Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 2nd letter to my new cinematic Pen Pal - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

For clarity's sake, you may want to read our first correspondence here.

Dear Mahmoud,

We’re less than a week away from the screening of Shoah at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago and I wanted to check in and make sure that your travel plans are in order. Are you flying into the O’Hare or Midway airport? I have bought our tickets already. You can pay me back in Iranian money so that I can add it to my foreign currency collection. Is your photo on the currency? It should be $20 total. I went to the actual box office to buy tickets so we could avoid those unjust Ticketmaster fees. Do you have Ticketmaster in Iran? If you do, let me give you some friendly advice for your next election: Get rid of it. The Iranian people would love you for it and probably overlook any prior human rights violations, election tampering or squandering of their country's reputation.

Since there is not assigned seating, I wanted to inquire about where you like to sit when you go to the movies. As a head of state, you’re probably used to a private box in the balcony with a security retinue. Regretfully, they don’t have private boxes or a balcony, but I can assure you that even though I might not be much to look at, I’m a pretty tough cookie and can easily protect you from anyone throwing popcorn. However, if someone tries to stab you, I’ll probably get out of the way. My health insurance deductible is quite high. Don’t get me started on health care!

So, do you like the middle or the back or the aisle? You don’t seem like a front row kind of guy, though for this movie it might be best if you were up close. If for some reason your flight is delayed and you’re running late, I can save you a seat. Normally, I don’t like to do that because of all the dirty looks and questions this generates, but I’ll make an exception in your case. Believe it or not, some people are just as intolerant toward ‘seat-savers’ as they are toward Holocaust deniers. Nevertheless, you’re traveling quite a distance to be here and I want to make sure you get a good seat.

When I told a friend you were joining me for this film, she explained that your presence might cause a disruptive uproar at the theater because of some of your previous statements regarding Israel, the Holocaust, et al. We certainly don’t want the viewing experience of this special screening marred in any way, so I have a Chicago Cubs baseball cap and jersey for you to wear so you won’t be recognized. Do you have baseball in Iran? It’s our national pastime and quite a wonderful game. If it was spring or summer, we could attend a game. They might even let you throw out the game ball since you’re a President. Our Presidents do it all the time. Better warm up that arm just in case there’s a pickup game!

I hope to hear from you soon and I hope you’re as excited as I am about the movie.

Celluloidally yours,


Thursday, January 13, 2011

David Foster Wallace Speaks about Holiday NERDS Rope

I've recently fallen in love with the writing of DFW and here is a little tribute to his genius:

Most people who work at East Coast magazines rarely frequent places that sell NERDS Rope let alone ingest it. Our Editor-in-Chief didn’t even know it existed and when presented with a sample, mistook it for a souvenir from Honeydukes, the sweetshop at Universal Studios’ Harry Potter Theme Park, which now sees more tourists per annum than most European countries. Our Managing Editor thought it resembled a ‘holiday’ vertebral column(1) his son made in his 1st grade science class. A grizzled proofreader said it looked like someone ran down the bead aisle at Michaels with a glue-soaked Twizzler. He asked me if there was a razor inside of it. I told him I was about to find out.

The Holiday NERDS Rope is in a festive, sparkling green package cinched up tight on both ends. Dancing, flying, laughing, cavorting and plummeting along the wrapping are little red, green and white NERDS – tiny, bi-pedal creatures in stocking caps that resemble either shaved, dyed rabbits or cartoon germs. Didn’t I see these things battling my white blood cells in a seventh grade video on influenza? Wonka’s press kit states these are anthropomorphized versions of the candies, which begs the question of which human characteristics they possess. Are they loyal like a labrador or compassionate like a hospital nurse or violently insane like the Kool Aid man/pitcher? The packaging is not clear. NERDS look neither intelligent nor good conversationalists, but rather romping and brainless with the groupthink of lemmings in a gymnastics class with no teacher. No razor, by the way.

It’s easy to open and presented on a cheap, long cardboard shelf that slides out like a security deposit box. Tootsie Rolls and Almond Joys have this same shelf to ostensibly keep them from being bent or broken in transit from the candy factory to your grocery store. It would be elegant if the cardboard wasn’t perforated and almost as flimsy as the rope itself. There is something just unclassy about perforations. Why they try to intimate shapely elegance with a primordial, formless candy kids will undoubtedly whip their friends with is beyond me.

