HotM: Antonio Canova Sunday, Jan 31 2010 

It’s been nearly a year since I had a hottie of the month, my tongue-in-cheek homage to men and women from the long eighteenth century. The lack of “hotties” has largely been due to the fact that I haven’t been teaching (or even researching) in the eighteenth century lately. Now that I’m a dean, I’m not teaching as much, on the one hand, and I don’t have much time for writing, on the other.

But I think it’s time to get back to my blogging roots. When I started this blog, it was mostly about my teaching and research. Over time it’s become more pop culture centered. While I’m still going to write about movies, music, and other random aspects of my life and opinions, I also want to write about eighteenth-century subjects. So, I’ve decided to revive the hottie of the month feature!

This month’s hottie is the eighteenth-century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. While PJ and I were in Italy last summer, I fell in love with sculpture in a way that I had never been before. I was especially drawn to Bernini’s work at the Borghese Gallery. Canova also has a prominent work at the Borghese: a statue of Pauline Bonaparte:

As this image suggests, Canova’s ability to suggest drapery in this statue is amazing. It’s even better in person. The cushion she’s sitting on and the “fabric” on the side of the piece both make you feel like you could reach out and feel their softness.

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Nothing Really Matters, Love is All We Need Thursday, Jan 28 2010 

This week’s song of the week is Madonna’s “Nothing Really Matters” from her 1998 album, Ray of Light. Here’s a clip of her singing it at the 1999 Grammy’s:

I’ve been looking for more than a song of the week since the beginning of the new year; I’ve also been looking for a theme for the year. Last year, my theme was “Here, Now, and Me,” which became a kind of mantra that helped me keep focused on what seemed most important: living in the now (rather than the past or future) and focusing on what it was I want out of life.

Since the new year is a time for resolutions and new commitments, I started looking for a theme that encapsulates what I’m thinking now. At first, I couldn’t find anything that felt right, but then I remembered Madonna’s song, which I’ve always liked. In fact, it’s one of my favorite songs from Ray of Light. I even bought the single when it came out.

So, I broke out the single and started listening to it in my car as I drove back and forth to work. The more I listened to it, the more it seemed to fit my mood and thoughts at this moment in several ways.

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Vampire Darcy’s Desire: A Review Monday, Jan 25 2010 

I’m a total nut for (some) rewrites of Jane Austen’s novels. As I’ve blogged about before, I love Susan Kaye’s rewrite of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view and Pamela Aidan’s rewrite of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view.

But I’m also a bit of a purist when it comes to my Austen rewrites. I’m not interested in rewriting the novels’ plots — no alternative endings. I’m also not a fan of the next generation type novels — Darcy and Elizabeth’s daughters, for example. And I’m definitely not a fan of time travel Austen novels — Elizabeth coming to the present or a contemporary woman traveling back into the novel.

While PJ and I were in New York last month, I looked around for an Austen rewrite to read — I especially like reading Austen and her emulators while I’m traveling; it makes me feel more comfortable or something. I stumbled across Regina Jeffers’ Vampire Darcy’s Desire. This book should have immediately fallen into the second category I described above, the this-is-an-abomination category, but I read a page or two while standing in the bookstore and was immediately impressed with Jeffers’ writing style. In fact, her prose quickly captured my interest and made me want to keep reading. Here’s how the first chapter opens (there’s a prologue before this that describes Darcy’s rescue of Georgiana from the vampire Wickham):

It took more than a day to explain it all to Georgiana. At first, she did not believe him, but the truth lay all around them. He explained what he knew of her acquaintance with Wickham–how she met the pretender one day in a village shop–how she saw him several times about the estate–how she thought him to be a friend of her brother’s. Slowly, with Darcy’s explanation, Georgiana realized Wickham offered her no future. (7)

I’m a firm believer in the idea that, if a novel doesn’t grab me pretty quickly in the opening page or two, it’s not going to appeal to me so I don’t read it. (This often has as much or more to do with my disposition at the time than the novel — a book that doesn’t appeal to me at one point in time might be perfectly fun to read 6 months later, for example.) What I liked about this opening paragraph is that it could have been a straight rewrite of Pride and Prejudice rather than the beginning of a vampire novel. It signals that Jeffers knows what she’s doing.

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The Biggest Loser: Boot Camp Sunday, Jan 24 2010 

Now that I’m an administrator, I’ve completely fallen off the work out wagon. I probably made it to the gym only three or four times in the last five months of 2009. And I’ve started seeing the consequences: my waist is slowly getting bigger. I know that I’ve reached a turning point: either start working out again or go back up a pants size.

I really don’t want to go up a pants size again, especially after working so hard to get back to my ideal size. Furthermore, I’ve had it in my mind for the last year or two that I want to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in when I turn 40 this June. That’s not the path I’m on right now, so I know that I’ve got to make some lifestyle changes.

In particular, I knew that I needed to find something that I could do at home to workout. Some of my fellow deans were talking before a recent meeting about having a treadmill at home. I’m not prepared to go that far yet, but I do need to have some way of working out that doesn’t mean going to the gym at 8 or 9 PM.

So, when PJ and I were grocery shopping last Sunday, we saw a display of workout DVDs on sale. They are by the personal trainers from NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Since they were on sale and since I’d been saying I needed something to do at home, we bought two of them, including The Biggest Loser: Boot Camp. Here’s a sample:

I finally got around to trying it out on Thursday evening. I have to say that it’s a great workout, especially for someone who hasn’t been working out for a while. The beginner section, which lasts 30 minutes (5 minutes of warm-up, 20 minutes of workout, and 5 minutes of cool down), is really pretty hard. I could barely move on Friday!

