East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oscar quick reax

List here.
  • Good Night has good luck, Walk the Line gets served
  • Matt Dillon gets the Crash nom that I thought would go to Terrence Howard, but Howard won't be upset
  • If you told me a year ago Keira Knightley would get a Best Actress nom, I wouldn't have been surprised. If you told me I wouldn't be upset, I'd be astonished.
  • Final prediction score: an abysmal 2/40 (no Maria Bello? Bastards.)
  • You know the highlight's gonna be the performance of "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp". Let Taraji sing!

Probably accurate predictions!
Picture - Brokeback
Director - Ang
Actress - Reese
Actor - Close: PSH has the lead but Mumbly Joe might get swept in with Brokeback fever
Supp. actress - Weisz
Supp. actor - Wide open, but you know the Academy wants to give Clooney something
Screenplay - Crash or Good Night (coinflip)
Adaptation - Brokeback
Foreign - Joyeux Noel (inspirational!)
Doc - Penguins
Toon - Wallace & Gromit

And though I like "Gold Digger"

It's just one of 7-8 examples of awesomeness on Late Registration. But then you knew I was rooting for Amerie and Kelly.

Pazz & Jop is out


I share most of Clover's concerns about democracy. Unlike him, though, I vote in national elections and not in Pazz and Jop, which makes me even more of a sucker.

(Except that it doesn't.)

Axes of auteurism

Monday, January 30, 2006

The New World: In real life John Smith was a midget redhead [movie note]

I don't dislike The New World and wouldn't pan it at length in normal circumstances; many of the top critics didn't bother either, merely intimating that it was boring and could we move on please? (Hoberman drew a cheap, not entirely inaccurate parallel with Dances with Wolves.) And it seemed the movie would pass into perpetuity as minor Malick: 21st in the Voice's critics poll, 25th in Film Comment's, in both cases well behind, say, Capote, which no one really got passionate about. But the recut saw new faces on the bandwagon, and now there's a group growing at alarming speed claiming that, in the words of the estimable Matt Zoller Seitz, it's "a generation-defining event, and perhaps a decisive moment for Hollywood cinema".

Reasons to love The New World, in descending order of legitimacy:

Q'orianka Kilcher, the law-abiding man's Traci Lords. This most erotic teen is fit and oh my gosh Malick knows it; he manages to get her to show skin even when wearing ten winter furs. The one myth Malick does debunk is that 18 is a sensible age of consent.

You like trees and rivers and you don't get bored easily. And you've seen Blissfully Yours too many times. I prefer my views of nature to be romantic rather than RRRomantic (if you feel the same, shouldn't you be watching Dovzhenko's Earth right now?) but there are many lovely images in this -- I particularly remember the placid ripples on still water when Col'n & co. are sailing upstream.

The wasted (though thankfully not literally this time) Christian Bale. His main task is to look less sexy than Colin Farrell. I wouldn't have thought this was within his range, but he pulls it off.

The voiceovers. Malick's multiple narrators accentuate the contrasts in backgrounds between the protagonists. I'm not against voiceovers in principle, unless they emote lines like "she exceeded the others not only in beauty and proportion, but in wit and spirit, too." Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?

"It's poetic." I have no idea what that even means: is it like Homer or Hejinian? Since this can't possibly refer to the dialogue, I take it to be a bourgie way of saying that it looks pretty. Which admittedly it does.

Peace 'n harmony. That's what we could've had if we'd all been like Mataoka* and Cap'n Smith; those of us who survived the smallpox, that is. Optimism is one thing, but when you have 400 years of history telling you that optimism is going to get you shot up or sterilised, it's offensive.

The idea that the movie has anything interesting to say about the Powhatans, let alone Native Americans in general. Wouldn't that require some, uh, historical accuracy? We don't see the Powhatans interact with other tribes, or even how they interact among themselves: what's their cultural framework? It seems there's only a sprinkling of people in America (all of whom have remarkable muscle tone), just waiting to be overrun by the English with their dirty multitudes. Why do the noble Powhatans attempt a preemptive strike on the colonists? Because they can see into the future, I guess.

The idea that the movie has anything interesting to say about the English. Let's see, Smith, Rolfe, three or four caricatures, and a bunch of stick figures. Eh.

Col'n Farrell. He has no substance outisde the physical -- his only motivation is his woozy-eyed lovey-doveyness, and then he sails off for reasons he can't adequately convey.

"It's an allegory!" (Speared, scalped.)


3rd Annual Utopian Oscar Picks

Last year the Academy agreed with an impressive nine of my forty picks. This year they'll probably be down to three (Witherspoon, Bello, Williams).

