East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Regular Lovers [festival note]

France, 2005
Starring Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme, Julien Lucas
Written by Philippe Garrel, Marc Cholodenko, Arlette Langmann
Directed by Philippe Garrel

It probably should add up to more, given that in three hours there are many fine moments, with nothing particularly embarassing. There isn't much of a sense of loss, even retrospectively, as the revolutionary flame of Paris '68 is dampened when the demonstrations end, and as it gradually approaches extinction over the rest of the film. Don't get me wrong, this is an excellent work, especially technically. There's generally minimal cutting; the camera regularly glides from one fixed close-up to another, adding to the languid mood, befitting the often opium-addled characters. There are moments of energy: early on there's a long, almost dialogue-free recreation of the street battles, quite masterful if you like that sort of thing; I preferred to see the kids dance to the Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow". And if in the end youth's esprit is less well-represented than its self-absorption, there's enough critical distance to make that an achievement.

Louis Garrel was the best performer in The Dreamers by default; seen here through his dad's less rose-tinted lens, as the poet-hero François, despite his considerable strengths, he seems almost too pretty, too old Romantic. In any case Clotilde Hesme, in giving him someone to be Romantic about, overshadows him. She has a wide mouth and wide (by French actress standards) hips, and dominates the screen such that she persists after the camera has moved away. A sculptor, she's earthier than François (she has a real job!), and there are indications that she might also be wiser. In one scene in which she, head still, rolls her eyes all over him, she seems to be assessing him as if he's a work of art; later she calls him "beautiful on the inside and on the outside". And there are two moments when she speaks straight to the camera: once to wax on the hearts of men, once to simply say "Bernardo Bertolucci". Dreaming can only take you so far.

Oh Nintendo (shakes head)

Imagine how bad the rejected names must have been.

SFIFF '06~!: The Wayward Cloud [festival note]

Taiwan, 2005
Starring Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Shyi, Yozakura Sumomo

Written and directed by Tsai Ming-Liang

Tsai's funniest movie is his most explicit, and yeah there's a connection. It's already inspired some seriously detailed writing (links contain major major spoilers, don't even think about clicking them unless you've seen the movie), most of which I even agree with, even if they shortchange the jokes. The woman-man-watermelon ménage à trois is useful first and foremost because it's hilarious; it's hilarious, if this needs to be said, because it refuses to show what we expect, which basically means it's fucking weird, as well as weird fucking. The larger context is soon revealed, and the sex is never so good again, until... Suffice to say that most of the sex in the movie is unarousing, without any higher connection between the participants. Hey, it's a Tsai film, you expect them all to join hands and dance? Oh wait, they do that too.

We find Taipei is bone dry, which apparently means you can't turn on a tap, so the characters have to go to extreme lengths to hydrate themselves. Hsiao-Kang (Lee) and Shiang-Chyi (Chen) rekindle their not-really-a-relationship from What Time Is It There? (and the short The Skywalk Has Gone, which I haven't seen) when the latter finds the former asleep on a swing and requisitions some of his water to clean a watermelon she found floating under a bridge. This time there's more at stake. The news tells of youths giving watermelons to their beloveds as tokens of their esteem, so what does it mean when Shiang-Chyi gives Hsiao-Kang a glass of watermelon juice? What does it mean when Hsiao-Kang doesn't drink it? Lee and Chen are extremely game here; neither is called upon to risk degradation quite as much as Yozakura is ("the cap's inside the Japanese girl"), but then neither of them are adult video stars.

The movie is anti-porn, but the disgust is less moral than aesthetic, and even in the closing sequence (which I don't think is necrophilic, based on what little I know about corpses) it's not stiff in its attitudes. And the very end, how do I express its screwed-up brilliance without giving it away... It's disturbing, but more importantly it's a ray of light penetrating the haze around the characters. It could blow the Asian Cinema wide open if anyone ever sees it. This will never, ever get a theatrical release, so you might have to contort yourself in order to see it, but see it you must.

