM

I have been a bit out of communication for the past couple of days. Out of communication with my own blog. Stuff is happening in my life outside of this blog, stuff having to do with my writing ... which has taken up all my time. It is extremely exciting, and ... could be very big. But more than that I will not say.

I believe in jinxing things. So I will shut up and wait. And speak of it here only when it is a reality.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 10:48:00 AM


My friend Felicia just sent me this, and I have been cracking UP. They are Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970s, from a time when, CLEARLY, Weight Watchers had a different form that it has now. I've done WW numerous times, I enjoy the point system, it's a good way to lose weight and be healthy, it's not a diet, blah blah. But these recipe cards are ... WHAT? Maybe you'll have to be a Weight Watchers graduate to get the humor.

I love it. I love the commentary as well:

These cards mystify me. None of them have calorie or nutrition information of any kind, and in some instances it's hard to tell what's dietetic about the recipes at all, except that they're unspeakably grim. And yet also, completely insane. They appear to be from a much kookier era of Weight Watchers. There's a certain serve-it-at- your-next-key-party freakiness to a lot of these dishes.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 10:45:00 AM


A reader just sent me in another classic "Battlefield Earth" review. I will quote from it here:

-- Reviewers handled Battlefield Earth with the uncontrollable glee of small children converging upon a wounded pinata with sharp sticks and no blindfolds. After opening weekend, the box office imploded.

-- Gertrude Stein once said of Picasso that all great masterpieces look a little ugly at first and become beautiful with time, though serious appreciation requires the effort to see them in their original hideousness. Clearly the people who walked out of Battlefield Earth in droves were not up to the demands that a cinematic creation this overwhelming can make.

A few defenders have tried to portray critics of the movie as artsy-fartsy snobs, unable to enjoy entertainment meant to appeal to the mass audience. But this is exactly backward. Like some daring performance artist, Battlefield Earth insults the audience - particularly its intelligence. It violates pedestrian norms of "logic," "willing suspension of disbelief" or "fun." It steals your money, then defies you to ask for it back. Quite unpleasant to experience, it proves surprisingly enjoyable to discuss.

-- [Hubbard] possessed a vividness and fecundity of the imagination often confused with pathological dishonesty. (HAHA)

-- So many people have criticized the movie as propaganda for a goofy cult. Even more have laughed at it as the vanity project of an actor who (like Hubbard in his prime) has not heard the word "no" in quite some time. But we happy few know better. Not all of the film's pleasures derive from grotesque incompetence alone. Viewed in the right spirit, Battlefield Earth is an almost unbelievably cruel satire of Scientology - as though Hubbard were taunting his own followers from beyond the grave.

  contact Sheila Link: 5/01/2003 10:42:00 AM


Scroll down to "Mob Violence", click on the link, and see if you can figure out what is going on. I don't get it. It is a response to all of the reviews of "Battlefiedl Earth" which I posted yesterday. I have to say I don't get it. Maybe I'm being too literal, and this is his attempt at humor. Or perhaps he is exaggerating to make a point?? Bad reviews for a universally panned movie being described as "mob violence" seems a bit much to me. So maybe he is exaggerating.

But here's what I have to say:

Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar, and sometimes things are just damn FUNNY, and there is nothing more to be said about it. There is no hidden meaning, no swirling undercurrent, nothing more to discuss.

Also: if a movie sucks, then I want the reviewer to tell me so. Gloves off. "This movie SUCKS." I don't want to applaud the effort behind a failed film.

But again, maybe he's kidding, and I just don't get the joke. Wouldn't be the first time.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/29/2003 04:57:00 PM

Tuesday, April 29, 2003  


Woah. Absolutely devastating critique by Mark Steyn of the Canadian health care system, and how it has handled the SARS crisis. Jesus. He does not pull his punches. Man.

This is a disaster.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/29/2003 11:55:00 AM


April 24 is the day of remembrance for Armenians and Dean Esmay, in a magnificent post, remembers the genocide of Armenians in 1915. He also writes about the genocides of the 20th century ... horror story after horror story.

