Tag Archives: silliness

Book Review: The Dud Avocado

The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy

I’m still not sure what to think of The Dud Avocado. It’s highly acclaimed, which always makes me think that I’m missing something when I don’t share the reviewers’ enthusiasm. (Sometimes I get over it.) One thing the consensus gets wrong is how funny the book is: it’s not. It’s entertaining, to be sure, but the practice of calling books “funny” when they display the tiniest bit of wit is not helpful. That said, the book is a fun read, if a bit meandering, with great writing.

Sally Jay Gorce is the prototypical American girl in Paris: eager to check an affair off her to-do list, fascinated by Paris’s literary scene (and impressed by its many self-important bores). Flighty and spontaneous, she’s delightfully unpredictable but also self-aware: “I’m the colorful eccentric all these characters write about.” “God knows there’s no one in the world who’s more a slave to her passions than I am.” “(I have an attention span of about two minutes long.)” She analyzes her own “restlessness of vague desires” and dramatizes her failures (“I wanted to go off quietly somewhere and die.”). Let loose upon Paris with her uncle’s financial support, she seeks love (and lust), adventure and inspiration. A part-time actress, she sees Paris as “the rich man’s plaything, he craftsman’s tool, the artist’s anguish, and the world’s largest champagne factory.” She mingles with writers and wannabe philosophers, spends late nights at fancy restaurants and dive bars, looking for…something. Sally Jay goes through the usual trials of finding yourself, including unrequited love (“the one I loved best … sensationally uninterested.”) and life’s reluctance to play along:

“And I remember a little later wondering why things always turn out to be diametrically opposed to what you expect them to be. It’s no good even trying to predict what the opposite will be because it always fools you and turns out to be the oppose of that, if you see what I mean.”

You know, I think this book is funny after all. The language, as noted above, is fantastic, starting with the opening line: “It was a hot, peaceful, optimistic sort of day in September.” I just wish Dundy had given Sally Jay more space to do things rather than be content with her being places and telling us who was there. I’m not as impressed by learning about the proto-hipsters of Paris, although their parallels to the Brooklyn wannabes are fun enough. (Have to admit, it took me a long time to realize the book wasn’t set in the present.)

Recommended, apparently.

Movie Review: The Expendables 1 & 2

Co-Bao: That why they pick you? Because you like to fight?
Rambo
: Nah… I’m expendable.
Co-Bao: Expendable… What mean expendable?
Rambo: It’s like… someone… invites you to a party, and you don’t show up; doesn’t really matter.

These lines, spoken in Rambo II, probably hold a meaning for Sylvester Stallone, an aging star of a past era of movies. In response, Sylvester Stallone set out to create an old school action movie franchise, and so he has. The Expendables would fit right in with the Rambo series in terms of style and subject matter: there are bad guys, and they must be killed with weapons. There are explicitly no hackers, no cybercrime units, no guidance systems – not even on planes – there are automatic guns, grenades, and knives. I once joked that people who complain that Taco Bell isn’t even real Mexican food are probably also people who think that knock-knock jokes lack character development. Those people would not enjoy The Expendables.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone
Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone, being expendable.

Much like Taco Bell is great for what it is (food that can be made by a high school dropout at 3AM for 99 cents), The Expendables series is amazing for what it is. It’s silly and lightweight fun, with no pretense of more. There are some differences between the two, and I’ll break those down below. They’re both available on Netflix.

The Expendables

The ensemble for this one included Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itié, Gary Daniels, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke. There were also guest appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film is about a group of elite mercenaries* tasked with a mission to overthrow a Latin American dictator whom they soon discover to be a mere puppet controlled by a ruthless ex-CIA officer. That’s as much of a plot summary as you need. The dialogue is often silly and tells us all the exposition we need to know, but there is real humor in it as well.

*The Expendables.

There is a touching undertone to this movie, with the Expendables meeting at Mickey Rourke’s bar, bonding and wondering if the world has passed them by. The script isn’t particularly conducive to meaning, but Mickey Rourke shows genuine pathos in one scene in which he explains why what he did mattered, and why the Expendables still matter. You can read into it Stallone’s apparent view that the world still has a place for simple old-school action, but there’s a certain truth hidden in that scene. The world is changing quickly, and many things and people that once mattered no longer do. It’s not a bad idea to stop and consider what they meant to their own era.

The Expendables 2

This time around, the group comprises Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a surprise visit from Chuck Norris. You can see that one of these guys is not like the others: Liam Hemsworth stands out as a terrible actor and I’m happy to say that he dies early, though not early enough since he has time to give a terrible speech to a Chinese woman. (I’m not giving much away by saying that.)

The story follows the mercenary group as they undertake a seemingly simple mission which evolves into a quest for revenge against rival mercenary Jean Vilain,* who threatens the world with stolen plutonium. Bruce Willis ordered the mission and he gets very upset at how it all works out, but that’s okay. It works itself out, probably.

*Yup. The villain is Vilain.

The opening to part 2 is actually a little disturbing: the Expendables are mowing down dozens, if not hundreds of bad guys (we assume, since no one tells us) with such glee that it seems to be a glorification not of action movies of old or the fight for the good but of violence itself. The battle doesn’t seem like a necessary evil; the participants enjoy it. They have fun. It’s hardly a message of the movie, but it took me until the movie’s major mission to get back on board with the group. After that, the fighting has a purpose, and the violence is at least somewhat justified. It’s also exaggerated and way over the top in a way that is simply amazing. It’s unapologetic and often downright silly (the bad guys never invested in a shooting range), and the final showdown is the epitome of macho vanity. In sum, it’s gloriously silly.

Both of these would make for a great drinking game and would be a good way to kill a few hours on a rainy weekend. Best watched with a person or persons who aren’t too squeamish and can appreciate the callbacks to bygone era of action movies.