East Bay View (a blog about several things)

now 98% free of substantive content

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hitman? He couldn't even hit a baseball

Fun fact from the recent Oppenheimer bio I'm reading: Worried the Nazis might complete the atomic bomb first, Oppie floated the possibility of kidnapping his opposite number, Heisenberg. The military began plotting Heisenberg's assassination, and baseball's most famous benchwarmer, Moe Berg, was dispatched to tail him. Berg ultimately didn't proceed with the hit, as he couldn't determine Heisenberg's position and his speed at the same time.

Friday, July 28, 2006

In lieu of substantive content, please create your own Johnny Cash reference

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: Standing in the screen with a knife in my hand

Who's Camus Anyway? (Yanagimachi Mitsuo)
Part reflexive modernist pastiche, part soap opera, and though the soap is more interesting most of the time, the modernism does eventually come to mean more. That it's a movie about film students making a movie might trigger alarms, especially when the opening shot is a long ensemble track which includes characters comparing the opening shots of Touch of Evil (5 minutes I think they said) and The Player (8 1/2 minutes). I didn't get the duration of this opening shot, since I fell asleep before it ended (I'm well into Festival Fatigue territory). I awoke to Hornby lists of favourite murder movies (Psycho vs The Godfather) and quotes from The Stranger and a professor called Old Venice infatuated with a young woman studying Houellebecq.

It's questionable whether the reference add up to much, and in that respect the glossiness doesn't help. Still, glossiness has its pleasures, and the cast make their crushes and cinemania amusing, like when they can't decide whether the actor playing the murderer should look angry or normal, so try both -- one look in each eye. In the endgame, at first when life imitates art it's hackneyed. But thanks to some continuity trickery and intense Camusery, finally the point becomes clear that "life" and "art" aren't so different when the quote marks are there, which frees us for a teasingly bloody final shot. Moviemaking as murder, that's a new one to me.

Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski)
Compare a young director to Cassavetes enough times and naturally he'll make his next movie look as much like Shadows as possible. Bujalski loves getting up close to listeners, studying their reactions as the conversation becomes increasingly uncomfortable. His tone isn't Cassavetes-like at all -- he gently pries out his characters' inner lives instead of smacking them out. This movie is perhaps too slice-of-life -- despite its unkempt appearance, his great debut Funny Ha Ha had very well-plotted character arcs; here the blunt ending cuts them off on the rise.

It is a very good work, and not only does Bujalski prove himself a real director, he's a real actor as well. Still, neither he or the other leads, Justin Rice and Rachel Clift, are as striking as Kate Dollenmayer was in Funny Ha Ha (she does take a cameo here, though the most memorable one is by Bill "Decasia" Morrison). And we don't really get inside their particular NYC demimonde: it feels underpopulated. But hey, any movie that has protagonists cool and inclusive enough to form a Cool, Inclusive People's Club has a lot going for it.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puju)
I rarely watch medical TV shows, but I suspect many viewers find them reassuring: brilliant doctors bustling from one cheated death to another; occasionally they do lose a patient and there's wailing and tears. The joke here is less funny than disconcerting: not only we endure all the piss and shit, we also see the strained facilities and staff, the doctors who would prefer that their patients didn't die but are too weary to go out of their way to do something about this. As the protagonist, a hard-drinking sexagenarian with enough distinct ailments to make diagnosis complication, descends towards the fate suggested in the title, both the disfunctional nature of this particular post-Communist healthcare system and the age-old isolation of death. Unlike in those TV shows, recovering hypocondriac Puju makes the audience feels the stasis, and if you're prepared for the long haul it is rewarding.

I understand the comparisons to Wiseman, but the fact that it's constructed is rather obvious: the groaningly named Lazarescu Dante Remus (Ion Fiscuteanu) is your Gogol/Tolstoy non-hero, feeble and prickly, idealised for his distance from the ideal. Fiscuteanu does a good job though, and the cast is fine. Best is Luminita Gheorghiu as the nurse who drags Lazarescu from hospital to hospital -- she alone seems to appreciate the gravity of his situation, but even she places limits on her responsibility. There's no Jesus in this movie.