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Max Steele and How Naked Are We Going to Get? Friday, Jan 22 2010 

It’s going to take a little explaining before I get to the point of this post, my song of the week, which is “How Naked Are We Going to Get?” by The Blow.

The other day I was watching episode 6 of Jeffery and Cole Casserole, which I missed when it was on T.V. I love their show (and their YouTube videos). While watching the episode, I started to wonder about one of the other actors in the show. His name turns out to be Max Steele, and, since he’s cute, I started surfing the web to see what I could find out about him: he’s a 24-year-old actor/musician/writer/go-go dancer/performance artist who lives in New York City.

My great envy in life is that I’m not a twenty-something gay performance artist type guy living in NYC. I’m sure part of it is the hipsterness of such a fantasized life. And part of it is the feeling that I wasted my early twenties being good in southeast Texas. Whatever its roots, I wish I were a twenty-something gay guy living in NYC surrounded by people making videos and making out with each other while drinking cheap red wine and listening to really cool music. Only slightly lower on my list of fantasy lives would be to be a mumblecore director, which would still involve living in NYC, making out with cute guys, and drinking cheap wine while listening to cool music! I’m starting to think that I need to do more with contemporary young queer culture in my next Lesbian and Gay Lit class–maybe turn it into a queer culture class or something.

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Inglourious Basterds:A Review Tuesday, Jan 19 2010 

Over the weekend, I finally saw Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie, Inglourious Basterds, a World War II fantasy in which a group of Jewish American soldiers infiltrate Europe and go on a Nazi killing spree as a means of instilling fear in the minds of German soldiers. While on this mission, the team gets the chance to take out the German high command, including Hitler, who are all attending the premiere of a German film valorizing the exploits of a German soldier.

Here’s the trailer:

Some of Quentin Tarantino’s films, such as Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Pulp Fiction, are among my favorite movies. But my response to this movie is rather complicated, and I ultimately have to say that I didn’t enjoy it like I had hoped (and thought) I would.

I’m ok with the fantasy of killing Nazis, but I had a problem with the films combination of humor with the typical gruesomeness of Tarantino’s violence. Brad Pitt’s scenes are all great — and mostly hilarious. But some of the other humor just doesn’t work for me. I can’t get past the fact that this is WWII and the Holocaust. It’s not particularly funny and doesn’t seem appropriate to try to make it so.

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The Hurt Locker: A Review Monday, Jan 18 2010 

PJ and I recently saw The Hurt Locker, a movie about a bomb squad in Iraq. Kathryn Bigelow directed this script by Mark Boal, who was a war correspondent in Iraq during the war. The movie is informed by his observations while there. Here’s the trailer:

I’m surprised by my reaction to this movie: I really liked it. I wanted to see it since it’s an Oscar contender, but I wasn’t terribly excited about it. Until I watched it. Now I think it’s one of the best films of 2009. Thrilling, suspenseful, and insightful, it’s well-directed, well written, and well acted.

The movie begins with a scene in which the bomb squad is trying to detonate an improvised explosive device. This scene is completely riveting and suspenseful. One of the things we learn from this scene is that things can go wrong quickly on the streets of Iraq, and the surviving characters have to come to terms with the death of a comrade.

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SotW: This Land is Your Land by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings Thursday, Jan 14 2010 

George Clooney’s new movie, Up in the Air, begins with a montage of airplanes taking off and landing behind the initial credits. I instantly fell in love with the song that playing during the montage, which is “This Land is Your Land” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings:

I love their neo-funk sound, so I’ve made this song my song of the week.

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Up in the Air: A Review Wednesday, Jan 13 2010 

This weekend, PJ and I saw George Clooney‘s new movie, Up in the Air, which is about a guy named Ryan Bingham, whose job is to travel around the country firing people. Here’s the trailer:

As the trailer suggests, Ryan loves the mostly impersonal world of air travel, in which services are rendered in a friendly but non-invasive way. In fact, he’s developed a self-help lecture based on the principle that one’s entire life should fit into a backpack.

The main conflict in the movie revolves around a threat to Ryan’s way of life: he is closing in on 10 million frequent flier miles when he finds out that his boss, played by Jason Bateman, has decided to follow a new business model proposed by the new kid on the block, Natalie, played by Anna Kendrick. She’s proposed that the company fire people via the internet instead of in person, saving lots of money and upping the number of firings each representative can handle in a day. Ryan therefore has to figure out a way to convince his boss that her proposal is wrong before he’s grounded permanently. To make this point, Ryan takes Natalie out with him on a trip, which changes both of their perspectives on life in various ways.

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Precious: A Review Monday, Jan 11 2010 

Last weekend, PJ and I saw Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. I was more than a little hesitant to see this movie, because the trailer makes it clear that it’s about a teenager who is physically, verbally, and sexually abused. But it’s a major Oscar contender, so I had to see it. I’m glad I did; it’s definitely one of the best movies of the year.

Here’s the trailer:

The first thing I have to say is that this is one of the stupidest official titles ever. Did Sapphire require the producers to include the subtitle? Why not just require them to call it Push? As is, it just seem clunky and arrogant, whether the latter is true or not. Do they really expect people to say the whole title if it wins Academy Awards? If I were an Academy member I would be tempted not to vote for it just for the title alone, which would be unfortunate, since it deserves several nominations and at least some wins.

Precious is about the eponymous character, who is sixteen and pregnant with her second child. We quickly learn that she has been raped by her father, her mother’s boyfriend. She lives with her mother, who lives off Precious’s welfare checks, and generally makes Precious’s life miserable. Precious waits on her mother hand and foot, mostly out of fear that her mother will turn abusive without any notice.

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