And who includes the Armenians in that group?

It is like that chilling story of Hitler, planning his own personal genocide, and saying, as a way to silence his critics: "Who remembers Armenia?"

Jesus. Just awful.

A beautiful post which has moved me very much. Thank you, Dean.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/29/2003 11:29:00 AM


I have a small collection of the shortest movie reviews ever. There are, I am sure, many many more out there, but these are the ones I have compiled. Needless to say, they are all bad reviews. If you like a movie, you usually have a bit more to say.

Short Funny Movie Reviews:

1. James Agee (one of the best film critics of all time) wrote as his review for the film You Were Meant for Me: "That's what you think".

2. I Am a Camera: there was a review attributed to various people (Kenneth Tynan was one of them) which said, bluntly: "Me no Leica".

3. Ernest Scared Stupid: an unknown reviewer wrote: "Ernest doesn't need to be scared to be stupid."

4. Isn't it Romantic, Leonard Maltin's entire review said: "No."

5. Rabbit, Run, Gene Siskel purposefully left a blank space where the review should have been.

6. From a review for Gladiator: "Ben hur, done that."

  contact Sheila Link: 4/29/2003 11:00:00 AM


I had to go and track down some "Battlefield Earth" reviews. Really, some of this is too funny to be true....I wish I had seen the movie yet I fear Scientologists. I don't want them to come near me. I fear if I rent the film they will somehow get my credit card number, and soc. sec. # and ruin my life forevermore. I probably shouldn't even joke about that.

According to all of the reviews, the film actually has nothing to do with Dianetics, it doesn't preach at all. But oh, God, the cumulation of these reviews...

From Roger Ebert's review:
-- "Battlefield Earth" is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It's not merely bad; it's unpleasant in a hostile way. -- THAT IS THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE REVIEW....

-- This movie is awful in so many different ways. Even the opening titles are cheesy. Sci-fi epics usually begin with a stab at impressive titles, but this one just displays green letters on the screen in a type font that came with my Macintosh.

-- Hiring Travolta and Whitaker was a waste of money, since we can't recognize them behind pounds of matted hair and gnarly makeup. Their costumes look like they were purchased from the Goodwill store on the planet Tatooine. Travolta can be charming, funny, touching and brave in his best roles; why disguise him as a smelly alien creep?

-- The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why.

-- Some movies run off the rails. This one is like the train crash in "The Fugitive." I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.

Review by James Berardinelli
-- 30 minutes into this wreck of a motion picture, with thunder crashing in the sky above, the power went out, mercifully relieving me of my immediate responsibility to endure the rest of the movie. (HAHA)

-- Battlefield Earth makes movies like Supernova and Sphere seem like models of coherence.

-- [The director] probably has no better idea than I do of why he occasionally tilts the camera or uses slow motion. Maybe he thinks it looks cool.

-- There is no evidence that anyone involved with this project can act.

-- Looking back on this film, I can't find anything nice to say about it. I despised the experience of sitting in the theater while the movie was unspooling. It is an instant front-runner for worst feature of the year, having separated itself from its nearest contender by a wide margin.

Review by David Edelstein:

-- Only alien DNA could account for instincts so paranormally terrible. (HAHA)

-- Here is a picture that will be hailed without controversy as the worst of its kind ever made.

-- This is the kind of bad guy who strokes his beard with long (Lee Press-On?) talons, gloats over the imminent extermination of the human race, then adds, "Hah-hah-hah-hah-hah!" Fu Manchu would roll his eyes. Ming the Merciless would politely excuse himself.

-- He zaps Jonnie with a knowledge ray and then, for some reason, lets him read the Declaration of Independence. I'm not sure what happens next because I went out for malted milk balls and then remembered I owed my mom a phone call. When I got back, Jonnie was leading some cavemen on a tour of Fort Knox, various decadent Psychlos were arguing among themselves, and Travolta was going, "Hah-hah-hah-hah!"

