Is this as good as it gets?
BY STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
Excellent analysis of the sorry state of romantic comedies. I refuse to
see them because I don't like having my intelligence insulted. I
resent the notion that women will go see a "chick flick" because "it
reflects their experience" and not notice how bland and inane the films are
(although saying this in a group of women will often elicit narrow-eyed
stares with daggers behind them and pursed lips). I would follow Ewan
McGregor anywhere, but Tom Hanks? Please. I've seen Jimmy Stewart act,
sir, and you are no Jimmy Stewart.
-- Meredith Renwick
As a card-carrying specimen of the guy
species, I'm just as guy about Clint Eastwood and
Larry, Moe and Curly and things that go boom as the
next guy. Yet my favorite
movies are the romantic and screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s.
The writing, by the likes of Preston Sturges, Hecht &
MacArthur, Garson Kanin and a host of others, was at a much higher level than the current crop
of sappy slop -- sharper, wittier, classier and vastly
funnier. But I think what cinches it for me is that these were comedies for
grown-ups, with grown-ups and about grown-ups. You'd
never mistake William Powell or Claudette Colbert for
aging eighth-graders, which is, sad to say, exactly
how Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks come across in the
tripe they're stuck with. Grown-ups are just funnier.
Their fractured dignity is funnier. Their punctured
egos are funnier. And their romances ring truer.
In an era when Mike Myers or Adam Sandler can rake in
millions churning out "comedies" which contain not
one single laugh, I think people may actually be grateful for the thin gruel in something
like "You've Got Mail." I'll save my seven bucks and throw in a tape of "Bringing Up Baby."
-- Jon Nilsen
Elk Mound, Wis.
Romantic comedies are getting blander and blander each coming year. But I
think the American obsession with the Actor's Studio style of psychological
realism bears some blame.
Cast your mind back to the first couple seasons of "ER." If you recall, the
writers concentrated almost exclusively on fast-paced, blistering action,
plunging their characters into one trauma after another. Slowly, as the first two seasons wore on, we
viewers began to feel strongly that Anthony Edwards' Dr. Green and Sherry
Stringfield's Dr. Lewis were somehow meant to be together -- that they were
each other's perfect match. "ER" adhered to the Aristotelian vision of character -- that our deeds alone create our identity. Slowly, surely, we saw that
the two characters shared a similarity that couldn't have been put into dialogue.
"When Harry Met Sally" worked in virtually the same way. It took an entire
movie for the characters to realize what the audience knew. Indeed, it took
the characters most of the movie to prove in action that they truly did
One can see the trailers of these romantic comedies and immediately see
their wrongheaded obsessions -- facile plot twists, psychological minutiae,
melodramatic scenery-shredding set pieces. Some of us -- guys and girls
alike -- hope that in the midst of all that dreck, someone will create
characters who cleanly translate their passion into unmistakable action.
To see Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything," simply raising his boom-box over his head late at night,
letting Peter Gabriel do the talking for him because all at once he
understands that his own words fail him -- isn't it romantic?
-- Jason Linkins
Why do men have nipples?
BY SUSAN McCARTHY
Yeah, that's great. Except:
1) The defining characteristics of mammals are not simply "having hair and suckling their offspring." Even such a paltry biological reference as the American Heritage Dictionary says: "distinguished by self-regulating body temperature, hair, and in the females, milk-producing mammae." Since the author felt the need to compare mammals to reptiles every few sentences, perhaps the first might have deserved more attention?
2) Platypi are not mammals. Neither are opossums. Platypi are monotremes, and opossums are marsupials. Monotremes, in fact, lay eggs, which is why they're not mammals.
3) Developmental biology is a much younger science than evolutionary biology, but it is relatively clear that embryonic humans basically develop into females until such time as male hormones say otherwise. Which is why males have underdeveloped female nipples. Of course, that explanation didn't fill nearly as many virtual column inches.
-- John W. E. Roy
Susan McCarthy dismisses Aristotle's medical advice as wobbly, citing his
recommendation of cabbage as hangover cure.
The next time she suffers a hangover McCarthy should try a small
portion of cabbage. She will find it works quite well.
-- Chris Williams
Katherine Dunn, author of several classic novels, including the renowned "Geek Love," did a column for the Portland, Ore., once-alternative newspaper, Willamette Week, which posed the same question
early on. This was perhaps 15 years ago. Her columns were compiled in
a book with the same title, "Why do men have nipples?" Credit where credit is due, please.
-- Joel Weinstein
Sharps & flats
REVIEWED BY SCOTT MARC BECKER
I'll bet that Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Eddie Flowkes, Juan
Atkins, Carl Craig, Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, Rob Hood and the other black
guys who invented techno in mid-'80s Detroit will be happy to hear that
Moby, a white boy from Connecticut, is restoring the genre to its African-American roots.
Moby is a pretty decent jack of all trades, one who sticks to his pop guns
and rarely overestimates his own stature as an innovator. I therefore think
it's stretching it a bit to say that "he daringly brings the story of black
American music full circle" simply by sampling old field recordings and
blues songs on his new album.
May, Atkins and co. conceived of techno as the future of soul music.
Anybody remotely acquainted with their pioneering work -- "Strings of Life,"
"Nite Drive" and "Big Fun," just to name a few obvious tracks -- knows that
true Detroit techno isn't "a notably mechanistic, soulless field." While
Detroit producers are taking R&B into the future, Moby is sampling its past.
What's so daring about that?
-- Brian Dillard
BY PETER TRACHTENBERG
Seven years ago when I stumbled into children's librarianship as a profession, one of the first books I reread from my childhood was "Charlotte's Web." I was struck then by the sheer perfection of the book -- not as a children's book, but as a human book. Believe me, I am one of the least sentimental people you could ever hope to meet, but each time over the last seven years that I have reread "Charlotte's Web" I have been absolutely awed by it, and have also witnessed the power that it has over children, who understand it perhaps better than we adults do. I remember reading it one day on the subway and having to put it away because Charlotte's death was coming up, and I knew there would be tears, and I couldn't stand to think of them coming at rush hour. Thank you to Peter Trachtenberg for reminding people of a book that I know I will never forget.
-- Carrie Schadle
Go get 'em, tiger
BY VIRGINIA MORAN
Virginia Moran's article demonstrates how to suck the life out of
sport. Children do not acquire a love of a game, or any sort of passion, in an
anodyne, non-confrontational surrounding with sympathetic coaches and
doting parents looking on. In Latin America and Europe, and until
recently in the United States, generations of kids of all classes have used what
they could -- a real bat or a stick, a new ball or one held together with
masking tape, to play street games of baseball (in Latin America) or
soccer (in both continents) until the light fails. You can be quite
certain that they do keep score, are fiercely competitive and care
about the game. Kids are tough. They play on their own, without coaches
telling them all they did a great job, without parents leaping up and
down on the sidelines, without uniforms, without being driven around in
Not everyone does a great job, not everyone gets to bat and not
everyone wins. That's what makes a game worth playing. Abandon the
minivan. Abolish the ludicrous position of "T-Ball Coach" and let the
kids play on their own. Not only will they have more fun, but they'll
be stronger, more resolute and realistic; the "soccer moms" will spend
less time on the sidelines and therefore, hopefully, more time doing
what they want to do and less time whining about how busy their lives are.
-- Ben Walsh