Departure and Return (Claudia Pond Eyley)
Still wondering why I couldn't support France at the World Cup? There have been many tellings of the story of the Rainbow Warrior, and this one, made by a New Zealand painter, is as good as some of them. The comparative advantages here are that it's the less hectoring feminist side of the story, and that there's context, as the women talk about the beginnings and course of their ties with Greenpeace, protesting whaling, pollution and nuclear tests before French agents blew a hole in it and sunk it in 1985, killing one. Melvillian that I am, I can't say I think whaling is important enough an issue to justify dangerous direct actions to prevent it, but these days you're being a dick to complain about any activism, and generally I'm down Greenpeace's programme, even after working for them and having to quit to avoid getting fired.

That's it for my festival, go read Lumiere. The sex movies were best.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happy Spice Day!

Today (well, yesterday where I am) is the 10th anniversary of what was then the greatest UK number one single since the Beatles -- though that honour belongs to Eminem now -- and, incidentally, one of the ten best songs of the Nineties: the Spice Girls "Wannabe" (released July 7th, 7 weeks at #1 starting the week of July 21st, 1996). I thought it was genius the first time I saw the video, yet pussed out into slipping it into my year-end list at #252. It's formally perfect, from the way the Girls' statement of desire devolves into the non-verbal, to the way they turn Posh's inability to carry a tune into colour.

Funnily enough, the second best UK number one of the Nineties (with due respect to "Praise You", "Brimful of Asha" and "Let Me Be Your Fantasy"), the Fugees' "Ready or Not", hit the top spot just two weeks after the Spices. The #1 in between? Peter Andre's "Flava". Come on, you remember.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: Sin and juice

Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell)
Maybe I've been watching the wrong stuff, but no movie I've seen has ever made the erect penis look so beautiful. In the opening montage, in which most of the major characters show us what they have, it's a guy's autofellatio that's absorbing enough to draw a peeping tom. Still, this is the entree; it's at the Shortbus sex club that the parts really start moving. Like all movie orgies, it's also a comment on society, but not only is the commentary witty ("it's just like the Sixties, only with less hope"), the sex is joyous.

Mitchell collaborated on the script with the cast, and their antic verve builds up so much goodwill that'll you'll forgive the creaking emo moments. Though Mitchell is less interested in pussy, requisite puns aside, the most memorable of the fine-looking cast is the straighter woman Sook-Yin Lee, who incidentally pushes the screen representation of Chinese-Canadians a long way forward. She's another never-had-an-orgasm character -- I hope filmmakers realise that many married women do have fulfilled sex lives, though I suppose they're less interesting to an audience. There's also an unconnecting dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish) and a longstanding gay couple with similar names (Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy). Our heroes seem to be the only Shortbus customers with hang-ups, using the place for therapy; of course the depiction of the standard patron as a neurosis-free hedonist is a conscious choice.

To avoid sensory overload, Mitchell mostly shoots in a vérité style, though at one crucial moment he throws in colour effects leading home video blended with the second set of cross-cutting climaxes. What he achieves is a communal spirit that isn't unprecented in gay film, but did I mention how much fun this was? Still, as we reach the close, with Madame Justin Bond singing "We all get it in the end" over a marching band, we're also reminded that there are times you need to be alone. Sometimes you just have to get fucked. Other times you have to go fuck yourself.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-Wook)
A slight disappointment: there isn't the wrenching madness of Oldboy, and the Christian overtones don't produce the catharsis inherent in Oldboy's variations on classical tragedy. Lee Yeong-Ae, playing the title character Geum-Ja, and her make-up team are particularly good at switching between teenage innocent and jaded ex-con: in the latter case you can see the weariness spread thinly across her otherwise resplendent face. As the good kind of angel she's dandy; as the avenging kind she's decent but doesn't take as much pleasure in her work as you might expect. The first half of the movie is better, Geum-ja's fellow inmates give narrations that reveal their colours as well as Geum-Ja's contradictions. The picture seems to be building up into a bloody fine caper, but instead it becomes a thinkpiece on the value of vengeance and the extent to which atonement is possible. This is less fun.