-- Visually, Battlefield Earth is a bewildering procession of non sequiturs, held together by the most assaultive soundtrack in cinema history. That is not an overstatement. A horse hitting the ground sounds like a bomb going off. A bomb going off sounds like a planet exploding. A planet exploding sounds like—I'm out of hyperbole. People in the audience dig their fingers into their ears and howl in agony—it's a wonder the roof doesn't come down. Is this a Scientology strategy to drive the aliens out of their bodies?

Review from The New York Times:

From the bottom of the review - (this made me laugh out loud, especially considering the last comment above, from Edelstein): -- "Battlefield Earth" includes astonishingly loud violence and intimations of alien sexuality.

-- Man is an endangered species," announces one of the titles at the beginning of the sci-fi lump "Battlefield Earth." And after about 20 minutes of this amateurish picture, extinction doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Sitting through it is like watching the most expensively mounted high school play of all time.

-- It may be a bit early to make such judgments, but "Battlefield Earth" may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century.

-- Mr. Travolta throws back his head and delivers a stage laugh that would embarrass the villain from the shoddiest Republic Pictures serial or an episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

-- The only professional thing about the movie is the sound: it's so loud you feel as if you're sitting on a runway with jets taking off over your head.

Review from Jam Showbiz:

-- There's a scene in Battlefield Earth in which a visiting alien commander scopes a prison facility and says..."This is one of the biggest crap houses I have ever seen". How right he is.

-- At about the one hour mark, a portion of the audience split the scene and I don't blame them. They were fed-up with being taken for complete and utter morons.

-- Battlefield is so stupid it defies explanation.

Review from San Francisco Examiner:

-- A rebellion ensues, as does a relentless supporting performance by flying debris, which, after so many explosions, gave me a headache and invaded the camera frame enough to prevent me from keeping track of which character with hair extensions was running through the underlit production design.

-- A Scientology recruiting film would be more fun, and they're shorter.

-- If filmmaking has ever been less thrilling and more disengaging, I'd like to see it. Subliminal messages would have made it more endurable. The only real amusement the film can hope to stir will be if a rash of American moviegoers actually exits the theater and heads to their local Scientology headquarters. "Yes, I've seen the film, now I'd very much like to achieve the State of Clear, please."

From Ruthless Reviews:

-- We learn that aliens have taken over earth and other planets in order to strip them of precious metals which they teleport back to planet Phsyclo. Seeing the problem with that requires a high school education. See, simply hording metals, jewels or what have you does not really add much to an economy. That's why the Spanish empire fell from prominence. Maybe I'm nitpicking, but given the infinite number of reasons one planet might conquer another, why not pick one that makes sense? Just give the gold some practical use for crying out loud.

-- Travolta behaved like a second year drama student doing Richard III. Over the top to the point that you wanted to slap him. Barry Pepper meanwhile, was so horribly earnest and "Goodboy", that you really wanted to beat his ass, too.

From the Apollo Guide:

-- Never has the future of humanity seemed so dull, as John Travolta confronts Barry Pepper in a sci-fi confrontation that inspires nothing but boredom. The script is dull, acting forgettable, story predictable and derivative. It's also implausible, but at least noticing that breaks the monotony.

Review from Flipside Movie Emporium (I must excerpt from this one extensively ... it's too funny to chop it up):

--After a week of listening to the universal drubbing of Battlefield Earth, there's a temptation to go against the grain. Everyone has had a chance to tee off on the film, and the unflinchingly bad reviews have said just about all there is to say. Why not make a stand, then, and present the other point of view? Why not defend a friendless production when all the world is intent on pillorying it? Why not be an iconoclast -- just for the sake of debate -- and say, "No, this film really isn't as bad as all that?"

Because then I would be lying.

Battlefield Earth is the most horrendous, dreadful, corrosive, rank, foul, rotten, noxious, wretched, irredeemably BAD movie to come along in decades. This isn't a movie: it's a crime against celluloid. You don't so much watch it as stare at it in gape-jawed disbelief. Somebody made this. Somebody raised money to put this on screen. Somebody sat there and watched this happen without once screaming, "You fools! You mad, mad fools!" For that, and for so many other reasons, it deserves every bit of scorn that we can possibly heap upon it.

