Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

Against a backdrop of slams at the U.S. government and lectures on how the architectural industrialization and tourist culture is ruining the local flavor of N.Y.C. neighborhoods, “Looking for Kitty” (opening today) is a story of friendship between two men, both of them chasing memories of the women who have left them.

Edward Burns’ grieving widower is a private detective who is hired by a high-school baseball coach (Paul Krumholtz) to help him find his missing wife. Krumholtz plays a good, if insular guy from Peekskill (which Burns’s character constantly calls “Poughkeepsie”) whose entire life was centered on the local level–his job as a Little League coach and his wife, nothing else. Each character in his own way has excluded himself from experiences outside the parameters of his comfort zone; by being in each other’s lives they teach each other to embrace the reality of their circumstances and engage with the world around them. The two protagonists are themselves “New York holdouts,” old-school guys who refuse to relinquish their hold on their emotional geography and persist in standing strong against the winds of change.

Krumholtz’s dogged adherence to the belief that his wife was seduced by a culture of excess and that she really wants to come back is pathetic–but it is also relatable. To varying degrees, we’ve all been there, adhering to ideals that we’ll never reach or wanting people who are out of our reach. For his part, the detective explains that he’s not using the internet because he likes to do things the old-fashioned way, “the way Bogie woulda done it.” Yet, he has rejected one of the more old-fashioned elements with which he was raised, Catholicism (a common theme in Burns’s work), because he notes that even without the religious guilt, “I felt sh—y enough about myself already.” The two help each other change, and even though each one goes home alone, they ultimately “leave because it is time to go,” which is a subtle lesson that not everyone learns.

Portraying a neighbor, Connie Britton provides Burns’ character with a moment of distraction and a tortured smolder, while Rachel Dratch, playing a woman in a bar, serves as a temptation to the fiercely loyal Krumholtz. This film is also noteworthy for the return of Ari Meyers (of TV’s “Kate and Allie”), and features some odd but evocative and moving moments from both Burns and Krumholtz.

All of the women are underused, which is probably intentional, since the press kit talks of the “mechanics and mysteries of male bonding.” Though it’s pretty clear that the connections between Burns’ and Krumholtz’s characters are superficially about beer and baseball, there is something deeper that binds them: the brotherhood of loss and a lingering obstinacy when it comes to accepting what life has dealt.

I left the theater feeling sadder, but not significantly. The experience felt a little like tofu–spongy, with an indeterminate texture; I knew there was protein to the dish as a whole. But when lasting satisfaction eluded me, it was hard to admit that it was over. Which is, perhaps, the point.

There’s something about the word fluid, and it’s not something good. It conjures up Ben Stiller and untraditional “hair gel”; or Bill Clinton and a Navy Gap dress; or in its least offensive incarnation, “lighter fluid.” But when you add the word “Madonna” to the word “fluid,” you know it’s gonna be trouble.

But since mentions of Madonna these days are usually tempered by the word “Kabbalah,” the newest result to this equation is:

Madonna+Kabbalah+fluid=nuclear waste disposal.

Of course. MSNBC reports:

The singer and her hubby, director Guy Ritchie, have been “lobbying the government and nuclear industry over a scheme to clean up radioactive waste with a supposedly magic Kabbalah fluid,” according to London’s Sunday Times. The power couple has approached various British government agencies, urging the detoxing powers of a “mystical” liquid developed by the mystical offshoot of Judaism, which is currently trendy among some celebs.

One London official called the Material Girl’s scientific methodology “bollocks.” Frankly, I’m no scientist, but I think that pronouncement errs on the side of being overly kind and respectful. I was just in Safed, Israel–the home of real Kabbalah–less than two weeks before Katyusha rockets fell on the region, and there was no evidence of a science research facility producing a magical liquid that cleans up radioactive waste. Maybe it was hidden between the candle factory and the handmade-jewelry vendors. However, I remember hearing that Kabbalah mystics were in the midst of working on a product called Shimmer, which is both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Perhaps because this “fluid” story is so out there, more Madge news–with this item far less controversial or wacky–also recently hit the media. Now that she has her kids Lola and Rocco, she says, she understands how important it is to help the orphans of the world, and she’s starting in Malawi:

Madonna plans to raise at least $3 million for programs to support orphans in Malawi, and is giving $1 million to fund a documentary about the plight of children there. She has also teamed up with developing-world economic leader Jeffrey Sachs on programs to improve the health, agriculture and economy of a village in Malawi, and she’s met with former President Clinton about bringing low-cost medicines to the area.