The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni)
I'm not convinced by Antonioni in colour -- his famed spatial sense depends on definition, and the loss of this here doesn't seem to be adequated compensated for. Nevertheless, there are merits: Antonioni still knows how to move his camera, and the long take near the end in which he zooms through the bars of a hotel room window is as technically fine as any shot I can think of. Then there's his Jackness, as subdued as he gets -- it's amusing to see him so far behind the 8-ball. Barren as the desert setting at first, the movie gets good once it reaches Barcelona: Antonioni gives Nicholson Maria Schneider to play with while he sightsees some Gaudi buildings.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My New Favourite Band: The shortlist

  • Art Brut
  • Blackalicious
  • Drive-By Truckers
  • Rilo Kiley
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Streets

Posts about each of these fine bands may or may not come in following weeks.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: And nothing more

Fateless (Lajos Koltai)
Like most adaptations of good books, there's a gain in immediacy and a loss in psychological detail. You might expect this to be fatal, given that psychological detail is the key to this novel's success. Kertész's adaptation sticks closely to his book, deploying as necessary a narration that, though light-handed, isn't as revealing of the protagonist's mindstate as his prose is. And while the young actor Marcell Nagy is very good, such illumination is beyond him as well.

What we get in compensation is the physical reality of camp life. Once György is rounded up, Koltai depicts the action in brief scenes -- he rarely shows a given routine more than once, but he makes their cumulative momentum seem relentless. When the colour drains from the movie, Koltai inevitably borrows from Spielberg, for example the gas-chamber feeling of the showers. But he sometimes improves: the splotch of red that breaks the descent is all the more startling for its setting, an SS camp.

When our Gyuri is at his most pathetic and some souls are willing to help him, sentiment does creeps into the construction. It's effective because of the way such moments of goodness uneasily settle into Kertész's worldview. Unlike Spielberg, he thinks those who survived the camps can never escape them, and might not want to. Life isn't always beautiful, but if it's your life, it's your life.

Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence)
Lawrence made the pretty good Lantana a few years back; here he treads the same territory, transposed to the New South Wales bush, with moderately improved results. Excepting a couple of kids who turn up periodically to annoy their parents and the audience, the story of four guys on a fishing trip who discover a woman's corpse and must decide whether to report their find, which would require the ultimate sacrifice -- they'd have to stop fishing -- is overstuffed as neatly as a New Yorker tale (it's based on a Carver story, meaning Short Cuts is some bastard relation). The murder mystery element is downplayed even more than in Lantana -- the audience knows whodunnit from the get go, and Lawrence merely extracts from this some cheap irony and a little suspense (ooh! Scary truck driver approaching Laura Linney!) Lawrence's major achievement this time might be to make the fishing trip seem so idyllic that it's worth becoming a pariah status for an extra day out. But he's shooting in the Snowy Mountains, so it's not that hard.

Most of the burden is placed on the actors, who come through; the foreign budget-attractors are Gabriel Byrne (who's isn't blokey enough, but who works hard) and Linney (who's even more out of place, and milks this); best of the locals are John Howard (no, not that one) and, as the unconsciously vicious grandma, Betty Lucas. There's a nod to cultural differences between the Aborigines and the white small-towners, andsome extraneous Catholicism, but ultimately the movie has more to say about gender. The women of course can't comprehend even thinking about not reporting the body, and Linney's American character takes this the furthest, approaching the family of the dead woman even after they've told her to piss off. If she seems out of place, so is the whole town -- Jindabyne was shifted in the Sixties to satisify the exigencies of hydroelectric generation; the old town is underwater, but its spirit is still around. According to this movie, that might not be such a good thing.

Squeegee Bandit (Sándor Lau)
Sándor is a friend so I'm hardly objective, but you should see this. It follows Starfish, a charismatic New Zealander of no fixed abode, who lives off tips obtained from washing windscreens at red lights. The main attraction is the magnetism of the guy, whose fast-talking, jovial sponge-spinning regularly takes on a more disconcerting tone when, angered by the law's endeavours to cut off his livelihood or his old family's attempts to distance themselves, he dashes off what must be a record string of F-bombs in a New Zealand movie. While one of his colleagues recounts two centuries of mistreatment of Maori, in Starfish's introspective moments he recalls past violences with rage or or regret or justification or all of the above. The inclusion of archival footage, made from the '40s to 60s by the National Film Unit or something, to prime the audience on said history of colonialism is glib, but the footage itself is jawdropping, and would justify its own feature (Southern Crossed to Death?), though no one would watch it. Starfish was at the screening (looking, in his words, "more like a blowfish") claiming he was a changed man -- because of a woman, of course -- and, patronising or not, one has to hope he's right, but also that he hasn't lost his edge.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: When you need one to blame the colour TV

Police Beat (Robinson Devor)
Not out-and-out bizarre, just off-kilter. Where Lynch works in sturm und drang light/dark contrast (literally and figuratively), Devor works in partly cloudy grey. The crims bike cop Z (Pape Side Niang) investigates are rarely evil; more often they're disturbed or disturbing. There's the guy who decapitates a bird for no particular reason, and the guy who rips open a refrigerated meat pack at the supermarket and starts gnawing on the contents; the guy who invites himself in for a quick wank and then leaves -- not worth filing a complaint about.