One look at John Travolta as the evil Psychlo security chief Terl and you know there's big problems. Sporting dreadlocks as worn by the Amish and brandishing weapons that the cast of Star Trek abandoned as too cheesy, Terl looks less like a conquering alien than Rob Zombie on a bender. When not chewing on the scenery or shooting the legs off cows, he inexplicably provides the human slaves beneath him with everything they need to foil his evil schemes. Mankind is an endangered species, you see, subjugated centuries ago and now worked to death in Psychlo mines or living a tribal existence in the irradiated outlands. Not to worry though: once Terl captures primitive leading man Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), he promptly hooks the savage up to a learning machine in order to assist in a preposterous scheme to steal gold. Apparently there's no off switch, because Jonnie learns everything from the machine, including history, mathematics and how to organize a grassroots guerrilla war. But Terl isn't concerned. Jonnie can't possibly find anyone to help him, right? And even if he could, he doesn't know where any weapons are, right? And even if he did, they'd all be a thousand years old and inoperable, right? And even if they weren't, the Psychlo technology was advanced enough to crush them before, and they've had a thousand years to improve upon it, right? Right?!

Glaring plot holes like these are easy to point out and Battlefield Earth is rife with them. The trouble, however, is that a plot hole implies a solvable problem: to wit, "if only they'd address this nagging inconsistency, the film would be better." NOTHING you could do to this train wreck could possibly make it better. Every single element, every single frame, reeks of abject incompetence. The acting is terrible, the special effects are embarrassing, and the sets look like a fourth-grade production of Logan's Run. The camerawork is shoddy, the costumes beyond ridiculous, and the directing could give Ed Wood a run for his money. No script tightening or casting change could dent this abomination, no talented individual could find a silver lining. It's like a perfectly woven asbestos blanket, smothering all hope beneath it. The only thing to do is destroy it and try to build something beautiful in the ashes.

I suppose Battlefield Earth can be useful as a cautionary example or as a strange testament to Travolta's progress as a star. Ten years ago, he made films like this because he had to; now he makes them because he can. The film was based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, and you would assume that scientologists like Travolta would have a vested interest in turning out a good adaptation. Guess not. It's tough vilifying Battlefield Earth because, as I said, everybody and their grandmother is doing it. But no film in recent years deserves it more and few films fail so exquisitely as it does. The louder we condemn it, the better the chance that it will never happen again.

Sheila's note: Am I just a masochist, or does anybody else enjoy reading all of that? Maybe I'm just a cruel and horrible woman, but I find those reviews SUPREMELY funny.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 05:24:00 PM

Monday, April 28, 2003  


Movie reviews of bad films are one of life's greatest pleasures. I don't even have to have seen the film to get a kick out of a one-star review, if the review is wittily written.

I remember a couple of years ago reading the reviews of "Battlefield Earth", and there wasn't one good review to be found, and it was like CANDY. Especially when the reviewer is a good writer and can scathingly pick apart why the film didn't work, why the whole thing was a disaster.

Roger Ebert just reviewed the film "Levity", starring Billy Bob Thornton, Holly Hunter, and Morgan Freeman (I love all of these actors ... and I have never heard of this film ... not a good sign!). Ebert lays the entire blame for the debacle on the director. I was reading the review and cackling at the words Ebert chose to convey how bad the film is. Still laughing over here. Listen:

-- For a director to assemble such a cast and then maroon them in such a witless enterprise gives him more to redeem than his hero. The hero has merely killed a fictional character. Ed Solomon, who wrote and directed, has stolen two hours from the lives of everyone who sees the film, and weeks from the careers of these valuable actors.

