Tag Archives: george clooney

LA, Chapter One: George Clooney Is Handsome And Helpful.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women: Mae West, Dolores Del Rio, Anna Mae Wong, and Dorothy Dandridge. With concrete spikes driven through their skulls.

I never seem to get around to blogging about my trips and I don’t really know why. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I try to pack a lot of livin’ into those two to seven days. And when I’m not livin’, I still usually have to do a lot of writin’. Then there’s sleepin’. Bloggin’ seems to land buttered-side down.

Particularly because I sometimes make the mistake of taking it too seriously. So I’m going to try an experiment. I’ve set a ten-minute countdown timer here on my iPhone. I can write about as many topics as I want, but I have to abort after ten minutes on each.

Okay? Strap in. Go!!!

Chapter One: George Clooney Is Both Very Handsome And Quite Helpful.

Speaking of experiments: I decided to go full-out and commit to the idea of packing light. $25 for a checked bag? Each way? $15 was my Grumble But Play Along price. For $25, I was willing to modify my behavior.

A five or six day trip is normally the worst packing situation imaginable. I’m right at that margin. Usually, I can fit everything in one carryon if I throw some important things out, or I have to take the larger bag and resign myself to spending all that money for a half-empty piece of luggage.

This time, I was determined: under no circumstances would I take more than my one hardsided rollerbag and my laptop bag. The only non-negotiable items were socks and underpants, of which one really must have one set for every morning. Other than that: if there was any doubt about taking (n) or (n-1) copies of any item, I would favor (n-1).

I also did something that’s always seemed absolutely insane: I rolled up every last article of clothing into tight individual tubes. Even the dress shirt that needed to stay nice. I’ve seen demos of Master Packers who insist that you can travel for two weeks out of one carryon by using this technique. I imagined them spending that whole time looking like their outfits had been designed by someone who’d spent most of his life working with accordions.

Well, gorblimey: it all worked out great. Despite the fact that I needed to pack a tripod in there as well, despite the fact that I had to wear business-formal to a special club later in the week. It all fit in nicely and the lid closed cleanly. I didn’t even need to undo the zipper on my laptop case that doubles its capacity. It was like I was headed out for a weekend, instead of the better part of a week.

So that’s the new mission rule: one bag, period. I think it’s encouraged by the fact that now, it seems less like an inconvenience and more like a logic puzzle. It’s like playing Tetris with your clothing. The big advantage of rolling your clothes, as I see it, is that it allows you to form a dense two-story layer of solid clothing at the bottom of your suitcase which fills every nook and cranny. When you combine this with a motivation to “win the packing game” by asking yourself the hard questions (“How about just two shirts?” “I should wear this v-neck sweater on the plane instead of packing it; it’s thick cotton”), miracles can happen.

Also helpful: seeing “Up In The Air” three or four times on HBO in the past month. George Clooney’s character travels 350 days out of the year and there’s a marvelous scene in which we just see how efficiently he packs. And then there’s a second scene in which he scolds a newbie for her gramma-style American Tourister and mercilessly “edits” her selections to fit into a brand-new rollerbag.

I reiterate that George Clooney is a very handsome man and as such, he can be trusted to know what he’s talking about.

It also made me think slightly more favorably about these new baggage restrictions. Before the airlines tacked $50 onto the cost of every ticket, I tended to overpack. Why take just two extra shirts when three would offer me some more alternatives? A big monetary disincentive forced me to be more careful. That’s probably the only real way that we as a country are ever going to move away from oil. Would I drive my car as frequently if there were a 100% surcharge on every gallon of gas? Probably not. I’d rightly say that the added price was insane and and outrage…but ultimately I bet I’d realize how much room there was for me to cut back.

Done! With 30 seconds left on the clock. I like how this is working out.

