East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lifeblog: What B. is thinking about when he isn't thinking about what he should be thinking about

"Thomson’s Kidman is a happy narcissist who loves the camera." Pix on linked page show the love is not only mutual, it's increased over the years -- how many actresses even get a chance to see if they look better over 30? But as Armond White said, "Some people want Nicole Kidman to be for English-language films what Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve were for French cinema. Trouble is, Kidman keeps choosing bad scripts."

Castro Valley boy Cliff Burton got crushed by a bus twenty years ago today. I don't approve of bass leads outside of free jazz (and even in that genre only sparingly), but Metallica never got better than Master of Puppets, so play "Orion" for him.

"I would put my name in a Google site and see what came up and often it was very hurtful." First result when Googling Emilio Estevez: his IMDb listing. Three Mighty Ducks movies? I can see why that would hurt. (And I didn't even mention Maximum Overdrive.)

While we're Googling -- what people love lately: I love this party. I love New York for all of her larger than life fabulousness. I love Toronto, dammmit. I love my big pants. I love being able to hit somebody. I love working with kids. I love Hindi movies. I love Mel B. I love it when a young couple comes in for a permit to fix up the house they just bought in East Braintree. I love banned books. I love most stories with happy endings. I love Sevierville. I love it when the ball's in my hands. I love LA. I love Lucy. I love Poland. I love you, Judge Judy. Me, I merely like this poem.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Canonball #986: Bullet in the Head

Hong Kong, 1990
Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Simon Yam Tat-Wah
Written by John Woo, Patrick Leung Pak-Kin and Janet Chin Siu-Chun
Directed by John Woo

Nearly as dumbly offensive as The Birth of a Nation, and nearly as thrilling. Some aspects of Woo's tastelessness -- his fondness for melodrama, his refusal of any kind of restraint -- are integral to his achievement, while others -- his indifference to collateral damage, his political infantility -- are limiting. Though he doesn't doesn't have the chops of D.W. (like every director not named Jean something), his manly staging and girly cutting turn the Deer Hunter-ripoff, Tienanmen-referencing story into an orgy of violence and homoeroticism and overacting. Loyal buddies Ben (Tony Leung), Frank (Jacky Cheung) and Paul (Waise Lee) have a run in with the local hoods on Ben's wedding night, and by the halfway stage of the movie they're killing dozens at a crime lord's club in Saigon at the peak of the Vietnam War. Also featured are contrasting paragons of female victimhood (Fennie Yuen and Yolinda Yan), and Chow Yun-Fat (Simon Yam).

While overacting is obligatory in a John Woo movie, Cheung's overacting is too conventional -- at least Lee has the excuse that his character's turn is implausible. On the other hand, while Tony Leung is as emo as he's ever been, he's still restrained: through loss and betrayal, reunion and revenge, his body is controlled while his face works overtime. Instead of using the characters' honour to set up their downfall, as a good tragedian would, Woo justifies their atrocities by their devotion to each other. The most strongly felt loss is not one of the dime-a-dozen deaths, but the fracturing of the central trio's friendship, precipitated by a greed-driven disposal of the fraternal code. Which makes the movie more offensively dumb than The Birth of a Nation, and nearly as thrilling.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Recommended reading: Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain

I know you've read too much immigrant fiction, but you mightn't have read any with the depth of analysis this novel possesses. Set in the mid-Nineties, the tale is narrated by Tanja Lucić, a Croat in self-imposed exile, teaching the politically (not linguistically) ridiculous subject of Servo-Kroatisch at the University of Amsterdam. Her students, all exiles themselves, remain at the edge of her understanding. She knows they don't care about lit, and throws out the course for pseudo-theraputic exercises in Yugonostalgia, letting them write about bags and trains and food from the old country. But she has even less of an idea of what her students need than they do. The book's particular answers to the eternal questions of what one should and shouldn't recall are informed by Yugo and Dutch specifics determining which memories are available and which are confiscated.