If you think American suburbia is weird, imagine what it's like for a Senegalese immigrant. Trying to tell the weirdoes and hippies from the truly nuts could be a confusing task; Z simply thinks everyone's nuts. Through his frequent voiceovers in Wolof, we find what's perplexing him rarely has anything to do with the oddness immediately around him. He's more concerned about his girlfriend, who's off on a camping trip with her (male) friend and isn't great at keeping in touch, causing Z endless anxiety and jealousy. It's about time moviegoers were reminded that American culture too can get lost in translation.

What I probably should have said about globalisation the other day: its major problem isn't exactly that the South gets hurt, it's more like it gives an excuse for Northerners to ignore it. Z's boss tells him he's been given all possible help, but this apparently doesn't include a patrol car. One apparent hippie berates Z for working for the Man, but whether he likes it or not, that hippie is part of the machine, and a better-placed part than Z. If Z sticks around then of course he should keep his job and his white girl; his question is whether he should stick around at all.

Ballets Russes (Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine)
I don't have much interest in ballet or dance except at the movies -- the pretensions are ameliorated, even when the filmmakers are as (pleasingly) pretentious as Guy Maddin -- and I didn't have much interest in seeing this in the Bay, but a screening at the Civic is another thing. In this doc we learn the absorbing story, not of the original Diaghilev company which made Stravinsky famous, but of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, for those who know the difference. The troupe returns to its old eminence, then splits, with the offshoots bringing their visions to four continents. The key to the film is the archival footage -- there seems to be a ton of it, dating almost from the comapny's inception (1932). If I wish they had included some lengthier clips, what we do see is enough to demonstrate how widespread grace was among the dancers. Don't know what experts (balletomanes, apparently, though that sounds like a made-up word) would think of the performance and choreography, but a philistine like myself is glad the filmmakers can illuminate stylistic differences.

Many of the stars are still alive, and they comment on their history and appear in footage shot at a 2000 reunion; in peace in their dotage, there's only the slightest hint of backstabbing. Though most are in amazing shape for octo- and nonogenrians -- many still teach and can demonstrate a step or two -- it's still shocking to see what sixty years have done to these beautiful people. While a few are disturbingly Norma Desmond-like, most have acceptance the breaking down of their bodies with dignity. Yeah, life is short, youth is shorter and all that, but unlike every reviewer, I'm more interested in what these elders did as kids (some signed up as preteens).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival: Everybody hates a tourist

Heading South (Laurent Cantet)
One reason I think Cantet is the closest thing we have to a contemporary Renoir is that his wisdom about the ways society has changed in his lifetime is ultimately a function of his understanding of individuals -- with essential female input from his writing partner Robin Campillo, there's no greater characteriser in cinema today. Perhaps that's why Heading South, centred as it is around relations two Northern women each have with a Haitian man, is more apt with sexual politics than with politics-politics. Cantet once again demonstrates his understanding of globalisation -- how even when the North thinks it's helping the South, it may not be. But this point is almost overwhelmed by the erotics. Sex tourism is so fulfilling for these women that Cantet has to engineer an uncharacteristically abrupt greying of the postcard vistas to get back on message.

As Brenda, Karen Young wears her neediness on her sleeve. She gets an amazing monologue about how, earlier in her middle age, she discovered first Legba (nonpro Ménothy Cesar) and subsequently the reality of sexual pleasure -- the speech is in the same league as Bibi Andersson's in Persona. Her rival Ellen (the brittle-iron Charlotte Rampling) may still possess uncanny beauty, but it's not the kind Northern men are interested in, and even in Haiti it requires nerve and dry hair. Ellen has come south for six summers to exercise her economic power in a way her gender prevents her from doing in Boston -- but when her age attentuates that power even here, she lashes out. But she's strong enough to know when the game's up; Brenda might not be.