-- In this district a preacher named Miles Evans (Freeman) runs a storefront youth center, is portrayed so unconvincingly that we suspect Solomon has never seen a store, a front, a youth, or a center. (HAHA)

-- In this room, which looks ever so much like a stage set, an ill-assorted assembly of disadvantaged youths are arrayed about the room in such studied "casual" attitudes that we are reminded of extras told to keep their places.

-- This generates a scene of amazing coincidence, during which in a lonely alley late at night, all of the necessary characters coincidentally appear as they are needed, right on cue, for fraught action and dialogue that the actors must have studied for sad, painful hours, while keeping their thoughts to themselves.

-- All I can observe is that there is not a moment of authentic observation in the film; the director has assembled his characters out of stock melodrama. A bad Victorian novelist would find nothing to surprise him here, and a good one nothing to interest him. When this film premiered to thunderous silence at Sundance 2003, Solomon said he had been working on the screenplay for 20 years. Not long enough.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 05:19:00 PM


Please, if you care at all about education, if it bothers you how much language is controlled and manipulated (by academics leaning left and right) ... if it not just bothers you, but terrifies you: read this book review.

I haven't even read the book in question (The Language Police, by Diane Ravitch), but I feel like sending the author a "Thank you" card, based on this book review.

Political correctness in its nastiest stupidest most unintellectual-manifestation. It literally drives me ... LOONY. Like I'm the drummer-muppet Animal, having a freak-out. The examples given in the book review of the things text books are not allowed to show, not allowed to talk about, not allowed to acknowledge ... are beyond infuriating.

I love language. I love flexible language, language that pushes boundaries. Shakespeare, James Joyce, Mark Twain. Salinger. These people continue to be controversial to this day, and I love them for it. The fact that so many people are still pissed off about their brilliant works means, to me, that they have done something RIGHT.

The worst part about political correctness is that it also wants to correct the past. Correcting the present and future isn't good enough for these people. They also want to change the past.


How's that for keeping language flexible? BONEHEADS.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 05:05:00 PM


As a news junkie, I can't believe I missed the recent events in Cyprus, but alas, I did. Good piece by Christopher Hitchens on what has been going on recently on that troubled divided island, the walls (literal and metaphoric) now coming down.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 02:54:00 PM


Stop by and see what she's talking about. I understand from what I read that Persian webloggers often blog knowing that the punishment for this freedom of speech could be severe.

I especially was interested in her post on what Iranian girls/women are wearing these days. How the head scarves appear to be receding farther and farther back from the face, revealing more and more hair. This is a rebellion, an expression of individuality. The mullahs are alarmed, and are talking about cracking down on this as the summer months begin.

Anyway, I love the Iranian Girl, and I applaud her continuing courage. Keep writing!!

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 01:59:00 PM


Very good column today by Tom Friedman.

As far as I'm concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me. Mr. Bush doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue). It is clear that in ending Saddam's tyranny, a huge human engine for mass destruction has been broken. The thing about Saddam's reign is that when you look at that skull, you don't even know what period it came from - his suppression of the Kurds or the Shiites, his insane wars with Iran and Kuwait, or just his daily brutality.


And it's also an important column because of its focus on the power vacuum in Iraq which is gaping wider with every passing day. And the essential question, which has dogged people since Iraq's birth in the 1920s:

What is Iraq? Is it actually a nation? Do they want to cohere? Or ... would they rather just break up into separate autonomous tribes? What IS that place? The glory days of Mesopotamia are long-gone, and nobody in Iraq relates to it, anyway. Many of their ancestors came to Iraq from the Arabian Peninsula, fleeing the fanatical Wahhabis. Many came from Persia. None of these people relate to the ancient Mesopotamians as ancestors. (Hence, the trashed museum).