Anthropologists studying migration have taken over the term "sleeper" from popular spy novels. Sleepers are emigrants who make "normal" lives for themselves in their new environment: they learn its language, adapt to its ways, seem fully integrated -- and suddenly they have an epiphany. The fantasy of a "return to the motherland" takes over with such a vengeance that it makes them into robots. They sell everything they have acquired and move back. And when they realize the mistake they have made (as most do) they go back to the land where they had "slept" for twenty or however many years, forced to relive (as they would on a psychiatrist's couch) the years of adjustment until -- twice broken, yet twice restored -- they make peace with their lot. Many live a parallel life: they project the image of their motherland on the neutral walls of the land where they are living "only temporarily" and experience the projected image as their "real" life.

My students were far from being "sleepers", nor could they ever dream of becoming them. They belonged neither here nor there. They were busy building castles in the air and peering down to decide which place suited them better. Of course I was up there with them. I too belonged neither here nor there. The only difference was that I couldn't bear to look down. I had vertigo.

Football picks: week 3

Player of last week: James "Baby Animal" Laurinaitis forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in Ohio State's 24-7 win over Texas. I won't pick a middle linebacker next week, promise.

This week: Biggest of the regular season. Bonus picks: Louisville over Miami, USC over Nebraska, Florida State over Clemson, Oregon over Oklahoma, West Virginia to thump Maryland tonight.

LSU @ Auburn -3.5
Auburn will be able to run all day and LSU will complete several huge passes. Look for the Auburn D to make the clutch stop.

Florida -3.5 @ Tennessee
I might switch over to Nebraska-USC, which I think will be closer. Tennessee thumped an error-stricken Cal team, then was almost knocked off by Air Force. If Florida's pass rushers play to their ability, Eric Ainge will crack like Hootie's rear view.

Michigan @ Notre Dame -7
Regulars will note that my only correct predictions have been Notre Dame wins. I'm hardly going to pick against them now: Steve Breaston, as a returner, might hurt the Irish more than anyone else has so far this year, but Weis and Quinn have too many weapons.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Top ten: September '06

  1. Jon Faddis, "Teranga": There's a lot of African music with a jazz flavour, but comparatively little jazz with an African flavour: the fusions of Dizzy Gillespie, Faddis's mentor, always sounded less Afro than Cuban. The percussion here is integrated seamlessly, so that when the tempo quickens and Faddis belts his trumpet's upper register, it grooves like mainstream jazz never does.
  2. New York Dolls, "Fishnets & Cigarettes": The other song in which David Johansen compares the object of his affection to a (chain-smoking) monkey. A fetish is lust ensnared.
  3. The Shys, "Never Gonna Die": That's what Johnny Thunders thought. Love the way the riff tramps across the tonic, as if it's approaching an end instead of a new bar.
  4. Todd Snider, "Just Like Old Times": He played this song at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last year; more reason to see him there this year. The way to make a song about beautiful losers tolerable is to not have them lose.
  5. New York Dolls, "Dance Like a Monkey": Red state girls, you don't want to anthropomorphise them. Animalism as choice not fact.
  6. Rihanna, "SOS": The only way to make "Tainted Love" less annoying would be to ditch the vocals entiely.
  7. Todd Snider, "You Got Away with It": The depressing thing is that he will get away with it, c.f. Nixon's pardon.
  8. Mahala Rai Banda, "Mahalageasca": K. Harris -- "a busy crisscross of horns that sounds like a work of genius even before it reaches its near-vaudevillian ragtime breakdown."
  9. Rhymefest ft. ODB, "Build Me Up": Meanwhile, in Death Shall Die news, Rhymefest has to restrain ODB to end the track.
  10. New York Dolls, "Plenty of Music": Pace Robinson Jeffers, superfluous beauty isn't divine; pace David Johansen, it matters to everyone human.
Ten more: Band of Horses, "The First Song"; Beenie Man, "Jamaican Style (remix)"; Chamillionaire ft. Krayzie Bone, "Ridin' Dirty"; Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra, "Toumani" and "Ya Fama"; Dirty Pretty Things, "Gin & Milk"; Jon Faddis, "The Fiddle-Ow Blues" and "Laurelyn"; Chris Knight, "Dirt"; Todd Snider, "Happy New Year".

There are enough picks in the Xgau archives to keep my ears occupied for decades, but what of new music? I can spend a couple of months catching up, but I'll need my Consumer Guide fix sooner or later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Leonard Cohen down in the depths on the -10th floor

The best Leonard Cohen movie is always going to be McCabe and Mrs. Miller. As you might have gathered, a disproportionate number of my favourite movies are snowy, and the opening of McCabe, with Warren Beatty riding along to "The Stranger Song", is the most existentially spooky scene in any of them. But the danger of nominating this as the ideal Cohen is that it doesn't capture his wit (the same applies to Altman), and that's a weakness of the doc Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man. When you need Bono, of all people, to point out that Leonard is actually quite funny, you're in danger of missing the point.