The star, though, is Cesar, and despite his delicate performance, shaded with moments of anger and unpredictibility, it's his sheer physical beauty that makes the impact. As Ellen notes, the attraction has something to do with his aversion to wearing shirts, but even among his countrymen he stands out -- so lithe, so graceful, so dark. Add to this his attentiveness and playfulness and the joy he takes in pleasing someone he likes, and you see why a woman would cross the sea for him -- as would a filmmaker. Perceptive as he is, Cantet must know the terrain is dangerous, and in fact he takes the further risk of not giving Legba a monologue of his own. Legba must remain the Other for the conceit of the film to stand; if Cantet had found a way to expore the Haitians in the detail he gives the Northerners, he might have made another movie as good as Time Out. But if he could hit that level twice in a lifetime, he really would be Renoir.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach)
Rolling hills and fond ballads notwithstanding, it'll be a fair way through this Palme d'Or-winning recreation of early '20s Ireland before you stop thinking about Palestine and Iraq. We follow an IRA cell recruiting and training and fighting and escaping and so on, and when we're focusing on them alone it's mostly matter of fact. It's when the British are on screen, soliders brutalising the occupied people and torturing their captives, that we're reminded of the dangers of supporting the troops in this age. This also has something to do with why the reformation of Damien (Cillian Murphy, playing straighter than type) from enraged endurer to anti-Imperial warrior is disconcerting. There are a lot of possible steps in between, and though many young men skip straight to arms, I'm wary of lionising them.

Eventually the movie does get more specific and complex, as the toll exacted on the humanity of the freedom fighters strains their unity. Having no qualms about slaughtering British troops (and one civilian), they find it infinitely harder to execute one of their own for a betrayal; I might have been more impressed had I not recently seen Army of Shadows do this scene much better. As the story enters the lull before the civil war, Loach, true to form, displays the IRA-Free State beef as a conflict between socialism and mere pragmatic nationalism, which is certainly a viable interpretation though not the only one; he gives both sides time to state their case, without disguising where his loyalty lies. In the end almost everything about the movie, from the brother vs brother structure to the elegant location cinematography, is conventional, except the politics. The best tracts are often like that.

Naked Childhood (Maurice Pialat)
I missed the entire PFA Pialat retro two years back, so this is some penance. It's about a foster child who flusters two sets of guardians, killing a cat her, causing a car wreck there, but really he's a nice kid. The degree of naturalism attained is outstanding -- all the decor feels just right. I liked that when the women burst into to song they sounded like they were throat singing, though that may have just been the print. Possibly more important is Pialat's absolute refusal to judge the kid, or anyone else for that matter: in itself, that's sweeter than I expected, given what I'd assumed about him. Into the Subjects for Further Research file he goes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Complete list of movies seen theatrically in the five years following Batman Forever, and other signposted paths

Girish has been talking about signpost films, but what about those that point you the wrong way? Never a devoted moviegoer, the feeling of waste I endured when I saw Batman Forever (that's the Kilmer/Carrey one, not the Clooney/Arnie one that everyone says is even worse) meant that over the next five years, my cinematic experiences consisted of only:

Men in Black
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Truman Show

I'm pretty sure that's it.

Conversely, my Signpost Film (Helpful Division) is probably the first foreign-language movie I paid to see: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, really.

Finally, my Signpost Film (Not Sure Whether the Influence Was Good or Bad Division) is Hiroshima Mon Amour, which I still haven't seen. Thanks/screw you, Pauline!

RIP Paul Nelson

If you've ever written about rock music, you've probably borrowed from Paul Nelson.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Auckland International Film Festival preview

EBV strongly recommends: The Wind (I actually WENT TO WELLINGTON to see this with full orchestra in 2002), Army of Shadows, United 93, Three Times, Iraq in Fragments, Tristram Shandy, Dave Chappelle's Block Party, Regular Lovers.

EBV is strongly looking forward to: Police Beat, Fateless, Heading South, Mutual Appreciation, Shortbus, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Squeegee Bandit, and I suppose The Passenger. (I think The Passenger is the only one of these that's played in the Bay Area.)

EBV says you need to see this, but don't have unrealistic expectations: The New World.