“Burn After Reading”: Some Of You Are Idiots

cwob-burn after reading.jpg

I am slightly dismayed that there are folks out there who think “Burn After Reading” is a terrible movie. The movie underscored my faith in the Coen Brothers. Who else has their kind of freedom or power? Every year or two, they punch out another movie like clockwork. And it gets to be exactly what they felt like making at the time. Like Ozu, like Scorsese, like Eastwood, like Woody Allen, each film is the latest episode in a series of films that you earnestly hope won’t stop coming until the filmmaker finally pops his clogs.

The Coens remind me of Woody Allen in the Seventies, particularly. He cracked the Hollywood code and created a simple math that studios instinctively understood. If he made a movie budgeted at under X dollars, it was practically guaranteed to profit Y dollars. At best, it’d also win critical acclaim and prestige for the studio. At worst? It wouldn’t jeopardize the career of anybody involved, and the studio would still get to keep all those profits. There are normally guarantees like that in the film industry. Result: he mostly got to make the movies he wanted to make.

(Come on. They let him make “Interiors,” for the love of God. Here was a man who was invisible to the steel claw of focus groups and studio notes.)

I can see why “Burn After Reading” could disappoint some viewers. You sort of struggle to define it before typing in “dark comedy” and promising to replace it with something better later on. I consider the movie to be a document of the Coens’ simple competence in storytelling. Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt work at a DC-area gym franchise. George Clooney is a Treasury Department agent. These three people are complete idiots. John Malkovich, a Princeton-educated CIA analyst who lives in a stately Georgetown neighborhood, isn’t an idiot. But his alcoholism, his failing marriage, and his steadily downtrending career cause him to grow increasingly frustrated, angry, irrational, and in search of a smaller dog to kick.

These four characters are tied together in story involving a simple straightforward situation But because they only have 20% of the information apiece, and are largely unaware of each others’ existences, not to mention that they aren’t operating at the full mental capacity available to a normal human…Complications Occur and things quickly get out of hand.

I don’t want to say more, because the pleasure of this movie is in observing events as they happen.

This isn’t a story that most writers and filmmakers can tell. There’s a reason why in so many movies, a character is suddenly diagnosed with cancer. A terminal disease immediately brings every character together and the story gains an automatic Middle and End. Great storytellers can weave a compelling 90 minutes from two people sitting in a restaurant calmly having a meal.

“Burn After Reading” doesn’t have a linear storyline. It actually ends with…

(oh, fine: “spoiler alert,” but it’s not worth it)

…a scene in which characters compare notes, fail to make any sense of what had happened, and ultimately decide that from their own perspective at least it doesn’t really matter anyway.


That’s why this is a signature Coen Brothers movie. Competence and confidence. The simple competence of being able to tell a story strictly through the behavior of a collection of characters instead of through a 1-2-3-4-5 connect-the-dots sequence of events. And the confidence to hire the right group of actors and trust that it’ll all work, without second-guessing themselves and sending one of these characters through an MRI machine and then to a meeting with a somber-faced oncologist.

And what a cast. Part of the fun is watching a fantastic cast working against their usual type. “Sexiest Man Alive” George Clooney trolls dating sites for cheap hookups. Brad Pitt couldn’t be a bigger bimbo if he had a pair of DD breast implants. And fans of “Fargo” will have great difficulty hearing Frances McDormand speaking like an utter nincompoop whose understanding of the world seems to have been gleaned exclusively from the movie reviews in “US Weekly.”

Admittedly, John Malkovich is exactly the guy you expect him to be. Hiring him to play a safe, sane and stable person would be like taking a parachute underwater.

I often think about writers and filmmakers and musicians having a “credit score” with my bureau. The currency is the amount of faith I have that a certain project will be great or even good. Some creators rate so low that if the currency were actual money, I won’t loan them $50 if they left behind a $100 bill as collateral. Whereas the Coen Brothers could tell me “Our next movie is going to be a static, 90-minute shot of a bowl of Cheerios getting soggier and soggier over time” and I’d still mark Opening Day on my calendar.

Every film of their underscores my faith in their work. Their next film is “A Serious Man,” to be released on October 2. As always, my excitement about every previous film they’ve made feeds my interest in seeing the next one.