1. The Best of Youth
2. King Kong
3. Funny Ha Ha
4. Turtles Can Fly
5. Kings and Queen
Also considered: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride; Me and You and Everyone We Know; Breakfast on Pluto; Oldboy; 2046.

1. Arnaud Desplechin, Kings and Queen
2. Wong Kar-Wai, 2046
3. Bahman Ghobadi, Turtles Can Fly
4. Peter Jackson, King Kong
5. David Cronenberg, A History of Violence
Desplechin bobs and weaves so thrillingly that his material seems to make sense. Wong, as you know, is God.
Also: Andrew Bujalski, Funny Ha Ha; Neil Jordan, Breakfast on Pluto; Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, Corpse Bride; Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know; Jia Zhangke, The World.

1. Naomi Watts, King Kong
2. Kate Dollenmayer, Funny Ha Ha
3. Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know
4. Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
5. Maria Alche, The Holy Girl
With respect to the animators, it's Watts who gives the great ape its personality. Dollenmayer does the same for a whole community.
Also: Rachel McAdams, Red Eye; Helena Bonham-Carter, Corpse Bride; Judi Dench, Ladies in Lavender; Emmanuelle Devos, Kings and Queen; Charlotte Gainsbourg, Happily Ever After.

1. Mathieu Amalric, Kings and Queen
2. Luigi Lo Cascio, The Best of Youth
3. Soran Ebrahim, Turtles Can Fly
4. Tony Leung, 2046
5. Cillian Murphy, Breakfast on Pluto
Amalric seems the least likely candidate to hold together the whizzing Kings and Queen, but he does it without breaking stride. Lo Cascio seems the most likely candidate to hold The Best of Youth together, and he does so for six hours.
Also: Jeff Daniels, The Squid and the Whale; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote; Robert Downey Jr, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain; Steve Carrell, The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

1. Taraji P. Henson, Hustle & Flow
2. Maria Bello, A History of Violence
3. Tilda Swinton, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
4. Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
5. Sharon Stone, Broken Flowers
Henson's discovering-yr-inner-strength scene is musical; by telling us "it's hard out there for a pimp" she finds her soul. Bello carries Viggo Mortensen through the most expressive and disturbing sex scene of the year.
Also: Catherine Keener, The 40-Year Old Virgin; Gong Li, 2046; Yuen Qiu, Kung Fu Hustle; Faye Wong, 2046; Jasmine Trinca, The Best of Youth.

1. Stephen Rea, Breakfast on Pluto
2. Gavin Friday, Breakfast on Pluto
3. Alessio Boni, The Best of Youth
4. Christian Rudder, Funny Ha Ha
5. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Serenity
Rea has a small, perfect role in Pluto as a magician in love with a girl; the revelation scene plays off its mirror in The Crying Game meltingly. Friday has a slightly bigger, almost as perfect role, which makes you wonder if he wouldn't be better off going all the way glam.
Also: Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale; William Hurt, A History of Violence; Michael Lonsdale, Munich; Mathieu Amalric, Munich; Ed Harris, A History of Violence.

1. The Best of Youth
2. Turtles Can Fly
3. Me and You and Everyone We Know
4. Kings and Queen
5. Oldboy
In The Best of Youth, Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli explore forty years of Italian history while never losing sight of the humanity of their characters. Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly is a classical tragedy where the mysticism serves a purpose.
Also: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride; Serenity; Funny Ha Ha; 2046; The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

1. Breakfast on Pluto
2. Harry Potter 4
3. The Beat That My Heart Skipped
4. Duma
5. King Kong
Neil Jordan condenses each chapter of Patrick McCabe's novel Breakfast on Pluto into a music video, only with good lyrics. Steve Kloves extracts all the exciting bits from J.K. Rowling's sprawl, then stitches them into a 2 1/2 hour headrush.
Also: The Constant Gardener; A History of Violence; Brokeback Mountain; Pride & Prejudice; Howl's Moving Castle.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

New Year Chinese horoscope oraclisms!

March 5th: The last use of "I wish I could quit you" before the phrase officially jumps the shark is exercised by Jon Stewart on Oscar night. The next day President Bush uses it in an address to the Iraqi nation.

April 14th: Kobe Bryant confirms his status as Heir Jordan with an a career-high three assists versus the Spurs (who win 132-72.) He goes on to record 16 assists the next night, when the rest of the Lakers are replaced by random white girls.