EBV still doesn't know whether he can take this: The Road to Guantanamo.

EBV will see these when he gets back: A Scanner Darkly, The Science of Sleep.

EBV will regret missing: Los Olvidados b/w My Dad Is 100 Years Old, Offside, Worldly Desires, Linda Linda Linda (missed it at the SFIAAFF, someone release it already).

Superman Returns: Jesus, Lois Lane and the Jack of Spades

Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey. Oh, and Marlon Brando.
Written by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris from a story by Bryan Singer, Dougherty and Harris
Directed by Bryan Singer

All the recent comparisons of Supes to Jesus (sorry Semites, he's not Moses) have intended to tell you something about comics, but might tell you more about religion. The point of the original quasi-Jewish Clark Kent was that you could be him: you could be the Chosen One. As DC, unlike Marvel, goyed with time, he morphed into That Guy Sent to Save You. Singer finishes the transformation, letting Supes acknowledge himself as Saviour and Enabler, and that's modernism and the post 9/11 world etc: our individual powerlessness is more apparent now than ever before. The movie has no explicit politics, of course, but its reactionary potential is lessened by Supes's role as saver-not-killer (thankfully the movie doesn't use mass death as spectacle, and if you think that's a spoiler what planet are you from?) and Luthor getting to say "bring it on".

However icky you find the saviour stuff, there's also plenty of choice material. No director spends his superpowers budget better than Singer does: he knows we want to see our hero stop bullets and take Lois flying because that shit's inherently cool. And it's not just action sequences: as Supes turns stalker, the x-ray vision shots are gorgeous (not in that way, pervert), exploring Lois's domestic set-up or tracking her as she takes an elevator to the roof. If this shows our boy's tender side, we also get to see Lois's brawn: she gets to save Superman! Which is sort of problematic because it reduces the definition of courage to the physical (couldn't she just do some lowdown muckraking? That emo Pulitzer editorial doesn't count) but bah, I'll play the inherently cool card again.

It's a slight problem that Kate Bosworth doesn't strike one as the journalistic type, even when she puts on her glasses: in a perfect world, Superman might exist and Parker Posey would be the one playing his squeeze. Routh is certainly hot in a, uh, gay kind of way, and his Reeve imitation is passable except for the attempted comedy, but the guy you want to see more of is Kevin Spacey. This is the perfect role for him -- an intellectual whose erudition barely conceals a sadistic megalomania -- and the writers scrape together enough good lines for him to fly. (Lex: I know it's on the tip of your tongue, just say it once for me. Please. Lois: You're insane. Lex: No! Not that, no. The other thing.) Spacey might be 2-D, but it's the colour that makes the difference.

Monday, July 10, 2006

My New Favourite Band: The longlist

The contenders to replace Sleater-Kinney as my favourite band are:
  • OutKast
  • Daft Punk
  • Sonic Youth
  • The Avalanches
  • Radiohead
  • The Mekons
  • Art Brut
  • Basement Jaxx
  • Rilo Kiley
  • The Streets
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Le Tigre
  • Drive-By Truckers
  • New Order
  • Northern State
  • Orchestra Baobab
  • The Coup
  • Blackalicious
Tell me if any of these bands don't exist anymore. Suggestions welcome if I'm allowed to ignore them, though I'll probably respect Yz's Radiohead veto) Not looking for a new favourite solo artist: I still have Lucinda Williams, though Kanye is pressing his case (Dylan doesn't count because he's just Dylan).

Sunday, July 09, 2006

So what did Materazzi do to Zidane?

The Guardian suggests it was a nipple tweak. Italy owe even more to Buffon than you might think, since he was the one who really pressed the case for the red card. Oh well, the better team on the day lost but the best team of the tournament won.

Tournament team (unlike FIFA's, mine actually includes players from outside the major powers and doesn't have a token Englishman):

Keeper: Buffon (Italy). Also: Joao Ricardo (Angola), Boruc (Poland).
Defence: Lahm (Germany), Cannavaro (Italy), Zambrotta (Italy). Also: Marquez (Mexico).
Midfield: Zidane (France), Appiah (Ghana), Riquelme (Argentina), C. Ronaldo (Portugal). Also: Essien (Ghana), Vieira (France), Ballack (Germany), Gattuso (Italy).
Attack: Klose (Germany), Shevchenko (Ukraine), Henry (France). Also: Tevez (Argentina), Podolski (Germany), Torres (Spain), Wanchope (Costa Rica).