Good. Help the children. Bring Bill Clinton (but keep him away from Gap dresses). And definitely bring in the low-cost medicines. As long as they’re not in fluid form.

The only thing America loves more than a winner is an underdog. Andre Agassi has been the former AND the latter… twice.

Monday night, I had to stay up past midnight to watch him win a 4-set match in the opening round of the U.S Open tennis tournament. Years ago, I sat on a hill and watched him–at the time an ex-pro–play a Tier 3 qualifying match at McCambridge Rec Center in Burbank. This would be like Michael Jordan showing up at the local YMCA looking for a game. But Andre was there because the rules of tennis insist that a player win his way back to the pro tour. Michael just showed up back in Chicago. Andre had to earn it.

He’s played a tournament career spanning two hairstyles and then no hair. He’s been an underdog, then champion, then underdog, then champion… and again he’s now an underdog. Everyone (at least in America) wants him to win. Most of us think he’ll lose anytime.

I wonder what it is that causes us to root for someone who’s made more money than us, is more secure than we are, and who’s legacy will last longer than most of ours. Perhaps it goes back to the Garden. Perhaps it goes back to the Incarnation. Most everyone I know–including the networks, the United States Tennis Associatuon, and my friends who’ve flown to New York–just want him to go forward a little while longer.

While not necessarily a huge fan of his music, I have been reading with great interest the different interpretations that publications like Rolling Stone and the New York Times have been giving the “Modern Times”, the new CD by iconic blues-rocker Bob Dylan, which dropped in stores this week. It seems no one can miss the dark apocalyptic tone of “Times” and the way it marks a return by Dylan to overtly spiritual musings about the meaning of life. But while God does make an appearance in a few of the songs, anyone looking for an answer to the years of speculation over Dylan’s much publicized conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s–and the subsequent debate as to whether he has held to that faith, returned to his Jewish roots, or abandoned all of the above–will not find the answer here.

On listening to “Modern Times” the first time through, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed. I didn’t feel the urgency and vibrancy of some of Dylan’s early music, and several of the songs seem to center around his love-hate relationship with women. But on a second listen, the real depth of Dylan’s lyrics started to sink in, and I realized anew that Dylan is not someone you can appreciate on the surface level; he requires you to dig deeper.

In the song “When The Deal Goes Down,” lines like “We all wear the same thorny crown / Soul to soul, our shadows roll / And I’ll be with you when the deal goes down” could be referring to a a human relationship or a relationship with God. Similarly, in the song “Beyond the Horizon,” Dylan seems like he is talking about a human relationship until the end of the song, when he states, “I’m wounded, I’m weary / My repentance is plain / Beyond the horizon o’r the treacherous sea / I still can’t believe that you have set aside your love for me.” At that moment , these poetic images turn the meaning of the song around and indicate this is really a love song to God.

When Dylan is not preocupied with love in some shape or form, he certainly is fixated on how our world is coming to an end, and if this CD is any indication, Dylan believes the world’s demise is soon. The prophetic “The Levee’s Gonna Break” is the CD’s shining moment, song not only about what happened in New Orleans a year ago, but which also serves as Dylan’s warning that worse times are ahead. He laments: “If it keeps on rainin’, the levee’s gonna break / Some people still sleepin’, some people are wide awake.”

Overall, the thoughts and images that Dylan creates through his songs on “Modern Times” are subtle and mesmerizing. While Dylan doesn’t answer the question of exactly where his spiritual sensibilities are these days, he does make a statement to all of those who are wondering. In his last song, “Ain’t Talkin’, Just Walkin,'” Dylan quietly croons, “I am a-tryin’ to love my neighbor and do good unto others / But oh, mother, things ain’t going well / Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’ / through the world mysterious and vague.”

So am I, Mr. Dylan. So am I.