Director Lian Lunson expends too much effort on un-Leonard flourishes like echoes and overlaps, and not enough on focusing her super-closeups, but this doesn't matter much, given that we get to see the man himself speak so straightforwardly about his life and work and Janis Joplin making an exception for him. You can see why she did: his modesty is so disarming and alluring that the live performances, from a tribute concert at the Sydney Opera House last year, are a comedown. The old pro folkies, notably most of the McGarrigle clan, know that Cohen songs aren't meant to be oversung, but when Rufus Wainwright, for instance, holds back on "Hallelujah" he sounds wrong. On the other hand, Antony, of Johnsons fame, takes on "If It Be Your Will" and pummels it lovingly enough to make me reconsider my previously low opinion of him.

It's easier to impress when you have choice material, but for Cohen singing can never again come easily: he did remarkable things with what voice he had, but even that's gone now. So his pick when he finally finally does sing, "Tower of Song", reveals itself as especially canny when he gets to "I was born with the gift of a golden voice". Not only is it his funniest song, it also has that modesty we were talking about, as he places himself a hundred floors below Hank Williams in said tower. They should be on the same floor, for Hank's sake, not Leonard's.

Friday, September 08, 2006

You Ought to Be in Pictures: Act naturally

(Half a month late for Brian's Freleng-For-All.)

If the hybrid live- action/animated film was no longer new in 1940 -- Fleischer and Disney did it two decades earlier -- then (as now) it was still a novelty. Daffy persuades Porky to leave cartoons to try to make it in features, though his motives aren't altruistic: he wants Porky's spot. After getting thrown around a bit, Porky reutrns and he's not happy with Daffy. The visual hook is that Daffy and Porky are drawn over photos and live footage where the parts are played, not always convincingly, by Termite Terrace staff -- you can pick out Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett rushing out to lunch.

Freleng himself had left Warners in 1937, decamping to MGM. Standards weren't nearly as high there, and Friz came back to Schlesinger as soon as his contract expired; this was his first directorial effort after returning. Written by Jack Miller, the toon was something of a rib on Clampett: though it's clear that Porky is Friz, you wouldn't guess that Daffy, duplictous for the first time, represents Bob. That Friz preferred being Faust to being the devil is perhaps a measure of his comparative conservatism. Funnily enough, the new mean streak Friz gifted Daffy would allow him to eclipse Porky's popularity.

Glad to be back, Freleng, it seems, worked a little harder on this one -- even in the character animation, there isn't the churned-out feeling you get from some of his work. Daffy's whizzing dance for Schlesinger ("Bill Robinson is slow/Fred Astaire never could top this one") is his most joyful moment, blissfully unaware as he is of the suffering Schlesinger's boys will inflict on him in years to come. For budgetary reasons, however, the number of shots in which both the animation and the live footage move is limited, which necessitates some awkward cutting, for example, between Porky and the guard played by Michael Maltese. If we make an unfair comparison to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, here the limited interaction results in limited wildness, preventing it from being one of the really funny Warners shorts.

But it's still one of the best of its time, and its lasting contribution isn't the hit-miss interpolation of live action, it's the way Daffy and Porky are treated as actors, as if they have an existence outside of their shorts. It offers another way to view any cartoon utilising a stock company, and takes us three quarters of the way to Duck Amuck. Moreover, it conflates fictional reality with real reality in a way that's been drawn upon by countless filmmakers since. If you take the hybrid style as cartoon verite, it's the first mockumentary.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Football picks: week 2

Last week: I picked the exact margin of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game. OK, so my other picks were out by 10 and 24 points, both times picking the loser, but one out of three is pretty good. Player of the week: Florida State LB Buster Davis, whose up-the-middle sacks changed the tenor of their game at Miami.