Player of the torunament: Zidane was unearthly against Brazil and Buffon pulled great save after great save, but Miroslav Klose played the largest number of brilliant games. Last World Cup he deserved a Golden Head; at least now has a Golden Shoe to stick in his closet.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

If you're looking for reasons to be unhappy

Crashing the ASC continued

  • It never occurred to me that Bayesians needed a model selection criterion -- I guess I just thought it was beside the point for them -- but of course there are situations where it's necessary. So there's a DIC, and it's biased and people are trying to think of ways to unbias it. It's a culture shock to be in a situation where Bayesians are all over the place (still a minority though).
  • This cross-entropy method seems too useful for me not to have heard of it before. Maybe I was asleep when someone last told me about it.
  • I'm trying to ask friendly but useful questions at these sessions, mostly just to give the speakers the impression that someone has at least somewhat engaged with their presentation. But I never know what to do when I hear a completely wrongheaded (or just wrong) talk, especially because I can never tell if the audience passivity is the usual kind or the "please shoot this guy" kind. I'm not the kind of guy who can call a spade, and I rarely care enough to discuss it with them afterwards. Hence I often end up wrapping an irrelevant or unanswerable question in the kind of half-witty one-liners that audiences in that situation lap up.
  • But beware, I've witnessed a couple of speakers have David Brent moments this week.
  • My 25 year-old friend K is being guided through an overdue adolescence by his mate R. K thinks R is teaching him how to pick up girls, but actually R is just teaching him to be a dodgy mofo. I mean strip clubs are all well and good but they're NOT THE PLACE TO MEET WOMEN, unless you're willing to spend a lot of money (although see yesterday's post). So to those in my posse who think I'm corrupting them: you don't know what corruption is.

Monday, July 03, 2006

What I learned from gatecrashing the Australasian Statistical Conference, day 1: Who needs experiments? Who needs truth?

(Those readers who consider themselves "normal people" might like to take a few days away from reading this blog. Don't worry, some serious movie-watching is coming soon.)
  • How can you deal with observational data? By adjusting mean and variance for the fact that it's observational! I'm see-sawing between "this is idiocy" and "this is genius idiocy".
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics (and I guess most official statistics agencies) fudges its numbers! It does this for noble reasons (avoiding the release of personally identifiable information), but it's still fudging, perturbing table cell counts from their measured values. That they can do this consistently without biasing or affecting grand totals is quite ravishing though.
  • If you're giving a talk on your research, you should know not to make it so basic as to be freshman level, and also not to make it so detailed that it's of no plausible use to anyone besides yourself. If, however, you veer discontinuously between these two no-nos, I for one may find it oddly thrilling.
  • At the Sky City hotel, at which I couldn't afford to stay even if my parents weren't putting me up, a condom from the minibar is five bucks. Crikey, for that price in Thailand you could get two hookers and a vasectomy.*
*EBV does not condone paying workers of any description less than a living wage.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The pathos of the circle of life, and shit like that

  • For about ten minutes between Beckham limping off and Rooney getting justly sent off, albeit for the wrong offence, England looked like they'd destroy Portugal, with Lennon seeming a moment away from carving up their defence. As the match dragged on, however, you have England's best chance of winning would've been one of those patented fluke goals, I mean set piece moves that Becks is so good at setting up. Those of us who consider penalty shootouts a coinflip have to make an exception for England. The irony-laden ending saw The Manicured One consoling his bawling team (except Rooney, who was probably breaking shit in the dressing room), since he'd been through all this eight years ago. David Beckham: functioning adult! Anyway, after a month of playing like shit the team are the kind of heroes the English press love (i.e. the losing kind).
  • Meanwhile, France, after a month of playing like 40 year-olds, played like 35 year-olds, which was more than enough. No tears or argy-bargy from Brazil after they got dumped.
  • But at least I was right about Argentina. Hope you won some money too.
  • So who do I support now? The Portuguese, the cheatingest side in memory? The scandalous Italians? The youthening but still fossilised French? I guess I'm in the unprecedented position of being a Germany fan.
  • In other news, I just heard Olivia Newton-John's version of "Banks of the Ohio". That's just wrong.