June 12th: The We'll Nuke Anyone Opinion Polls Tell Us To Act is exercised for the first time, when 62% of respondents suggest that the U.S. should launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. In the course of the year, the legislation leads to attacks on Iran, France, Canada, France again, and the United States.

Sept. 22nd: The integrity of the publishing industry suffers a fatal blow, when a list of 353 so-called classics, including Don Quixote, War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby, are revealed to be largely or entirely made-up. "We called them 'novels' or 'fiction' so that those in on the scam would know they were fabricated," according to the disgraced author Milan Kundera. "Which is more than those chaps who made up the Bible did."

Dec. 31: Vince Young passes for two touchdowns and rushes for three more for the Titans against the Patriots. He thus replaces George W. Bush under the NFL Rookie Of The Year Gets To Be President Act.

Jan 14: Mahatmina Pitt-Jolie starts dating L. Ron Cruise-Holmes. The rest of us go to hell.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Why wrestling?

More than any other match, it was Rey Mysterio's and Eddy Guerrero's 1997 fight (at WCW's Halloween Havoc) that made me think of wrestling as an art form: a quintessentially American one, even more so given the participants here are Latino. Like jazz, it's about improvising variations on a theme, only the theme is more or the same for every match -- good guy battles bad guy -- while the variations have only just begun to be explored. This match is significant because of what's at stake: Rey puts up his mask (a shamanist symbol as well as a shorthand identity; its significance in Mexican wrestling is well explained by Mike Tenay on colour commentary) against Eddy's World Cruiserweight Championship. Rey pulls off a series of dazzling spots -- with Eddy down outside the ring, Rey somersaults over the top rope, lands with his legs across Eddy's shoulders, spins around and then flips his legs to toss Eddy head over heels. What makes this match special even among those that hit similar high note is the intensity level: Eddy tearing away at the eyeholes of Rey's mask, while holding together the structure of the match, so that the moves make sense in the story of the match. This is how you make narrative art in the postmodern age.

Other all-time top 20 matches on YouTube are Misawa-Kobashi (Oct. '97), in which Japan's two greatest workers (apologies Kawada-san) go for over half an hour -- and this isn't even their best match of that year; Bret Hart-Owen Hart (Wrestlemania X, 1994, the greatness of this is a little technical and it would help to know some of the backstory as well, but the crispness should shine through); and my favourites from last year, Samoa Joe-Kobashi and Joe-Daniels-Styles.

What's the over/under on how long it'll be before YouTube gets Napstered? Enjoy it while it lasts.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Brokeback Mountain: My heart will go on, and on, and on [movie note]

Starring Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal
Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, from the story by Annie Proulx
Directed by Ang Lee

Good movie: Gyllenhaal doesn't overplay, Ledger miraculously doesn't underplay, and Michelle Williams's eye movements are heartbreaking. (Ledger should get the Oscar for being able to act like he's not in love with Williams. Anne Hathaway is in over her head, though.) Ennis and Jack are contrasted rather garishly (it's much easier to show the damned extremes than the happy median) but it lets Lee hit his usual shots at social straitjacketing. The more serious problem is that it's too slow and too long. I suggest the screenplay be abridged to the following:

ACT I: In which Ennis and Jack meet and fall into passionate love.
Jack: I'm Jack Twist. Don't be shamed of yer name, cain't be any more damn literary than mine.
Ennis: nnph.
Jack: Yer name's Ennis Del Mar? Okay, I was wrong. Anyways, I am sick of these beans.
Ennis: bah.
Jack: A bear? Where?
Ennis: uh.
Jack: Well there ain't nobody out here but us and the sheep, so, top or bottom?
Ennis: mmn.
Jack: Oh very funny.
[They go for brokeback. It's the only scene of the movie that's over too soon.]
Jack: Hey, a dead sheep. Think it could be an omen, or maybe a shitty piece of symbolism?
Ennis: duh.

ACT II: In which Ennis and Jack sneak out for weekend fuckathons.
Jack: I must say Ennis, yer gettin' a lot more conversational.
Ennis: yep.
Jack: I got a boy. Eight months old. Smiles a lot.
Ennis: fucken harmonica.
Jack: You seem to be a lot more worried about life than I am.
Ennis: dead in a irrigation ditch.

ACT III: In which Jack is discouraged at Ennis's lack of overt affection.
Jack: Sometimes I miss ya so much I kin hardly stan' it.
Ennis: cain't fix it gotta stanit. cain't change ride it out.
Jack: We coulda had a good life together! Now all we got is Brokeback Mountain! You've no idea how bad it gets! Sonnuvabitch! God...
Whole audience: I wish I knew how to quit you!
Ennis: well why doncha! fuck! shit! fuck!