Also seen
Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau): You might expect a movie based on a Conrad story and starring Isabelle Huppert to be psychologically astute, then again you might not. It's about an unpleasant married couple; the wife leaves and then comes back, and the husband isn't too happy about this. Huppert's performance is technically unassailable, as always, and less than the sum of its parts, as often: Huppert doesn't do likeable, which twists the feminist moral. We get widescreen close-ups stretching from her forehead to her throat, letting us know she's acting hard. These are the best scenes in the movie, since Pascal Greggory isn't technically unassailable. Considering how stagy the screenplay is, Chéreau does a good job moving his cameras around restricted spaces, and this might be enough for those who are fond of upper bourgie decor.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Phallocentric chicks: they dig guys with big wars"

I've been remiss in underpromoting National Poetry Month: cheerleading is kinda my responsibility as one of the three people in the nation who read but do not write contemporary poetry (and the other two are Ted Kooser fans). I therefore direct you to the litmus test of the poetry blogosphere, the work of Drew Gardner.

Once it's understood that a necessary goal of the Flarf movement is to inspire hysterical attacks by earnest moon/Juners, the overreaction to fairly mild critiques of their methods becomes logical. But never fear: the history of transgressive art tells us that in a few years, profs will be finding sub-subtext in lines like

What a woman really wants is a war-mongering Republican
who turns out in the end to be a pacifist (to her).

probably by taking them literally.

Summary: You Language Poets are so last generation.


NFL Draft kudos to the Eagles for picking up Brodrick Bunkley at 14 and Winston Justice at 39: best D-line and second-best O-line prospects in the mix. The Texans are in a lose-lose: in 10 years when at least one, probably two of Young/Leinart/Bush are all-timers, they'll look pretty chickenshit.

Friday, April 28, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Three Times [festival note]

Taiwan, 2005
Starring Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Mei Fang, Di Mei
Written by Chu Tien-Een
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

1966 is a time for love (and freedom and youth). From the moment the first bars of "Smoke Get in Your Eyes" waft in, we know HHH is taking another shot at his WKW impersonation, and this first segment damn near pulls it off. I excitedly anticipated the second English language song when the words "Rain and Tears" appeared on a letter to Shu's billiard room girl; it's not the Hi-Revving Tongues version -- now that would be asking for too much -- and so is barely a good song, but it's pretty wonderful as a description of Chang's mindstate. When we hear the song again, though it's accompanied by literal rain (thankfully not tears), it's like the clouds roll away. An earlier letter to an earlier billiard room girl (Mei Fang? Someone who can read the credits please tell me if she's the actress) produces an exquisite reaction shot, as anticipation turns into despair. It's a better piece of acting than either of the leads, who are solid enough, come up with.

1911 is a time for freedom (and love and youth). It's a little later than Flowers of Shanghai -- there are movies now, but they're silent, and Chang and Shu communicate in generously intertitles. They also move almost soundlessly; once you go back far enough the past always seems more graceful. The flaw of this segment, aside from memories of when HHH did this better, is the fatalism: Chang does a good deed which proves devastating for Shu, as she discovers when the image of a hand-mirror is focused to reveal the age of her new colleague. The moral, I guess, is beware of altruism in zero sum games.

2005 is a time for youth (and love and freedom). This time the light source du jour is the fluorescent tube (previously it was the lightbulb and the lamp). Mark Lee Pin-Bing gets to go nuts here, as Shu grasps one such tube to illuminate the photo-lined wall of Chang's corridor; elsewhere Li contrasts yellows and blues, internal and extenal lights. Shu gets to sing this time (not just lip-synch), as Chang and other photographers encircle and snap her. I've said before that HHH is more convincing with historical material, but this beats 1911 (not 1966). Maybe next time we'll get around to the mambo.

Bad cricket statistics

Come on, everyone knows the standard deviation isn't resistant to outliers, so Brian Lara gets punished for two of the greatest innings of all time. A simpler, sensible measure of consistency, as the word is understood, is percentage of innings that results in 50s. For 5500+ run batsmen:

Bradman 53%
Barrington 42%
Richards, Dravid, Hutton, Kallis 38%
Inzamam, Ponting, Gavaskar 37%
Chappell, Tendulkar, Lara 36%

and at the other end:

Hooper 23%
Jayasuriya 25%
Stewart, de Silva 26%
Gibbs, Hussain 27%

A better measure of inconsistency would be percentage of single figure scores, which someone else can do.

Suetonius the strategist, Tacitus the tactician [random note]

Tactitus (tr. Church & Brodribb) is better at the level of the event and of the sentence. When Germanicus responds to mutineers who suggest he usurp Tiberius by threating suicide, and his attendants have to restrain him from running himself through, it's just the first of many images of rare incisiveness. (Whether it happened is another story.) Suetonius (tr. Graves) is better at the level of the life and of the chapter. He gives the big picture, demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses and totally evil traits of the Caesars.