The package’s eating instructions call to mind phrases you might hear at an underground S&M club. Bite it! Chew it! Twist it! Pull it! I was so terrified by these commands I WHACKED it against my desk in a panic and the NERDS flew around the room like shrapnel from a claymore. My coworker still has a NERD in her tympanic membrane, giving all words entering her left ear a Wonkafied absurdity.

The taste is described as Soft Gummy Rope Covered With Tiny Tangy Crunchy NERDS Candy.(2) No commas are used, so these flavors may happen individually or in a simultaneous pell-mell attack reminiscent of Doughboys charging over a German trench. Be warned. It’s actually quite fragrant with a cherry fruit garden smell and the taste, like most candies whose main ingredients are dextrose, sugar and corn syrup, is more complex to describe than most mathematical proofs.(3) It’s quite delicious and wipes away the entire taste of the Indian food I had for lunch (as well as years of hard-earned tooth enamel) and leaves my mouth feeling like a dentist has pressure washed my mouth with microscopic sugar crystals. I washed it all down with a glass of milk. Merry Christmas.

1- Santa’s spine would be classified as a holiday vertebral column. It’s red, green and white and evidences years of chimney-induced back injuries.

2- Cinta Sauve y Masticable cubierta con Dulcecitos Agrios y Crujientes NERDS. The packaging is also in Spanish as Wonka is clearly targeting the Latino/Latina demographic.

3- There is a hint of strawberry, watermelon, cherry and the white NERD is what I refer to as a mystery flavor due to the Airheads candy, which produces a white taffy candy called white mystery, a secret flavor with Fort Knox type security. The white mystery Airhead tastes remotely berry-flavored with a hint of lemon, lime, watermelon, (not the flavor of a garden-grown watermelon, but of a laboratory watermelon flavoring, which is different), banana (again, laboratory banana) and green apple (which is actually acidic like a granny smith apple). As a child, I used to think the white mystery Airhead took on the flavor of whatever you were thinking before you opened it and the candy through some inorganic form of ESP discerned your thoughts and embodied that flavor. It generally worked except for the time I wanted it to taste like root beer. You might be wondering what laboratory banana or watermelon tastes like. The flavors are more like fragrances laced on pieces of hardened sugar. Some are astonishingly close to their natural counterparts, like banana, and some are not, like artificial flavorings for grape. A banana flavored NERD, for example, tastes like a banana pumped full of steroids, biologically enhancing the flavor to limits Mother Nature clearly did not intend.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Open Letter to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Dear Mahmoud,

How is Iran? I hope things have settled down for you since the election. I wanted to extend to you a personal invitation to join me at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, IL, USA on January 22nd, 2011 for a special exclusive presentation of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, the Holocaust documentary from 1985. As a filmmaker and avid moviegoer, I can assure you this is a rare treat to have such a celebrated film presented in 35mm on the big screen. I approach each of these screenings with great care and try to find a companion who might glean the most from the film. Naturally, you came to mind. As one of the most vocal and visible Holocaust deniers (or do you prefer revisionist?), I thought this would be a great way for you to spend a Saturday and get out of Tehran for the weekend. Get away from it all, as we say here in the US.

Do you go to the movies much in Iran? I know you have a vibrant film community there and many films are banned, a designation which here in the US can bestow a little extra cache on the movie, translating into strong word of mouth. I guess we have that in common. I’m also envious that your country exiles filmmakers. Sadly, we don’t do that here though we have many directors who would be excellent candidates. Did you see Transformers?!

You might be apprehensive about Shoah’s length – a whopping ten hours and six minutes. Well, this is where I can be of assistance. If you need to use the bathroom at hour three, go right ahead. I’ll pay extra close attention and bring you up to speed on what the Nazis did to the Jews while you’re in the john (that’s how we say ‘bathroom’ here in the US). If you feel like you’re falling asleep, the cafĂ© has caffeinated soda and a wonderful coffee bar to keep you awake and alert. They also have wine, but that generally puts me to sleep. How about you?

Shoah, which means ‘annihilation’ in Hebrew, is subtitled in English, which I know you don’t speak very well, but I’m certain the message of the movie will come across even if you can’t understand a single word. So what do you say? What does your calendar look like on January 22nd? If that’s not good for you, what about January 29th? Or you could visit Chicago for an entire week and see it over the course of two nights and also take in our great architecture, have a real Chicago hot dog and see some improv comedy?

I’m looking forward to seeing you and I hope you haven’t seen the movie already.

Cinematically yours,

Mike Brune

P.S. The popcorn is on me. I hope you like extra butter.