The only thing I take issue with is the notion of how Tom Daschle and the Dixie Chicks "have been savaged". Yes, they have been savaged. Tom Daschle is a politician. Politicians are always being savaged left and right. It is their job to come out in support or against policies, etc. They expect to take the heat. (Unless they are completely clueless smiling idiots like Trent Lott whose whole reaction to his faux pas was: "Wha' just happened??") But celebs are another issue: It is my feeling that once a celebrity decidese to toss themselves into the political arena, then they should not be shocked if they are tarred and feathered for their views. Especially when celebrities are used to having whatever they say boiled down into sound-bites for E Online. Once celebrities start making political speeches, especially if they are impromptu, they tend to dig their own grave. They can't help but highlight their own deficiencies: in language-control, in expressing their thoughts and their feelings in an articulate manner, etc. Most celebs are not good at this. They become famous because they are good at saying OTHER people's words.

Anyway. The Dixie Chicks have been savaged. But no worse than our top politicians have been. Top politicians can be voted out of office. We cannot vote the Dixie Chicks out of office, but we can refuse to buy their CDs. That's what happened.

Death threats, metal detectors, security details ... the Dixie Chicks have now entered this world, the world which is business-as-usual for heads of state, politicians, public officials. But my view is: you stepped onto the world stage, you insisted your way into the debate, and so this is the natural consequence. Deal with it. Politicians on both sides of the fence probably get death threats on a daily basis. Security guards live in their houses. Their offices are protected by metal detectors. Nobody goes in and out who are not approved. Being in power is dangerous. You take your life into your own hands. Or you hire people to protect your life as a full-time job. This isn't a joke, this isn't a game.

The Dixie Chicks should have understood the gravity of the situation before making a seemingly off-the-cuff statement. But they did not, and so they are shocked and hurt by the public response.

They failed to understand the landscape. And that's their fault. Not ours.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 12:49:00 PM


Great review of the new book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children by Ann Hulbert, in the current The New Yorker. I'm not a parent, but most of my friends are. Parenting topics are the air I vicariously breathe. And just because I don't have kids does not mean I am not allowed to have an opinion about the thing. No matter what the "Just you wait until YOU have kids" crowd says.

Ann Hulbert's book analyzes and discusses the various parenting experts of the 20th century. A broad look at the different trends which, at one time or another, have taken over the subject.

There's one sentence from the review (written by Joan Acocella which screamed out to me for an editor:

If we had a nickel for every twentieth-century author whose wife was an unacknowledged collaborator on his books, we could probably pay for the war in Iraq.

Pathetic. That has no place in a book review about parenting experts.

But the rest of the article is worth reading, especially the discussion of Fred Rogers at the end.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 12:20:00 PM


Bill Whittle's latest essay, entitled "Victory". The man can write. Okay? He can write.

We have been so safe, and so free, for so long, that it has warped our sense of history and human nature. It is, of course, a trade I am happy to make, but this isolation from the true horror and depravity that are everyday experiences in many parts of the world has imbedded in it, like a particularly lethal virus, the seeds of our own destruction. And it is this threat, much more than that from fundamentalist Islam and its organs of terror, that we must look at - closely, and deeply, and often.

I believe that many of those who opposed the war did so because they simply could not -- or in many cases would not - imagine what life under real oppression is like. Remember, these are the people who say, and seem to believe, that we in the US live in a police state, under a murdering dictator, where propaganda is spoon-fed to us like willing idiots and political opposition is crushed mercilessly.

If you say such things long enough, and you spend all your time in the company of similarly tinfoil-hatted comrades, then you actually begin to believe that life in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein wasn't that much worse than life in Berkeley under the racist, election-stealing, Wellstone-murdering, Earth-destroying Republikkkan administration.

This nation has been for many decades under direct and coordinated attack by fanatics whose failure to gain respect and attention through the force of their arguments have turned their level of rhetoric to such a shrill and hysterical pitch that years of it have seemingly driven some of them quite insane -- insane to the degree that they cannot see that acid baths, state rapists, children's prisons and daily torture and execution are not mere rhetorical flourishes -- roughly equivalent to hanging chads and bulldozed Dixie Chicks CD's - but a desperate and ever-present reality. They did everything in their power to deny this reality, these Champions of Compassion, and Not In Their Name did these daily horrors come to an end. That is what six decades of freedom, security, tolerance and prosperity will do to some people: isolate them from the brutal reality of horror and torture to the degree that "evil" must be accompanied by sneer quotes and the motives of 300 million free and decent people are suspect while those of a small cabal of psychopathic mass murderers are not.