Given the previous paragraph, it might surprise that I prefer Tacitus, but his sentences really do rule. After Germanicus's sword-waving:

"The remotest and most densely crowded part of the throng, and, what almost passes belief, some, who came close up to him, urged him to strike the blow, and a soldier, by name Calusidius, offered him a drawn sword, saying that it was sharper than his own."

I'd leave out the comma after "some", and use a semicolon after "blow", which I know is technically wrong; but I really like semicolons, though not as much as this guy.

SFIFF '06~!: The Heart of Guy Maddin [festival note]

Case in point: how to capture Maddin's cinephilia without making him sound like just another weirdo. I'll try listing the shorts shown.

Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity: Inspired by this image, this apparently had a plot in the five minute version, but that got lost in the cut to four minutes. The surrealism is mostly harmless.

It's a Wonderful Life: Video for the Sparklehorse song. IYL Sparklehorse, obv.

Sissy Boy Slap Party: This director's cut features six whole minutes of sissy boys slapping each other. Precisely as entertaining as it sounds!

Sombra dolorosa: Widow Paramo must defeat the masked El Muerto to save her daughter... from suicide! Uneasy, but it makes more sense than most lucha movies.

A Trip to the Orphanage: More saddest music. Sad.

Zookeeper Workbook: Footage from Maddin's lost Melville adaptation. You'd never guess.

The Heart of the World: The fourth time I've seen this on film, a record. It's the best five and a half minute movie since Chuck Jones's heyday. Why? Because it's KINO KINO KINO.

So none of this is very useful, is it? And I don't even have a one-liner to finish with. Well let's see, I like his work for different reasons than most people seem to: not for his weirdness, not even for his undeniable technical mastery, but because he love Expressionist melodrama and doesn't feel guilty about it. Guess that puts me far from the Maddin crowd.



Also seen:
Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela
(Thomas Allen Harris): filmmaker reconstructs his stepdad's buddies lives in the ANC. Well-meaning.

Will write about Three Times as soon as someone tells me the name of the actress who played the first snooker hall girl.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Zacharek breaks Metacritic

"I've never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life" -- how do you convert that into a numerical score?

Answer: Call it an 80.

EDIT: SZ calls it a 66.

You're all gonna be in this experimental film

A good idea. I'm not signing up yet because I don't commit to anything three months in advance; also because I still don't know how to write about emergent cinema without being glib. Any time I try something different it's disastrous (examples unlinked).

Monday, April 24, 2006

Two listens into Ghostface's Fishscale

I'm still decoding all the drug speak -- Ghost, who says he's been clean since ODB died, obviously knows a lot more about this game than I do, like how even dealers recognise the metric system is better -- and so I'm not yet sure how the vignettes fit into the larger narrative. So at the moment when I say it's the most cinematic hip hop album ever, I mean many of the songs are as vivid as short films, in grim and desperate ways. Standouts among the role-players are Raekwon and Trife, but every line belongs to Ghost, who at times almost sounds like he's reciting from Lamentations. It's a difficult album, give me some time to work out if it's a great one.

There isn't a theatrical movie about the Freedom Riders, is there?

And if not, why not?

(The latter question is rhetorical, I know why not.)

ADDENDUM: An IMDb search produces a result for The Freedom Riders, better known as Undercover with the KKK. (wails, gnashes teeth.)

SFIFF '06~!: October 17, 1961 [festival note]

France, 2005
Starring Jalil Naciri, Jean-Michel Portal
Written by Patrick Rotman, François-Olivier Rousseau, Alain Tasma
Directed by Alain Tasma

Even if you're committed to anti-colonialism, and I hope you are, you might find this fictionalisation of the Parisian police massacre of Algerian protesters on the title date heavy-handed, and worse, unconvincing. The writers' claims of multivocality are bullshit; I'm not saying there weren't a lot of hateful cops, but caricaturing them this grossly serves nobody. Viewers may have some disreputable fun using the cheap ironies they set up to predict who'll be next to bite the bullet (he says he'll pay the bill tomorrow = ooh, he's a dead man). That the filmmakers brought this incident, previously unknown to me, into wider discussion is admirable; that they're attempting to replace a whitewashed history with their own unedifying fiction is less so.

For a fairer description of this incident see Marxists.org.