Ohio State @ Texas -2
If the Texas running game, long unstoppable at home, gets rolling, Troy Smith will have to be Vince Young for Ohio State to win. There's only one Vince Young.
Pick: TEXAS BY 3

Penn State @ Notre Dame -9
Though it's hard to believe a back with the power of Tony Hunt will again be as unproductive as he was against Akron (14 carries for 35 yards), the improved Notre Dame defence should be able to slow him down enough to put Anthony Morelli under enough pressure to crack him. Brady Quinn will be under at least as much pressure, so he'd better continue to earn his Heisman.

Clemson -2.5 @ Boston College
No one's going to watch this, since it's at the same time as Penn State-Notre Dame, but it's intriguing enough to necessitate keeping an eye on the score, if only to find out if either of these teams are capable of impeding Florida State's march to the BCS Championship Game. Clemson are stronger on paper, and their offense put up 54 points against Florida Atlantic last week, but their habit of making games closer than they should be, often thanks to blocked punts, works against them when they're favourites.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Not that you care: new poems and such

David Larsen, "On Melodrama" (The Thorn, Faux Press)

The Thorn is filled with swishiness, and the XIVIX-painting section, filled with fifty pizzas and full-lipped Osama and the pancake vendor's tragedy (which gets a stirring, weepy coda in the next section), is as mordantly impressive as anything I recall reading in a first book of poetry. The two deepest pieces, though, are mini-essays -- one a joking bio of the soothsayer Satih, interrupted by a chanted translation of Satih's prophecy of Islam; the other refuting conversational accusations of melodrama:

One might think the accusation of MELODRAMA typically arises from the self-serving motive of dismissing an outburst which the accuser has him or herself provoked. This is sometimes the case, but not always, for MELODRAMA very often betrays an active resentment of the accused's emotive liberty...

MELODRAMA is about the lamest thing you can say to someone. If you find that a companion you have accused of MELODRAMA goes to turn his or her back on you, you should feel no surprise.

Huang CanRan, "Translation" (tr. the author and Meredith Quartermain, Trout 13/Tinfish 16)

The Pan-Pac fusion of Auckland journal Trout and Honolulu journal Tinfish has turned out swimmingly, with work from Juliana Spahr a highlight. This one's a translation of a poem about, among other things, what nobody caring about translation symptomizes.

Since these towns had strange names
which readers didn't know,
he thought, why not delete them and put
'Pristina, Prizren and other towns'?
He was sure his boss wouldn't care; but,
considering his duty, he thought, this jerrybuilding's no good,
so he checked the voluminous Geographic Dictionary of the World,
and found that Wuteqien was Vucitrn and Genilanei was Gnjilane.

Lyn Hejinian, "The Late Metaphor" (Coconut 5)

One of the ten or so greatest living poets, she's reading on campus at Berkeley this Thursday, with current top ten poet Lisa Robertson (memo to UC: since Robertson's on the payroll, how about getting all her books into the library?) and other faculty. Of the five poems at Coconut, "Primo" is the most read-aloudable, while "The Late Metaphor" has football in it:

Just as the events of the week absorb suspicion
into the present contents of the alphabet A
to Z, which cannot be any more autobiographical than Luther Burbank's new fruits
but must be taken literally as a fiction even
as each is taken figuratively as a fool’s face on a body of abstract notions, so
a football player's yard
gaining dash when described as flitting matches
the football player’s body to a "butterfly theme" at a point of disembodiment too sardonic and plaintive than is wise

Anna Smaill, "Little Song" (Best New Zealand Poems 2005)

Shorter than The Terminal.

We maze around
and shuttle and miss.
All this for your kiss. The cache is
the surprise of your lashes.

Merrill Gilfillan, "Men Looking for Wives" (Hanging Loose 88)

All killer no filler: aren't Significant Moment stories so better when they're under 2000 words?

When I left the bottomland half an hour late and walked toward my car, I saw the plane sitting just across a fence in a pasture flat, and a man about my age walking restlessly back and forth beside it, waiting for me. That's how I met Halfhill. He had seen me with my 20-gauge working through the wild plum tangles and he was instantly hooked by a simple vicarious bond, the boyish longing to be down there kicking up rabbits himself. Hooked enough he rolled up his sleeves and helped me clean my game. We were friends from then on.

Friday, September 01, 2006

That's it, they're done

We started this criticism shit/And this the motherfucking thanks we get?

Know what this means? The hippest music crit is now in Blender. World to end at eleven.