In case you are unfamiliar with Mr. Whittle's essay series, here are the rest of them:








History ("History" is my personal favorite of all of these. I read it while having dinner at a local pub, and literally cried into my beer. I looked insane. But my insanity was sincere.)

  contact Sheila Link: 4/28/2003 10:21:00 AM


Very thorough piece in The New York Times, re-capping the entire SARS saga. I have to admit with some shame that I have willfully been ignoring this story, the way some willfully ignore war news, or news altogether. I feel like ... the coverage has a tinge of panic to it. I don't want to be forced into hysteria. However: perhaps panic is justified. This is a crisis. A crisis which is now in the New York region as well. But truth be told, because of my self-imposed blinders, the news on SARS has been reaching me in an extremely peripheral way. I forced myself to read this article this morning: get some information, Sheila. It may all be bad news, but it must be known.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/27/2003 08:35:00 AM

Sunday, April 27, 2003  


I watched Diane Sawyer interview the girls last week. (Full disclosure: I love their music.) And I have a million different things I want to babble about. Let me try to boil it all down:

-- If you are a celebrity in this country, dissent doesn't put you in a gulag, or swing you from a tree. Dissent puts you on a magazine cover, and gives you a primetime spot with Diane Sawyer. It may FEEL like your first amendment rights are being squashed, but ACTUALLY: you are being given platform after platform after platform to explain yourself, defend yourself, say stuff like: "No, what I reallymeant was..."

-- Here is what I think was behind the comment-in-question that was made at the concert in London. I have no proof of this. I wasn't at the concert. And Natalie did not explain herself to Sawyer. She took it back,saying "Those were not the right words. I just had some questions about why we were going to war." Yes. But that is not what you said. You said: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." I can only imagine what it would be like, at this moment, to be an American abroad, facing the hatred and scorn of the world. What I hear in her comment is that she got intimidated by the European's contempt, and probably was very much anti-war (or anti-Bush, same thing) and said that in order to be liked. Americans want to be liked. If anti-Americanism is pathological, to some degree, than our desire to be liked can also be pathological. It's the "Just so you know..." that gives her away. Also, the fact that she did not make her comment on US soil. I don't believe she would have said that at a concert in Memphis.

-- I liked the other 2 chicks. I wonder what has gone on behind the scenes, with the three of them. I especiially liked when the dark-haired one said to Diane: "We are not foreign policy experts." And the blonde one saying, basically: "I trust that the leaders of this country have more information than we do. I trust that they don't tell all that they know, and they shouldn't."

-- If you get involved in the anti-war or anti-Bush movement, then be prepared. Be prepared to back up your sentiments, articulately. Or else you will be crucified. This is serious business. This is war. Tempers are running high. There are not NO consequences to your behavior. This isn't a game, protesting the war is not a game, and not risk-free. Get your thoughts together and express yourself clearly. It is right and correct that people should be held accountable for what they say and what they do. I don't agree with death threats, obviously ... but the Dixie Chicks, who have no business in politics, have learned all of this the hard way. It's a hard-knock life.

-- However: everywhere you look right now are the Dixie Chicks. They have glutted the entertainmet magazines. They have not been shunned. They have been given an internatioal platform. There is no punishment here. So a bulldozer drove over some of your CDs. So what. People are angry. If you insist on walking into a kitchen (and you don't know how to cook), then you have to take the heat. That's the deal. This is serious business.

  contact Sheila Link: 4/27/2003 07:38:00 AM


Found both of these articles on Instapundit:(the second one, while not all that surprising, all things considered, blows me away. I'm angry.)

UK Newspaper Says Documents Link Bin Laden to Iraq

France briefed Iraq on war: report

(A couple of friends have also emailed me both of these links, with comments attached like: "Holy crap!")

  contact Sheila Link: 4/27/2003 07:32:00 AM

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