EDIT: In response to the comment by F's roommate's friend: "Thanks to the possibilities that fiction brings," notes the screenwriter Patrick Rotman, "we have been able to dive into the past and to construct a narrative of many voices in which each character, be they an Algerian or a police officer, defends their own truth. Now it is up to the viewer to construct their own."

Would I have forgiven this claim, which is even technically true but completely misrepresents the movie's partiality, if they had made something worthy of The Battle of Algiers? Of course.

SFIFF '06~!: Gubra [festival note]

Malaysia, 2006
Starring Sharifah Amani, Harith Iskander, Nam Ron, Alan Yun
Written and directed by Yasmin Ahmad

Lots of schtick, which the audience seemed to like. If you think hysterical relatives are hysterical, or you enjoy the odd moderately risque joke about a Chinese nurse's circumcision, you might like this more than I did. And I did like it to some extent, for the way it illustrated the differences between two long-married couples, the happier of which is seen idyllically sharing a hospital bed. The other pairing is more strained: the husband edges his hand away from that of his wife; noticing that he's upset her, he reaches back over to her. There's also a compelling scene where a cleric quietly persuades an indebted burglar threatened with disfigurement to return a stolen purse. None of this is particularly believable, but it's nice; some of the emotional and physical violence that invades the story at the end is neither.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: One Long Winter WIthout Fire [festival note]

Switzerland/Belgium, 2004
Starring Aurélien Recoing, Marie Matheron, Gabriela Muskala, Blerim Gjoci
Written by Pierre-Pascal Rossi
Directed by Greg Zglinski

Aurélien Recoing + Swiss snow + some harrowing familial tension + lots of empathy for the collateral damage of New Capitalism in the New Europe = Time Out, my favourite movie of the last, oh, 30 years.
Aurélien Recoing + Swiss snow + lots of harrowing familial tension + some empathy for the collateral damage of New Capitalism in the New Europe = One Long Winter Without Fire, a pretty good movie.

Named best first film at Venice 2004, this at first seems like yet another middle-aged grief-fest, and it is, but there's more to it than that. Still in mourning, and with his wife (Matheron) in a psychiatric ward, nth generation farmer Recoing has to take on factory work to make ends meet. The movie becomes complex when he befriends brother-and-sister Kosovar refugees nursing their own tragedies, and though you can guess what unfolds, it's done with sensitivity towards all parties (even the icy sister-in-law). And it's set in the Swiss Alps, so of course it's going to look great.

The main reason to see this, though, is Recoing. He uses his largeness well, usually standing in a slumped, defeated posture, contrasting neatly with the upright brittleness of Matheron as well as the compact resolve of Muskala. His timing is dead on; when an old friend calls out to him, he employs just the right delay before letting recognition flow into his face. And it's that face that's the clincher -- he doesn't seem to have been gifted with the most malleable features, but does more with less; his smile is so close to his frown that when he shows a flicker of happiness it seems it could disappear in an instant. Which it often does.

Voices silenced

Have I mentioned that the firings at the Village Voice, the publication that has shaped my thinking (and writing) more than any other, are really fucking depressing? Hoberman's still there, though he gets under 200 words to spend on a major event -- the first N.Y. screening of Out 1 in decades -- while Christgau's barely holding on, but for how long?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Everybody can only write about Auschwitz"

The Guardian Review has an interesting interview with Imre Kertész. Recently I read Fatelessness in preparation for the movie (released in S.F. yesterday); if the material carries over a fraction of the charge it has on the page on to the screen, it'll be a must-see. The novel would seem to be challenging to adapt: it relies on small shifts in the psyche of the narrator -- nominally Gyuri, though he soon becomes Number 64921 (Kertész's own camp number). Each chapter is written as if recounted very soon after the events described, so that while his voice seems perplexingly untroubled, we can discern his mindstate decaying. Without revealing the ending, let me just say that I find it more disturbing, in a psychological sense, than any of the atrocities described previously, as the narrator, more than ever before, finds himself in the condition named in the title.

"What I have discovered is that Auschwitz was an absolute moment in the history of Europe, intellectually. Maybe it sounds strange that I call this awful atrocity which killed millions of people part of an intellectual activity, but allow me to be a cynic ... The traditional values have burnt out, have been emptied, and I cannot yet see the creativity which could create new values." I can't share Kertész's pessimism: there are value systems that function today; the difficulty is they're neither universal nor absolute. But his case is unsettlingly persuasive.