ACT IV: In which we bathe in the sterilising aftermath of tragedy.
Charlie: Well I must say, Ang, you did manage make the loss feel like more than the plot convenience it is.
Ang: Yep.
Charlie: So is it over now?
Ang: No, still gotta visit his beloved's family.
Charlie: Well is it over now?
Ang: Nope, still gotta show he's learned to love his own family.
Charlie: Well is it over now?
Ang: Nope, still gotta show he really did love the guy.
Charlie: Like we didn't know. OK, now it's over.
Ang: But there's the guitar music with strings over the credits!
Charlie: Jesus, give me Celine Dion already.

Final score: homo sex scenes 2, hetero sex scenes 3.

"It was a friendship that became a secret..."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Infangelina

Friday, January 20, 2006

Duma: A well-made movie with a good story? Who the fuck wants to see that? [DVD note]

Starring Alex Michaeletos, Eamonn Walker
Written by Karen Janszen and Mark St. Germain, from a story by Karen Janszen and Carol Flint, from the picture book by Xan and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft
Directed by Carroll Ballard

Afrikaaner boy Xan (Michaeletos) and his pet cheetah Duma drive off into the desert in search of a home for the animal. Xan has to learn that something you have to live without those whom you love; Duma has to learn that sometimes you have to kill shit to get a decent meal. Throw in the oooh he seems shifty drifter Ripkuna (Walker) and you can precis the story. What you might not anticipate is that it never talks down; it elegant moves from one point to another. Yeah, the classically well-made film isn't dead yet, so enjoy this while you can.

Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion, Fly Away Home) has an eye for the wide angle: his night shots are especially fine. He also know to give the cheetah his due: show lots of decent-length, full-body shots of it running (think this is mindnumbingly obvious? Then watch any dance number in a Hollywood movie from the last twenty years). And the performances are excellent, Walker's in particular: you love him even though you can't dismiss the suspicion he wants to turn Duma into a pot roast.

[After months of waiting, I gave up on a commercial release and found the DVD. Of course when I came back here it was playing. Berkeleyites, you can see this at the Elmwood, two blocks from my house. Take your kids: they'll probably hate it, but then you'll have a reason to disown them.]

[[I made it through without making any Putin jokes. Commend my restraint.]]

Vive l'Amour: In praise of love [DVD note]

Starring Yang Kuei-Mei, Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Chao-Jung
Written by Tsai Ming-Liang, Tsai Yi-Chun and Yang Pi-Ying
Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang

Viva l'Amour ends with two stunning scenes. The second, and the one more frequently cited as extraordinary, sees May (Yang Kuei-Mei) walk through a city park torn into mud. Then in a six minute shot, she cries, cries, dries her eyes, smokes, and cries. Dennis Lim notes "the fade to black arrives just as you've convinced yourself she could go on weeping forever".

Before this, Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng), who has been masturbating under the bed while May and Ah-Jung (Chen Chao-Jung) fucked, crawls out after May has left in the morning. He moves to leave, but returns and lies, staring, on the opposite side of the bed from Ah-Jung. He inches closer, while the sleeping Ah-Jung rolls an arm across him. Hsiao-Kang plants a kiss just beside of Ah-Jung's mouth, then slips away.

May cries because she can't connect with Ah-Jung. In the dialogue-free first twentysomething minutes (if you think this is long, Goodbye, Dragon Inn doubles it), May and Ah-Jung repeatedly cross paths, yet act like they're strangers. It seems like part of an erotic game, and indeed we're not surprised when we soon see nipplesucking. While Ah-Jung is nonchalant about it all, taking a good lay in his stride, May, who for all we know suggested they behave this way, longs for something deeper but doesn't ask for it -- surely she knows what the response would be.

Yang gets the big scene, but Tsai's muse Lee takes the movie. The gently terrified Hsiao-Kang at first appears a hopeless case -- utterly alone, too inept to even get close to success in suicide. His first moments of intimacy are with a melon: he kisses it; carves fingerholes into it; bowls it into a wall, smashing it; eats a bit; then anoints himself, soaking his face with the remains. If this man can earn himself a flicker of light, May shouldn't give up yet.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

RIP Wilson Pickett

Great singer. Willful guy. A macho man, but not a dirty one. Inspired the Commitments (boo) I mean the book (yay). I'm working from Rhino's reissue of Wilson Pickett's Greatest Hits; the 2CD A Man and a Half is apparently better. I don't know if his was the best "Land of 1000 Dances", but it might be. Read Christgau's account of Pickett not singing at the Apollo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The New Zealand Story, Part 2

"I spent three thousand dollars on her, and she still doesn't love me."

