You know what there is to do in January at this latitude? Not bloody much. Or a whole bloody lot, if you like to cook and just got a big-ass new TV. The third pot of National Soup Month soup (cream of cauliflower) is in progress on the stove, and I’ve been watching movies.
The soup report comes later. For now, two flicks that I enjoyed.
First, “The Queen of Versailles,” which is absolutely worth a use of your Netflix or iTunes account (or DVD rental, for you geezers). The story of David and Jackie Siegel, two of the nouveau-est of the nouveau riche, how they made it and how they lost it (although they still retain quite a bit) arouses my favorite movie emotion — mixed feelings.
The story begins as the account of how this couple set out to build the largest private home (under one roof, a qualification everyone seems to make, so I’ll make it here) in the country, in superclassy Orlando. They took as their inspiration the French palace of Louis XIV, although David Siegel is pretty upfront that the real design grandaddy was “the top three floors of the Paris,” i.e., the hotel in Las Vegas. Vegas is also where the Siegel wealth is undergoing an aggressive expansion, the latest of his time-share resorts “in a beautiful tower of blue glass.” I will credit the Siegels for affording the filmmakers a great deal of access to the sausage-making, not only of their family life but also of their business empire — we see rubes pulled in from their Strip-strolling to hear the pitch for their own little fraction of a piece of Vegas suite life. We also see the sales-staff whoop-it-up meeting, where sellers are told they are “saving lives” by peddling vacations.
But mostly we see the Siegels — he, a septuagenarian by turns smiling-and-indulgent and crabby-and-grouchy, and she, a long-legged former beauty queen (of the Mrs. Florida, not Miss, variety) with one of the most preposterous set of fake knockers you’ll see outside of a strip club. (She loves to serve them up in strapless and peek-a-boo styles, like cheese balls.) Oh, and their eight children and multiple dogs — one of the latter running around the house, two former ones preserved through taxidermy.
Now. Any household with eight children is going to have a default setting of Chaos, even with the squadron of staff the couple employs to help them live their lives, but good lord, these people make the Nall/Derringer house look like Downton Abbey. Piles of crap are everywhere, the dog poops on the carpet, the meals arrive in bags emblazoned with the Golden Arches. They have so much stuff — and an inability to part with much of it, even as Jackie admit she shops a little compulsively and doesn’t really know what, exactly, she has at any moment — they have already filled their 25,000 square foot house. Versailles, as planned, will come close to 100,000. So, you know (and I loved this part, because I’ve heard some version of it so many times in my own life), they need that bigger house.
Well, you can guess what happens. The financial crisis happens and the subprime timeshare crap they’re peddling goes into the toilet, down the sewer and out to sea, taking with it most of the Siegels’ fortune. The cash flow necessary to keep everything oiled is suddenly gone, work on Versailles is abandoned and the compulsive spenders learn how just regular old rich people live; they keep their big existing house, but have to lay off a few of the Filipino nannies and housekeepers, start flying commercial and enroll their children in public schools.
It’s hard to dislike Jackie Siegel, cheese-ball boobs and all. She seems brighter than she lets on, and she does have an inner toughness that keeps her smiling through her financial calamities. She’s not so bright that she doesn’t see the preposterousness in her pout that “the bank got us hooked on cheap money and then took it away,” as though the entire Siegel empire isn’t predicated on doing the exact same thing to those Vegas tourists. Her spending does extend to a childhood friend, whom she sends $5,000 in a fruitless attempt to keep her house out of foreclosure, and they support lots of charities. When she gets one of those chemical peels that leaves her skin looking like she witnessed a nuclear blast, and her husband tells her to get out of his office because he doesn’t want to look at it, she frankly states she’s worried about being traded in for a newer model. But the story ends, as they so often do, without a firm resolution. They’re still married, they’re still rich and they don’t seem to have learned much. Just like real life.
Dave Wiegel saw it, and recommends it, too. Link includes the trailer.
Joe Nocera points out some timeline problems, and the Siegels’ lawsuit, in the NYT.
The other was a much darker ride — “Big Fan,” starring Patton Oswalt as the world’s No. 1 New York Giants fan, with all that implies. At 35, he works the night shift in a parking garage, writing the script for his daily call to a sports-talk radio station, where he taunts a Philadelphia Eagles superfan. He apparently wants nothing more than this life of meaningless work and sports obsession. When he and his only friend, Sal, see a star Giants running back filling up his SUV on Staten Island one night, they impulsively follow him, and stuff happens.
If you only think of Patton Oswalt as the voice of Remy the rat in “Ratatouille,” prepare for a different side. Really well-acted and written.
Which, I suppose, brings me to today’s question for the room: Who should I root for — nay, for whom shall I root in tonight’s BCS game? How do you pick a lesser evil among the good ol’ boys of the SEC and that uniquely irritating brand of fan known as the Domer? Southern football worship vs. all that Ronald Reagan touchdown Jesus crap? I’ll leave it up to you.
From last week, but worth the read: Kevin Drum on environmental lead as a crime-rate driver. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s in Mother Jones — it’s interesting and worth your time.
And so the first full week of the year begins. It will feel very long, I fear. Let’s survive it together.