SFIFF '06~!: Taking Father Home [festival note]

China, 2005
Xu Yun, Liu Xiaopei, Wang Jie, Song Cijun
Written by Ying Liang and Peng Shan
Directed by Ying Liang

Made for under four grand (!) (!!!), Ying's first film explores the city vs country themes that are no less important for their ubiquity in Chinese cinema today, within a coming-of-age framework. Mulish teen Xu Yun (played by mulish teen Xu Yun) goes to the big city -- Zigong, one of China's garden-variety megapolises -- to find his father, ostensibly to lead him back to his village. He meets a friendly roughneck, who teaches him how to eat watermelon like a man (dude assaults his slice), and a generous cop, both of whom act as temporary dads, and of course he ends up becoming like one of them. Xu, like the rest of the not only non-pro but non-paid cast, is hit/miss, and the writing is a little too neat even when (especially when) the tone darkens for the ending. But Ying has a terrific eye, and dreams up some dynamic settings: Xu alone at night at an intersection, trying each road in turn but finding nothing. And then bikers circle him, with pillion-riding girls twirling shirts, with grunts and squeals creating a nightmare that feels inescapable.

Despite the flood warnings that periodically pipe in ominously over radios, for the most part Ying keeps things from getting bogged down, and he's not above cute. The ducks that Xu carries in lieu of cash are the most dispassionate of observers, and there's a superfluous, delightful shot of a kindergarteners' singalong. And when the flood comes, Ying neatly blends in footage of a real Zigong flood, which should be all the more haunting to those of us with Katrina still fresh in our minds. So somebody please give Ying 20 grand for his next movie, so we can see his vision as he intends it -- and so he can pay his actors.

Not unrelated: Beijing to raze neighbourhoods for Olympics.

A nation atones for Bryan Adams

I always thought it was self-evident that this was the greatest Canadian album of all time:

with the runner-up being your Neil Young of choice.

Those funny, funny Canadians, though, often have different ideas, and while some of these can be dismissed out of hand (Rush? Sarah fucking McLachlan? Does the lack of vitamin D stop your emotional growth at fourteen or something?), others require further investigation, albeit tempered with scepticism: though rarely terrible, too many of them sound like watered-down versions of American bands that weren't 100 proof to begin with*.

So it came as something of a shock to discover that Sloan are Actually Quite Good. Most of their songs have a distinct riff, usually angular but nice about it; the best ones manage some insight into their protagonists (a you or she as often as an I). The compilation A Sides Win includes their sweet grammar-twisting song about a girl who can't spell "affection" and still gets good grades without turning up to class, but not their sweet grammar-twisting song about the horny correspondence of a thirteen year-old boy. Did I mention the girl's vegetarian and the boy's Norwegian? Songwriting, all in the details.

*To be fair, the same could be said of most contemporary New Zealand bands (excluding the rappers and dubbers, and also the electrophiles even though they're boring), though this was once far from true. But let's leave the Death of New Zealand Music rant for another time.

ADDENDUM: Forgot about Talkin' Honky Blues; let's say Joni's queen of western Canada, while Buck 65 is the wicked-and-weird king of the east. Honky places second on my white boy rap list, ahead of Eminem I but well behind Eminem II.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Too much too soon

PFA schedule for May and June: Man, that's a lot of Kieslowski. I've only seen Blue, which I enjoyed despite the claims that it was a genius's evocation of the New Europe (I thought it was about a sad woman). They're offering a Decalogue pass to all ten parts of that work, not an opportunity I can turn down.


Here's your Cannes lineup. A lot of Big Names in competition: Almodovar, Linklater, Loach, S. Coppola, Kaurismaki. Most intriguing is Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, starring The Rock as "Boxer Santaros/Jericho Kane", also featuring Stiffler, Buffy, Mandy Moore and a ton of star cameos. Bad sign: it's two and a half hours.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Can't you guys expel Joe Lieberman from the Democrats already?

"I think the only justifiable use of military power would be an attempt to deter the development of their nuclear program if we felt there was no other way to do it," he said. "And I use the word 'deter' because I'm skeptical of our ability - because they've spread their nuclear program and some of it is underground - to knock it out completely."