"That's terrible, but why are you beating me up?"

"I just want to feel something else."

"Fucking Russians, you're always so melodramatic."

The New Zealand Story


"Hey, it's your bro. How's dinner?"

"Fine, how's your barbecue going?"

"Oh, alright. Hey, I'm not asking for any particular reason, but where do we keep the fire extinguisher?"

Guest Blog: The Next Ex-Newlywed

Charlie Chan is currently being detained by U.S. Customs. He made the mistake of saying "I have nothing to declare but my genius", which officials believed meant that he had cloned Moe Howard. Until Mr. Chan's return, EBV will be guess-blogged by Nick Lachey.

Hi, I'm Nick Lachey. You may remember me from such songs as "Don't Stop the Love", "I Wanna Love You", "That Love That You've Been Looking For", "Fall in Love", "Could U Love" and "Can't Stop Lovin' You". Yes, I'm just a simple guy looking for Miss Right, who sadly didn't turn out to be my ex-wife Jessica. I've learned that it's not enough for a woman to be hotter than a fat Eskimo in Death Valley, she also has to be disease-free. Or at least have the same ones that I do. Anyway, I've prepared a list of candidates for potential soul-matehood.

Jessica Alba
Pro: Just exotic enough while still looking white.
Con: Might be below my intellectual level.
Hotness: 9
Exoticness: 10
Virginalness: 2
Taste in music: 6

Eva Mendes
Pro: Like J-Lo, except not from the block (but at least she hasn't been around it).
Con: I don't speak Hispanic.
Hotness: 8
Exoticness: 7
Virginalness: 7
Taste in music: 7

Britney Spears
Pro: Was a late starter...
Con: ...but is making up for lost time.
Hotness: 7
Exoticness: 6
Virginalness: 4
Taste in music: 10

Jessica Simpson
Pro: A reconciliation would help my career. They could make a movie out of it. We could play ourselves.
Con: Might be above my intellectual level.
Hotness: 10
Exoticness: 0
Virginalness: 0
Taste in music: 0

The Desperate Housewives
Pro: There are like half a dozen of them.
Con: If you believe the papers, Teri Hatcher alone brings the average above 10 partners.
Hotness: 7
Exoticness: 5
Virginalness: 1
Taste in music: 8

Tomorrow's blog topic: Paisley cords or paisley shorts?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Turkish delight, frosted cupcakes, it's all just sugar [movie note]

Starring Tilda Swinton and a bunch of occasionally adorable kids
Adapted by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, from the novel by C.S. Lewis
Directed by Andrew Adamson

(Spoilers below.)

Tolkein was always a geek; Lewis was a literateur trying to reach a broad audience. While Tolkein was happy fiddling about with his little people in his big, cool world, Lewis kept tussling with big ideas and big themes -- mostly to his detriment. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has an actual plot, not just a sequence of events. But this foregrounds the logical skips necessary in any fantasy story, although to be fair, I have the same problem with the allegory's source material. More troubling is the way Lewis's morality shapes his world: for all Tolkein's love of ye olde Angloness, his beloved Hobbits never required a king, let alone a human one.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is, however, a fantasy story, and as such, strikes a blow against the literalism that's a core problem of what Christianity has evolved into. Andrew Adamson and his co-writers shunt the dogmatic elements, so Aslan's sacrifice is as genuinely noble as Jesus' was meant to be (although in both cases it's not like they didn't know they were coming back). The faith thing is still hokey, though.

The performances by the children are mixed: in particular Georgie Henley, as Lucy, ranges from inadequate to exquisite, sometimes within a single scene (like her first encounter with the faun Tumnus). Sometimes you gasp by her portrayal of wonderment; other times you wish Tilda Swinton would turn up and throttle her. The wonderful, horrible Swinton is an ice queen in the literal sense, but you can sense the black blood pulsing beneath her pale skin. When she's coming on to Edmund in regal mommy mode, how could he not sell out his kin for a moment of attention? But when she gives you the Old Testament glare, like she wants to rip out your heart and use it as a paperweight -- well, to die by her side is such a heavenly way to die. Conservatives (and reform Democrats), fear not: Hillary Clinton doesn't arouse this kind of passion.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lists! Lists! Lists!

Chuzzle's best of 2005 lists. Includes top 50 movies and albums of the year.

Coming maybe tomorrow: Poetry!