Ineffective pre-emptive war: coming soon to an undisclosed location near you!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Canonball #992: Gloria

USA, 1980
Starring Gena Rowlands, John Adames
Written and directed by John Cassavetes

Cassavetes spent most of his career working on the brink of ludicrousness; here he dives in. He wrote Gloria with commercial intentions; the result fails miserably as a genre movie and fails honourably as an art movie. Sentimentality is avoided through implausibility, which is even worse than it sound because what possible appeal the screenplay has is in its sentimentality. Adames's Razzie Award-winning performance isn't entirely his fault: the Lil' Cassavetes role he was handed could never amount to anything. He gets several jaw-droppingly misgotten monologues, including one that goes:

I am the man. I am the man. I am the man. Do you hear me? I am the man. I am the man. Not you, you're not the man. I am the man. I know(?) anything I can. I am the man.

Cassavetes could've made the kid talk like an actual grief-stricken six-year-old, but I guess it was easier to paste in some leftover dialogue from some other screenplay. Rowlands, meanwhile, plays Gloria with crusty isolationism, although why she got an Oscar nom is beyond me (though not as inconceivable as the Golden Lion they gave the movie). Also to be commended: Cassavetes's sense of geography, Romare Bearden's paintings in the title sequence, and Bill Conti's score. None of this is enough to save the movie, though.

Cartoon Wars, Part Two

What a fucking letdown.

Canonball #993: The Last Temptation of Christ

USA, 1988
Starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey
Adapted by Paul Schrader from the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Jesus H. Christ, they got it right!

National Geographic sez that they've uncovered the Gospel of Judas. A codex found in Egypt in the Seventies turned out to contain a number of early Christian texts, and after carbon dating, ink testing etc. it appears genuine. It's a translation of the original text, probably written sometime during the second cenutry A.D. And its most notable claim is that Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus asked him to. Well, Kazantzakis came up with the same idea in 1951, and Scorsese and Schrader brought it to mainstream attention amidst much moral indignation, almost twenty years ago.

The relative lack of controversy about the rediscovered document makes me wonder what all the fuss was about the movie. I thought the whole point of Jesus was that, unlike all those other gods, he was human. If his temptations were to mean anything, there had to be the possibility that he would cave in to Satan. But of course this is impossible because God planned all of this out in advance, which makes you wonder why He bothered... aargh, omniscience makes my head hurt. It probably makes Scorsese's head hurt too, though that doesn't stop him from taking his subject very seriously, and that's probably for the best, since it's unlikely he could've topped Life of Brian.

Pauline Kael said of the Greatest Story Ever Told: "The only thing that gives it plausibility is, psychologically, not very attractive... it's got a bad ending that doesn't make sense after those neat miracles." That the revised ending presented here actually kinda sorta makes a little sense maybe is a measure of Scorsese's storytelling mastery. As in Kundun, he sweeps us along with ritual and primal imagery; what the point is, in the end, is less clear. He's obviously thought deeply about something, though it's tricky to pin down what that thing is. I'd guess that Schrader had distilled the novel into a nice spirit-vs-flesh schema and Marty didn't quite buy it. What lingers is a sense of Jesus as a human being, flesh and desire, frail as a mortal -- only through God are all things possible.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oh crap

Seymour Hersh on governmental and military planning for the War in Iran. The most worrying point is the possible of use of the B61-11, a "tactical" nuclear weapon. Those of us who've learned there's no such thing as a smart bomb should be alarmed.

Thank You for Smoking: Burning men [movie note]

USA 2005
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Cameron Bright, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall
Adapted by Jason Reitman from the novel by Christopher Buckley
Directed by Jason Reitman

Nick Naylor (Eckhart) is a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, and he's damn good too. We learn he's not just any geek off the street, as we follow his coast-to-coast economy-class jetsetting (he does have a flight aboard Tobacco One), meeting with friends and foes of his cause, all self-serving. In the second half of the movie we're asked to take Naylor seriously as a character, and the substance isn't there. The fault belongs less to Eckhart than Reitman, who prioritises the script's three-quarter-baked ideas -- I assume his no smoking on screen policy is conscious, but it doesn't give Eckhart much to work with when trying to express withdrawal.

The actors who aren't burdened with responsibility for larger meanings are more fortunate. David Koechner, as a gun lobbyist who, after seeing TV coverage of Kent State, joined the National Guard, is gifted the least redeemable character. William H. Macy gets to show his slippery side as an anti-tobacco Senator who complains that the cancer victim his aide wheels out isn't hopeless enough. And Seth from The O.C. makes even a threat to "impale your Mom on a spike and feed her dead body to my dog with syphilis" sound obsequious.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why do they call it "Thunder" when it's clearly lightning?

As requested by Das Dick:

Ripped off from this French Smash Bros. site.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Like Eminem's "Stan" with the stakes raised

No show in TV history has taken the risks that South Park has, and the current "Cartoon Wars" storyline (torrents), of which the first of two parts has screened, may be a watershed, or their Waterloo. In the episode, national security is threatened when Fox prepares to air an episode of Family Guy featuring Muhammad. Of course here Family Guy stands in for their own show, but they go to some trouble to rip on their colleagues: when a fatwa is declared, a clip of al-Zawahiri plays and is subtitled "Seriously, 'Family Guy' isn't even that well written. The jokes are all interchangeable and usually irrelevant to the plot." (The criticism is sharp enough, but has distracted the blogs from the larger issues at stake.) Cartman decides to take action and proposes riding down to L.A. to get the episode pulled.

Kyle: The writers are standing up and saying they're not going to be intimidated.
Cartman: Intimidated? Is that what you think this is about, Kyle?
Kyle: Alright, dude, what the hell has gotten into you? I don't trust for one second that your sudden concern for the Muslim people is real.
Cartman: Alright, fine, Kyle. Forget the Muslim faith for a minute. People can get hurt. If ten people die because Family Guy just had to have their little joke, will you still think it's funny?

At a South Park community meeting, a professor advises that the best way to deal with the controversy is for everyone to bury their heads in the sand. A man in the audience stands up and begs to differ.

Man in tie: Look, people, it's been real easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. But those are going to come. And one of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have, then we just believe in free speech, but don't defend it.
Randy: I like the sand idea.
Mackey: Yeah, me too.

By the end of this first episode, it's clear where Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's sympathies lie. They're consciously trying to prove that what they do matters, that they defend free speech more vociferously than anyone because they make better use of free speech than anyone. The original Muhammad cartoons were easy to dismiss because they were so poor as art and thought. So Parker and Stone have taken it upon themselves to create a work that's rich -- and that, in the forthcoming second episode, promises to feature an image of Muhammad (who they've shown before, as one of the "Super Best Friends" with Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Sea Man et al, but the climate has changed). Do we praise them? Condemn them? Will they provoke riots? Will Comedy Central let them show it? I don't know, but I'll be watching.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New sensations

Something novel: the chance to watch the day-by-day creation of a major and significant and actually quite funny work of art. I keep thinking he must start tripping over his own cuteness soon, but it hasn't happened yet.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Since you asked

A succinct expression of the principles of radical humanism.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I have much to learn about this "blogging" thing

Apparently I did get comments; I had merely failed to click the appropriate box so that they would be published, instead of getting lost in some netherworld.

What's opera, Doc?

We are happy to add to our list of A Plus Movies Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. When we saw this two years ago at the Castro we were impressed by Demy's grown-up view of youthful romance, but were afraid overanalysis might reveal the construction as insubstantial. What struck us upon a second viewing at the PFA last night (on a magnificent double bill with Jacquot) was the music. We already knew Michel Legrand's score ranked up there with Delerue's for Jules & Jim (though we don't really care for film scores). But we hadn't noticed how conversational the libretto was. This is a musical that's all recitative -- even the memorable Geneviève/Guy duets have the same diction as the rest of the singing -- and yet doesn't feel forced: the words are arranged around the melody without contortion. One of our betters claimed this was possible because French speech is formal. We can't verify this, but note that in English this degree of ease is only accessible to megatalents of the order of Sinatra and Jay-Z; in Umbrellas, it's achieved by most of the near-anonymous singers who dub the stars. This doesn't negate the achievement of Demy and Legrand: the attempt of a friend of Bizet's to add recitative to Carmen is regarded as a train wreck. Demy and Legrand, on their part, reveal there's art in everyday speech and everyday love -- in France, anyway.


The failure to attract comments is perhaps less galling than attracting lame comments would have been. But it's a failure nonetheless.


Orhan Pamuk interview.


David Mitchell
writes linear novel shocker!


Are the editors at the Times on strike or something? "You are living in a world created by Elizabeth Bishop" -- does this guy think he's blogging?

ADDENDUM: Now this is how you do overstatement. Personally I can't decide between Dylan and Godard, but hope it's the former.

Better lightbulbs won't save the world

These are all nice ideas, but only the air travel tax and renewable energy proposals would have any macroscopic impact; the former could fund the latter. Once again, though, none of this will matter if it isn't part of a global campaign. The best thing Americans can do to help the environment is make climate change politically important.